Budapest is the capital of Hungary. Often referred to as the “Pearl of the Danube,” Budapest is the largest city in Hungary and its political, cultural, and economic hub.
Budapest is renowned for its stunning architecture, and the city’s thermal baths, a legacy of Turkish rule during the 16th and 17th centuries, are another significant attraction.
Where is Budapest?
Budapest’s location puts it at the heart of the Carpathian Basin. It’s approximately 216 kilometers southeast of Vienna, Austria, and about 545 kilometers east of Munich, Germany. The city’s latitude and longitude coordinates are about 47.4979 °N (latitude) and 19.0402 °E (longitude).
Its strategic position has made it a significant economic, cultural, and transportation hub, with major railways, highways, and waterways converging there.
History of Budapest
Budapest’s rich history is intrinsically tied to the broader history of Hungary and Europe. The area now known as Budapest was first settled by the Celts before becoming a Roman town named Aquincum around 100 AD. Over the following centuries, Budapest was controlled by various powers, including the Huns, Lombards, and Avars.
The city as we know it today began to take shape in the Middle Ages when Buda became the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1361 under King Louis the Great. The 15th century under King Matthias Corvinus was a golden age, with Buda becoming an important center of Renaissance humanist culture.
However, in 1526, the Ottoman Empire conquered the city. Buda and Pest (the two cities on either side of the Danube River that later combined to form Budapest) were significantly depopulated. The area remained under Ottoman control until 1686 the Holy League liberated it.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Budapest underwent rapid growth and modernization. The unification of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda (Old Buda) in 1873 marked the creation of the modern city of Budapest. Four years later, in 1877, Budapest was officially declared the capital city of Hungary, replacing the city of Buda.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries were prosperous, with significant urban development and population growth. During this time, iconic structures like the Hungarian Parliament Building and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge were constructed.
Budapest suffered considerable damage during the two World Wars, and following World War II, it fell under communist rule as part of the Eastern Bloc. The 1956 Hungarian Revolution, a nationwide uprising against the communist regime, was a significant event.
The city began to recover and modernize following the end of communist rule in 1989. Today, Budapest is a bustling, vibrant city that blends its rich history with modernity. Budapest’s important historical sites and cultural vibrancy make it one of Europe’s major tourist destinations.
Features of Budapest
Budapest is known for a wide range of notable features. Budapest is renowned for its stunning architecture, featuring a mix of Roman, Gothic, Ottoman, Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, and Art Nouveau styles.
Budapest is bisected by the Danube River, which is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, provides a stunning backdrop for the city, and offers numerous recreational opportunities.
Budapest also offers a vibrant nightlife, with its Ruin Pubs – bars established in the ruins of abandoned buildings being particularly famous among locals and tourists alike. Also, it hosts several popular events and festivals throughout the year, such as the Budapest Summer Festival, Sziget Festival, and the Budapest Christmas Market.
Geography and Climate
Danube River characterizes the geography of Budapest, the rolling hills of Buda to the west, and the flat terrain of Pest to the east. The city’s highest point is János Hill, 528 meters (1,732 feet) above sea level.
Budapest has a temperate seasonal climate, generally warm to hot summers and cold winters. The city experiences relatively high yearly rainfall, with late spring and early summer being the wettest periods. In summer (June-August), average temperatures range from 20 °C to 28 °C (68 °F to 82 °F), while in winter (December-February), temperatures can go from -1 °C to 4 °C (30 °F to 39 °F).
Budapest has a population of approximately 3 million people, making it the most populous city in Hungary and one of the largest cities in the European Union. The city is quite diverse, with people of various ethnicities and backgrounds, although most are ethnic Hungarians.
The official language is Hungarian, which is spoken by the majority of the population. The city is also increasingly multilingual, with many residents speaking English, particularly the younger generation and those working in the tourism and business sectors.
Budapest serves as the economic heart of Hungary. It accounts for about 40% of the national GDP and is an important industry, commerce, and services center. Major sectors in Budapest include information technology, pharmaceuticals, medical technology, electronics, and automotive engineering. The city is also the country’s financial center, hosting the headquarters of the National Bank of Hungary and the Budapest Stock Exchange.
Moreover, Budapest has a burgeoning start-up scene with a growing reputation as a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship in Central Europe.
Tourism is another key sector of Budapest’s economy, with the city attracting millions of visitors each year who come to enjoy its rich history, beautiful architecture, thermal baths, and vibrant cultural scene.
Despite these strengths, like many cities, Budapest faces challenges such as economic disparity and the need for further infrastructure development. However, the city’s strong financial base and ongoing development efforts continue to drive its growth and prosperity.
Things to Do and Places to See in Budapest
There is a wide variety of things to do and see in Budapest. Here are some of the most sought sites, attractions, and things to do in Budapest:
1. Explore Buda Castle
The historic Buda Castle, perched majestically atop Castle Hill, offers a step back in time with its grandeur and old-world charm. The palace complex dates back to the 13th century and was the residence of Hungarian kings.
Today, it houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The castle offers splendid panoramic views of the city, especially the Parliament building and the Danube River. Take advantage of the changing guard ceremony, a spectacle all visitors enjoy.
2. Visit the Hungarian Parliament Building
This iconic building, one of the most striking examples of Gothic Revival architecture, stands imposingly on the Pest side of the Danube River. As one of the largest parliament buildings in the world, it’s an integral part of the Budapest skyline.
A guided tour offers a glimpse into Hungary’s political history and lets you see the stunning interiors, including the session room, the grand staircase, and the Hungarian Crown Jewels.
3. Matthias Church
Officially known as The Church of Our Lady, Matthias Church is one of the jewels of Budapest, located in the heart of Buda’s Castle District. Its history spans over 700 years, and it’s named after King Matthias Corvinus, under whose reign it was extensively remodeled in the Gothic style.
The church’s exterior is notable for its diamond-patterned roof tiles and ornate spires. The interior is just as impressive with its colorful frescoes, stained glass windows, and a grand altarpiece. The church has witnessed several coronations and royal weddings and remains an active place of worship.
4. Climb Gellért Hill
Gellért Hill is one of Budapest’s most iconic points, offering panoramic city views. Gellért Hill, along with the banks of the Danube and the Buda Castle District, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
A climb to the top takes you past several attractions, including the Gellért Hill Cave Church and the Statue of Liberty, a monument dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives for the independence of Hungary.
On top of Gellért Hill, you’ll find the Citadella, an iconic landmark. The Citadella is a fortress constructed by the Habsburgs following the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 to keep an eye on Buda and Pest.
The word “Citadella” is derived from the Italian word “cittadella”, which means “small city”. Despite its original purpose as a surveillance outpost and potential stronghold, it has never served in a military capacity.
Nowadays, the Citadella functions as a tourist attraction, with a few souvenir shops and a restaurant. The climb to the top of Gellért Hill and the Citadella can be steep, but once there, you’ll find stunning views of the Danube River, Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the sprawling cityscape of Budapest.
5. Heroes’ Square
Known as Hősök in Hungarian, the Heroes’ Square is one of Budapest’s most significant squares, noted for its iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars.
The square is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art, each a cultural treasure trove. At the center stands the Millennium Monument, erected in 1896 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin.
6. Stroll Along the Danube Promenade
Walking along the Danube Promenade is an experience to be noticed in Budapest. The promenade stretches from the Elizabeth Bridge to the Chain Bridge. It provides a leisurely way to enjoy the city’s stunning architecture, including the Buda Castle, Matthias Church, and the Fisherman’s Bastion across the river. Street musicians, artists, and vendors add to the vibrant atmosphere.
7. Relax in Thermal Baths
Budapest, known as the”City of Baths,” is famous for its thermal baths, with over 100 hot springs supplying the city’s bathhouses.
The Széchenyi Thermal Bath, located in City Park, is one of the largest bath complexes in Europe, featuring outdoor and indoor pools, saunas, and spa services.
The Gellért Baths, part of the famous Hotel Gellért, offer a more luxurious bathing experience with its Art Nouveau architecture, thermal baths, and various spa treatments. Both provide a relaxing way to spend a day soaking in warm waters surrounded by stunning architecture.
8. Dohány Street Synagogue
Also known as the Great Synagogue, this stunning building is the largest Synagogue in Europe and the second-largest in the world. It’s a central figure in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. The Synagogue, built in the 19th century, boasts a unique style that blends Moorish and traditional Jewish architectural elements.
The complex also includes the Jewish Museum, the Heroes’ Temple, the Jewish Cemetery, and the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, dedicated to a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Jews during World War II.
9. Visit Vajdahunyad Castle
Nestled in the City Park, Vajdahunyad Castle is a must-visit. This architectural treasure was built as part of the Millennial Exhibition in 1896 to celebrate 1000 years of the Hungarian State and showcases various architectural styles, from Romanesque and Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque, mirroring the architectural evolution of Hungary over the centuries.
Today, it houses the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture, the biggest agricultural museum in Europe. The castle, surrounded by a peaceful lake, is especially charming during the autumn months or covered in winter snow.
10. Experience Budapest’s Ruin Pubs
The Budapest Ruin Pubs are a unique feature of its nightlife. These trendy bars are set in abandoned buildings, deserted parking lots, or unused outdoor spaces in the city’s Jewish Quarter.
Szimpla Kert, the first ruin pub, is a must-visit, offering a maze of rooms filled with eclectic furniture, quirky artwork, and a vibrant atmosphere. These pubs have become more than just places for a night out; they are hubs of cultural activities hosting film screenings, live music, flea markets, and more.
11. Visit the Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall, also known as the Great Market Hall, is a bustling hive of activity. It is located at the end of Váci Street, Budapest’s largest and oldest indoor market. The ground floor offers vast produce, including meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and local specialties like paprika and Tokaji wine.
Upstairs, you can find Hungarian handicrafts, textiles, and souvenirs. The basement houses a supermarket, a fish market, and pickles of all sorts. Remember to sample some Hungarian street food at one of the food stalls.
12. Go to the Hungarian State Opera House
Located on the grand boulevard of Andrássy Avenue, the Hungarian State Opera House is one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. The Neo-Renaissance structure, adorned with statues of famous composers, is an architectural gem.
Inside, it gets even more opulent with a grand staircase, frescoes, and a chandelier that is a sight to behold. A guided tour provides a deeper understanding of its history and architecture. While watching a performance here would be the cherry on top, the building itself is more than worth a visit.
13. Visit the Fisherman’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion is a dreamy, fairytale-like viewing terrace situated on the Buda bank of the Danube on Castle Hill. Featuring a neo-Gothic style, the terrace was named after the medieval guild of fishermen responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls.
The Bastion, with its seven towers representing the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 895, offers panoramic vistas across the Danube, Margaret Island, Pest, and the Gellért Hill. Adjacent to it is the Matthias Church, adding to the historical atmosphere. Whether you visit during the day or at night, the views are breathtaking and offer some of the best photo opportunities in the city.
14. Discover St. Stephen’s Basilica
This impressive neoclassical church, named after the first King of Hungary, St. Stephen, is an iconic landmark in Budapest. It is the city’s largest church, accommodating around 8,500 people.
The interior is just as impressive, with its richly decorated altars, pulpit, and a shrine holding what’s believed to be the “Holy Right Hand,” the mummified right hand of St. Stephen. You can also climb to the dome’s observation deck for a panoramic view of Budapest.
15. Stroll Along the Széchenyi Chain Bridge
This iconic bridge was the first to permanently connect Buda and Pest, the western and eastern sides of Budapest. Walking across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge offers stunning views of the Danube River and the city’s landmarks. The bridge, with its stone pillars and iron chains, is a marvel, particularly in the evening when it’s lit up.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best time to visit Budapest?
The best time to visit Budapest is from March to May and September through November. These periods offer mild weather and fewer crowds since they are outside the peak tourist season, typically in the summer.
What are the best day trips from Budapest?
Some popular day trips include the historic city of Eger, the Danube Bend (including visits to Esztergom, Visegrád, and Szentendre), the wine region of Tokaj, and Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe.
How do I get around in Budapest?
Budapest has a well-organized and extensive public transportation system which includes buses, trams, trolleybuses, and a metro system. Tickets can be purchased from vending machines, kiosks, and newsstands and must be validated upon boarding.
The city is also quite walkable, especially the city center and along the Danube River. Taxis are widely available but ensure to use reputable companies to avoid overcharging. For a different perspective, consider taking a boat along the Danube.
What are traditional food and local cuisine like in Budapest?
Traditional Hungarian food is typically hearty and heavy, featuring a lot of meat, potatoes, pastry, and a generous amount of paprika and other spices for flavor. Hungarian cuisine is also famous for its soups, casseroles, sausages, and pastries.
What are some of the must-try dishes in Budapest?
Local dishes you should definitely try while in Budapest include:
• Goulash: This hearty stew is a classic Hungarian dish with tender beef, vegetables, and paprika.
• Chicken Paprikash: As the name suggests, paprika is the star ingredient in this creamy, savory dish featuring chicken.
• Lángos: A deep-fried flatbread traditionally topped with sour cream and grated cheese, but other toppings are also available.
• Töltött káposzta: These cabbage rolls filled with meat and rice, then slow-cooked, are a popular traditional dish.
• Somlói Galuska: A delicious dessert made from sponge cake, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and often with a sprinkling of rum and raisins.
• Kürtőskalács: Also known as chimney cake, this is a sweet, spiral-shaped pastry that’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, often coated with sugar, cinnamon, or nuts.
Is Budapest safe for tourists?
Like most of Europe, Budapest is relatively safe for tourists. However, like any major city, it’s always important to stay vigilant and be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night and in crowded tourist areas where pickpocketing can occur.
Where should I stay when visiting Budapest?
Where to stay depends on your interests.
• District V (Belváros-Lipótváros) is the city’s commercial heart, with several hotels, restaurants, and shops
• District I (the Castle District) is full of history and offers stunning city views
• District VII (Erzsébetváros), particularly the Jewish Quarter, is known for its vibrant nightlife, including the famous ruin bars.
What currency is used in Budapest?
The official currency of Hungary is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). Credit cards are widely accepted, but carrying some forint for smaller establishments or public transportation is a good idea.
Are there any cultural customs I should be aware of when visiting Budapest?
Hungarians value respect and etiquette. Formal greetings are important; you should say “Good day” (Jó napot) when entering shops or restaurants. Tipping is customary, usually around 10% to 15%.
What souvenirs can I bring home from Budapest?
Popular souvenirs include Hungarian paprika, Tokaji wine, traditional Hungarian porcelain, embroidery, and hand-carved wooden items.
Does Budapest have a dress code for religious or historical sites?
Budapest has no strict dress code for its historical sites, but it’s respectful to dress modestly when visiting religious buildings such as churches and synagogues. Shoulders should be covered, and shorts or skirts should be knee-length or longer.
Budapest is more than worth a visit for its rich historical heritage, stunning architecture, vibrant cultural scene, and delightful culinary offerings. Whether exploring the grandeur of the popular castles, wandering around the charming streets, relaxing in one of the city’s famous thermal baths, or savoring the hearty local cuisine, Budapest has something to offer every visitor.
While Budapest has preserved its historical charm, it also boasts a modern and dynamic side, evident in its buzzing nightlife and contemporary art scene. With its unique blend of the past and present, Budapest promises a memorable travel experience for all.