Inspiration for Europe
Travel and dream: discover the continent’s meeting points and explore the traces of its history through fresh eyes.
It is clear from the first glance: Budapest has two different sides: Buda on the right bank, high and haughty; and Pest on the left, flat and more easy-going. This city is surprising not only for its architecture, with so many different styles, but also for the sheer number of historical places catalogued as World Heritage Sites.
Budapest is a city that can and should be visited on foot, as a relaxed stroll reveals all the different faces of a destination rich in history. There is just one small obstacle: Hungarian, or Magyar, a complex language, difficult to understand, that even the Hungarians say was invented by the devil.
If you want to visit the Central Market, look for the sign to Központi Vásárcsarnok in the heart of Pest. For our route begins at this market, which dates to the late-nineteenth century, not only because of its attractions, but also because of its location, at one end of bustling Váci Utca. Freshly baked bread, straight out of the oven, essences of fruits and vegetables and the shouts of vendors: “Probieren, probieren!”. Don’t forget to say thanks: “Köszönöm”. Upstairs at the market are restaurants where you can have something to eat.
Now we come to the most famous and iconic site in Budapest: the Parliament. Its monumental façade, a spectacular neo-Gothic construction, is the most photographed in the city. Cross to the other side of the river, because you will get the best shot of this magnificent building from Buda. We now cross the Danube over the city’s oldest bridge: the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchid), which linked Pest and Buda, previously separated by ice in winter, making them a single city.
Once in Buda, we head straight for its most historic and monumental sit, Buda Castle or the Royal Palace. Here, we can take the old funicular railway, the Budavári Sikló, up to the top and then walk back down. Today, the castle houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the City History Museum and the Széchenyi Library. The site is surrounded by a labyrinth of narrow, cobbled pedestrian streets, the perfect place to get lost for an hour or two.
Buildings going back a hundred years and more, seemingly in ruins, but in fact housing surprising pubs and bars.
Tired from so much walking? Remember, that Budapest is an important spa resort with more than one hundred fountains spouting curative waters. If you have the chance, visit one of the city’s spa centres. Several are historic, going back centuries. The Széchenyi Spa is one of the largest and a favourite among visitor.
In the evening, the streets of Budapest are filled with young people going from one place to another. The areas with the most exciting nightlife include Liszt Ferenc Square and Ráday Street.
For lovers of pubs and beer, the route among the most famous establishments in Budapest, the so called “ruin bars”, is a must. These pubs are housed in buildings that are half in ruins, and covered in vegetation. The spaces are large, the beer excellent and the atmosphere is great thanks to evening live music. The most iconic ruin bar in the city is, without doubt, Szimpla Kert, an artwork in itself whose doors opened in 2004.
If you haven’t eaten goulash, you haven’t been to Hungary!
Enjoy some good Hungarian wine. You can find dry white wine from the vineyards around Lake Balaton, or strong red wine from Sopron, Eger, Villány and so on. All perfect to wash down spicy specialities made with paprika. Or to accompany a good plate of goulash, Hungary’s star dish, a stew made from meat, vegetables, red pepper and other spices. Other local specialities include töltött paprika (stuffed pepper), and the popular paprika csirke (paprika chicken). Everything is spicy. Always. And don’t forget dessert. You will find the tastiest Budapest strudel at the Reteshaz Strudel House.
All we need to add, at this stage, is “enjoy your meal” (“jó étvágyat!”) and “goodbye” (“búcsú!”)!
For further information you can find everything you need to know about Budapest on the city’s official tourist website.
THE KEYS TO THIS CITY:
The Paul Street Boys, published in 1906, is compulsory reading for young people around half of Europe. The book revolves around the rivalry between two different gangs, and the role played by little Nemecsek, a member of the Paul Street Boys. The story takes place on the streets of Budapest and there is even a route devoted to the book, as well as a sculpture dedicated to The Paul Street Boys in Páter street.
Franz Liszt was not born in Budapest, but in Raiding, a city formerly in Hungary but which became part of Austria after the composer and pianist’s birth. Nevertheless, the capital claims him as one of its own as he always insisted that he felt Hungarian. Liszt also gave some of his first great concerts in Budapest, and even the airport bears his name in tribute to one of the city’s favourite sons.
If you plan to visit Budapest in December, do not miss the lovely Christmas market that is installed in Vörösmarty Square every year. The market stalls sell decorations and sweets, and the atmosphere is enlivened by live music and vendors selling the local punch.
There is a traditional Hungarian folk song called “The Spring Wind” (Tavaszi szél vizet áraszt). Freddie Mercury, leader of Queen, sang a version of this song during the group’s show in Budapest in 1986.
Paprika,is not a dish in itself, but the ingredient used to spice up practically all recipes.
August 20, Feast of Saint Stephen, first king of Hungary. During the years of Communist rule, the festivity was maintained, but it was used to celebrate the Constitution. After Stephen was canonised, the celebration was restored to its original purpose.