Visiting the Historic City of Budapest in Hungary

Budapest is a wonderful city with many historic sites to see and visit. We spent six days in Budapest during our trip, which gave us the ability to visit many different places at a leisurely pace. Obviously you don’t need that much time, but spending at least three days would be beneficial. Budapest is really a combination of two cities sitting on either side of the Danube River with one being Buda on one side and Pest being on the other. We stayed in the busier Pest with all of the restaurants, hotels, and many wonderful locations like the Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica. Here are some of the locations that should be part of your Budapest itinerary.

Royal Palace in Budapest at Night

Royal Palace (Buda Castle) – The Royal Palace, also known as the Buda Castle, is one of the most dominant buildings in Budapest. Whether during the day, or at night when it is lit up, the palace can be seen from almost everyplace in Pest. There are definitely many wonderful things to see within the Castle District, but the Royal Palace is the most important site to visit. Sitting on top of Buda Hill, it looms above the Danube River and in addition to seeing the palace, you will also enjoy wonderful views of the city across the river.

Walking Towards St. Stephen’s Basilica on a Rainy Day

St. Stephen’s Basilica – One of the focal points for any visit to Budapest is the St. Stephen’s Basilica. Located in the Inner City District, it is in the heart of the old town region with all of the restaurants and shopping. Visiting the basilica is free, but there is a recommended donation of 200 Ft (~2 euros) for entering the cathedral. The inside of the cathedral is quite beautiful with all of the ornate gold arches and wonderful domes. Another highlight of the basilica is the observation deck, which has spectacular panoramic views of the city from a different perspective than those of the Castle District or the Citadel.

Amazing Views of the Parliament Building

The Parliament Building – Although we didn’t do a tour inside of the Parliament Building because the English tours were all sold out, just walking around the building with its unique architecture is worthwhile. With a height that is purposely equal to that of the basilica, the Parliament Building dominates the views of Pest when looking from the Buda Castle District.

Liberty Statue and Citadel Wall

The Citadella – The Citadella is a fortress that sits on top of Gellért Hill on the Buda side of the Danube River. The Liberty Statue that is located next to the citadel can be seen from throughout the downtown area of Pest. The bronze statue features a woman raising a palm leaf toward the sky and, although it was built by the Soviet Union, it still represents Hungary’s freedom from Nazi occupation. As interesting as the fortress and statues are, the main reason for making the trek to the top of Gellért Hill is for the views of Budapest. You can see the Buda Castle District, the Parliament Building, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Danube River, and the heart of Budapest. One of the best ways to get to the summit of Gellért Hill is to take the winding path from the base through the park.

Enormous Interior of the Synagogue

The Dohany Street Synagogue – The Dohany Street Synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue, is certainly an important site to visit during any trip to Budapest, Hungary. There are many reasons to visit the synagogue including its size, architecture, and history. The synagogue complex is also home to the Hungarian Jewish Museum, Heroes’ Temple, Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park, and the Jewish Cemetery. There can be long lines to get into the Dohany Street Synagogue, but it is definitely worth the wait. You will undoubtedly walk away with a mix of emotions as it is haunting, sad, and yet a sense of human nature’s ability to overcome.

Matthias Church and the Holy Trinity Statue

Matthias Church – Located in the heart of the Buda Castle District in Budapest is the historic Matthias Church. The current church was built in the 1400’s in the Gothic architectural style, but it was extensively remodeled in the 19th century. The original church was built around 1015, but nothing remains of the original Romanesque architectural style. The Matthias Church sits in front of the Fisherman’s Bastian, which is the wall with towers that surrounds the Danube River side of Castle Hill. The church is clearly visible from the Pest side of the river, especially with its colorful roof.

Iron Shoes Along the Bank of the Danube

The Shoes on the Danube Bank – One of the interesting things that we saw when we were in Budapest was a memorial to honor the citizens, most of them Jewish, who were executed along the shore of Danube River. In December 1944 and January 1945, as World War II came closer to an end, the local fascist militia group called the Arrow Cross killed thousands of people along the shore of the river. It is a humbling reminder of the atrocities that were committed during the war. Making it even more tragic is the inclusion of the shoes of children as entire families were brought to the shore to be executed.

Bratislava Castle

Day Trip to Bratislava, Slovakia – There are several options for taking a day trip out of Budapest, Hungary, some within the country and some to neighboring countries. One of the most popular is to Vienna, Austria, which is about 3 hours from Budapest, but since we have been to Vienna previously, we decided to go to Bratislava in Slovakia. Located about 2 hours outside of Budapest, Bratislava is an interesting city with a rich history. It is the largest city in Slovakia as well as the capital of the country. In addition to getting to visit the city of Bratislava, it also gave us an opportunity to see the Hungarian countryside.

The Largest Tower of the Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest

Fisherman’s Bastion – The Buda Castle District is one of the most popular locations to visit in Budapest and the Fisherman’s Bastion is definitely one of its most unique features. Built in the late 1800’s, the Fisherman’s Bastion has some interesting architecture that is both in the neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles. It is basically a wall with towers along the edge of Castle Hill that surrounds Matthias Church and has wonderful views of the Pest side of Budapest, the Danube River, and the Parliament Building. Because so the Castle District is so popular, you will likely find the area to be very crowded, especially due to the river cruise ships that stop in Budapest and give their passengers a day to tour the city.

Vajdahunyad Castle Near Heroes Square

Heroes’ Square – Heroes’ Square, or Hosok tere in Hungarian, is one of the main squares in Budapest and is located next to the city park. It was created in 1896 to commemorate the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary. Sitting in the middle of the square is the Millennium Monument and the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art sit on opposite sides of the square. At the time that Heroes’ Square was created, Hungary was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and some of the statues in the square today replaced those that paid tribute to the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty.

Transylvanian Tomb

Hungarian National Museum – There are several museums in Budapest that are worth visiting and the Hungarian National Museum located near the Inner City district is certainly one of them. With three floors of exhibits, the museum focuses on the history of Hungary, which includes many different interesting periods of time. For many reasons, Hungarians are both proud of their history as well as embarrassed by certain aspects of it as well. The building, with its murals and decorative dome, is as impressive as the exhibits that it houses.

Chain Bridge Looking Towards Pest

Széchenyi Chain Bridge – The first permanent bridge across the Danube river in Hungary is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, often just referred to as the Chain Bridge. It was built in 1849 and connects the cities of Buda and Pest, allowing the cities to join to become the capital of Hungary. It is credited as having changed Hungary by increasing it’s prosperity and cultural influence. The bridge connects the Széchenyi Square on the Pest side of the Danube with the Clark Adam Square on the Buda side and is a pedestrian bridge in addition to motorized traffic.

Church Exterior Outside of the Cave

Cave Church – Located at the base of Gellert Hill, the hill that the Citadella (fortress) sits atop, is a system of caves. One of the caves was converted into a chapel in the 1920’s and even served as a hospital for the Germans during WWII. Known as the Cave Church, it was certainly one of the most interesting places that we visited during our time in Budapest. A cross on top of the hill denotes the location of the church, which is also located near the famous Gellert Baths where people gather to enjoy the therapeutic thermal baths.

The Original Goulash Stew in Budapest

Restaurants and Spas – Budapest has many different hot springs and spas as well as an abundance of wonderful restaurants. With so many wonderful places to see, it is worth taking some time to relax and enjoy the food and atmosphere of the city.

Gathering Crowds Inside of a Ruin Pub

Go to a Ruin Pub – Ruin Pubs are bars that have been opened up in dilapidated buildings that were partially destroyed during WWII. They are usually decorated with random furniture and decorations that have been gathered from anywhere that they can find them. The decorations are colorful, whimsical, and don’t follow any particular themes other than uniqueness. Because of their popularity, they can be quite busy, noisy, and sometimes a little rowdy. We went late afternoon to early evening and stayed away from the late night crowds.

Enjoying the City of Budapest

Budapest is certainly one of the most fascinating cities in Europe with so many historical places to see during a visit there. Whether walking along the Danube River or going to one of the several locations that provide amazing views of the city, it is a wonderful place to take the time to just absorb all of the architecture and ambiance that the city has to offer. Regardless of how much time you have to spend in Budapest, the memories of the city will likely stay with you for the rest of your life.

Bratislava Castle in Slovakia

Sitting on the hill above the city of Bratislava is the historic Bratislava Castle, the Bratislavský hrad in Slovak. The original castle dates back to the 13th century, but it was obviously modified many times over the centuries. By the early 1800’s, the castle was in a state of deterioration and was being used by the military for barracks. It was also damaged more during the world wars, but in 1953 the decision was made to restore the castle to its former glory and it is now a popular tourist site within the capital city of Bratislava.

Two of the Four Towers
Castle Garden
View from the Castle

We visited the Bratislava Castle in May, so the gardens were just beginning to bloom, but we can certainly can imagine what they must look like in the summer months. The castle itself is a rectangular building with four towers, one on each corner. Although there is apparently only a single window left from the original building, the castle is still quite beautiful. We spent about an hour walking the grounds and enjoying the wonderful views of the city below. There is also a statue of King Svatopluk that was added to the courtyard in 2010, which apparently caused some controversy.

Bratislava Castle as Viewed from the War Memorial
Statue in the Courtyard
One of the Gates

The history of the region, with its importance to Hungary and then recent gain of independence, the Bratislava Castle is a source of pride to the people of Slovakia. It is an interesting theme that we found during our tour of Bratislava of how the castle and the city were a seat of power for Hungary for centuries, which obviously is a frustration for Slovakians, but at the same time the country has recognized the importance of this period as part of their own history.  Add to that the other occupations, including that of the Soviet Union, and the country has overcome a variety of historical obstacles. Needless to say, any visit to Bratislava should include going to the castle that overlooks the city.

Another View of the Garden
Entrance to the Castle
Part of the Wall that Surrounds the Castle

Kilkenny Castle in Ireland

During our trip to Ireland, we really enjoyed visiting Kilkenny Castle in the quaint city of Kilkenny. We were staying in Dublin and hired a guide to take us to a variety locations as we headed from Dublin to the coast. Seeing this wonderful castle was certainly the highlight of the tour, but just driving through the countryside made the trip worthwhile. Construction began on the castle in the twelfth century and it is truly a magnificent residence. You are able to take a self-guided tour of the interior and exterior of the castle and it is well worth taking a couple of hours to visit the beautiful castle and gardens.

Walking to the Castle
Beautiful Castle
Elegant Dining Room
View of the Garden
Castle Entrance
Walking Around the Castle

It may have been a cloudy day during our visit to Kilkenny, but that didn’t distract from the beauty of the historic home. It was the home of the Butler family from 1391 to 1967 when it was granted to the people of Kilkenny. The rooms have been preserved to show the day-to-day living of the previous residents and provide a glimpse into the lives of the wealthy inhabitants. They are decorated so well that you could truly imagine that someone was still living in the castle.

Children’s Toys
Marble Fireplace
Small Piano
Family Art Gallery and Ballroom
Castle Hallway

The views from the castle’s rooms as well as the lawns are spectacular. The River Nore runs next to the castle and leads towards the heart of the city, where, in the distance, the cathedral towers dominate the skyline over the heart of Kilkenny. We visited many castles all throughout Europe and Kilkenny Castle is definitely one of the best preserved castles and was well worth taking the time to visit.

View from the Castle
The River Nore
Looking out the Castle Window
Family Crest
Kilkenny City
Stunning Castle
Looking Up
Another View