Boasting beautiful architecture, rich history, and more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world, Budapest has something to offer everyone and every season. Here’s a little guide to the absolute must-see spots that you can cover in one day:
Start at the Fat Policeman Statue, on the corner of Október 6. u. and Zrínyi u., the street that connects St. Stephen’s Basilica to the Danube. Legend says that rubbing its shiny belly brings good luck, particularly in love! Since his mustache is shiny too, I rubbed it as well, just in case 🙂 It’s a nice photo-op and never fails to bring a smile to everyone around.
From the statue, keep walking east to St. Stephen’s Basilica (hu: Szent István-bazilika), the main see of the Roman Catholic Church in Hungary. St. Stephen was the first King of Hungary (975-1038) and his right hand is supposedly housed in the reliquary. You can also go up the dome for a 360º view of Budapest. See details for visiting here.
Start walking north and make a quick stop at Freedom Square (hu: Szabadság tér). Here’s a rare example of a Soviet monument still standing in Budapest, as they were mostly moved to Memento Park.
A bit further northwest, a quick stop at the Statue of Imre Nagy, at Martyrs Square (hu: Vértanúk tere). Nagy was the Prime Minister during the anti-Soviet revolution in 1956 and a figurehead of resistense against that regime. His statue now stands on a cozy footbridge on a leafy square, symbolically looking out over Parliament.
Now on to the Danube bank…
Immediately ahead, you’ll find the Hungarian Parliament. The building is incredibly beautiful, in Gothic style. Visitation only occurs in guided tours, so plan ahead and find all the important information here. However, if you don’t have the time or opportunity to go inside, the outside is also an attraction in itself.
After (undoubtly) spending a while admiring the Parliament and the sorrounding area, head to the river bank and walk south.
Soon you’ll reach the Shoes on the Danube, a touching memorial to the people killed by Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during WWII. The memorial represents the shoes left behind by those killed, after having been taken to the edge of the water and shot.
Now it’s time to go up to Buda…
After continuing the walk down the river bank, you’ll reach Roosevelt Square. From here you have three options: bus, hiking or funicular. Due to the steep climb and long lines to the funicular, I tend to hop on the bus and I’ll use this option for this guide. North of Roosevelt Square you will find a bus stop and here you can take bus 16 up to the Castle District. This is the last stop before the bus crosses the Chain Bridge but you’ll have the opportunity to cross it on foot on the way back. Don’t forget to have a valid ticket or validate the one you purchase from the driver. Ride the bus and get off at Szentháromság tér (the Holy Trinity Square) stop.
The Holy Trinity Square is the main square of the Castle District. You’ll spot the Holy Trinity Statue, a column commemorating the people of Buda who died from two outbreaks of the Black Plague. Next to it, you’ll see Matthias Church (hu: Mátyás-templom), a consecrated site since 1015 but built in its present form in the 14th century and restored in the 19th. The exterior is gorgeous and you can also visit the interior, all details here.
Walk down the side of Matthias Church to Fisherman’s Bastion, a terrace overlooking the Danube from where you have incredible views of the Parliament building and the Pest side. You are free to roam the lower level or pay a fee to walk around the tops of the towers. The view during sunset is breathtaking.
After strolling around the Bastion area…
Stroll south and you will pass by the Statue of the Independence War, cross the gate, down the stairs and you’ll see the Fountain of the Fishing Children.
Now you find yourself in the Buda Castle grounds. Roam the area aimlessly enjoying your sorroundings and the view onto the Chain Bridge and Pest. Nowadays, Buda Castle houses the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Széchényi Library. You can visit all of them.
To go back down to Pest, your options are again walking, the funicular or the bus. Especially if you took my advice and took the bus to go up, I highly suggest to return on foot. There are great views as you slowly walk down the marked pathway and then on across the Chain Bridge over the Danube. Bonus points if you catch it at sunset, always.
Oh, when you are crossing the bridge, don’t forget to look back up to Buda Castle!
Obviously, Budapest has much more to see and experience, but this is the absolute basic that you can cover in less than a day of walking. Do you like it or would you do anything differently? Let me know in the comments!
Future posts will cover the City Park and Gellért Hill areas. Stay tuned.
Budapest 101: Arriving & Getting Around