This weekend sees the awesome spectacle of motor racing that is Formula One descend on Hungary at the Hungaroring, situated some 20 kilometres outside the capital, Budapest. The 1986 Hungarian Grand Prix was in fact the first Formula One race to take place behind the Iron Curtain and ever since, has been a regular fixture in the racing calendar. Yet outside of the Grand Prix, Budapest’s bountiful beauty and endless charm is reason enough to attract visitors in their droves to this most attractive of cities, regardless of the time of year.
The recipient of many an illustrious title – Paris of the East for one, Pearl of the Danube is another – and unquestionably one of Europe’s most attractive cities, Budapest’s beauty resonates not only from its stunning mix of Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture, but its enviable position straddling both sides of the mighty Danube River.
To the west, you’ll find the hills of Buda rising up from the banks of the Danube. Formerly Hungary’s administrative centre under the Habsburg Empire, Buda’s Castle Hill district, deservedly recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, plays host to some of the most beautiful Baroque palaces in the city. Take the funicular up from Chain Bridge (the first bridge to permanently connect Buda to Pest) and wander the intimate cobbled streets, soaking up the glorious architectural gems as you go. Be sure to visit Matthias Church, built over 700 years ago and scene of many a Hungarian King’s coronation. Other musts are the 13th-century Royal Palace, towering majestically over the Danube and home to the Hungarian National Gallery, and Fisherman’s Bastion, from where you’ll enjoy sweeping city and river panoramas.
To the east of the Danube lies Buda’s newer neighbour, Pest where your first port of call must surely be Heroes’ Square with its central Millennium Monument, built to commemorate the1000-year history of the Magyars tribes. To the north of the square sits the Museum of Fine Arts whilst on its southern edge, you’ll find the Kunsthalle, exhibition site for more contemporary offerings.
Another World Heritage Site and reminiscent of the Champs Elysées, Andrássy Avenue connects the city with its delightful City Park and is lined with stately buildings housing chic designer boutiques and a wealth of enticing restaurants. Just off Andrássy Avenue, you’ll encounter the rather grand Opera House and Academy of Music founded by the famous Hungarian composer, Liszt, in 1875. On Dohány Street meanwhile, you’ll find the Great Synagogue, the largest in Europe built in the 19th century in Neo-Moorish style and today home to the impressive Jewish Museum.
We could continue ad infinitum but we’ll just tell you about a few more sites, you simply shouldn’t miss. First and foremost, the Neo-Gothic Parliament building, the third largest parliament building in the world where you’ll find the Hungarian Crown Jewels displayed. The Central Market Hall is another essential, as it gives you a real flavour of all for which Hungary is famous, both in an edible capacity and from a souvenir perspective. For additional authentic Budapest flavour, be sure to include Vörösmarty Square in your itinerary, in addition to Váci Street, perhaps Budapest’s most famous shopping and eating thoroughfare and finally, St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest’s largest church.