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River Cruise

Discover Budapest the ‘Pearl of the Danube’

Divided by the river Danube, Budapest, the Hungarian capital, is a city of two distinct halves.

By Jeannine Williamson

Described as the ‘Pearl of the Danube’ Budapest is linked by a series of bridges across the river. The most historic is the 19th-century Chain Bridge, which is flanked by impressive statues of lions and was the first permanent link between the two banks.

The hilly UNESCO-listed Buda side is topped by the impressive Royal Palace, now home to several museums, along with charming cobbled streets lined with buildings dating back to medieval times. The views from the top of Castle Hill are the best in town, and you can either walk up the zig-zag path or take the funicular railway.

If you need a break after the climb try some Hungarian goulash, which is more like a thick soup than a stew, with a glass of the famous red wine Bull’s Blood. Coffee shops are also a big thing here and the quaint and atmospheric Ruszwurm in the Castle District dates back to 1827.

The great thing about Budapest is that it’s very compact so you can pack plenty into an overnight stay. The majority of sights are within walking distance or easily reached on the efficient tram and underground network. On the flat and busier Pest bank there are grand sights such as the parliament buildings – modelled on London’s Westminster Palace so it might look familiar – the opera house and statue-lined Heroes’ Square.  

A journey on the tiny Millennium metro is a sightseeing experience in itself. Built between 1894 and 1896, it was the first underground in continental Europe and the second oldest in the world – London’s Metropolitan line, opened in 1863, holds both titles. Most of the UNESCO-listed line runs beneath Budapest’s main thoroughfare, Andrássy Avenue, and the 11 stops take in many of the main sights.

The aptly named House of Terror on Andrássy Avenue is a sobering reminder of Hungary’s fascist and Stalinist regimes. Take a walk back down by the river to find the simple and incredibly poignant Shoes on the Danube memorial, just south of the parliament. Installed in 2005, it features 60 pairs of shoes representing thousands of Jews who were shot on the same spot during the Second World War.

Other attractions include the Great Market, next to Liberty Bridge. The ground floor is filled with colorful stalls selling regional food and drink, such as paprika and honey, and the upper level is a good spot to pick up souvenirs including embroidery and folk art.

If you’re looking for a really authentic experience don’t forget to pack your swimsuit as Budapest has more hot thermal springs than any other city in the world. Szecheny is the largest, with steamy indoor and outdoor pools, and Gellert is noted for its fine architecture. 

For a different treat head to the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, an Art Nouveau landmark building by the Chain Bridge. Even if you’re not staying there you can drop by for a drink in the stunning Peacock Passage lined with stained glass windows.

Published 03.02.22