Budapest - Europe's hidden gem

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is the capital city occupying both sides of the beautiful river Danube, has a distinctive and alluring charm that, in my opinion, is vastly underrated. From its striking Parliament building, to its scenic parks, to the stunning Buda Castle, Budapest's appeal knows no bounds.

The list of things to see and do in Budapest is endless, so it is best to stay for four + days to fully appreciate all the city has to offer. Your first stop, without doubt, should be Buda Castle (also known as Royal Palace). Dominating the north bank of the Danube, known as the Castle District, this magnificent palace, in both design and size, looks spectacular at any time of the day. Built in the 14th century, the castle was once home to the Hungarian royal family. Buda Castle is now a World Heritage Site and home to the Hungarian National Gallery.

The view of the Danube and the city beyond from outside the castle's entrance is particularly beautiful. The castle and gallery are open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am - 6pm. 

Note: the best (and most leg-friendly) way of getting up to the castle is by funicular.

Buda Castle

The next place you simply must see is Budapest's breath-taking Parliament Building, inspired by our very own Houses of Parliament in London. Take a walk along the south bank of the River Danube, known as Buda, past the haunting Shoes on the Danube Promenade memorial, which honours the Jews who lost their lives in Budapest during World War II. This impressive piece of architecture spans 268 metres in length and features white neo-Gothic arches and turrets, a 96 metre-high dome, and is decorated with statues of past Hungarian monarchs. The Parliament Building is, by far, one of Budapest's most impressive and iconic buildings and simply should not be missed. 

Hungarian Parliament Building

Back over in the Castle District is the enchanting Fisherman's Bastion. The Fisherman's Bastion is one of Budapest's most popular tourist attractions and is worth a visit purely for its outlook alone. Offering jaw-dropping panoramic views of the river and the Parliament Building across the water, the bastion is a viewing terrace built in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles. It is made up of seven decorative towers, representing the seven Magyar tribes who founded the Carpathian Basin in 896, along with a bronze statue of Stephen I of Hungary and the Matthias Church. The Fisherman's Bastion is open to the public Monday-Friday from 9am - 11pm.

Fisherman's Bastion

Next on your Budapest check list should be a visit to Margaret Island. Nestled in the middle of the Danube and accessible by bridge, the island is 2.5km in length and 500 metres wide, and is primarily a recreational area. Once on the island, the buzz of Budapest will feel a million miles away. Margaret Island is still brimming with things to see and do, however (note: many of these are best appreciated during summer months), including; a Japanese Garden, a small zoo, a pavilion for open-air concerts and performances, a water fountain, an Art Nouveau-style water tower, as well as an open-air swimming complex, athletics centre, and tennis stadium. So rustle up a picnic and spend the day relaxing or exploring in this beautifully peaceful island.

Margaret Island

The stunning St Stephen's Basilica (also known as Budapest Cathedral) is a Roman-Catholic basilica named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary (whose mummified right-hand can be seen in a glass case in the chapel), and is the third-largest church in the country. The basilica is regarded as the most important church building in Hungary and is a hugely popular tourist attraction. It is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest (equal to the Parliament Building) and was completed in 1905, taking over 50 years to build due to the collapse of the original dome. St Stephen's Basilica is designed in a neo-Classical and neo-Renaissance style and comprises two large bell towers either side of its 96 metre high dome. The basilica's interior is particularly beautiful and was decorated by famous artists of the era. The view from the top of St Stephen's Basilica is truly spectacular - walk the 364 step staircase or take an elevator to the observation deck for some unforgettable views. 

Note: entry to the observation deck is at a charge.

St Stephen's Basilica

Other popular tourist attractions in Budapest include the Hungarian State Opera House. The building was designed by Miklos Ybl in a neo-Renaissance style with elements of Baroque, and is considered to be one the architect's greatest masterpieces. It is regarded as one of the finest opera houses in the world in beauty and quality of acoustics.

Hungarian State Opera House

Another of Budapest’s iconic attractions is the Chain Bridge, one of several bridges spanning the River Danube and was the first permanent bridge to be built across the river, opening in 1849. The bridge in anchored on the Pest side of the Danube adjacent to Gresham Palace, and on the Buda side near to the bottom on the funicular, leading to Buda Castle. The bridge is an incredibly attractive piece of architecture and is best appreciated at night.

Budapest's illuminated Chain Bridge at night

If you're planning on taking a tour of Europe's finest in the near future, or simply want a short break in a fantastic city that truly does have everything, make sure you pay this hidden gem a visit. Practically bursting at the seams with culture, awe-inspiring architecture, unique history, and some jaw-dropping views, all wrapped up in one exceptionally attractive package... Budapest is more than worthy of this endorsement. I hope this post has inspired you to go explore Budapest for yourself, and if you've always had the desire to visit, it will not disappoint. But don't just take my word for it...

Safety information

As with any major city in Europe, be sure to keep an eye on money and personal belongings at all times. Pick-pockets may operate in popular tourist areas, in and around the metro, and in shopping centres. Take particular care when walking around at night - avoid poorly lit streets and underpasses.