This is the hilly area of Budapest. The views are tremendous and the buildings are world class destinations.
In fact parts of the Buda side of the river Danube are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. This article will describe some of the sights here and we will start in the south.
The Géllert Hill area
The 333 metres long Liberty Bridge spans the Danube. The green coloured metal construction is easily recognised. It is along with the Chain Bridge the most picturesque of Budapest’s many bridges.
Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) towards the Gellért side
Whether you cross the bridge in a tram or on foot you will find that the Buda end of the bridge is dominated by the Gellért Hill. I will come to it in a minute. First we will have a look at the grand hotel situated on the river bank.
The Gellért Hotel was built 1914-1916 in Art Nouveau style, although its massive appearance seems to draw on other architectural ideals as well. Anyway, you should have a look inside the hotel reception facing the river, and also the entrance on the road leading uphill. This hotel is historically one of the grandest hotels in Europe but it seems like being slightly in need of an upgrade.
The Gellért Hotel
The side entrance is also the one you enter if you want to enjoy the Gellért Thermal Baths – and you should. It was built at the same time as the hotel and as part of it. They expanded the baths in 1927 and 1934.
Budapest is famous for its thermal baths and you can find several of them at various places in the city. The Romans knew how to make use of them and so did the Turkish a thousand years later. There are various spa treatments on offer here, but we settled for a 20 dollar basic ticket. You are given a locker and granted access to the indoor and exterior pools. Some of the pools have hot water (36 degrees) others “only” 26 degrees. It was a wonderful experience, and in particular the indoor pool provided us with a decadent feeling of being part of the European aristocracy a hundred years ago.
View of the external part of the Gellért Baths (Gellért fürdő). The hotel is in the background, the wave pool in front.
You could stay here all day if you like, but we left after an hour or so. There was more to discover. First, right across the road and at the base of the hill, there is a strange church. The Cave church was built right into the hill in 1926 by Pauline monks who had become inspired after a pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. There is not really much to see inside, but you could stay for mass if you like. Otherwise a few minutes will suffice.
Gellért hill cave church
The next site to visit in this part of Buda is a much more interesting one, Gellért Hill. The hill is named after bishop Gellért who was thrown off the cliff in 1046 by pagans. There is a statue of him with a cross on the next bridge up the river (Elisabeth). The statue on top of the hill is visible from just about anywhere in Budapest, and at night it is beautifully floodlit. It is called the Statue of Liberty and was raised after WW2 to commemorate the liberation from the Nazis.
From right behind the hotel and cave church there is a network of paths and steps leading directly up. Make sure you catch your breath enough to enjoy the park-like surroundings including a playground for children and the viewpoints.
One of many steps up the Gellert Hill (Gellérthegy)
The view from the top is breathtaking, but in summer the high trees disturb the view so you may want to descend a few metres to find a better spot to take photos like the panoramic one below.
Panorama of Budapest from the Gellert Hill (Gellérthegy). Buda side to the left, Pest to the right.
When I first visited Budapest, in 1990, I had only a few days earlier been to Prague. I concluded at that time that both cities were beautiful, but whereas Prague was pretty-ish, Budapest’s beauty was of the massive, monumental type. Most of Budapest was built in a Habsburg tradition in the last half of the 19th century, after a huge flood. Hungary was at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The monumentalism evident throughout the city, especially on Heroes’ Square described in my previous article, is visible here on the hill as well even though the striking statues are part of a Communist tradition also.
You need to fight for your freedom. Part of the Liberty monument on Gellert Hill (Gellérthegy)
Fortress walls belonging to the Citadella
Most tourists visiting Gellért Hill arrive in busloads or taxis up from behind the hill. To reach the monument they pass on foot the grim walls of the Cittadella. This fortress used to be a symbol of Austrian repression, a very visible symbol as well with protruding cannons controlling both the Buda and Pest side of the river.
I walked down the same way I came after having noticed that there are some really nice large villas at the bottom of the hill away from the river.
Castle Hill area
The next hill is situated upriver and I shall start at the Chain Bridge. The bridge is a highlight of Budapest and a very photographed one as well. It is very well lit at night and can be enjoyed several times if you take one of the ubiquitous cruise boats on the river. If you walk across the bridge you will notice the strangely shaped tunnel through the Castle Hill. It was remarked when it was built that it was made to fit the entire bridge, at the time considered Budapest’s most precious asset.
The Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) at night
To the left of the tunnel you will notice the Castle Hill Funicular (Sikló in Hungarian). You may choose to walk the paths up the hill, but I suggest that you try it out. It is after all from 1870. There is only one stop as you ascend the hill, so you get off near the Royal Palace and Sándor Palace. The latter is the Presidential palace and you can watch the changing of the guards if you arrive in time.
Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló)
Changing of the guard, on Castle Hill
The Castle Hill area is an area. There are plenty of things to see and picturesque streets to walk. You will not find yourself alone up here because it is extremely tourist-packed. The Castle area has had its ups and downs since the first people settled here in the 13th century fleeing from the Mongol invaders. Since then Buda was invaded by other armies, most of them sacking and ruining the hill’s infrastructure. The Ottoman Turks were among them, but WW2 also saw heavy bombing.
I had very little time and found my way to the two compulsory sights for an evening view of the river Danube: Matthias Church (Mátyás templom) and the fairytale-like Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) in front of it.
A night view of the Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya)
My partner had better time and came also for a daytime walk in the streets behind and shot this and more pictures.
Residential street on Castle Hill.
There are of course a number of places to eat in Buda.
We spent an evening at the Csalogany 26 Restaurant and I wrote this review on Tripadvisor: “This was the perfect dinner. Some evaluate this restaurant as a place for lunch. With 4 or 8 courses this place is more suitable for dinner. The two menus to choose between can both be divided into 4 or 8 courses. The choice was not easy. We went for one of the 8 course menus with a wine package and were fully satisfied. Attentive waiters, nice atmosphere and very good and exciting food. Highly recommended.”
Several of the places mentioned in this article are part of the World Heritage Site officially called “Budapest, including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue”. Read more.
You may also read the other articles from this trip to Budapest in September 2014.
(1) Harmonious gardens and hidden courtyards
(2) The Pest side of the Danube
(3) More sights in Pest
(4) The Buda side of the Danube
Have a look at the images from places mentioned in this article. Click to expand and browse.