By Wendy Wood-Prince
Eastern Europe has become more and more a destination for western travelers and Budapest is one of the hippest popular cities. Filled with history, amazing architecture, art and lively nightlife, Hungary’s capital is much more than just a trendy place. Budapest is comprised of two separate but equally fun ‘cities’ separated by the Danube River. On the more hilly Buda side, great remnants of Budapest’s 1000-year-old history exist contrasted by the flatter, Pest side, which is home to great hotels and a rich nightlife. Budapest is fairly easy to navigate with electric trams and some good walking, so conquering both sides is a breeze.
Budapest contains Austrian influenced architectural remains dating from the Roman and Ottoman Empires. One of the more spectacular remnants is The Buda Castle. Located on the Buda side of the Danube, the palace was originally built in the 14th century where The Castle Hill Funicular carries people up the steep hill from the Chain Bridge to the gigantic palace. This Buda Castle holds The Budapest History Museum, The National Szechenyi Library and The Hungarian National Gallery. The National Gallery includes works by Hungarian artists in the 19th century and examples of realism of the Fin-de-Siecle by Mihaly Munkacsy.
Adjacent to Buda Castle is Matthias Church, an equally stunning building, built during the middle ages. During the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the church was a mosque; but today, the building is a huge attraction for locals and tourists alike enjoying Catholic Mass, concerts and weddings. Throughout history, many Hungarian kings underwent the ceremony of coronation in Matthias Church. The Trinity Column, which stands in front of Matthias Church, was built to commemorate the end of the plague and to protect the people of Budapest from further epidemics.
Also on the Buda side of the Danube is The Fisherman’s Bastion, named after the group of fisherman who was charged with defending that critical stretch of the city during the middle ages. This fantastical neo-Gothic structure features intricate turrets, staircases and lookout points along with statues of historical figures. Enjoy beautiful views of the Danube and Pest, just across the river from the many lookouts.
The Chain Bridge is one of the more dramatic landmarks in Budapest; built-in the 19th century, the bridge connects the Buda side with the Pest side of the city.
Designed by British engineer William Tienney Clark, the bridge was constructed in the United Kingdom, sent to Budapest in pieces and reassembled on site. At night the bridge is lit with hundreds of lights and provides one of the most stunning sites in Budapest.
The luxurious Four Seasons Gresham Palace is at the Pest end of the Chain Bridge. Originally built-in 1906 by the Gresham Life Assurance Company, it was known to house craftsmanship unlike any other building of its time. After World War II almost destroyed the entire palace, it fell into disrepair. The Four Seasons Hotel Group acquired Gresham Palace in 1989 and after a five-year, painstaking restoration, headed by Hungarian designer Miklos Szentkiraly, the hotel re-opened in 2004. Not only is the hotel a historic landmark but with the $110 million-dollar restoration, its historical walls hold the perfect combination of the modern and luxurious. If you are not lucky enough to check in, stop by to enjoy their afternoon tea, served in the lobby every day from 3 to 6 pm, where you can sip and relax to the live piano music. If The Four Seasons is not within your budget, try The Corinthia Hotel. Located in a charming part of Pest and not far from The Four Seasons, The Corinthia has an excellent concierge desk that can help navigate, direct and advise you on everything having to do with your visit (and it won’t break the bank).
After pampering your senses with Budapest’s culture during the daylight, enjoy any of the varieties of music which abound the city at night. From punk to traditional Hungarian and rap to jazz, you can find something to your liking. Take a “Ruin Bar” tour, where you can find yourself dancing in an old abandoned castle while video installations dance across the walls. Some castles feature bigger rooms filled with one kind of music and smaller rooms with funky jazz or soul selections. It’s worth checking out but takes some endurance as some places don’t get hopping until well after 10 pm.
Budapest is a blend of the exotic and historic with modern sensibilities and daily life.