14 June 2014

PORT OF CALL: Budapest (Part I)

Danube River, Hungary
A river-cruise ship docked under the turreted hill of
Buda in Budapest, Hungary.
Photo: Aktiv Tours
Approach Budapest from the river and the city appears like some magical set from a dramatic opera, an outline of cupolas and Gothic spires, castles and battlemented hillsides, knitted together by elegant iron bridges. In some places, the Hungarian capital seems frozen in time, marking its grand heyday at the height of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The Danube is Budapest’s greatest asset. Locals meander along the riverbanks to admire the evening light dwindling over the waters and, whether from a bench or bridge, there’s always a great city view. The river divides the capital in two, with Buda the more hilly shore. Castle Hill’s many historical monuments have made it a World Heritage site, and views over the city are tremendous, particularly from the renowned Fisherman’s Bastion.
Statue of St Stephen on Castle Hill in
Buda, Budapest, Hungary.
Photo: Hungarian Tourism
Topping it all is St Stephen’s Basilica, a city landmark that houses the mummified hand of St Stephen, an object of veneration to many Hungarians. The saint was Hungary’s first king, who converted his people to Christianity in the eleventh century; sit outside in the square and have a coffee beneath his grand statue.
The southern half of Castle Hill is taken up by the Royal Palace, endlessly reconstructed and now housing the National Library – which exhibits rare books and documents – the Budapest History Museum, and the colossal Hungarian National Gallery, a vast collection of art from the tenth century onwards, with some particularly fine medieval painting and sculpture.
The Gellert Baths in Budapest, Hungary.
Photo: Visit Hungary
For a quintessential Budapest experience, take to the baths. Hungarians have wallowed in hot springs for millennia. The Romans were first, the Ottomans added a distinctive architecture, and the Hapsburgs later embellished the thermal resorts with beautiful detail. Gellért Baths are the most opulent, featuring marble columns and stone lion heads spitting water. The sixteenth-century Király Bath is also very fine, and shows the clear influence of former Turkish rule in its octagonal dome, through which light filters from skylights, sending sparkles across the pool below. Locals spend hours here, playing chess and chatting and soaking: a Budapest afternoon at its best.
Stay tuned: we’ll be covering the chief sights and delights of Pest on the other side of the river from Buda very shortly!


If you’ve been to Budapest and feel you have something to add, please do so. Our readers appreciate your tips and memories.

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