Flashback to the gilded age of beautiful Budapest

Still as glamorous and grand…

Life seems uneventful along the peaceful road winding up to Gellért Hill, lined with posh residences and embassies. But one look at the Habsburg Citadel and the Budapest Statue of Liberty commemorating defeat of Nazis…and you can sense the reverberations of an unsettling past. From this vantage point, resist the urge to proclaim aloud…“A river runs through it”. Practically the entire map of Budapest stretches across your vision. Bridges over the great Danube stitch Buda on the left river bank, atop leafy hills hiding natural cave systems and hot springs with Pest on the right, crowned with a scene-stealing Gothic Parliament building. Timeless splendour of a timeless city. Best viewing mode: Sepia. So, dive right in.

Budapest Gellért Hill.JPG

Buda’s Baroque beauty

Start with Buda’s Castle Hill, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, home to the Royal Palace and Castle District. Dig as deep as you like…each phase of Buda’s rich history is as fascinating…Mongolian invasions, 15th-century golden age, Turkish occupation, periods of ruin, rebuilding of a Baroque city and total destruction during World War II.

Budapest Buda Castle.jpg

Step back in time at Fishermen’s Bastion (Halászbástya), built to commemorate fishermen who once protected this part of the city. Admire the multi-colored Zsolnay mosaic tiles on the newly renovated roof of the 700-year ornate Matthias Church. No ordinary house of worship…it has hosted mega events like the coronation of the last Habsburg king, Charles IV in 1916 and weddings of great Hungarian King Matthias. Its 17th-century Baroque avatar adequately hides the story of its forced reincarnation as a Turkish mosque with whitewashed walls and carpeted floors. Yes, that’s right!

Budapest Fisherman's Bastion 1

Budapest Mathias Church

Beyond the green copper equestrian statue of the King in the paved courtyard, count the seven Arabic-tent-like glorious turrets in white marble symbolizing the seven Hungarian Magyar tribes who founded the nation in the year 896. Then, from the tall arches of this lovely colonnaded corridor, indulge in architectural eye candy. The city of Pest across the wide waters of the Danube with the dramatic Parliament House presides like a king on a throne…dozens of pencil-like steeples with sharpened nib-like peaks, a majestic crowning dome and hundreds of windows. Decidedly Gothic, glamorous and grand.

Budapest Fisherman's Bastion

Budapest Parliament 1.jpg

And before you leave the noiseless cobblestone streets of the little town, step into one of the adorable cafes serving creamy coffees and cakes, browse the cute shops displaying local crafts and hunt out the Baroque houses proudly sporting 14th and 15th-century plaques of their lineage. Buda growing on you?

Budapest Buda town

Budapest Buda town 1

Pest: Palatial past

Through a long tunnel flooded by car headlights, reach the suspension Chain Bridge (Széchenyi) across the Danube. Two lions with full manes guard either side of the bridge entrance and crests decorate two more arched gates. Most pedestrians enjoying views from the walkways on both sides are clueless that this river used to freeze into an ice floor during winters, stranding people on the banks…until the Chain Bridge permanently connected Buda and Pest in 1849.

Budapest Chain bridge .jpg

On the other side, Pest teems with attractive boulevards and effervescent energy. All the elements of a big city…restaurants, bars, hotels and stores, well-heeled tourist haunts and back alleys lined with famous ruin pubs and dive bars. Twin sisters, Buda and Pest, so unlike each other, yet inseparable.

Stop first to explore the exquisite Parliament building completed in 1902 as the second largest in Europe after England’s Westminster. Limestone walls darkened by air pollution support a spire-stacked Neo-Gothic facade and a Neo-Renaissance dome reaching as high as 96m. That number again! No surprise…the country’s millennium was 1896 and the conquest of the kingdom of Hungary was 896. Make time to visit some of the 691 rooms, stride 20 kilometres of stairs and gawk at the fabled Hungarian crown jewels of St. Stephen. Or, just loiter in the square riddled with bullet holes from the 1956 uprising and rewind to the days when Hungary was a powerful empire, a center of art and culture, grander than Paris, London, Rome and Vienna. It would have taken unimaginable damage to wipe out everything and a slow withering must have continued over the centuries…because the gritty scars still remain as sad reminders.

Budapest Parliament

Not far away, is the largest church in Budapest, St. Stephen’s Basilica…it can hold as many as 8,500 people! Built over 50 years, in Neo-Classical and Neo-Renaissance styles, its dome rises to 96 meters, exactly like the Budapest Parliament Building. Not a coincidence, but a symbolic balance between church and state. Don’t miss the mummified right hand of the patron saint of the church, St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary, kept in a glass case in the chapel to the left of the main altar.

Budapest St. Stephen_s Basilica

Budapest St. Stephen_s Basilica dome

On to the city. Old-world yellow trams roll under tangles of electric cables and uneven-sized apartment buildings edge the roads. Mansions fading in magnificence, fight onslaught of water seepage and peeling paint. Statued, carved façades, arched entrances and decorative iron-rail balconies make desperate attempts at nobility through thick coats of pollution. Fleeting glimpses of a once-flourishing country…1800s Hungarian glory, part renovated, part abandoned. The Hungarians hangover of queuing from the Communist era, the occasional dilapidated post office and the seedy train station still exist. All part of the charm of the pearl of the Danube…no amount of international coffee chains is going to change! Take it all in, including iron-n-glass Nyugati train station (Budapest’s first) built in 1877 by the Gustave Eiffel Company. Apparently, it used to have a separate waiting room for Emperor Franz Joseph himself! 

Budapest.jpg

Budapest Nyugati train station

Travel the length of the Andrássy Avenue, the widest and most elegant street in Budapest, and the Hungarian Champs-Élysées, built for the millennial celebrations of 1896, house world-famous luxury brands, the Opera, House of Terror, residential villas surrounded by gardens, embassies, art galleries and cafés. Don’t miss the delicately designed street lamps. At the end of the boulevard, halt at the Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere), laid out in 1896 to mark the 1000th anniversary of Hungary. Study the large stone cenotaph and the 36-metres high corinthian column with the statue of Archangel Gabriel, the symbol of the Roman Catholic religion, the statues of kings and other important historical figures on the colonnades.

Budapest Andrássy Avenue

Budapest Heroes' Square.jpg

Later, shift gears at the pedestrianised shopping mecca of Budapest…Váci utca (‘shopping street’) that runs from Vörösmarty Square to the Central Market Hall. Colorful folk-art embroidery, ceramics, wooden toys, boxes and dolls, as well as Herend or Zsolnay porcelain call out from souvenirs shops. Pick up pair of wooden Hungarian dolls, if nothing else.

hungarian wooden dolls.jpg

Pamper your palate with authentic Hungarian Goulash or Chicken Paprika with dumplings in one of the many traditional restaurants of the area. Then indulge in aromatic coffee at the eclectic Gerbeaud House, under vaulted ceilings, chandeliers, gilded and marble ornamentation, paintings and sculptures. Treat yourselves to a decadent slice of Dobos Torte, which has several butter sponge layers filled sparingly with a light, delicate but intense chocolate buttercream. 

Dobos_cake_(Gerbeaud_Confectionery_Budapest_Hungary).jpg
Courtesy: Wikipedia

As the sun starts to fade, stroll along the river, thinking about this alluring city of 2 million, opulent in some places and dingy in others. Barges slide along the grey waters. On the opposite side, rows of houses glow in the soft sunlight. A sense of quiet hush pervades over the quaint Chain Bridge. It was a ‘gilded age’ when wealthy aristocrats built magnificent palaces and the intellectual and creative elite flocked to be among the action in this country. But you can still picture it all in your mind’s eye, can’t you? In sepia.

Budapest Buda.JPG

 

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Budapest: Flashback to the gilded age of a timeless city
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78 thoughts on “Flashback to the gilded age of beautiful Budapest

  1. I really wanted to visit Budapest this year, but being so busy with other travels, we haven’t been able to go. Maybe 2018 will finally be the lucky year! I’ll save this article for later use, it has great info, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great historical background article. I didn’t know any of this when I went to Budapest. Did you see the statue of the little princess? It’s located on the promenade across the river from the parliament building.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve heard so many amazing things about Budapest. It’s moving higher and higher on my bucket list. It sounds like there is an amazing amount of history and beautiful architecture there to discover! And now I’m craving a piece of chocolate cake!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. How weird that that a connecting bridge was only built in 1849!! When I saw the view over the Buda and Pest sections of the city in your first pic I also immediately thought of ‘A River runs through it’ – then I saw you thought the same thing!! Great minds, haha!! The architecture and history are so interesting I’m sure I could spend a long time exploring – especially with awesome cakes like that to restore my energy!

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  5. I’ve wanted to visit Budapest for the longest time, and you post has really opened my eyes to all the incredible history that is there and to be found, especially through the World Wars. I love the photography on this post too!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re right, this IS best viewed in sepia! Budapest looks like a magnificent city. I’d love to visit the basilica, I can’t believe that it can hold 8,500 people!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Love how you’ve aged the pics to give us a sense of travelling back in time. Budapest we feel is one city which has done the balancing between the history and modern quite well. One of our favourite cities to visit for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Budapest is a gorgeous city that I have been waiting to cross it off for a long time now. So close to Romania and I never managed to go, maybe from London I will have more luck. You managed to capture the beauty of the city in your photos and made me wanna visit Budapest so badly.

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  9. I was in Budapest way back in 1974, in the days of the Iron Curtain. Hungary was one of the communist countries that was more open to backpackers then. I wish we had had this guide then, so full of detail. Maybe a return trip is due to discover more of the citys heritage.

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  10. What a fantastic tour – Buda and Pest are both equally beautiful in their own right. I have to give it to the Parliament building though, that is a truly a majestic building, worthy of your description as a king upon a throne. I have only been to Budapest once, and it was FAR too short of a visit – I’ll make sure to hit some of these spots I missed next time around. Thanks for sharing such a colorfully descriptive post!

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  11. Hello there,
    I’m going to Budapest next month. It will be my second time there, but I was there many years ago so don’t remember a lot of things.
    What is the best souveninr to bring from Budapest? People told me about salami and paprika paste 🙂

    Best,
    Kasia

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Budapest indeed seems to have a regal halo around it. The elegance of Budapest and its old world charm comes alive in your post. Budapest figured prominently in an itinerary we had planned for East Europe, however it is on the back burner now, but hope to get there soon..

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Budapest has been on my list for long. Not just for the Buda Castle that you mentioned or the Fisherman’s Bastion, but also for the underground crypts it has. Did you manage to explore those? I would have loved to know more :).

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Great post about amazing Buda and Pest. I visited in the spring and fell madly in love with this historic and beautiful city. The culture, churches, food, friendly people, all of it. I will have to say that arriving at night via cruise ship to all of the lights and bridges was one of my top travel days ever.

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  15. I actually came here on a whim when I heard about something called a “sparty”. I left Vienna early actually because I hated it there and got to explore Budapest. Surprisingly it was one of my favorite stops on my backpacking trip!

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  16. I’ve tried a Sacher Torte in Vienna and I visited Budapest but didn’t know about the Dobos Torte, it looks delicious. I would also have taken more pictures of Buda’s Castle Hill if I had known it was a UNESCO site. I will have to visit Budapest again.

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  17. Budapest is awesome city. It’s always very helpful to know the history of place someone is visiting and your article is very helpful for that. I also love your colorful pictures. Thanks for sharing.

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  18. This is a great itinerary – Budapest is one of my favorite European cities – so grand, and imposing, and you really can imagine it back to the days of the height of the Hungarian Empire. But yet also with the atmosphere of a charming small town, and I loved exploring the cobblestone maze of the city streets. Parliament is my favorite building – such a beautiful structure 🙂

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