Budapest

bastione dei pescatori

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Budapest:  Hungary‘s Commercial, Political and Cultural Capital on the Danube

By Shannon Berg.

 

 

Budapest is truly one of those amazing cities that everyone should visit if they can.  It is picturesque, has a rich history and boasts a unique culture making it a place that both the young and old enjoy.    It has great museums, world class restaurants and, of course, the internationally famous spas and baths that people have come from around the globe to experience for centuries.   Not only that, but Hungary’s capitol also offers numerous concerts, opera, ballet and theater, not to mention its amazing night life with bars and clubs filled with students from around Hungary that have come to study here at the university.  This beautiful city with its population of 1,696,128 sits on either side of the Danube river in central Hungary making it easy to reach by plane, train or even ferry from all over Europe as well as most of the world.  The Budapest (Ferihegy) International Airport is just 16km southeast from the city center, and ferries from Vienna and Bratislava arrive on the docks of the Danube here daily.

 

Since opening its borders in the early 1990s, Budapest has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe and many who have seen it consider it to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Historically, the city was made up of two cities,  Buda on the west bank of the Danube River and Pest on the East banks.  Buda is the older of the two, built on the hill for defensive purposes, first by the Celtic Tribes and later extended by the Romans, and finally falling into the hands of the Ottoman Empire for about 150 years to then be passed on to the Austria-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century.  Pest, on the other hand, was built on the other side of the river on the flat eastern plains and today it is the most modern part of the city where most of the commercial interests are located.  The two towns were united officially in 1873 and then declared the second official capitol of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.  Budapest‘s unique cultural identity has been influenced by all of these occupations, and today it is truly one of the most colorful and exciting cities in Europe.  Now Budapest is not only Hungary‘s  political capitol, but also its wealthiest city boasting an amazing array of cultural and historic attractions that tempt visitors from around the globe. 

 

 

Attractions

 

Budapest-BathsThe Baths

Budapest is best known throughout the world for its luxurious baths, a remnent of its Turkish occupation that the Hungarians have since made all their own.  Thanks to the many natural hot springs in the area, the baths are filled by natural thermal pools that promise miraculous cures for all that ails you.  The baths and spas also include steam baths, drinking cures, saunas and massage.  Many of them feature fantastic architecture in the Art Nouveau tradition and all of them promise a relaxing time.  This is also a great way to meet the locals and enjoy some of historic Budapest while pampering yourself as you should on vacation.

 

Castle Hill

This is the oldest section of Hungary‘s capitol, built on the hill for defensive purposes on the Buda side of the river.  The area is full of medieval buildings, winding cobbled streets and the most points of interest for tourists, including the Royal Palace, the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Mary Magdalene Tower.  This is a great place to spend the day exploring on foot or by bus, enjoying not only the many monuments but also a spectacular view of the city below.  Some complain that the funicular to the top is too touristy and expensive, but it does provide a unique view of the city as it climbs to the top.  Visitors also have the option of walking or taking a bus up the hill.  Any way you choose to get there, Castle Hill offers a great time.

 

Royal Palace

This is Budapest‘s most popular tourist destination, housing both the National Gallery and the National Széchényi Library.  Despite its name, it was never actually the royal home.  This mostly Gothic structure was under construction for more than 300 years, explaining its Baroque facade and dome, and at this point has grown to 304 meters long.  The National Gallery within has a fabulous collection of European Art, with some especially interesting 19th century Hungarian paintings.

 

 

Buda Castle Labyrinth

This 1200 meter long complex of caves and cellars creates an amazing labyrinth under Castle Hill that is sure impress most visitors, especially families with children.  The tunnels were originally formed by hot springs and later expanded during World War II for use as an air raid shelter.   More recently they have been embellished with copies of cave paintings, historic scenes and even fossils, all to impress its many visitors.  Tours are offered in four languages.

 

Great Synagogue and Jewish Museum

Budapest‘s Great Synagogue is actually the largest in Europe and it has recently undergone an extensive restoration.  Here visitors can not only enjoy the great architecture, but also visit its impressive museum which is dedicated to Jewish history and the victims of Shoah.  One block away is an older, un-restored and smaller synagogue which was used by the Nazi as a holding place for the victims of the Holocaust.   It is both a chilling and powerful reminder of what happened not so long ago.

 

Aquincumi Museum

This open air museum which is located just 7km north of Budapest in the Óbuda District is built around the ancient Roman ruins which were the earliest inhabited areas of Budapest.  They date back to the 2nd century and are the best preserved Roman ruins in Hungary.

 

Palace of Arts

This ultra modern building which resembles a factory houses Budapest‘s modern art museum, festival theater and the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall.  Visitors can come here to enjoy jazz, classical, international pop and traditional Hungarian concerts.  There are even children’s programs throughout the year and the Wagner Festival every June.  Some of Hungary‘s best opera is preformed here as well.


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