Historically the cities of Buda and Pest were once divided by the River Danube as it made its way from Germany through 12 countries to the Black Sea. Today the Hungarian capital of Budapest is united and is one of the highlights of river cruises through Central Europe. The first tourists to the city were attracted by the health properties of its thermal springs but today there are many more reasons to visit Budapest which welcomes over four million annual visitors.
The city is home to numerous World Heritage Sites including the Banks of the Danube and Buda Castle. Many river cruise companies provide their guests with the option of adding an extra two nights in Budapest at the beginning or end of their journey. Considering the wealth of attractions in this beautiful city, the extension is highly recommended.
Port of Budapest
Budapest is an important port on the Danube with river cruise vessels docking right in the city centre within walking distance of many of the city’s main attractions. Whilst it is possible for ships to stop on either side of the river, the majority dock on the Pest side between the Elizabeth and Chain Bridges where plenty berths are available.
Many river cruises begin or end their journey in Budapest which means passengers will most likely be passing through the city’s Ferenc Liszt International Airport. This airport is located some 20km south-east of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and is one of the busiest in Central Europe. By public transport you can get to city centre destinations by means of the Metro system (line 3) or airport bus (number 200E). Licensed taxis can be ordered from an official desk inside the terminal building or you can pre-book private transfers to or from the airport and have a driver waiting for you.
Getting Around in Budapest
Whilst you’ll be able to see most of the city’s main attractions on foot, the city does have an impressive public transport system which includes a four line metro, city trams, a suburban rail network and extensive bus operations. There are also boat services along the Danube and a public bicycle hire system.
Insider Tip: If you want to get around by taxi you can easily spot the licensed ones as they’re bright yellow with prices printed on the outside of the vehicle. Unmarked ones are usually unlicensed and are more likely to overcharge visitors.
If you’re planning on travelling around extensively then it’s worth getting a Budapest Card which covers all public transport for one, two or three days. It also provides significant discounts on certain entry fees and is available from tourist information points around the city.
Informative walking tours with licensed local guides depart are highly recommended. They depart from Vörösmarty Square every day at 10.30am and 2.30pm. There’s no fixed charge for these walks, you simply pay a tip at the end.
Main Tourist Attractions
Castle Hill: Overlooking the Danube in the hills of Buda, Castle Hill has been inhabited since the 13th century. By the 15th century it was a distinguished city in its own right. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which will prove to be one of the highlights of your time in Budapest where many of the city’s top attractions are to be found amongst its cobbled streets. To get there from the river take the Castle Hill Funicular from the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Highlights include Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. Below Castle Hill is a series of caves which were formed by thermal springs.
Buda Castle: Perched on the southern edge of Castle Hill this Royal Palace whose history can be traced back to the year 1265 is now home to the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
Fisherman’s Bastion: With seven towers representing the Magyar tribes who founded Hungary this is one of the city’s most visited attractions. Lovely spot to take a break at their terrace café and take in the panoramic views of the river, Pest and Margaret Island.
Insider Tip: Hungary is a member of the European Union but has not yet adopted the Euro. The local currency is the forint which can be withdrawn from ATMs around the city or purchased at foreign currency exchanges.
Matthias Church: This stunning church stands right next to the Fisherman’s Bastion in the Castle District. Its origins date back as far as 1015 though the current structure was built in the 14th century and has undergone significant renovations since that time.
Hungarian Parliament Building: Standing right on the Danube this historic building is currently the seat of the National Assembly. It is located on the Lajos Kossuth Square and is the city’s largest building and the world’s 3rd largest Parliament building.
Saint Stephen’s Basilica: This is one of the country’s largest churches which is named after St. Stephen who was the first King of Hungary. The Saint’s mummified right hand is on view in a shrine of the church and is considered a national treasure. Visitors can go to the top of the church’s dome for panoramic city views. St. Stephen Square where the church resides is a nice place to stop for a coffee break.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge: This iconic suspension bridge was the first permanent structure to connect Buda and Pest across the River Danube. Originally opened in 1849 it is anchored to Adam Clark Square near the Castle Hill Funicular which goes up to Buda Castle. Nowadays it is one of twelve road bridges and two train bridges which make for interesting viewing as you approach or depart the city on your river cruise.
Heroes’ Square: Located next to City Park (Városliget) at the end of Andrássy Avenue this is one of the city’s main squares which has been central to many political events over the years. It is also home to Budapest’s Museum of Fine Arts and the city’s Palace of Art.
Insider Tip: For a classic Hungarian café experience head for Gerbeaud Café (Vörösmarty tér 7-8) and order coffee with cakes in the exquisite surroundings of what is one of the city’s finest coffee houses.
Vajdahunyad Castle: Located close to Heroes’ Square in the city centre is the entrance to City Park which is a fine place to take a break during your sightseeing. The architectural highlight of the park is Vajdahunyad Castle which houses Europe’s largest agricuktural museum.
Insider Tip: Visitors might be interested in paying a lunchtime visit to the McDonald’s restaurant inside the Nyugati Railway Terminal. A Big Mac might not be your first choice for lunch but the beauty of this venue is something to behold. It is right next to the city’s best shopping mall.
Dohány Street Synagogue: Located in central Pest in the east of the city, the Great Synagogue is the largest in Europe with a capacity for almost 3000 people. The site is also home to the Memorial and Jewish Museums. Just south of the Budapest Parliament building is a most moving monument called ‘Shoes on the Danube’. It is made up of 60 pairs of cast-iron shoes and is dedicated to the thousands of Jewish people who were killed there, on the riverbank, during the Second World War.
Budapest – The City of Spas
This region was first colonised by the Romans who had discovered thermal springs there and constructed huge baths in a city they name Aquincum. In the 16th century the Turks went on to build baths for both bathing and medicinal use, some of which remain in use to this day. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that the city began to realise the economic potential of its thermal waters which would soon start to attract significant numbers of visitors to the city.
Nowadays there are more than 100 thermal springs where visitors can relax in warm water soaking up the minerals which are considered to offer substantial health benefits. Most famous are the Széchenyi Baths which were was built in 1913 and are one of the largest in Europe together with the Gellért Baths which are well known for their Art Nouveau architecture. A number of the river cruise operators arrange optional trips to these spas.
Overnight in Budapest
If you decide to take up your cruise line’s offer of an extension in Budapest then you’re in for a treat as this is one of Europe’s great cultural capitals. The city is home to a multitude of historic theatres and concert halls together with the Hungarian State Opera House where the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra perform. Tickets are available online from each individual venue’s website with performances taking place all year round. If you’re fortunate enough to be in town in August your visit might coincide with the Sziget Festival . This is one of Europe’s largest outdoor music and cultural festivals which takes place on Old Buda Island to the north of the city.
Insider Tip: The summer in Budapest lasts from May to September and is surprisingly warm. However, be prepared for sudden rainfall that is often very heavy.
In the city restaurants you’ll find that typical local cuisine is focused largely on freshly produced local ingredients including lamb, pork and vegetables. Much fusion cuisine is on offer thanks to the influence of neighbouring country’s and others such as Turkey which have occupied Hungary at times during the nation’s history. One notable presence is the availability of paprika which appears on most dinner tables next to the salt and pepper and is the key spice in Hungarian Goulash which is one of the national dishes.
Whilst you’ll find plenty local establishments offering Hungarian and international dishes as you stroll around you might like to pre-book one of the city’s top notch restaurants for your evening in port. Highly recommended are Onyx Restaurant (Vorosmarty Square 7-8), Costes (Raday utca 4) and Borkonyha Winekitchen (Sas Utca 3), all of which have won Michelin Stars.
About Shuttle Direct
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