The city that was once two cities has an abundance of history, culture, sights, and experiences to offer the millions of visitors who flock to the ‘Pearl of the Danube’ each year. Given that it is one of the largest cities in the European Union also indicates that there is no shortage of things to do and see. But, before we get into the must-see activities and attractions, let’s quickly discuss the distinct differences of the two cities now within THE city- Buda and Pest (which became one in the year 1873).
A Tale of Two Cities: Buda and Pest
Buda prominently lies on the west side of the Danube with its winding and narrow streets draped over the hilly landscape, whereas Pest is completely flat with more navigable streets, as it is the urban center of the city. Because many of the city’s most notable buildings lie along the waterfront, it is only natural that the river’s edge provides incredible views of the opposite side. Buda Castle on the Buda side offers outstanding views the Parliament Building on the Pest side, and visa versa. Of course, if you want an epic view over the entire city, be sure to make the trek to Gellért Hill. Regardless of which side you choose to stay in during your visit to Budapest, there are benefits to each. While Pest may have more hotels and types of accommodation, Buda tends to be a little quieter, with still an ample amount of choices. Having explored both sides, we’re convinced that regardless of where you stay in the city, you’re guaranteed to be near some of the main attractions… or at least near the fairly easy to navigate public transportation system. So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at some of the very BEST of Buda and Pest!
Buda Castle proudly sits atop Castle Hill (Várhegy) overlooking the River Danube. Often referred to as the Royal Palace (Budavári palota), the castle contains countless medieval monuments and cultural institutions, such as the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
Most visitors enter the castle grounds via the Habsburg steps, leading to a terrace which provides outstanding panoramic views over the Danube, Chain Bridge, and Pest. Also on this terrace is a statue honoring Prince Eugene of Savoy, the man responsible for defeating the Ottoman Army and liberating Budapest from the Turks.
Walk through a corridor leading away from the aforementioned terrace and come to another courtyard featuring a statue of the Horse Wrangler (Lószelidítő) and off to the right of the statue, Matthias Fountain (Mátyás kút).
This Neo-Baroque masterpiece by Alajos Stróbl depicts a hunting party led by King Matthias Corvinus, king of Hungary.
Also named after King Matthias is Matthias Church (officially known as The Church of Our Lady), one of the oldest buildings in Buda. It has been refashioned and refurbished over the years to mimic the popular architectural style at the time.
Originally built in Romanesque style, the current church was designed in late Gothic style in the late 14th century and restored extensively in the late 19th century. We particularly enjoyed the colorful Zsolnay ceramic tiles on the rooftop. You can also find frescoes by many famous Hungarian painters.
During the Middle Ages, fishermen occupied the area now known as the bastion. They would sell their fresh catch on the square near Matthias Church. The guild of fishermen were also responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls. Who knew?!
There’s no doubt about it, Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the BEST spots in all of Buda to get a picture perfect shot overlooking the Parliament building and all of Pest. Just be prepared for the crowds!
Sándor Palace is the official residence of the President of Hungary. You can witness the changing of the guards every day of the week on the hour from 9 am until 5 pm. If your visit to Buda and Pest coincides with the last Saturday of the month, you will be treated to the changing of the guards accompanied by special music at midday (12 pm).
Also included in the Budapest Card, but slightly outside of the city center is the Aquincum Museum. It is one of the largest archaeological parks in Hungary. Explore the uncovered remains of the Civil Town of Aquincum and discover objects from prehistoric times. Definitely worth a visit for history buffs and children (there is a virtual reality room with several hands on activities).
One of several public spas in Budapest, Gellért is among the most popular. Melt away your stress in the thermal pools, relax in the sauna, and enjoy a massage. It contains a total of 13 different pools, including an outdoor wave pool, and is tastefully decorated in beautiful art nouveau style.
If you purchased a Budapest Card, entry into this newly renovated spa is FREE! In addition to the multiple thermal pools, outdoor pools, and saunas, Lukacs contains a full medical spa, and is also host to Saturday night bath parties October-December.
Read more about our experiences at two of the spas in Budapest.
The Parliament Building took 19 years to construct. Without a doubt, it is one of the most exquisitely detailed buildings in Hungary, if not all of Europe. If you want to take a tour inside, be sure to purchase your tickets online in advance to avoid long lines at this popular attraction.
Its interior includes 10 courtyards, 13 passenger and freight elevators, 29 staircases, and 691 rooms, including more than 200 offices.
Shoes on the Danube
Sam was moved to tears at this emotional memorial commemorating those who were shot along the Danube by the Hungarian Nazis. Unveiled on the 60th anniversary of the Holocaust, it serves as a somber reminder of the terrifying past.
Read Sam’s reflection in his post- Army of Men.
St Stephen’s Basilica
Budapest’s largest Roman Catholic church was named in honor of Stephen, the first king of Hungary. It took 54 years to complete this behemoth structure, partly because the dome collapsed in 1868, which required the destruction of what was already completed. They had to start completely from scratch. The bombings of WWII also caused significant damage to the building, requiring a good amount of renovation.
It is free to go inside the basilica and is definitely worth a visit. The interior is magnificent and it is here where the mummified incorruptible right hand of St Stephen is said to be housed in the reliquary.
Views from St Stephen’s Basilica
Take a series of two elevators or climb the 364 stairs that lead to the observation deck of the dome atop St Stephen’s Basilica. Enjoy 360-degree views over the heart of Budapest and the square below.
Originally known as the Hungarian Royal Opera House, the opera house in Budapest holds the provisional title as one of the most beautiful neo-Renaissance buildings in all of Europe. It is also said to have the best acoustics of any other opera house.
Marble and frescoes adorn the interior, created by some of the world’s best artisans at the time of construction. You can take an inexpensive 45-minute tour of the opera house daily at 3 pm and 4 pm. Performances at the opera house can also be very affordable, so check the performance schedule for details.
Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall, also known as the Central Market Hall, is the oldest and largest indoor market in Budapest, spread out on 3 different floors, offering a wide selection of eateries and souvenir stands.
The market opens at 6 am and closes at 5 pm Monday, 6 pm Tuesday-Friday, and 3 pm on Saturday. It is closed on Sunday.
Hungarian National Museum
The Hungarian National Museum has several permanent displays. Here you can learn about the general history of the country, including the rise and fall of the communist system in Hungary.
The museum and its contents are bountiful. You can also learn about Hungarian scholars and gaze upon Medieval and Early Modern stone inscriptions and carvings, in addition to ancient Roman stone inscriptions and carvings.
Both Buda and Pest take on a whole new personality after the sun goes down. Read more about how to best experience Budapest at night!
Want to see even more great pics of Buda and Pest? Check out our gallery below.