Budapest, Hungary - A Tale of One, Two, Three Cities

Fun fact of the day – Budapest was in fact not one, not two, but three separates cities until 1873, Buda, Pest and Óbuda. Most visitors who have done their homework know of the distinction between Buda and Pest. I was a little late to the party having had to be told by my younger sister a few days before I arrived. Turns out little sisters do sometimes have superior knowledge. Apologies for all of the years I doubted you. But back to Buda and Pest … oh and Óbuda, obviously.

Clearly you can see where Budapest got its name, Buda and Pest being the two main cities but the third, poor Óbuda, was clearly left out. Evidently people did not like the name Óbudapest too much and frankly, I don’t blame them. I am not sure who decided to build three independent cities quite so close together on opposing sides of one river, or why, but they must have had their reasons and it certainly worked out well for the Hungarians. Budapest is after all, a premier city in Europe. The city is as fascinating as it is beautiful. The Danube River splits the city in two. To the west, above the river perched atop a high hilltop, Buda Castle overlooks the whole city. To the east, a little further downriver, the Hungarian Parliament Building sits dramatically alongside the Danube. And that is just the beginning.

Buda is hilly and green with much of it still forested, but it has some of the city’s most famous and most striking landmarks. The castle, as I mentioned, offers beautiful, panoramic city views. From below, the castle itself doesn’t paint a bad picture though up close I have to say it is a lot less striking. It is no longer a palace, now it houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the Castle Museum and the National Library. But really the unmissable experience in Buda is a ten-minute walk north of the castle. Matthias Church is perched high over the city in all of its pearly white glory and right in front of it, Fisherman’s Bastion, the most fancifully constructed lookout there ever was. With its white turrets and neo-Romanesque design, it looks like something out of Candy Land. The only difference? I wouldn’t try eating these walls.

But don’t assume Pest has nothing to offer in competition. Pest is the cultural heart of the city. Pest is full of fantastic restaurants, shopping, and a booming nightlife. The Jewish Quarter with the beautiful Moorish revival style synagogue at its heart, the second largest in the world, is full of vintage shops and restaurants. Around the impressive St Stephen’s Basilica are hoards of little cafes and restaurants of all varieties, many crowded around the main square with outdoor tables offering a view of the Basilica. Stroll up Andrássy to shop in the most in demand designer and high street stores and to get a look at the State Opera House. The Great Market Hall is also a fun experience with food items available on the ground floor and street food and your standard array of souvenirs on the second level. Perhaps most famous are the thermal baths dotted around the city, a wonderful way to relax while on holiday. However, with all of this excitement, be prepared for noisy nights and dirty streets. As beautiful as it is, Budapest is one of the dirtiest cities I have visited recently – a stark contrast to Vienna. To add to this, because of its thriving nightlife, there are lots of groups of European youth which flock to the city to party. But don’t be deterred, the beauty of the city is untainted.

With its beauty, history, culture and nightlife, Budapest certainly has a little bit for everyone to enjoy. It only took me three nights there to fall in love with the city and I barely scratched the surface. I guess it just means I am going to have to go back and visit again soon!

Top: Danube River

Middle: Fisherman's Bastion

Photography by Savannah Hayes

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