Budapest Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia
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Budapest Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia

The Hungarian capital, Budapest, is situated on the banks of the Danube in
Central Europe. It’s the political, economic and cultural
heart of the nation, and one of the most beautiful and livable
cities on the continent. For centuries this has been a tale of two cities, the city of Buda rising from the steep western hills, and Pest, stretching away into the flat plains
of the East. The Danube kept these two cities apart until 1873, when the first of Budapest’s seven bridges
began stitching the two halves into one. This tale of two cities has been one of destruction
and renewal too. Just as the Danube’s waters have coursed
through Budapest, so too have the great tides of European history,
often gracefully, but sometimes with ferocious force. Budapest is a big city, and navigating its patchwork of districts can be as challenging as understanding its complex history. For a sweeping overview, head to the Citadella
on the Buda side of the Danube, and take in the views from the 19th century
ramparts on Gellért Hill. Just upriver from the Citadella
is Budapest’s oldest area, The Castle District, which is filled with medieval, baroque and 19th century buildings. Ride the 150 year-old funicular up Castle Hill
to Buda Castle. First built in the 13th century the castle
has been home to Hungarian kings, a stronghold for Ottoman armies, and headquarters
for an elite German Commando Unit. Over the last seven hundred years, the castle complex has been reduced to rubble
by wars and rebuilt in peacetime many times over. At the northern end of castle hill rises the defiant spire of Matthias Church, which served as a mosque during the 150 years
of Ottoman rule. Step from the church and onto the terraces
of Fisherman’s Bastion, whose seven towers represent the seven Magyar Tribes who founded the Hungarian nation in the ninth century. In medieval times,
fishwives peddled their wares here; today the fanciful terraces are yet another
great place to catch views across the city. Once you’ve explored the heights of Castle Hill, stroll across another of Budapest’s iconic
landmarks to the Pest side of the city. Crossing the Danube wasn’t always this easy, for centuries travellers were at the mercy
of the waters’ moods. In 1820 a young count vowed to create a bridge
after winter ice flows prevented him from attending the funeral of
his beloved father. Thirty years on, The Szechenyi Chain Bridge
was completed. Hailed at the time as one of the world’s
engineering wonders, the bridge was just one of many achievements
which earned István Széchenyi the title of The Greatest Hungarian. Once you’ve crossed the river, follow the riverbank upstream to Hungary’s
Parliament Building. Lovingly constructed from 40 million bricks, half a million precious stones
and 88 pounds of gold, this architectural masterpiece holds the hopes
and dreams of the nation. It’s also the home of The Hungarian Crown Jewels,
which have been hidden, lost, stolen and returned many times over. Join a tour to see the crown of Hungary’s
first king, St Stephen, which after being kept in
America’s Fort Knox for safekeeping throughout much of the Cold War, now takes pride of place beneath
the Parliament’s central dome. The Parliament Building is home
to around 100 statues, but none is more cherished than that of former
Prime Minister, Imre Nagy. In 1956 Nagy enraged the Soviets by announcing
his country’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, sparking a gallant but doomed uprising which cost him and thousands of Hungarians
their lives. Just a short walk downriver from the Parliament Building is a sobering memorial to another of the city’s
darkest chapters. In 1944, thousands of Budapest’s citizens,
many of them Jews, were executed here by the ruling fascist party. 60 pairs of iron shoes,
lined up along the riverbank, pay tribute to those who were shot and swept
into the night by the Danube’s currents. Despite the horrors of World War Two, today’s Budapest has one of the largest
Jewish populations in Europe. Lose yourself in the Jewish quarter, an area undergoing renewal thanks to
its colorful cafe and bar scene. Then pay your respects
at The Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest Jewish house of worship
in Europe. Budapest is home to over 200 museums. The nation’s most important,
The Hungarian National Museum, lies just to the south of the Jewish Quarter. Here you can explore over 1000 years
of Hungarian history, from the days of the Magyars,
to the Stalinist era and beyond. But this is more than just a building dedicated
to the past, this is a place where history was made. In 1848 the first calls for revolution rang
out from these very steps, inspiring Hungarians to rise and throw off
the shackles of their Austrian overlords. Like so many of this city’s historic buildings, the story of St Stephen’s is filled with drama. The basilica took 54 years to complete. It would have been finished years earlier
had a storm not caused the dome to collapse, forcing the builders to demolish the entire basilica
and start from scratch. Thankfully the new dome has held firm now
for over a century, a reassuring thought as you take in the views
from its top. From St Stephen’s, allow yourself
to be swept up Andrassy Avenue, a world heritage listed boulevard lined with exquisite neo-renaissance architecture
and grand cafes. Not far from St Stephen’s is another temple, this one celebrating the European gods of music. Even though the curtains first opened at
The Hungarian State Opera House over 130 years ago, the acoustics here are still considered among
the world’s finest. Andrassy Avenue continues to flow to the north-east, through Franz Liszt Square, dedicated to the city’s most revered musical son, before finally opening out onto Heroes Square. Gaze up at Hungary’s seven founding
Magyar chieftains, and pause for a few moments at the
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Heroes Square is the gateway to City Park, which in 1896 was the centerpiece of Hungary’s
millennium celebrations. As part of festivities, Vajdahunyad Castle
was created, a temporary attraction made from cardboard
and wood showcasing the evolution of Hungarian architecture. The castle proved so popular
that it was later rebuilt in stone, and today houses an agriculture museum, a fascinating tribute to the Hungarian peoples’
close connection with the land. City Park is also the home of
The Széchenyi Thermal Baths, a vast water palace of pools, saunas,
steam cabins and massage rooms. Budapest lies across a network of
over 125 thermal springs. The Romans took advantage of these warm medicinal
waters over two thousand years ago, as did the Turks who later built lavish bathhouses
on the Buda side of the city at Gellért. By the 1930s, Budapest was known throughout
the world as the city of Spas. For many in Budapest, “taking the waters”
is a weekly ritual. These are the places locals go to rejuvenate
their bodies, spirits, and connections with loved ones and friends. Whether it’s the sparkling Danube
or the thermal springs, there’s something truly special in the water
here that’s helped Budapest absorb some of history’s most turbulent passages, and re-emerge renewed. So when you’re ready to experience moments
of reflection, inspiration, and sublime beauty,
come to Budapest, one of the world’s great cities. You’re sure to come away rejuvenated too.


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