A city that has been At the intersection of european history for hundreds of years, budapest offers more than most of its neighbours’ capitals combined
With a unique, youthful atmosphere, a world-class classical music scene as well as a pulsating nightlife, Budapest is one of europe’s most delightful and enjoyable cities. indeed, such is the quality of the historical sites and the majesty of its surroundings, Budapest is often dubbed the “Paris of the east”.
Such a nickname is hardly given lightly. a traveller of any age, and of any persuasion, could have the trip of a lifetime in hungary’s capital. history buffs will revel in the touristic spots inspired by the bad old days under Soviet rule during the cold war; adventure junkies will jump at the chance to take part in the city’s worldfamous paintball and airsoft tournaments; while newlywed couples will romance the everyone here, and perhaps that’s because the city has been at the intersection of european history for hundreds of years.
Modern Budapest is the result of a historic amalgamation of the cities of Buda and Pest, separated by the river Danube, and it is still typical to refer a restaurant on the “Buda side” or “living in Pest”. Pest is generally seen as more modern and cosmopolitan, while the Buda side features many of the historic sites, and is generally more conservative.
Whichever side you choose to visit, it’s possible to really live the high life in Budapest—you don’t even have to have
the income of an oil baron to do it. Life in Budapest is cheap, thanks to the repercussions of Soviet rule still being felt. This is not to say that life is nasty, however—in the right parts, the city can be as glamorous as Monaco. On the Pest side, at the city centre overlooking the Danube, Ferraris and Mclarens winding through the streets, cruising from one fancy hotel to the next, are a common sight. While at the centre of Buda, large Bentleys wafting important businessmen and dignitaries up and down the hill of historic buildings are more common.
If you’re a history buff, that’s the side you’ll want to be on first. The first stop would likely be the Hungarian National Parliament building, the largest in Europe, and designed by Imre Steindi in 1896. It is based on England’s Parliament building, and supposedly is one meter wider and longer than that august building, just a little bit of architectural conceit. The building is so immense, the weak alluvial soil along the Danube had to be reinforced with a seven-foot-deep concrete foundation. Not surprising, as the building is 300 yards long and 140 yards wide, with 691 rooms and
12.5 miles of corridors.
That said, the most popular attraction on the hill is the Royal Palace. The first known buildings where the palace stands today were built by Charles Robert’s eldest son, Stephan Duke of Anjou (1308-1342). It was later remodelled, but the reign of King Matthias brought about the golden age of Buda (1458-1490). Legend has it that when a Turkish ambassador came to Buda, he saw all the wealth and grandeur, forgot his greeting speech and all he could say was, “The emperor sends his respects.”
After several remodelings, the unique Palace today is the recreation of Alajos Hauszmann and Miklós Ybl’s 1896 millennial designs. During its history the Royal Palace has been destroyed and rebuilt at least six times.
The other main attraction on the Buda side is the Fisherman’s Bastion, which offers impressive views across the Danube to Pest. This neo-gothic construction was built in 1905 by architect Frigyes Schulek. It is composed of seven towers that symbolise the seven magyar clans’ leaders that came in the Carpathian Basin at the end of the ninth century. It was named after both the medieval fishmarket once nearby and the Guild of Fishermen who defended this section of the wall during past wars.
The Buda side is also home to its fair share of historical sites, but they certainly take on a darker tone. One of the most popular destinations is the House of Terror, a building that was used both by the Nazis and the communist regime as a secret police headquarters. In 2002, it became a museum focused on Nazi and communist terror, with the aim of helping visitors to understand Hungary’s troublesome 20th century.
Elsewhere, the mood is decidedly lighter in modern-day Pest. For a relaxing day out, no visitor could do better than a trip to Budapest’s famous thermal baths, where tourists and locals go to swim, relax, and soak in hot or cold mineral waters. The biggest thermal baths, located near the Heroes’ Square, are large, historic complexes visited as a cultural as well as a bathing experience. Other thermal baths are operated more as spa hotels, with thermal water but in a modern, spa-like atmosphere.
On top of this, Hungarian food deserves to be mentioned among the country’s main sites. As in other cultures, the Hungar-
ian approach to food combines pride in their own traditions with a readiness to accept outside influences. The result is a vibrant restaurant scene where an AsianHungarian fusion restaurant may well be of genuine interest. Local specialities often revolve around meat and involve liberal use of paprika, however not necessary of the hot kind.
And if you’re prepared for it, travelling outside of the city brings its own rewards. One of the most popular activities for visitors is embarking on a historic ‘Trabant tour’. The Trabant was a staple car in Eastern Europe— considered by many to be East Germany’s