Once the co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire (sharing that title with the always glittering city of Vienna), Budapest has a long and storied history.
From its beginnings as a Celtic settlement to its Communist era, Budapest has remained one of the most important European cities, drawing in over 4 million tourists annually. Thermal baths, imperial architecture and a magnificent skyline that illuminates at night, Budapest is a city with something for everyone. It is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the iconic banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, Heroes’ Square, the Millennium Underground Railway and Andrássy Avenue among them. It is a foodie capital – with goulash, noodles, cold fruit soups and paprika taking centre stage. It is the birthplace of Harry Houdini (then known as Erik Weisz), Zsa Zsa Gabor, US Congressman Tom Lantos, physicist Leo Szilard, Noble Prize winner George Olah and many more.
One of Budapest’s most iconic sights is surely the Parliament, sitting on the banks of the Danube. The third largest Parliament building in the world, this gem of neo-Gothic style was built from 1895-1902 in celebration of the thousandth anniversary of Hungary in 1896. The National Assembly meets here to govern the country.
In the Castle Hill area, both Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle are major destinations. Fisherman’s Bastion is a picturesque terrace, built in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles, with sweeping views of the city below – including the Parliament and Danube. The seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled here in 896. Built between 1895-1902, it takes its name from the fishermen that defended the city in the Middle Ages. The nearby Buda Castle, once called the Royal Castle, has been rebuilt several times and in several different styles, sometimes being destroyed by war. The first royal castle was built around the 13th century.
Heroes’ Square, built in 1896 and one of Hungary’s World Heritage Sites, commemorates Hungary’s thousandth anniversary. The archangel Gabriel stands atop the Millennium Monument, holding the holy crown and double cross of Christianity. Seven Magyar chieftains and their horses circle the Corinthian column below, with statues of kings and other important historical figures seated on top of nearby colonnades. Heroes’ Square is also the main entrance to the grand City Park -- home to the famed Széchenyi Thermal Bath (open since 1913 and designed in the Neo-baroque style, it is the largest medicinal bath in all of Europe), Vajdahunyad Castle (built in 1896 and in various styles to represent various periods of Hungarian history in celebration of the thousandth anniversary: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque), the Budapest Zoo (one of the oldest zoos in the world, with over 1,000 animals including the Komodo dragon and wombat), a circus, an amusement park with one of the only remaining side friction roller coasters in the world and the historically popular restaurant, Gundel (which opened in 1894).