When governments in other countries nowadays say that they are striving to become the second Hungary, I always hope they’re thinking about the cosmopolitan and romantic nature of its capital Budapest and not so much the totalitarian direction Hungary is heading towards. Politics aside, Hungarians are wonderful people and Budapest is an exceptional city, its stunning, baroque and neoclassical architecture, vibrant riverside and nightlife are what lures people in. Before my first visit to Budapest long time ago I always thought that apart from goulash there’s nothing to eat, see or do there. I couldn’t be further from the truth. With a population of almost 2 million people, Budapest is twice as big as cities as Amsterdam and Stockholm. It belongs to the seven biggest cities within the EU. Pretty remarkable, especially when you take note of the small size of country and its total population. Actually it is the only city in Hungary that really counts, it is economic hart of the country, the seat of all administrations and every new trend will start here.
In a certain way Budapest is still two cities in one: Buda and Pest. In the older and more picturesque Buda you will find the Castle Hill, which can be seen from everywhere in the city. Looking over the Danube, Castle Hill comprises of Budapest's historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings. The18th-century Buda Castle is a huge palace in an eclectic mix of renaissance and baroque styles, housing more than 200 rooms. Before there was on the same site a 13th-century castle, built to protect the city from the regular Mongol and Tartar attacks. Another tourist magnet at the Buda side of the Danube is the Fishermen's Bastion. This monument built in Neo-Romanesque style between 1895-1902 served as a marketplace where people could buy fresh fish. The building has a pretty unique style and always reminds me a bit of an famous fairy-tale amusement park in my own country. Next to it you will find the elegant neo-gothic Matthias Church. The Fishermen’s Bastion provides also great panoramic views to the Danube and the Pest side of the city.
At the bank of the Danube you will notice immediately the Parliament building, which is also in neo-gothic style. It is really enormous and with almost 700 rooms is belongs to the top five largest parliamentary buildings in the world. When you would be at that side of the city I would also recommend you to visit one the most striking memorials I ever saw: Shoes on the Danube Bank. This monument honours the people who were killed by the fascist Arrow Cross movement in Budapest during World War II. It symbolises their shoes left behind on the bank after they were executed at the riverbank.
Pest is the more modern and commercial heart of the city. Popular spots for tourists are the Heroes’ Square at the end of Andrássy Avenue. Constructed in 1896 to mark the 1000th anniversary of Hungary, Heroes' Square (Hősök tere) is the largest and most famous square in the city. Next to it you will find a large park, which makes a perfect spot to escape from the city hectic, especially on hot summer days. Close to the square on Andrássy út 60 is located The House of Terror Museum, which commemorate the victims of both the Communist and the Nazi regimes in Hungary. This fairly new museum received also some criticism: some criticasters say the current government is using it too much for its own political agenda.
The end of March is already a good period to plan your trip, because than you can witness the Spring Festival: the most important and largest fiesta spread over almost 200 events across the whole city. Usually during the first half of August the Óbuda Island in the river Danube gets invaded during a whole week by 100,000s of people who come to visit the renowned Sziget Festival. It is hard to imagine that this event which has become on the most prominent rock festivals in Europe started in 1993 as a small-scale local student event. In 2016 the festival reached attracted the amazing number of almost 500,000 visitors from 95 countries. Around 50% of the visitors come from outside of Hungary and the event is particularly popular with west Europeans, especially concertgoers from the Netherlands. The line-up of artists is incredible diverse and not only electronic dance lovers, indie fans or metal heads will find everything they like. The festival offers also many other niche music styles and it is heart warming to see it even caters for the interests of the elderly locals by offering them folk music and dance or other traditional stuff, so if your girlfriend has an headache you can also take your grandmother along. If you have a special interest in Jewish culture in the broadest sense Jewish culture you should visit in the beginning of September the Jewish Summer Festival, organized for the first time in 1998. The centre of the festivities is the magnificent Great Synagogue in Dohány Street, which – after the New York Synagogue – is the second largest Synagogue in the world.
Don’t miss out on Hungary’s cuisine; you wouldn’t want to end up HUNGRY, right? Ha! It really has much more to offer than goulash. Most of their cooking revolves around all kinds of paprika, sweet, hot, smoked. If you ever have time to buy some and bring it back home, you won’t regret it. When you would be done visiting the Castle Hill and a museum or two, and are a bit fed up with sightseeing you can also head for what’s really important: exploring Budapest’s thermal baths. All of them are heated naturally by thermal springs that flow beneath the city. Most of them include pools with varying temperatures, steam baths and massage facilities. The most famous ones are Gellert Spa (Kelenhegyi ut 4) and Széchenyi Baths and Pool (Állatkerti körút 9-11) and from own experience I can highly recommend both of them. Hungarians say there’s no better hangover cure than a visit to the baths with a beautiful woman.