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Budapest is a city full of contrasts. Its rich history contains both the illustrious and the infamous, and its melange of residents and cultures have simmered over the centuries to become the unique metropolis we see today. One of Europe’s largest cities, Budapest has no shortage of attractions and activities, whether you’re looking for history, art, architecture, food, or just a relaxing time. From grand castles to sobering monuments, Budapest’s top attractions really have it all.
Attractions in Budapest
The obligatory stop on any visit to Budapest is its awe-inspiring Parliament Building. The striking façade is more reminiscent of a royal palace than a public government building. Looking at the numbers, the 18,000 square meter building is the largest in Hungary, with 691 rooms and almost 3km of red carpet. Visits are available through guided tour, which will take you through the Grand Stairway, the Chamber of Peers, and the Holy Crown underneath Parliament’s towering dome. You’ll also get insight into the buildings symbolic architecture and design. Take some time to wander around the exterior, too. Parliament sits on a large open square, and you can give yourself your own tour of this labyrinth’s Gothic-style shell.
Budapest is famous for its thermal baths and spa culture. Visiting Szechényi, you can experience it firsthand in style. The neo-Baroque palace houses 18 geothermal pools at various temperatures, including one with massaging jets. Relax Hungarian-style, by sweating it out in one of several saunas, before diving into ice-cold water. You’ll feel reinvigorated to take on your day of sightseeing. If you book in advance, you can also enjoy a massage or spa treatment. Gellért Baths is another Budapest mainstay; it’s also worth a visit for its labyrinth of pools in art-nouveau style.
Memento Park is a curious attraction. Located a bit outside of the city, it’s a resting place for Budapest’s Communist-era statues. Holding 42 works from 1945-1989, the park is a place to reflect on the city’s dark past, while envisioning what the city was like during this time. Walk past Soviet icons, and stand face-to-face with Stalin and Lenin, and see the propaganda that confronted everyday Hungarians, like the famous “Liberation Army Soldier”. The park now stands as a monument to democracy, which allowed citizens to finally “think freely about dictatorship”.
Towering on Castle Hill overlooking the Danube, lies Buda Castle. The palace, built in 1265, was inhabited by royal and government figures until 1945, when it was one of the last areas of Budapest to fall in World War II. Today, its massive grounds are home to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. With your museum ticket, you can also head up to the dome, for one of the best views in the city. Stick around the neighborhood of Castle Hill and visit the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, both excellent sights in their own right.
Hungarian State Opera
One of the most beautiful opera houses in the world, the Hungarian State Opera is a breathtaking sight. Built in the late 19th century, the architect’s goal was to build an opera house that could rival the greatest in Europe, and he certainly succeeded. Even Emperor Franz Joseph acknowledged that the red-and-gold interior was more beautiful than its sister opera in Vienna. Take a guided tour and marvel at the richly decorated entryway and staircase, and admire the striking auditorium. Better yet, come back in the evening and experience a performance in this beautiful hall.
House of Terror
Having already experienced the glories of Imperial Austro-Hungarian Budapest, it is also necessary to acknowledge the city’s dark ages. Working down from the second floor, you’ll trace the nation’s history from the fascist Nazi occupation, through the Soviet-influenced communist regime. The museum stands as a monument to the victims of the two regimes, offering insight into resistance efforts, the secret police, and everyday life for Hungarian citizens. A visit to the museum is a sobering experience, but is a necessary layer in understanding the legacy of this fascinating city.
Central Market Hall
Budapest is not only a cultural capital, but a culinary one as well. The Great Market Hall is your one-stop shop for sampling the local delights. With three floors of stalls under its towering roof, try everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to Hungarian staples like paprika and wine, to treats and snacks from street-food stalls. This is a great place to stop for a traditional Hungarian meal, or just to wander around the scents and sights of Hungarian life.
Featured image by Andrew Bossi (talk · contribs) / CC BY-SA from wikimedia commons
Sarah is a college student and avid traveller, who’s cracked the budget travel formula and backpacked solo across 15 European countries