Buda and Pest, the two cities that make up Hungary’s capital today, were only joined in 1873. Before that, they developed relatively independently of each other, giving them distinct atmospheres. Hilly Buda, in the west, offers panoramas and imperial grandeur; Pest, while vibrant, is completely flat but full of hip bars and restaurants. Read on for our selection of the top 10 things to do in Buda.
Fisherman’s Bastion, or Halászbástya in Hungarian, is a neo-gothic and neo-romantic terrace that takes its name from the fishermen who defended this part of the city in the Middle Age. More interestingly for visitors, both the terrace itself and its seven towers offer an incredible panorama of the Danube, Margaret Island, and Pest. There is a fee to access the upper levels, but since it’s quite a small area and the views from the rest are just as beautiful, it’s not really worth paying it.
Buda Castle, the palace where Hungarian kings lived, overlooks the city from the fittingly named Castle Hill. It was first completed in 1265, but today, the oldest part still standing is from the 14th century; because of the castle’s tumultuous history, it has undergone many changes that are barely noticeable now. Today, the castle is home to two museums, the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum, and various other cultural institutions. The National Gallery focuses on Hungarian art from all periods, while the History Museum retraces the city’s history from Roman times to the present day.
In 1867, Franz Joseph I of Hungary was crowned in this 14th-century church, thus marking the beginning of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In addition to being the site of such an important historical event, Matthias Church is an incredibly beautiful monument with a rich and fascinating history—it was even a mosque at one point! It was built in typical Gothic style and incorporates beautiful ceramic tiles from the renowned Zsolnay factory. Inside, there is an underground gallery containing relics, medieval stone carvings and replicas of the Hungarian crown and coronation jewels.
The caves underneath Buda provide an insight into Budapest’s history, as well as a way to keep cool on a hot summer day! In addition to the so-called ‘Castle Labyrinth’ underneath Buda Castle, two natural caves can easily be visited: Szemlgőhegyi and Pálvölgyi. The latter’s stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations are very rewarding. and looking around the relatively small area accessible to the public is exerting enough to feel like an adventure. Szemlgőhegyi, on the other hand, is easier to explore and features some lovely walls lined with crystals and minerals.
Tucked between Gellert Hill and Castle Hill lies the residential streets and beautiful parks of the Taban, a formerly bohemian district unfortunately demolished in the 1930s. Today, it is far less vibrant and exciting, but the busy streets have given way to delightful large parks where visitors and locals can stroll or relax. It is still filled with bars and restaurants, so there’s a little bit of everything in the Taban, even though it’s not as trendy as Pest’s seventh district.
Buda’s Turkish Baths
Budapest is famously a city of many thermal baths, and naturally, some of them lie on the Buda side of the city. Generally, because of the two banks’ different atmosphere, the baths in Buda tend to be more upscale and luxurious, while those in Pest are more popular. In Buda, then, visitors will find the beautiful Gellért Spa, famous for its Art Nouveau entrance hall, the Ottoman-built Rudas Baths and Budapest’s oldest thermals baths, and the expensive but historical Kiraly Bath.
At the very end of tram line 59, in the hilly 12th district, visitors will find Wolf’s Meadow Cemetery, known as Farkasréti in Hungarian. There lie, among others, the graves of renowned Hungarian figures like composer Bela Bartok (who died in exile in America in 1945), conductor Georg Solti, as well as infamous Communist personalities like Hungary’s Stalinist dictator Matyas Rakosi. What makes travelers flock to the cemetery, though, is its extraordinary mortuary chapel, designed by Imre Makovecz in 1975.
A lesser-known spot in Buda, the Tomb of Gül Baba is one of the last-remaining reminders of Budapest’s Ottoman past. Gül Baba was a poet and a soldier in the army of sultan Suleiman I. He came to Hungary in 1541, and is thought to have died either during the religious ceremony after the Ottoman victory in 1541 or while fighting. Whatever the circumstances of his death may be, his beautiful octagonal tomb and the nearby mosque have become a pilgrimage destination. There’s also a garden, which is splendid when the roses are in bloom.
Gellért Hill, towering over the Danube at 235 meters, is one of two famous hills in Buda. As a strategic defensive position, it played an important role in Budapest’s history, but is now a quiet, wealthy residential area and a part of the the ‘Banks of the Danube’ World Heritage Site since 1997. The main draw for visitors is the panoramic view of the Danube and the entire city. There are two paths: take the stairs by the Elizabeth Bridge, or take the longer but easier pathway near the Gellért Baths.
This open-air museum showcases gigantic statues and plaques from Hungary’s Communist period. It was designed by architect Ákos Eleőd, who described the park’s purpose better than anyone else could: ‘This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.’ It’s a little far from the center, but a must-see for anyone interested in Soviet history and generally to get a better idea of what Hungarian life was like at that time.