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Sightseeing in Budapest

The city of Budapest is divided into two: Buda and Pest. The city is replete with historical buildings, museums, churches, thermal baths and spas. There is much to do and see in Budapest and one visit is certainly not enough! Budapest home to not one but two World Heritage sites: The Buda Castle Quarter and Andr´assy Road.

Buda Side:

The Buda Castle, also known as the Royal Palace and Royal Castle in the earlier period, is a major landmark in Budapest. The castle was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in the year 1987. The castle sits atop a hill, located on the Buda side of the Danube, in the royal district of Budapest. The best way to get up there is to take the funicular (Sikló) from the Clark Ádám tér. The foundations of the castle were laid out in the 13th century, however due to the consistent attacks by the Turks the castle failed to regain its original design. During the 19th century, the Renaissance Palace was once again restored to its glory and today the magnificent building stands out to be an outstanding example of Gothic and Baroque architecture. The Castle displays well preserved artifacts put on exhibition in its Historic Museum and also houses the National Gallery and National Library.

One of the amazing features of the Buda Castle is the labyrinth caves under the Castle Hill. The Turks built these fine caves which served as bomb shelters during the Second World War. It’s quite easy to visit the caves underneath as there are no ladders, just stairs to climb. Apart from the tunnel shaped caves, the Buda Castle Labyrinth also displays a small well with red wine flowing from it. The pre-historic cave-paintings and the historical museum in here are worth a visit. You can hire a guide to visit the caves or simply take a map. Open for all age groups on all days from 9:30 AM to 7:30 PM.

Gellért Hill is one of the gems of Budapest named after Bishop Gellért situated in the 11th district of the city. The 235-metre-high hill offers panoramic view of the city - both the Buda and the Pest side and many historical monuments. On top of the hill is situated the Citadel (Citadella) which was built in 1854 by the Austrians. The Citadel has served several purposes since then, it's been a prison camp, home for the homeless, site of an anti-aircraft battery and since the 1960-ies the fortress is a tourist attraction. Today, the Citadel has been converted into a hotel housing a restaurant and dormitory accommodation for budget travelers. The Freedom Monument or the Szabadság Szobor or Liberty Statue stands in front of the Citadella and was erected by the Russians after World War II. The statues of the soldiers are no longer there, just a single representation – the figure of a woman holding a palm frond. The Gellért Monument erected in 1904 stands in memory of Bishop Gellert (Gerard) who was martyred in the 11th century by those who opposed Christianity.. Grandmother’s tales say he was hurled off the cliff that is now named after him.

In memory of the fisherman who frequently defended Buda in olden days the Halászbástya or the Fisherman's Bastion stands overlooking the Danube. It is an imposing structure constructed in the neo-Romanesque fashion on the Castle hill in Budapest, around the Matthias Church. From the Tower, a stunning view exists of the Danube River, Margaret Island, Pest side and the Gillert Hill. The seven look-out towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled in the Carpathian Basin in 896.

On Castle Hill St. Matthews Church (Matthias Church) or the Mátyás templom occupies pride of place. The star attraction here is the stained glass windows and of course the raven perched on top of the church. King Mátyás was also known as Mátyás Corvinus the second part of the name means Raven in Latin. In fact the bird is a takeoff on his nickname and so bears his coat of arms on itself.

In the midst of the Danube river stands Margitsziget or Margaret Island. It is the island to which King Béla IV sent his daughter Margaret in exchange for the fulfillment of a vow. The king had sworn that if Budapest was saved from the Mongol invasion he would send the nine-year old Margaret to a Dominican convent located on the island. The king got his wish, Budapest retained its sovereignty, and Margaret was confined to a life of piety. The island was at one time the love nest of a Turkish pasha – he housed his harem here. Now it is Budapest’s biggest park and has a rose garden as well as a Japanese garden.

Pest Side:

The Pest side houses the Parliament building which is great work of architecture of different styles and periods and is perfect foil to the Buda castle on the other side. The Hungarian parliament still meets here and it is one known to be the biggest parliament building in the world, with 691 rooms and a seating capacity of 8500 people.

St Stephen's Basilica is the one of the largest Catholic Churches in Budapest and third largest in Hungary thus making it an impressive halt. Stephen is English for István, the founder ruler of Hungary and today, its patron saint. You may not enjoy his only physical memory kept here, István's right hand lies preserved in the Basilica Museum. The interior of the Basilica features 50 different varieties of marble, ornately decorated chapels and many sculptures. This religious sanctuary situated along the scenic Pest bank accommodates 8,500 devout under its huge dome. Besides enjoying the work of art of the Basilica, visit the left tower on the second floor for a panoramic view of Budapest.

If you want to look at the imposing figures of people – statesmen, heroes and icons that gave Hungary its persona, you should visit the Millennium Monument on Hösök tére (Heroes' Square) . The millennial monument was built in 1896 to honor the 1000th anniversary of the advent of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. History here halts at 1896 and is topped by a statue of the archangel Gabriel. At the foot of each statue a small relief depicts the most important moment of the life of the personality.

Across from the square is the Museum of Fine Arts, the largest fine art museums of Hungary. Located on the side of the magnificent Heroes Square monument, at the edge of the City Park, the museum showcases all periods of European art, and comprises more than 100,000 pieces. The Spanish, Italian and Dutch collections are particularly worth a look.

Statue Park on Balassi út too wears a new face these days. Statues erected in the communist era are now headed for oblivion – and the Hungarians only wish they could speed it up. Visitors can look at the few remaining reminders of the time, but Hungary wants them obliterated. Names of streets are changing almost overnight, so be careful your map doesn’t lead you up the wrong path. Get a new one once you arrive at Budapest.

The ornate Great Synagogue is Hungary’s pride, being the largest fully functional synagogue in Europe and fitting in close to 3000 people. The Synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859 rising to a height of 53 meters (174 feet). The building is basically Moorish in style, with two tall towers that make it easily identifiable throughout the Pest section of the city.

All along Andr´assy Road are some of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in the classical and Baroque styles. An attraction on this road is the Millennium Underground which is the second oldest in the world.

Take the road to the Opera House (Operaház, VI, Andrássy út 22, M1) a large neo-Renaissance construction. It has seen performances by music giants like Liszt and Gustav Mahler. Book at least a couple of days in advance of a show, or bank on your luck and try for the cheaper tickets the night of the performance. Box Office lifts its shutters from 10 am to 7 pm. The main box office displays a list of on-going productions. The season is from September through winter to mid –June during which there could be as many as 50 productions.

The Holocaust Memorial stands testimony to Jewish contribution to the country. The Center, opened in 2004, includes an old synagogue, exhibit halls and documentation archives. A large wall surrounds the courtyard serving as remembrance for the Hungarian victims of the Holocaust.

You could of course step way back into time, that’s when you step in at Aquincum . It is the site of the Roman garrison from the 1st century. Nothing that’s been around that long could possibly be standing upright today – but the ruins once were a part of the flourishing municipal which lay along the amber trade route. You can see broken reflections of an aqueduct, the law courts, the civil and the military amphitheatres, religious sanctums and homes. Take your turn around the Aquincum Museum, Szentendrei út 139.

The Belá Bartók Memorial House is where you can catch strains of the Bartók String Quartet. They play Friday evenings starting September. If classical music gives you a high, head to the Zeneakadémia arena, near Oktogon .

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