Here are what we think are the main attractions of Budapest, in no particular order.
The Danube (Duna)
The Danube is the large river that cuts Budapest into two halves. To be exact, it joins the two originally separated cities into a single metropolis. But you can find this in your guidebook...
The river is really part of our daily life here in the city. We spend a considerable amount of time sitting in traffic above the Danube on one of the bridges. As everywhere else, the bridges are the bottleneck of traffic.
Then there is the scenery. Because of the vast space above the waters, you get an unbelievable view from either side. The view at night is breathtaking. Having lived here for many years, I still find pleasure in looking at it. Fortunately, it is free. And you will see it one you are in the city, no matter what.
A glimpse of the Chain bridge with part of the Royal Castle in the background.
The Royal Castle (Vár)
The Castle is located on the Buda side on the Castle Hill. The foundations go back to the 13th century but the royal palace itself is only a couple of hundred years old. Today the buildings house the National Gallery and the National Library. The Castle Hill also includes a number of other buildings and churches. Most notable among these is the Matthias Church which had served as a coronation church for several Hungarian monarchs.
In pragmatic terms, the best thing about the Castle and the Castle Hills is that there is very little traffic and a wonderful view of the Pest side. You can walk about the entire place for hours and enjoy the scenery.
Parliament (Parlament) The Parliament is one of the major buildings in the capital, visible from virtually anywhere on the other side of the Danube. Guidebooks love to elaborate on the height and age of the building, so I will not bore you here with these trivia. But one has to admit that the Parliament has a great visual appeal. If you have a chance to go inside, please do. It is worth it. In the winter, there is a skate ground right in front of it. It is a great experience to skate here on a winter night. The Parliament has been under restoration for the last 8 years, I think. I remember that they dismantled one of the towers, cleaned the stones and put them back together. This always made me wonder about the actual date of that tower. Would it still date to the 19th century or the 21st?
Looking back at the Parliament from a red light. The building on the right is where our Budapest Vacation Rental apartment is located.
Hungarian language learning CD-ROM
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Margaret Island (Margitsziget)|
The island is a huge park in the middle of the city. It is nice to come here to relax and walk around during lunch break. On weekends, you can spend the entire day here, as some Hungarians do, picnicking in the green grass and playing with your kids.
There is also a spa and a hotel on the northern tip of the Island. These are easily reachable from the Arpad bridge, rather than the Margaret bridge.
There is also a zoo on the island, if I recall it correctly. (Again, your guidebook will be a valuable source on such details.) As for actual things to do here, there is a theatre, some tennis and soccer courts, and a swimming pool.
Chain Bridge (Lánchíd)
The Chain bridge is the oldest bridge in the city, built in the second half of the 19th century. It is the best bridge to walk across the river because of the relatively small amount of cars, and hence pollution, on it. Plus, it connects the best parts of Pest and Buda.
Like all other bridges, it was blown up during World War II but rebuilt later. This, of course, once again brings up the question of authenticity and historicity of the monument.
Things to buy in Budapest
There are thousands of small stands around the downtown area selling souvenirs, maps and postcards to tourists. Souvenirs include things like two-foot long wooden pencils. Tourists love these and take them home as Hungarian relics. The fact is, these things are not in use in Hungary at all and most Hungarians don't even know what these things are. I have never seen them anywhere else than these tourist shops and stands. I did ask once a retailer about the purpose of selling these wooden giant pencils and he said that the tourists loved them.
So it is basically the issue of getting bad Chinese food in Western cities because the Chinese chefs believe that this is what Westerners like. Well, there are several other things on these stands that are like that. Another curious item is a jar of honey with walnuts in it. It does look delicious, nothing wrong with that. But once you approach the Austrian border, there are literally hundreds, perhaps even thousands of little shops selling these jars of honey in different sizes. Why? "Because tourists love them." I don't know anyone in my own family, who spent all their lives in Hungary, who has ever bought such a thing.
The same goes for the woven baskets that are sold in the same shops. It is always honey and baskets. Sure, there is a traditional basket handicraft industry in Hungary, just like in every single country in Europe. But nothing warrants the sale of baskets in these quantities to tourists.
It seems that Hungarians sell what tourists want to buy. (But who came up with the idea of giant pencils!?) They Hungarian tourist merchants adapt quickly and try to supply what is needed.
So what should you buy? I would opt for anything outside of these stands. Music, for example. Not gipsy music offered at the tourist shops, which is really just another manifestation of how foreigners like to see Hungary but music from the CD stores. Or try Fono, a music center and concert hall which has both an online and physical store. You should come here at least once to listen to some music anyway.
Vacation rental in Budapest
Private accommodation in downtown Budapest right next to the Parliament.
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