Budapest gives Paris a run for its money in the drop-dead gorgeous stakes. Here’s what I reckon you should take a look at in this most underrated of European capitals…
1. Blossom Boulevard, AKA Toth Arpad Setany
The scenes below are basically the reason why I timed my trip to Budapest for mid-April. There aren’t actually that many blossom trees in the city, but the ones that do exist are total over-achievers.
Head for Toth Arpad Setany in the Castle District, and you’ll find a mile-long boulevard striped with pink blossom trees. Meanwhile, the blossom trees on Gellert Hill drape themselves over bird’s-eye views of Budapest. Or go to Margaret Island, where monastery ruins end up buried under fallen blossom at the end of April.
2. The Danube River
So many bridges; so little time. Liberty Bridge is my favourite — look at that emerald ironwork! — closely followed by the Chain Bridge, with its night-time views of the lit-up Hungarian Parliament Building.
Margaret Bridge isn’t quite as lovely, but scores points for interest. Its Y-shaped design joins the Buda and Pest sides of the city to Margaret Island.
One of the best ways to see the bridges is by boat. Or you can walk ’em. Most of the bridges have pedestrian-friendly walkways — just watch out for the take-no-prisoners cyclists.
3. Matthias Church
Oof. I could’ve gawped at Matthias Church for days.
The dragon scale roof is made from Zsolnay tiles created right there in Hungary. I recommend biting the bullet and paying the entrance fee — it’s not the quietest church on the planet, but every inch is painted with murals, icons, tiles, stained glass, etc etc. Gaudi fans will love it.
4. Margaret Island
Margaret Island is for lazy Sunday afternoons. There’s loads to see: a rose garden, riverside walking trail, monastery ruins, trees that look like petrified acromantulas…
Catch a boat to Margaret Island (I went with Legenda) for the most scenic journey.
5. The Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall is like a grand Victorian train station. On the ground floor, locals pick up vegetables and Hungarian salami, while tourists pick through the paprika souvenirs and caramel layer cakes. (YUM.)
Lace is another biggie, souvenir-wise, so the top floor is filled with alleyways of handmade tablecloths, gloves and baby clothes.
6. Gellert Hill
Gellert Hill dishes up the very best views in Budapest. Most people aim straight for the Communist monument at the Citadella, but I preferred the quieter viewpoints and staircases that run down the south side of the hill.
Worn out from clambering up all those staircases? The Gellert Baths are right next door.
7. Fishermen’s Bastion
Another must-see of the Castle District. Go in the daytime to check out the platinum-white stone and fanciful towers. Then go again at night, when violinists closet themselves away under the arches and you get seamless views over Budapest.
8. The Jewish quarter
The Jewish quarter is a real mishmash of architectural styles, so you’ll see Art Nouveau, Soviet Brutalism, Art Deco, hipster-grungy ruin bars and Neoclassical squares. The Dohany Street Synagogue is the highlight — it’s the biggest synagogue in Europe, and a survivor of the Nazi occupation of Hungary.
9. The Castle District backstreets
The Castle District covers Buda Castle, Fishermen’s Bastion and Matthias Church, so it certainly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to spectacular views.
But to me, some of the most photogenic parts of the Castle District are the less obvious corners — the backstreets stacked with slightly battered peach, mint, lemon and sugar-white houses. And the largely overlooked National Archives of Hungary goes and throws in another of those Zsolnay tile roofs.
10. St Stephen’s Basilica
If you go to St Stephen’s Basilica, fork out a few forints to hike up the Panorama Tower.
You’ll notice little details from up there that don’t come across when you’re up close and personal: chequered streets and even more of those Zsolnay tile roofs. I even managed to catch a Soviet car rally while I was up there.
Did I miss anything? Let me know, so I can use it as an excuse to head back to Budapest ASAP for ‘research purposes’…