Budapest is a city of full of surprises and wonder, with its lively centre, pretty parks, majestic river, tall church spires and lavish spas. One of the most exciting cities in the world, Budapest is full of secrets to uncover, hidden spots to explore and old favourites to revisit. This is the city where being bored is not an option.There are a million ways to explore Budapest: on foot, by bus, tram and underground, on water, by bike or even by an amphibious vehicle. And what to see while you’re there? Start on the top, with the magnificent Buda Castle and Castle District. You won’t need hiking boots to climb Gellért Hill to enjoy breath-taking, in fact part of the UNESCO World Heritage, views of the city from the Citadel. Cross the river for the most grandiose building on the Pest embankment, the Parliament. For sacred wonders, visit the tallest building in the city, Saint Stephen’s Basilica. Heroes’ Square will give you a peek into the romantic past of the country. When you’re done with the must-sees, leave the main streets behind, and let the city unfold its secrets. Plenty of design shops, tiny parks, terraced cafés, and architectural treasures wait in the nooks and crannies. See the city from a new point of view and get to places we otherwise really wouldn’t. Walks are full of surprises, even for locals, and it is not without reason that they have become so popular in Budapest over the past few years.
Over the centuries, three cities grew and blossomed side by side along the banks of the Danube: Buda, site of the royal residence; Pest with its dynamic growth from the 19th century onwards; and Óbuda, known for its somewhat less urban but cheerful restaurants and citizens.
Inhabited since Roman times, later destroyed by Ottoman troops and Austrian cannon. It was in the Reform Era (1825-1848) that the city experienced its first development boom, when, among other buildings, the Hungarian National Museum and the Chain Bridge connecting the two shores of the Danube were constructed. It was in 1873 that the three cities finally united, leading to a pace of development which was virtually unmatched in Europe. The period before the First World War truly was a Belle Époque, a period of “happy peacetime”, as the Hungarians called it.
The city’s parks were built, along with the elegant Andrássy Avenue and the Opera House. In honour of the millennium of Hungary’s foundation, Europe’s second underground railway was built between Heroes’ Square and the Secessionist Museum of Applied Arts; new bridges were built after the Chain Bridge to connect the two banks of the river, while the Parliament Building was constructed at a tremendous expense and using an enormous labour force. According to foreign travellers of the day, it seemed at that time that everyone was living in the coffee houses. The city’s concert halls were packed every evening, the newly-built train stations were welcoming in the city’s new citizens, while the neighbouring cities were cranking out manufactured goods.
The 20th century did not hold much good in store for it, as many citizens died during World War 2 and in the course of the 1956 revolution. A great part of the original buildings were destroyed, but the city almost miraculously rose up again. It is true however that bullet holes, traces of many battles, can still be seen on the walls of some of Budapest’s buildings. One of Budapest’s main attractions is its truly unsurpassed architectural diversity: the houses in the Buda Castle area were mainly built in the Baroque period, while the streets of downtown Pest are marked by eclectic apartment buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, along with Secessionist and modern buildings. Meanwhile, traces of Budapest’s Roman past can be discovered throughout the city, as well as the legacies of the Turks in the 16th and 17th centuries and of Socialist Realist architecture of the 20th century. It is an exciting medley, just like the cultural activities that the city offers. Today, Budapest is a metropolis of approximately two million people, and is waiting to be discovered.