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Wandering Around Budapest, Hungary — A City of Two Halves

It is a most remarkable walkable city. Even when Mother Nature squeezes the swollen grey clouds to release their torrent of moisture and navigating the landmine of puddles becomes an art form, the desire to discover is overwhelming and you venture out … out into this walkable city.

You are in Budapest.

This vast capital city of Hungary—a coupling of the two former cities of Buda and Pest that merged in 1873 to become one—is filled with affable locals, trendy shops and no shortage of trendy restaurants and cafés from Italian to French to Chinese to, of course, Hungarian.

Collectively, Budapest straddles the Danube River, with hilly Buda on the western bank of the river and the much flatter Pest on the opposite side. Buda and Pest each have their own distinct personality, with Buda being the more refined sibling to Pest’s more spirited and rambunctious nature.

The haunting beauty of Budapest

The haunting beauty of Budapest

Budapest is awash in architectural treasures. From gothic (Hungarian Parliament, Fisherman’s Bastion) to renaissance (St. Stephen’s Basilica) to Art Nouveau (Liszt Academy of Music) and beyond, Budapest is a mixture of old and new. The buildings seem to come alive with faces peering from stone facades and towering spires reaching towards the heavens.

St. Stephens Basilica by day...

St. Stephens Basilica by day…

...and by night

…and by night

Before you venture out . . .

The Budapest Card is a 24, 48 or 72 hour card that gives you discounted or free services throughout the city. An official card of Budapest, the free feature allows you to ride all of Budapest’s public transportation at no cost, two walking tours, and entry into one of six museums.

Go to Budapest Card for more information and to purchase your card.

Worth a Look . . .

The Chain Bridge

The Chain Bridge, designed by William Tierney Clark and one of Budapest’s most notable structures, is one of eight bridges that link Buda to Pest. It was the first permanent bridge built between the two cities with construction being supervised by Scottish engineer Adam Clark. The Chain Bridge was opened in 1849, 10 years after construction began. Less than 100 years later, the bridge was almost totally destroyed in 1945 by German troops at the end of World War II. It was finally rebuilt in 1949 and reopened to the public exactly 100 years to the day of its first opening. Today, it remains one of the most recognizable structures in all of Hungary.

Chain Bridge by night

Chain Bridge by night

Budapest Castle Hill Funicular

The Castle Hill Funicular is a cable car located on the Buda side of the city. It glides slowly up and down the hill between Adam Clark Square at the foot of the Chain Bridge and Castle Hill and the Castle District. Visitors can reach either side of the destination in a scant two-to-three minutes. On a clear  day, once at the top the views of Budapest are breathtaking. The Castle District is also where you can find Buda Castle. At the time of my visit, tickets for the Furnicular cost HUF 1200 for a single ticket, HUF 1800 for return (less for children and groups of 10 or more) and can be purchased at the foot or the top of the Funicular.

Castle  Hill Furnicular

Budapest Castle Hill Funicular is located at Budapest, Clark Ádám tér, 1013 Hungary, phone +36 1 201 9128.

Margaret Island

Plan to spend half a day on Margaret Island, an island in the middle of the Danube River situated between Margaret Bridge and Árpád Bridge. Named for Princess Margaret, the daughter of the 13th century King Béla IV, Margaret Island is the green heart of the city with pedestrian and bicycle paths and a 5.3 kilometer jogging trail around the island. While you can reach the 2.5 kilometer-long island by car, taxi or bus, driving is not allowed on the island. There is, however, a large parking lot where you can leave your rental car as you explore all that Margaret Island offers, including a mini-zoo, Palatinus Strand with a number of open air pools and water slides, historical ruins, a musical fountain, an open air theater, hotels, restaurants and clubs.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is also home to the Hungarian Parliament Building, the largest building in Hungary and the third largest Parliament in the world. The Parliament, located along the Pest bank of the Danube River, is an imposing yet absolutely stunning bit of architecture. The striking exterior is matched only by the ornate interior. During your visit, if you’re lucky you will have an opportunity to witness the changing of the guards who stand watch over the Hungarian Holy Crown in the central Domed Hall.

Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from the Danube River

Hungarian Parliament Building as seen from the Danube River

The Parliament is an amazing structure and I highly recommend booking a tour to experience it. Tours, which last roughly 50 minutes, are conducted in eight languages. It is suggested that you book your tickets in advance (either online or through your hotel concierge) to avoid long lines. You can also contact the Hungarian Parliament Visitor Centre. Admission is FREE for EU citizens with a proper passport.

The Hungarian Parliament Building can be reached by riding the #2 street car (getting off at Kossuth Kossuth Lajos tér). which skirts the Danube River on the Pest side or the subway red line (M2) (exit also at Kossuth Kossuth Lajos tér).

The Hungarian Parliament is located at 1055 Budapest, Kossuth tér 1-3.

Miniversum

Hungary, Austria and Germany come alive, all inside of one building. Miniversum, a 300 square meter mini landscape boasting 1,000 cars, 600 buildings, 100 working trains (and 1.2 kilometers of tracks), and a whopping 5,000 characters and 5,000 trees, all on a scale of 1:87. It’s no wonder it took 50 people 30,000 hours to build.

If you think miniature toys are just for children, you’ll likely change your point of view when you experience Miniversum for yourself. Dozens of buttons and knobs throughout the model countries make the experience an interactive one. Press one button and watch a firehose put out a fire. Press another and you’ll see chickens feeding on the farm. Bring the kids with you and make a game of it as you press a button and bring the landscape to life.

Miniversum Collage

There is also a playhouse where kids can learn how to make models, a café, a souvenir shop and the heart of Miniversum, the control Room, where visitors can watch technicians as they ensure the smooth operation of the entire Miniversum across 18 monitors.

Miniversum is located at Andrássy út 12 on the ground floor of the Krausz Palace, District VI, Budapest. Hours of operation: Open every day except the Christmas break (Dec. 24-26). Hours are Sunday – Thursday from 9:00am – 7:00pm, Friday and Saturday 9:00am – 9:00pm.

The Touring Life

When you don’t feel like hoofing it, take in the sights of the City by bus. Hop-On Hop-Off double-decker tour buses make stops at many of Budapest’s cultural and historical highlights. Narration is available in up to 25 languages via headphones, and, as the name implies, you can hop on and hop off at any of the designated stops. There are several major hop-on hop-off tour operators in Budapest:

Sightseeing buses aren’t the only mode of transportation where you can hop on hop and off. Sit back and let someone else do the pedaling on a rickshaw. Purchase a 24-hour ticket and feel free to hop on or off at any of the designated stops. 

Why not be led by your sense of adventure? Climb aboard a Segway, steady yourself and zip around Budapest. Scooting around on a Segway is an exhilarating and fun and a unique way to roam around the city. Budapest Segway Tours offers daily tours as well as tours for small or large private groups.

For the mariner types, set sail down the Danube River on a sightseeing cruise. Traversing the waterways is a great way to take in the sights of Budapest. Whether you have a need for speed or prefer to go it slow, there are many themed cruises from which to choose. Choose from a candlelit dinner cruise, a daytime cruise, a wine tasting cruise, a 1-hour long evening cruise and more.

Our cruise on the Leganda line, which included translations in 30 languages, was short but sweet at one hour, and included a complimentary drink of our choice and a glass of “Duna Bella” lemonade. As we cruised the river, the guide pointed out such notable spots as the Hungarian Parliament, the tower of the Fisherman’s Bastion, Margaret Island and more.

♦     ♦     ♦     ♦     ♦

Man—and woman—cannot live by adventure alone. Stay tuned for the next Budapest installment which will feature where to stay and where to eat while in this lovely city, as well as a look inside the Hungarian Parliament Building.

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