The city of Budapest is split in two by the river Danube. Before both parts of the city merged, two separate cities developed on either side of the river, Buda on one side, Pest on the other. The merging of the two cities (and the town Óbuda) was decided by the revolutionary Hungarian government in 1849. When the Habsburgs got back into power, they reversed the decision. A new decision to join the cities from 1873 stuck and Budapest was born.
The district Buda is very popular with tourists today. Many points of interest not to be missed are within walking distance of each other. We went for a stroll along the river and stopped off at some of these destinations.
Gellert Hill and the Liberty Statue
Early morning, the sun is out! We cross the Danube and reach the base of Gellert Hill. The summit is at 235 meters, that is already quite high for us flatlanders.
The hill got its name from St. Gellért, who threw himself to his death from the hill. During the 17th century, when German expats settled around the hill, it was also known as Blocksberg, a meeting point for witches. People believed that witches from far and wide gathered here. The sulfurous gasses that evaporate from caves on the hillside and the very steep cliffs have probably furthered these beliefs.
So here we are at the base of Gellert Hill, looking up. Small paths are winding up to the top. We make a lot of little stops at some magnificent viewing points. On a nice day, one can see far across the Danube and the view is really worthwhile!
We arrive at the top and find ourselves beneath the Liberty Statue. This and two other bronze statues were erected in 1947 to honour the soldiers who liberated the country at the end of World War II.
The 14-meter statue rests on a 40-meter base and is visible from almost everywhere in Budapest. The statue depicts a woman who raises a palm leaf towards the sky. Two other statues stand on either side of the statue; one of a dragon slayer who fist fights a dragon and one of a person bringing the liberty flame.
We walk around the Liberty Statue of Buda and arrive at the walls of the Citadelle. We were not able to go inside. If that was due to construction work or if the Citadelle is generally not accessible for visitors was not apparent at that point.
So we descent from the hill via a different path and come across the monument of holy martyr bishop Gellért. It commemorates the rebellion of pagan Hungarians in the 11th century. Emperor Wilhelm II donated the funds for erecting the memorial in 1896 and it was finished in 1904. A little waterfall streams out from right beneath the memorial and runs down Gellert Hill.
Back at the base of Gellert Hill once more we continue to Castle Hill.
Tip: If you have some time at hand in the evening hours do go down to the Danube. The lights on the Buda side of the river are great.
Castle Hill – A visit to Buda Castle
As we arrive at the base of Castle Hill we pass two mighty lions and enter the bazaar on the premises of Buda Castle. The whole complex is under monument protection and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Danube Banks.
During the 19th century, many representative buildings were constructed in Pest and the people of Buda didn’t fancy falling behind. It was decided to erect a representative building with a garden at the bottom of Várhegy (Castle Hill). Between 1875 and 1883 a classy complex in the style of the neo-Renaissance was constructed. Unfortunately, it sustained heavy damage during WWII. The state of the building deteriorated further over the years and in 1984 it had to be fully closed off. It took a long time for refurbishment work to start in 2013. A lucky time for archaeologists who found many artefacts from the 750-year long history of Buda. Visitors can now see those in an exhibition.
There is an escalator and a lift up to the Castle from the Castle Garden Bazaar. This royal residence is truly an imposing building. Some parts of it were built in the 13th century and every ruler that followed added their ideas to it. The majority of the castle was unfortunately destroyed after the Second World War. Elaborate reconstruction works helped to restore the building’s old beauty.
The castle is some 400 meters long and 200 meters wide and is described as the largest castle in Hungary. Today, there are multiple museums around. We saved a visit to those for another day.
We enjoyed the view of the Danube from the castle walls and went for a walk on the courtyard.
Stairs lead to another courtyard. The Funicular to the Danube banks departs from here. As we inspect the old departure hall and wait for the arrival of a train I spot that something interesting was going on. Military was gathering, instruments were warmed up, people stood around a red carpet… right behind the upper terminus of the Funicular is a building of the federal government and it seemed that they awaited a guest of the state. Our train ride had to wait…
Music started to play and the Hungarian Guard of Honour marched past me. They lined up along the red carpet. Some journalists ran from one side to the other in excitement. Who would be arriving here at this red carpet?
Multiple cars arrived and a woman was led along the red carpet by a man in uniform. To this day I do not know who she was. But maybe someone recognises her and can give me a hint.
After things had quietened down we were able to return to our initial activity, the Funicular.
Tip: Castle Hill is one of the prettiest photo opportunities in night-time Budapest for me. Don’t miss it
A ride on the Funicular (Budavári Sikló)
After the excitement on the square in front of the federal government building was over we were finally able to ride the Funicular downhill.
This is the moment for another tip: Downhill rather than uphill. Long queues were common at the lower terminus at the base of the hill. At the top it was quiet and we boarded the train right away.
The cable car Budavári Sikló existed in Budapest since 1870 which makes it one of the oldest cable cars in the world. Two cars on two tracks cover a difference in hight of 51 meters.
Unfortunately, not only the tracks but also the cars were completely destroyed during WWII. The Budavári Sikló was reconstructed in 1983 and restarted its service again.
The cable car is part of the UNESCO World Heritage The Danube Banks.
I filmed our way down the hill and it gives a little impression of how steep it was.
The ride sadly is very short but I find it is really worthwhile. The cars are in a historic design which creates a really nice atmosphere for the ride. We were lucky and didn’t have to share the car with too many others and really enjoyed our way down the hill.
Single ticket 200 Forint
Zero-Kilometre-Stone in Buda
One can hardly miss the Zero-Kilometre-Stone in Buda when disembarking the train. It is at the bridgehead of the chain bridge on a little square.
The Zero-Kilometre-Stone is a symbol for the Hungarian distance measurement. Here is where most measurements for main motorways in Budapest begins (an exception is Road 8).
In 1932 a different sculpture stood in this space. It was destroyed in the Second World War. Some years later it was decided to place a new sculpture onto the same space. The Zero-Kilometre-Stone was erected in 1975.
The statue measures 3 metres in height and is made from limestone. The artist Miklós Borsos created a stylised zero on a base that reads KM (for kilometres).
Castle Hill - Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion
We continued our walk through Buda, through small alleys at first, until we reached the entrance of the Fisherman’s Bastion. Here, too, we had to climb some stairs first before we reached the top of this part of Castle Hill.
The Fisherman’s Bastion is located on Castle Hill in exactly the same spot as the fish market was in medieval times. The Bastion was built between 1895 and 1905. In front of the Bastion there is a statue of St. Stephan I King of Hungary.
The Bastion does look a little bizarre and out of place. Small conic towers rise from the walls. They were designed in the neo-romantic style. To me that all looks like the remains of a fairytale castle.
The wall can only be accessed for a fee. But if you have a good look around you will find enough nice spots with a good view of the Danube and Pest on the other side of the river for free. To be honest, the view isn’t all that different from here as it is from Buda Castle. One can, but doesn’t have to, pass on a great view.
The Matthias Church was built in 1269 as a romanic basilica. The crownings of some kings took place here, for example, the crownings of Karl I, Robert of Anjou, Franz Joseph I and Karl IV. That is why the church is also called the coronation church.
Today, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
The design of the roof is particularly eye-catching. So colourful and uplifting.
We postponed a tour of the inside of the church to a later trip to Budapest.