Highlights of Budapest
Home to what you might call Buda's 'old town', Castle Hill has been a cultural and strategic focal point of the city for centuries and has also been the site of more than 30 sieges. The inevitable damage resulted in several periods of reconstruction, often re-using stones from the rubble and lending to the district a fascinating mix of architectural styles. The showpieces are the spectacular Mátyás Church and the Buda Royal Palace to the south. In addition, the views over Pest from the Fishermen's Bastion will take your breath away.
Buda Royal Palace
The enormous building at the southern end of Castle Hill has been the royal palace, in various styles and guises, since the 14th century. It was rebuilt 400 years later and required major reconstruction work after World War II. It now houses the Budapest History Museum, the Hungarian National Gallery and the National Széchenyi Library.
The Fishermen's Bastion (Halászbástya) is often the first stop for tourists visiting Budapest, the fairytale turrets offering an elevated vantage point from which to view the city. The minarets and walls look medieval, but they were actually built in 1902 by Frigyes Schulek to complement Mátyás Church.
Visible from almost everywhere in Budapest, Gellért Hill (Gellért hegy), with the impressive Freedom Monument on its peak, is one of the city's most memorable landmarks. The 14-metre (130 foot) monument was originally commissioned by Miklós Horthy as a memorial to his son, who died in a wartime air accident. When the Russians arrived, they replaced the propeller that the figure was originally meant to hold aloft with a palm frond to symbolize the country's liberation from the Nazis. There were also peasants and red soldiers celebrating freedom, but these are no longer in position. Just beyond the monument is the Citadella, a fortress constructed by the Habsburgs following the 1848-1849 war of independence. It now houses an open-air museum chronicling the history of the hill.
The Chain Bridge
the Lánchíd, literally Chain Bridge was the first permanent link between Buda and Pest and is a fitting monument to István Széchenyi - known as the 'Greatest Hungarian'. The bridge has a British connection too: it was designed by William Tierney Clark and constructed by Adam Clark, after whom the roundabout on the Buda side is named. After its construction, Clark later settled in Budapest, and in fact saved the bridge from destruction twice in 1849 and 1857, as Austian and later Hungarian army generals wanted to destroy it to prevent its use by the enemy.
Budapest's playground, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly Margaret Island (Margitsziget) has everything you need to enjoy a relaxing day - including a sports stadium, numerous tennis courts, an outdoor swimming complex, an open air theatre, Japanese and Rose gardens, early medieval ruins, two spa hotels and a beer garden.
The world's second largest parliament building is a postcard favourite, particularly when reflected in the River Danube below it. It is equally lavish on the inside, but tourists must be part of an organized sightseeing tour to enter. The highest of the 23 spires is 315 ft or 96m tall, in honour of the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896 and the nation's millennium in 1896.
St Stephen's Basilica
Named after Szent István (St Stephen) founder of the Hungarian Christian state, the basilica is visible from all over Budapest. The dome, at 315 ft or 96m, is the exact same height as that of the Parliament.
The Great Synagogue
This synagogue is one of the largest in the world (and is believed to be the basis for the huge Emau-El temple in New York). It has three naves and following orthodox tradition, separate galleries for women. Together the naves and galleries can accommodate up to 3,000 worshippers. It is also a focal point of Budapest's thriving Jewish community, which holds an annual festival in and around the impressive building. The Jewish Museum can also be find here, and the Holocaust Documentation and Memorial Centre is an important and powerful reminder of one of the darkest periods in European history.
This long straight, tree-lined road was named after the former prime minister who had done much to make Budapest a true metropolis. He was determined that Budapest should have an elegant thoroughfare to emulate Paris's Champs Elysees. The cream of Eclectic architecture is to be seen along the Avenue including the outstanding Opera House and many beautiful tenement blocks with intimate inner courtyards, statues and fountains. One of the special features of Andrassy Avenue is barely visible on the surface. The only give-away is the occasional wrought iron balustrade leading underground. Europe's first sub-surface railway was built under the road, and the more than 125 year-old underground is still carrying passengers today along a line only slightly longer than the original.
State Opera House
The Hungarian State Opera House is not only the sanctum of music and dance, but also a historical monument. Construction started in 1875 with the permission and financial support of Franz Joseph, emperor of Austria and king of Hungary. The plans and personal instructions were conducted by Nicholas Ybl. The Opera House opened its gate to the public on the 27th September, 1884.
The Opera House can be visited with a local guide every day at 3&4 pm in 6 different languages. More information: www.operavisit.hu or +36 30 2795677.
The statues on Heroes' Square (Hősök tere) are very much a who's who of Hungarian history (with the notable exception of the unpopular Habsburg monarchy, whose statues were removed and replaced) and its scale and grandeur is an indication of the pride Hungarians have for their country.
Budapest's second favourite park after Margitsziget, the City Park (Városliget) is situated behind and to the right of Heroes' Square as you approach from the centre of town. The City Park offers a host of attractions of its own, including the Budapest Zoo, the Petőfi Csarnok concert venue and the obligatory Széchenyi Thermal Baths.
This fairytale castle was originally constructed from timber and cardboard for the exhibition held in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of the arrival of the Magyars to the Carpathian Basin. Its aim was to give the visitor an insight into Hungary's rich architectural past and it features small-scale reproductions of various buildings around Hungary and, in particular, Transylvania (now Romania). This architectural cocktail was such a success that it was rebuilt from more permanent materials in 1904. In winter, it provides a spectacular backdrop to an ice rink, while in summer, it is surrounded by a lake where pedalos and rowboats can be hired.
Also called Franz Joseph Bridge. It's very popular among tourists and photographers because of the rich adornment and fabulous green lighting at night. Liberty bridge was built in 1896 and last renewed in 2007. On the Pest side of the bridge you will find the Great Market Hall and the end of Váci street. Both very crowded with tourists because of the wide range of souvenir and fashion shops, restaurants and cafés.