Win a copy of the Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Budapest and Hungary
Our Explorers Club spotlights a port of call from favourite cruising areas each month. The world was first explored by water and in many cases, it remains the best way to discover a new destination. Just add a comment at the end of the feature and to be in with a chance of winning the Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Budapest and Hungary.
Why go to Budapest?
Bestriding the Danube, Budapest is one of the most instantly recognisable cities in Europe and combines architectural beauty, rich culture and a tumultuous history.
The central area of Budapest along the River is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has several notable monuments, including the Hungarian Parliament and the Buda Castle.
Budapest’s blend of old and modern makes the city an architectural delight and a true ‘Pearl of the Danube’.
What’s good to see and do in Budapest?
The Parliament Building
The iconic waterfront Parliament Building is the third largest in the world and looks a strong contender for being the cleanest too.
An army of 150 people work tirelessly to keep it in tip-top condition, cleaning every roof tile twice a year and inspecting each flag to keep the building looking flawless, year-round.
The Chain Bridge
Budapest became a city on 17 November 1873 when the three neighbouring cities of Pest, Buda and Óbuda united. Today, Buda is the more upscale area with stately quarters while Pest is where the largest part of the population are based. Connecting the two is the magnificent bridge of Széchenyi, known as the ‘Chain Bridge’.
Europe’s biggest synagogue
It is one of the most beautiful synagogues in all of Europe, the Dohány Street Synagogue was built 1854-1859 and is the largest in Europe, seating 3,000 people. Constructed 1854-1859, its impressive interior combines Moorish, Byzantine, Romantic and even Gothic design features.
The city’s metro system is the only one in the world to be recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Budapest Millennium Underground line opened in 1896 on the city’s 1,000th anniversary, making it the second-oldest metro line in Europe, after the London Underground.
Budapest’s secret subterranean world
A hidden subterranean world lies beneath the city – a maze of over 200 caverns created by the high number of geothermal springs in the area.
The most interesting cavern is the 6 mile-long underground labyrinth located right beneath Castle Hill, in Budapest Old Town.
The Budavari Labirintus has had a tumultuous history, serving as a shelter for prehistoric people, a cellar and a prison in medieval times, a military hospital during World War II, and a command post during the Cold War before becoming a present day museum.
A moving memorial to Hungarian Jews and other victims in World War II lies on the banks of the Danube, next to the Parliament Building. 60 pairs of period-specific men’s, women’s and children’s shoes have been cast in iron and attached to the stone embankment where hundreds were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot into the river by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-5.
Become a celebrated writer
Legend has it that touching the pen of the Anonymus statue of a 13th century chronicler in Budapest’s City Park will confer great writing abilities upon you. And the pen’s shiny patina suggests there are many budding writers keen to test the theory out there!
Little known facts about Budapest
Budapest residents are inventive
Houdini, the world-famous escapologist was born in Budapest, as were both the inventor of the Biro pen, László Bíró and Erno Rubik of Rubik’s cube fame.
No Budapest building may exceed 96 meters in height
In Budapest’s main city area, no building is allowed to be taller than 96 meters: all the buildings stand at about the same height, with the exception of the Szent Istvan Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament, which both measure exactly 96 meters. The number 96 represents the year when the Magyars first settled in the area (896). The fact that Szent Istvan Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament are the same height is not coincidental, but symbolic of the importance of both religion and government in Hungary.
Over 65s enjoy free public transport in Budapest
Senior citizens of Hungary and the European Union over the age of 65 can travel free of charge on Budapest public transport. The service includes buses, trolleybuses, trams, Metro and above-ground suburban trains.
The thermal bath capital of the world?
Budapest has more thermal water springs than any other capital city. There are dozens of spas and baths, some of housed in magnificent buildings such as the Szechenyi, Gellert, or Kiraly Baths.
The chemical composition of the waters differs from bath to bath and is unique to each location.
The water in the hippos’ pool in the Budapest Zoo comes from the spring of Széchenyi Thermal Bath. The artesian water is said to have a beneficial effect on these hippos, as its composition is quite similar to that of the river Nile.
Budapest’s Railway Children
The Children’s Railway was started after World War II as a training ground for communism after a model introduced in the former Soviet Union in the 1940s.
Children between the ages of 10 and 14 can complete a four-month introductory course to become train conductors, workers and inspectors. Other than the station master and the train drivers who are adults, all the other jobs are performed by children.
A ride on this 11 km railway will take you though alpine-style scenery to the top of the Buda Hills.
The Hungarian language is a curiosity
The Hungarian language is one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. It’s also totally different to the languages spoken by its neighbouring countries. Hungarian belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group, making it similar to Finnish: there are about 600 words shared by Hungarian and Finnish. This dates back to 4000BC when Siberian hunters moved westwards towards Europe.
How to get there
Avalon Waterways offers a wealth of ways to enjoy Budapest, with cruises along the Danube from, to or through the city. Prices start from just £429 pp in 2021 for a 3-night break over the festive period, when the river twinkles with Christmas markets, or £681 pp in 2022 for a 4-day west-bound cruise from Budapest to Bratislava, Vienna and beyond. Current offers include savings of up to £750 per couple and no single supplements for solo travellers on selected sailings. Fares include drinks at lunch and dinner, Wi-Fi, an excursion at each port of call and on-board gratuities.
Call 0330 808 4745 or visit website for full details.