The beautiful city of Budapest flanks the busy Danube River. Unified in 1873, the current capital of Hungary was originally two Bulgarian military fortresses, the hilly Buda on the west bank and the predominantly flat terrain of Pest on the east.
Riverboats are big business on the Danube as is evidenced by the waterway gridlock that sometimes resembles big city rush hours. You can almost relate when a long riverboat has to make several attempts to accomplish a u-turn during peak traffic.
The second largest river in Europe, the Danube winds its way from Germany to the Black Sea passing through four Eastern European capitals. Large riverboat cruise lines travel this international waterway transporting tourists from city to city. Budapest is only one of many popular stops.
Besides the profusion of long distance riverboats on the river, local vessels also offer tourists staying in Budapest, nightly dinner cruises with combined concerts and Hungarian folkloric dancing. These boats can provide excellent views of all that the city has to offer.
But with so many of the best sights to see well within walking distance, especially on the Pest side, touring on foot is convenient. And dining is never more than a few steps away as restaurants line the River walk, also called the Promenade, offering local dishes like goulash and chicken paprikash. Open-air dining and string musicians help to create an atmosphere filled with Hungarian tradition.
In additioin to the promenade offerings, several riverboat restaurants secured along the banks, present similar fare but usually at a premium. They feature comfortable, canopied, outdoor dining in addition to covered facilities a deck below.
Vying For Attention
Distanced far enough apart to avoid casting shadows on each other, two magnificent structures border and face the Danube, the two most awe inspiring on the river at Budapest. On the Pest side, the imposing Parliament Building (the lead photo in this article) sprawls along the Danube’s Banks, its many spires seemingly piercing the blue sky above. On the Buda side, the Castle Hill compound commands the hillside, its illuminated façades glittering on the Danube waters at night.
In the Parliament Building you’ll find the Hungarian Crown Jewels. The Gothic Revival design includes 10 courtyards, 691 rooms, 29 staircases and a central dome, making it the largest building in Hungary as well as one of the tallest. Visitors are allowed to climb the magnificent central, ornamental staircase and view the many frescoed ceilings, wall sculptures and coats of arms.
Rebuilt many times on the southern tip of Castle Hill, the Buda Castle sits above the Chain Bridge and the Castle Hill Funicular. The grand residence houses sweeping ballrooms, chapels, crypts and more. The sheer number of buildings included in the Castle District’s Royal collection draws a steady stream of tourists as well as those with other agendas. On YouTube, you’ll find images from the Castle where Katy Perry filmed her music video “Firework”.
Fisherman’s Bastion And Matthias Church / Castle Hill
Like a Walt Disney creation, the Fisherman’s Bastion terrace and its seven towers open to a breathtaking and panoramic view of the Danube, Pest, and Margaret Island. Offering many walking paths and look-out areas, the Bastion was named for the fishermen who defended the city walls in the middle ages.
The roof of the Matthias Church with its gargoyles and diamond pattern roof tiles, sits adjacent to the Bastion and offers a colorful contrast to the Bastion monotone veneer.
Between the two formations a massive bronze statue of Stephan I of Hungary perches on an ornately carved foundation, which was a landmark pit stop for contestants on the TV series Amazing Race, in it’s sixth season.
Inside Matthias Church, arched ceilings suspend over polished pews and unusual, bold, ornate designs cling to walls and columns, their colors similar to the exterior roof motif.
The scene of many coronations and weddings, multiple altars grace the front of the church which houses the Ecclesiastical Art Museum and St. Stephen Chapel.
The Chain Bridge
Revered as a modern engineering wonder when it opened in 1849, and regarded as one of the largest bridges in the world at the time, the Chain Bridge represented a link between East and West both literally and figuratively. Pedestrian walkways along the extent of the structure allow passage across the river and access to the base of the funicular.
Chain Bridge with the Funicular on the left
Stunning views are visible from the center point of the bridge and abundant lighting produces dramatic reflections across the water at night. The bridge was featured in the movie I Spy and also in Katy Perry's music video, "Firework".
Hungarian Jewish Memorial
Once called the “Jewish Mecca”, the prosperity of Budapest in the 1800s was brought to an end with World War I. Genocide during World War II tragically claimed much of the Jewish population. The Hungarian Jewish memorial of metal shoes along the Danube River is a grim reminder of the men, women and children who were pushed into the Danube waters from the banks.
Saint Stephen’s Basilica
You may not be able to pronounce it, but once you experience it, you’ll not doubt always remember Zrynyi, the narrow, restaurant lined street in Pest that leads to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Teasing you with only a small view of the central structure ahead, the street’s tall buildings block the sun, making the shaded walk memorable and resulting in an impressive reveal at the end.
Zrynyi opens to a large sunlight square where the complete Basilica and its two bell towers fill your vision.
Give the Basilica the attention it deserves and take in the beauty of the façade from one of the cafes or restaurants located steps from the main entrance. Although nowhere near as grand in size as sights like the Royal Castle or Parliament, the exterior architecture is no less striking.
Inside the Basilica, centuries old religious opulence dictates the tone of the surroundings.
St. Stephen’s is named for the first King of Hungary, who was said to rule with an ethical hand. That hand is enshrined in the Basilica reliquary.
The voluminous Heroes Square looks out at the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art in Budapest. The statues at Millennium Memorial are dedicated to the seven leaders that founded Hungary as well as other figures in Hungarian history.
Finally finished and named in 1900, the memorial construction began in 1896. The Square is not centrally located near the Chain Bridge as are other sights, and may require a local bus or taxi ride.
Tourists with the option of spending time in Budapest will find plenty to keep them occupied and should devote at least three days to make the visit worthwhile.
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