Thinking about doing a weekend in Budapest? Just do it. First of all, any city known for their thermal baths needs to be visited. Second of all, Budpest in the autumn is beautiful.
Not long ago, anyone traveling to Europe, would not have included Budapest, Hungary on their list of top European cities to visit. Being overshadowed by its much larger and more iconic neighbors in Western Europe, people didn’t pay much to it.
A large part of that was because after WWII the city was controlled by the Soviets. Budapest was cold, beaten, and under communism. When the Iron Curtain fell for Germany in 1989, so did it too for Budapest. The city was reborn.
Now, after decades of being in the backdrop of Europe’s cultural malaise, Budapest has finally come center stage. So I had to go. Here are my favorite pictures from my trip to Budapest.
A Weekend in Budapest
The heart of the city is the Danube River, which splits the old trading town of Pest from the old royal city of Buda. I loved the water views. There was something utterly romantic about the Danube.
Bridges of Budapest – Liberty Bridge
Although Liberty bridge is this shortest bridge of the famous Budapest bridges, it has some interesting things to see on both sides of its entrances. Fővám Square is at the end of the Pest side, with Market Hall being where you’ll want to wander into.
The Buda end of the bridge has Gellért Square, Hotel Gellért (famous for its thermal water), and the Cave Church.
The bridges was where I started out on day 1. From there all my explorations began and I got to learn about the history, culture, architecture, nightlife, and all the best sites the city has to offer.
Budapest History & Culture
Since the overthrow of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Budapest has consistently remained a culturally-rich Hungarian city. Even so, it certainly has seen its fair share of foreign assimilation that has influenced the culture today.
Early on, the Romans, the Huns, and the Avars swept through this region and infused their culture. Christianity was introduced around the year 1000 and then the Mongols came in 1242.
Their influence ended with western and central European settlers, which brought about a burgeoning feudal state. That’s when the two cities on either side of the Danube (Pest and Buda) grew in prosperity.
Later in 14th Century, the Turks (led by Sultan Süleyman I, a.k.a the Magnificent) converted churches into mosques and injected another Eastern architectural jolt.
However, despite these frequent meetings of eastern and western culture, Budapest is a much more European-feeling city today. This was thanks to the House of Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire returning the city to its European roots in the 16th century.
Thus, Buda became the center of the Royal Hungarian Court, while Pest became its trading center.
All stayed on this trajectory until the world wars. WWI which changed the very fabric of Europe and the Austro-Hungarian empire collapsed.
During WWII the Royal Castle housed German armies. After 1945, the city was controlled by the Soviets until 1989. Today, Hungary has a parliamentary representative democratic republic.
As a living symbol of Hungarian strength, it’s no surprise that Budapest is a World Heritage urban site. History may have beaten and bruised it, but it stands. Revival is in its soul.
In general, there’s a lot of great things to see in the city that take longer than a weekend. But a weekend in the “the city of spas” or “royal city of the old Hungarian Kings” was all I had.
There’s also something quaint and unpretentious about Budapest that I like. Like when I was heading to one of the bridges and looked down to see this guy fishing on the rocks. It’s cute when urban metropolises don’t stop people from enjoying nature.
Budapest is also a very developed city, but it still has a bit of an old world feel to it. Despite this, the main areas of the city don’t feel like a tourist trap.
Perched atop the southern tip of Castle Hill, the royal castle for the Hungarian Kings still stands. Its walls are patched up, its integrity is restored, and its back to its Hungarian roots. The Danube in turn looks admirably back at this symbol of historical pride.
The castle district, which surrounds it by Medieval, Baroque, and 10th century buildings, are reflective of the different peoples and cultures that have came in and out.
It also looks really cool at night when it’s lit up in a blazing yellow hue.
Budapest City Park
We spent a lot of time in City Park (Városliget). Close to the city center, Budapest City Park was the first public park in the world. The first trees and planned walkways were input in 1751 and in 1896 it was the main venue for the Hungarian millennium celebrations.
The main entrance, Hero’s Square, is large and impressive. Its outstretched columns remind me a bit of St. Peter’s Square in Rome.
You absolutely must must make sure you get to Hero’s Square during sunset. It looks so piercing; I couldn’t believe it.
The statues around Hero’s Square were part of the Millennium Monument to commemorate the 1000 year old history of Magyars.
“Archangel Gabriel stands on top of the center pillar, holding the holy crown and the double cross of Christianity. The seven chieftains who led the Magyar tribes to Hungary can be seen on the stand below. Statues of kings and other important historical figures stand on top of the colonnades on either side of the center pillar.”
And that was me having way too much fun climbing all over them.
One of my favorite parts in City Park was Vajdahunyad Castle. It’s a replica of a Transylvanian castle and is built in the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque style. Although it was built in 1896, it’s actually a fantasy pastiche.
That means it was constructed to showcase the architectural styles of Hungary throughout the centuries.
It’s an incredibly romantic looking castle that should belong to Snow White.
The castle is a working castle in the sense that you can attend concerts, festivals, and exhibits there. I’ve seen pictures of this castle when it’s snow capped and that is very whimsical as well.
If you like castles like Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, then you’ll appreciate a mini version of a very fairy-tale structure.
The Statue of Anonymous
In the courtyard of Vajdahunyad Castle is the statue of Anonymous – or the unknown chronicler to King Béla. His work ended up being the main information source for Hungarian history to the Middle Ages.
Then nightlife in Budapest was really cool too. Since we were staying with a local, he took us to these off-the-beaten “tourist” path bars, which had an underground feel to them.
They were all converted buildings. One used to be a multi-store house or apartment building.
Another was something else, perhaps a warehouse, but renovated into a huge bar. In each place they kept a lot of the original elements.
Walking around Budapest is an architect’s dream. As mentioned there’s a lot of styles in the city to ingest. I captured some of my favorites as I walked around.
Is Budapest on your list of places to visit?