Buda Orientation Walk (Self Guided), Budapest

The Hungarian capital Budapest is a relatively young city, emerged only in the late 19th century as a result of the merger of two neighboring towns - Buda on the western bank of the Danube and Pest on the eastern bank. Set on the hills, Buda represents a historic part of the city and is a home to the grand Hapsburg palace which still breathes the imperial air of old-time wealth. While in Buda - standing on the Castle Hill or Gellért Hill - you can enjoy a sweeping view of the opposite Pest, which lies across the river. Compared to Pest, Buda is considerably more relaxed, with its life running at a much slower pace and its profile kept much lower too.

To obtain directions to the sights of this lovely part of the Hungarian capital, featured on this self-guided walk, tap the sight's name below this introduction and then tap it on the map at the bottom of the sight's information screen. The GPS navigation function will guide you to the chosen destination.
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Buda Orientation Walk Map

Guide Name: Buda Orientation Walk
Guide Location: Hungary » Budapest (See other walking tours in Budapest)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.8 Km or 2.4 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Gellert Spa Bath
  • Gellert Hill
  • Ybl Budai Creative House
  • Buda Castle
  • Castle Hill
  • Matthias Church
  • Fisherman's Bastion
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Gellert Spa Bath

1) Gellert Spa Bath (must see)

One of the best-known thermal baths in Budapest, Gellert Bath has become the epitome of wellness and spa culture in the city, largely contributing to the capital's appeal for over a century. Built in 1918, this spa complex is famous primarily for its architectural splendor manifested, among other elements, in the high vaulted glass roof and open-air pool which recently has been fitted with the artificial waves function that kicks in every hour for ten minutes – just enough to bring excitement into the water-splashing crowd.

The tradition of bath in Hungary was introduced by the Turks in the 16th century, when the country was part of the Ottoman Empire, although records of Gellert hot springs have been known since as early as the 15th century, predated by tales of the underground waters running deep beneath the hills of Buda, praised by monks and hermits for their miraculous healing powers, back in the Middle Ages. The Hungarian thermal baths grew incredibly popular in the 19th century seeing more and more locals and guests of Budapest rushing to reap the benefits of aqua therapy. To meet this growing demand, a fine-looking facility was needed to enable people to enjoy spa waters in a civilized manner.

Such was the case of Gellert Spa, the complex combining a spa hotel and thermal bath under one roof. A great sample of the ostentatious Art Nouveau style dating back to the Austro-Hungarian era, this large building stuns with its architecture, and particularly the tiling, right from the very entrance. Further inside, the visitors are offered a choice of indoor and outdoor pools, two thermal baths, two saunas and a steam room, complete with a set of massage and other treatment facilities. The traditional Thai massage, widely popular these days around the world, is available here too, and at a rather reasonable price. To quench one's hunger for another bodily pleasure, such as food, there is a garden cafe, tastefully filled with flowers and pretty statues.

The Baths are open from 6am to 8pm, and would fit in nicely with a sightseeing tour of Budapest any time of year.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 6am-8pm (last entry: 6pm)
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Gellert Hill

2) Gellert Hill (must see)

Rising high above the Danube, Gellért Hill is a dolomite rock which is named after the bishop who brought Christianity to the Hungarians. At 140 meters, it offers one of the best vantage points in Budapest with the most panoramic view of the city.

Back in the 18th century, the hill was mostly serene countryside covered in vineyards. Eventually, that idyllic picture had changed and the 20th century, in particular, brought much action to Gellért during the Second World War and later, in 1956, during the Hungarian Revolution, when the Soviet tanks fired from this height down on the city in a bid to repress the revolt. Dominating the hill is Hungary's very own “Statue of Liberty” set to commemorate the liberation of Budapest from the Nazis in 1944. Back in the day, this bronze lady standing atop a concrete pedestal, holding a giant palm leaf – symbol of victory, triumph, peace and eternal life, was also meant to celebrate the inclusion of Hungary into the Soviet bloc. Following the country's political and economic turnover in the early 1990s, the liberal mayor of Budapest decided to rename the statue, and today it is called the “Statue of Freedom” dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives for Hungarian independence.

Adjacent to the statue is a citadel built in the 19th century following Hungarian uprising against the rule of Hapsburg Austria. Set at this strategic site, ideal for shelling both Buda and Pest, all at once, in the event of any future revolt, it was put here on purpose. Since then, however, the citadel had served mostly as a prison and shelter for the homeless. Sadly, today it is not open to visitors and you can't get inside.

Walking up and down the hill, you may spot a number of cute little places worth stopping by and exploring, some offering truly unique views of various parts of Budapest that you otherwise won't be able to get. No wonder if you feel a bit peckish during the process, in which case there are several stalls, at the top of the hill, selling food and drinks. But even if you're here for views and views only, Gellért Hill is well worth the climb all the same!
3
Ybl Budai Creative House

3) Ybl Budai Creative House

A listed World Heritage site, this tiny palace was built in the late 19th century. A combination of Renaissance and Baroque styles, it was created by Hungary's most influential architect, Miklós Ybl. At a glance, you can never guess that this charming building is, in fact, a pump house originally designed to supply water to the nearby Royal Palace. In 2009, during a canal construction, a six-room cistern system was discovered, by then completely forgotten, revealing the gravel layer that filtered Danube water for the use in the palace, predating the canalization system in Budapest. Later, when that system became fully-fledged, the cisterns lost their purpose, but the building remained and was reassigned to a new role, a music-n-dance pavilion for public entertainment. Upon that, in the early 20th century it was rebuilt as an elegant cafe-restaurant and served in that capacity for 40 years. People say that once it had a large garden with a dance floor at the front and a band playing on the terrace. For another 15 years, up until 2007, it functioned as a casino where modern-day gamblers came to enjoy themselves in an aristocratic setting.

In 2016, the building came into the possession of the Pallas Athena Foundation and changed its profile once again. This time around, though, the new owners not only masterly restored the facade and inner parts of the property, but also gave it a whole new life as an arts venue. Thus, the Ybl Budai Creative House came into being, a historic monument and cultural spot hosting art exhibitions, interactive events, performances, workshops, concerts, movie screenings and family programs. Moreover, just as in the old days, visitors here can enjoy good food at an on-site restaurant or simply kick back with a cup of coffee on the terrace with a panoramic view of the Danube.

Opening Hours:
[Exhibition Space] Mon-Fri: 8am-7pm; Sat, Sun: 9:30am-7pm
[Catering Spaces] Mon-Fri: 7:30am-12am; Sat, Sun: 9:30am-12am
4
Buda Castle

4) Buda Castle (must see)

Otherwise known as Royal, the Buda Castle of Budapest is named after the Buda Hill that it stands on. Once home to the Hungarian royalty, this spacious – over 300 meters long – complex totally dominates the city skyline and is a grand sight to behold, particularly at night, yet it is just as good in daylight a place to walk around, too.

From an architectural standpoint, the castle represents a mixture of styles – Gothic, Romantic, and Baroque. In large part, this is due to its having been destroyed and rebuilt, at least six times, over the course of the past seven centuries. Unlike similar former royal properties, the interior of the Buda Castle does not convey the idea of what life here was like centuries ago, when kings were still around. Instead, it accommodates several public institutions, such as the Budapest History Museum – recounting history of Budapest from the outset to the modern era; the Hungarian National Gallery – housing a collection of Hungary's most precious artifacts and works of art; and the Hungarian National Library holding, among other books, some rare and antique ones printed in Hungary and abroad.

The castle is always open – even at night – and, as such, deserves a visit. Other than the historic buildings, it treats visitors to the outstanding views of the lower part of Buda and Pest across the Danube. There is no shortage of courtyards, quiet nooks and corners here to wander in, whilst walking around. The fountain in the main courtyard is quite impressive and unique in its own right, depicting hunting party of King Matthias. The sculpted figures are so lifelike that one can almost hear the dogs panting and barking whilst chasing the prey. The military guards here are also of interest, especially when doing their routine, marching and shouldering rifles as an exercise between long stints of standing guard.

If lucky, your visit may coincide with a festival featuring medieval displays, concerts and parades of old weaponry and military uniforms. But if you're simply looking for a quiet spot to stretch out on a hot sunny afternoon, then head to the Várkért Bazár with its beautifully landscaped gardens, ideal for a picnic. Just make sure to fetch a blanket and a bottle of your favorite wine... Tokaji maybe?

Opening Hours:
[National Gallery]: Tue-Sun: 10am–6pm (closed on Mondays, but often open on national holidays)
[Budapest History Museum] Tue-Sun: 10am–6pm (Mar–Oct), 10am–4pm (Nov–Feb)
The courts and courtyards of the Buda Castle are open day and night, 24/7
5
Castle Hill

5) Castle Hill

The Castle Hill in Buda is a magnificent mix of historic fortifications, architectural landmarks and cultural venues of various sort, fit to arouse interest even in the most discerning visitors. Among them are some famous locations like the Matthias Church or Fisherman's Bastion, and the lesser-known ones like the Faust Wine Cellar, offering a choice of excellent wine tours to the cellars of Buda Castle, or the Ruszwurm сonfectionery renowned for their cream cake. The Hospital in the Rock Museum – a former hospital and bunker built under the rocks of the Castle Hill in the 1940s-60s – is open daily from 10am to 8pm. If you have plenty of time, much as strength in your feet, you may also wish to check out the Museum of Hungarian Telephony, the Hungarian Military Museum, and the small but fascinating Pharmacy Museum. Otherwise, head to the ancient Church of Saint Mary Magdalene with its reconstructed tower which affords visitors an extraordinary panorama of Budapest.

The Castle Hill streets are not typically narrow and dark medieval ones, but are pretty wide and civic, lined with beautiful flowers growing on the side and souvenir shops. The old buildings are well maintained and nicely renovated, with plenty of photo opportunities waiting practically around every corner.
6
Matthias Church

6) Matthias Church (must see)

Officially known as the Church of Our Lady, this temple in the Castle District of Budapest is commonly referred to as Matthias Church, after King Matthias who did much to embellish it. A patron of arts and enlightenment, the king is revered primarily for reconstructing the Hungarian state after many years of feudal anarchy.

Historical records suggest that the church was built originally in the 11th century. Initially styled Romanesque, today it features Gothic design adopted in the 14th century. The intricate tile work on the roof makes it easy to spot when visiting the Castle and Fisherman's Bastion.

Considered the 2nd largest church in Buda and 7th largest in Hungary, over the centuries, it has been the site of many royal coronations, state burials and religious ceremonies. During the years of Turkish occupation, the church was converted to a mosque with its original ornate frescoes whitewashed and removed. Upon returning to the Christian service in the 17th century, it had a touch of Baroque style added, to compensate for the damage done by cannon fire during the siege which drove the Turks out.

Today, the church houses the Ecclesiastical Art Museum spanning from the medieval crypt section up to St. Stephen's Chapel, holding a collection of relics, including medieval stone art. Among the displayed artifacts here, both civic and religious, is a replica of the Hungarian Royal Crown. If you're a fan of stained-glass, ancient frescoes and wall decorations, you will find the Matthias Church well worth visiting. Because of the building's great acoustics, it often hosts classical music concerts as well... in case you're interested.

Why You Should Visit:
Breathtaking architectural intricacies in both the outside tiling and the inside design; a great bonus for when you go to see the Castle and Fisherman's Bastion.

Tip:
If you're reasonably fit and have no fear of heights, at a small fee you may get to the observation platform at the top of the church's tower for a bird's eye view of the Hungarian capital. Mind you, though, that the steps are many and are quite steep and not too wide, so you'll have to brace yourself prior to embarking on this daring climb!

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm; Sat: 9am-12:15pm; Sun: 1pm-5pm
7
Fisherman's Bastion

7) Fisherman's Bastion (must see)

Directly adjacent to the Matthias Church, the massive neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque structure, known as Fisherman’s Bastion, is an extension of the ancient city wall which, back in the Middle Ages, was defended by the guild of local fishermen assigned by king. The bastion itself was built between 1895 and 1902 to mark the millennial anniversary of Hungarian statehood. The seven towers of the bastion symbolize seven Hungarian chieftains who led their tribes to the land of contemporary Hungary back in the 9th century AD. The turrets on top of them are quite popular spots with photography lovers for the great shots they provide over the mighty river Danube down below and the Pest side of the city on the opposite bank. Perhaps for this reason, access to these turrets comes at a small fee. The remainder of the bastion's terrace is open free of charge.

The centerpiece of the bastion is the statue of St Stephen, the first Hungarian king who ruled the country between 1000 and 1038. The wide ceremonial staircase leading to it is also lined with several statues including that of John Hunyadi – military commander and statesman, the statue of St George Piercing the Dragon, as well as those of the 10th-century soldiers guarding the gate, sitting at the top of the stairs, under the arch.

The surrounding benches and arcades invite for quiet contemplation or, perhaps, a little romance too, in a secluded setting. And if you feel thirsty, check out the beverage restaurant at the top of one of the turrets, to make your senses more acute to more beauties of Budapest lying ahead.

Opening Hours:
24/7, all year round
Visiting between Oct 15 and March 15 is free of charge all day long
Otherwise, tickets for the upper towers are sold between 9am-7pm (Mar 16–Apr 30); 9am-8pm (May 1–Oct 15)

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