HYDERABAD : Budapest ranks among the world’s most romantic and entertaining capitals, and is nicknamed the “Queen of the Danube”. The city is divided into two parts by the Danube, which is spanned by several elegant bridges. Pest lies on the flat East bank while Buda is hilly and is on the West bank.Looking down from the Gellert Hill, the highest point of the city, the vista is breathtaking. Budapest is a city with a natural background, to which history assigned appropriately monumental cityscape in the form of bridges, churches and palaces.
Gold and marble, majolica and stained glass: luxurious buildings all over Budapest. Some of the best include the third largest Parliament in the world. Grand palaces by the Danube and the world heritage listed Mattyas Church, all of which can be admired on board a luxury boat. An amazing medley of Roman ruins, Gothic art, eclecticism and modernism in Budapest, which became great in all senses at the turn of the 19th century.
The capital of 1.7 million inhabitants, Budapest succeeded in remaining a hidden treasure that offers plenty on discovery. Historic roots, grand architecture, cultural and music, the flavour of fresh-brewed coffee, world-class wines and delightful cuisine. Hungary is not only history but has footprints of a thriving modernism.
The undulating Buda falls on the western side of the river. This is where you find the cobbled Castle District, Gellert Baths, the remains of the Roman Town of Aquincum and the green Buda hills. The flatter Pest is the country’s political and business stronghold and it is livelier than its twin across the water. Here you will find the bulk of the restaurants, bars and cafes as well as classy boutiques and grand 19th century mansions. This is also the place of the tree-lined Andrassy Ut, the shops of Vaciutca, the Parliament Building, the Basilica and the City Park.
Historical Castle District sits atop Castle Hill and can be reached by riding the funicular railway up the hillside. There are two excellent museums within the majestic Royal Palace. The enormous Hungarian National Gallery contains the country’s leading collection of Hungarian art, ranging from medieval painted altarpieces to modern sculptures. In the Budapest History Museum, you can look at artefacts surviving from the very earliest of the royal palaces on this site.
The Matthias Church in all its Gothic glory. To the south of Castle Hill lies Gellert Hill, with its beautiful decorated thermal baths and church carved into the rock. To the north is Aquincum where you can visit the rich ruins of the Roman town that thrived here between the first and fourth centuries AD. Behind all this stretch the leafy Buda hills, which are the lungs of the city, and can be cycled, hiked or visited aboard a clattering cogwheel railway.
Travel out another 10 miles to Statue Park and its remarkable collection of the communist monuments that once looked over the capital’s streets and squares. On the Pest side be sure to take a tour of the Westminster–inspired Parliament to see the holy crown that adorns the country’s flag. Also in the centre is the Great Synagogue with its Moorish minarets and a beautiful silver willow tree in its courtyard, sculptured in memory of the country’s Holocaust victims.
The elegant Andrassy Boulevard was modelled on Paris’s Champs Elysees and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along with its length are the stately 19th century Opera House in the moving House of Terror, a museum housed in the former headquarters of the hated secret police, the Budapest zoo, circus, Fun Park and the Szechenyi Baths. Other highlights of Pest are the Hungarian National Museum (the largest in the country) the Museum of Fine Arts (one of the leading collections in Central Europe) Hero’s Square and Vaci-Utca 9 (the main shopping street).
Enjoy coffee and a cake at the classy Gerbeaud, the city’s best-known café. It is named after master Swiss patisserie who ran it in the late 19th century. Spend a day hiking or cycling in the Buda Hills. Take the rickety cogwheel railway into the hills, also ride the children’s railway (where all the staff except the driver are children). Climb Janos Hill and return via the atmospheric chairlift which carries you above the tree-lined slopes, while you enjoy the view. Explore some of the capital’s many caves. The most popular are the Szemlohegy and Palvolgy Caves with their wonderful dripstone formations.
Browse the many stalls of the colourful and bustling Central Market Hall where you can pick up some traditional craftwork, Hungary’s special foie-gras, spicy red pepper or a bottle of Tokaji wine. Take in a performance at the Opera House where top class opera in a beautiful venue comes at a very affordable price. Alternatively head for the 21st century Palace of Arts, which is the city’s main centre of music and dance. Hire a buggy or a bike and pedal around the lush Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. City Park summer boating lake is transformed into a romantic ice rink in the winter, when you can go skating in the evening.
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)