Buda is the first place I’ve visited on both my visits to Budapest. I’ll keep it short on the details here: there’s plenty of information on this lovely part of town so I won’t bother you with historical details. While you’re there you should walk on top of Gellert hill, from where you can enjoy a stunning panorama on Budapest, and take a ride on the funicular Budavári Sikló. Also you can have lunch in one of the most hidden and traditional canteens in Budapest: it’s quite hard to find but it’s way more rewarding than those souvenir shops selling sandwiches.
The hill of Buda offers a magnificent view after dark, when the buildings glow in amber light. One of the best spots to witness this is near the Szecheny Bridge from where you can see the palace, and the bridge too, reflecting their lights in the black waters of the Danube river.
Warning: the lights switch off at midnight, so be quick with your camera!
When we went to Budapest we started from the top of the hill. Once finished our tour of Buda we descended the hill, walking through the Fisherman’s Bastion, towards the river. Following the road snaking down the side of the hill you’ll walk past the church “Budai Református Egyházközség“, a church noticeable by the beautiful roof, similar to the one of Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom). From there take left to Margaret Bridge (Margit Hid), a bridge slightly bent, to touch in its middle the tip of the island, accessible through a ramp.
Margit Sziget definitely deserves a visit if you’re staying in Budapest for at least 2-3 days, especially on a warm day to find refreshment in the lush vegetation of the vast park. It’s quite big so I suggest to take half a day for a proper visit, mainly because at the opposite end of the island you can find the Japanese Gardens, one gem of a place, not to be missed.
If you’re in a rush, like we were, you might want to consider renting a pedal cart, for 2 or 4 people. For roughly 2000huf you can have one oversized toy car for one hour of enormous fun. Only downside is that you can take them in the Japanese gardens so we had to take turns to keep an eye of it. Oh, and try to avoid the main road, it quite be quite busy with merciless smoke belching buses.
Shoes on the Danube
Walking along the Danube, on the Pest side, few hundreds meter south of the Parliament you’ll find this touching holocaust memorial. The promenade simply consists of 60 pairs of cast iron shoes to remember the people ruthlessly shot and pushed in the river by the Arrow Cross militia, which was the Hungarian version of the Nazis. The Shoes on the Danube is, in my opinion, one of the most intense and subtle memorial of those dark, dark events.
Parliament and Opera
When I arrived at the top of Buda some crazy man with scruffy straw hair jumped out from behind a corner telling me the the recent history of Budapest. “And our Parliament is the biggest Parliament building in Europe ” he told me with a creepy grin at the end of his unsolicited lecture “second only to Westminster, in England. But England is not in Europe”. It’s good to know that you can still learn stuff from some crazy hobo rather than Wikipedia.
The Parliament is indeed a remarkable building, offering a magnificent view both from the other side of the river and at a closer look, thanks to its refined details.
In the very heart the Opera is a beautiful palace that deserves a visit, you can walk inside to see the hall, and for a minute you might think you are in Paris. Not far from it there’s the St. Stephen’s Basilica, a beautiful church featuring 6 bells, one of which is the biggest in Hungary.
We had a list of museums we wanted to visit but we managed to cross off only one: the House of Photography (Mai Manò house, Nagymezõ utca 20). Not quite an unforgettable one but a very decent exhibition, full of lovely old pictures of everyday life scenes, and pretty cheap too (1500HUF adults, 700 students).
Spa in Budapest: Thermal Baths fun
From Oktagon, not far from the Opera, you can walk along Andrassy Ut, UNESCO site and neverending promenade flanked by charming ancient houses. It’s a long hike but rewarding, at it’s other end there’s Heroes’ Square, which offers a beautiful view of the whole Andrassy Ut and the entrance to the big park hosting the largest medicinal bath in Europe: Széchenyi Gyogyfürdő.
The palace is quite anonymous from outside and is not as popular with tourists as the Gellert Baths, so it took me a while to find it the first time I went there. There are dozens of different pools at different temperatures: I got scolded in the super-hot one and nearly had a heart attack jumping in the 8°C immediately after, there is one that smells of rotten eggs. The real fun is in one of the outdoor pools where there’s a circular water current dragging people around. You can’t say you’ve been to Budapest if you don’t go spend a couple of hours here.