One of Europe’s most popular travel destinations, Budapest is experiencing a renaissance after decades behind the Iron Curtain. Internet hotspots abound in this city filled with culture and cafes on every corner. One of the first areas a tourist should visit is Vaci Utca, one of the most popular shopping streets in the city. It is pedestrian-traffic only, making it a tourist mecca. Restaurants, bars, and shops mingle amongst the ever-present carts peddling souvenirs and postcards. There are a number of currency-exchange booths on this street. Vaci Utca runs into Vorosmarty Ter (Square), a famous square in the city. It is home to a number of cafes, most famous is the Gerbeaud kavehaz, famous for their pastries and decor since 1858.
From Vorosmarty Ter, head to Szent Istvan Ter and the St. Stephen’s Basilica. It is Hungary’s largest church and home to the preserved right hand of King Stephen I, Hungary’s first Christian king. The area surrounding the church is a pedestrian-only square. Next stop: Heroes’ Square, bordering Varosliget (City Park). Heroes’ Square is home to a monument honoring Hungary’s greatest leaders, in statue form. Behind the square one can see the architecturally-significant Vajdahunyad Castle, built in honor of the millenial exhibition in 1896. It combines multiple architectural styles and houses the Agricultural Museum. Directly outside the castle sits a statue of King Bela IV’s anonymous scribe, to whom credit is due for knowledge about medieval Hungarian life.
Walking through Varosliget, it is difficult to miss the yellow domes signifying your arrival at the Szechenyi Baths, one of my favorite spots in Budapest. If you are visiting the city, be sure to carve out some time in Budapest’s world-famous baths. The thermal waters of the city have healing benefits. The Szechenyi boasts three outdoor pools that can be used year-round, as the thermal waters never get cold. One can play chess on one of the floating chessboards, or get a deep-tissue massage on a wintry day. The baths cost from 700-2000 forints, but are well worth it.
A short Metro ride later, you can find yourself on the streets of the Castle District, home to Buda Castle and Matyas Templom(Matthias Church). The district is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is accessible by foot or shuttle bus, as no cars are allowed. There is a mixture of architectural styles in this area, all of which are breathtaking to view. The Buda Castle is home to a number of museums. The Ludwig Museum, located in the Castle, is a must-see. It houses a vast modern art collection. Matyas Templom is one of the city’s most popular tourist sights. King Matthias was married twice in the church during his reign as ruler of Hungary in the 15th century.
To the left of Castle Hill is Gellert Hegy (Gellert Hill), almost 800 feet above the Danube River. Named in honor of Bishop Gellert, who became a martyr after pagan worshippers killed him by rolling him down the hill in a barrel, the hill is home to a large statue of him. Also on the hill is the Citadel, built by the Austrian Army in 1849, and a small church inside the caves of the hill.
A boat ride down the Danube is something to experience while visiting the city. Many floating restaurants and nightclubs also call the banks of the Danube home. The Dunakorzo is a promenade on the Pest side of the river that is perfect for a lovely afternoon stroll. Budapest is a city that is coming into the 21st century without letting go of its rich, storied history.