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The capital city of Hungary, Budapest, is a huge city filled with many worthy stops for tourists. It is absolutely huge, covering over 525 sq km (200 sq mi) and is home to over 3 million people in the metro area. As one of the largest cities in Europe and cultural centre of the ethnically unique Hungarian people, I felt I had no choice but to include Budapest on my list of cities to visit while touring Europe.

A quick history lesson will give us greater appreciation for this city. The name Budapest derives from the fact that the present municipality came into existence when two existing towns, Buda and Pest, were united into one. The Chain Bridge, a large suspension bridge in the downtown area, is a symbol of the unity of the two sectors. Budapest was a "second capital" of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I, and before that, was a centre of an earlier Hungarian state. The official name of Hungary is actually "the Magyar Republic" since the people are Finno-Ugric Magyars who undertook an epic migratory journey from the upper Ural area in the 9th Century.

The "Blue Danube"runs through the city from south to north, so I decided to visit the town via river boat. There are a number of airports, highways, and rail lines as well, but coasting on a hydrofoil from Vienna is an unbeatable experience. We passed a lot of scenic terrain along the way, including the famous "Danube Bend" and arrived at a pier in the heart of Budapest.

Before you decide to take a trip to Budapest, there are a few travel tips you should be aware of:

The climate can be warm and sunny in the summer, but it gets rather cold in the winter. Be sure to dress accordingly.

Research ahead of time the places you will want to visit. There are so many to choose from that it would take weeks to see them all. Just make sure you see all of your most important sites.

You may wish to find hotels in different parts of town as you explore them one by one. Another strategy is to cover different themes on different days, which is what I opted to do.

Make sure to have a cell phone with a good international SIM card. You want to have phone, text, and email access everywhere you go in town.

Don't forget to try some Hungarian food while there. I had, authentic goulash, fisherman's soup, sour cherry soup, stuffed cabbage rolls, and plum dumplings. Don't be afraid to try something new, for you may just discover a delicious dish you can find a way to cook back home.

Although there are many ways to tour Budapest and a hundred categories of tourist stops one could come up with, I chose to tour it based on four themes. Each day, I visited sites related to these four themes, which were: recreation, architecture, history, and art.

Day One: Recreation

I went to the Lazlo Papp Budapest Sports Arena where I saw an interesting boxing event. They also, I hear, feature a lot of hockey matches in that arena as well. Then I saw a football (soccer) game at Ferenc Puskas Stadium. I still had time to visit Hayogyari Island ("Shipyard Island"),  the largest of Budapest's Danubian isles. It lies right in the heart of town and is now a park. Since I had come in August, I was on time for the annual Sziget Festival. I also noticed a few  remnants of an old Roman fortress that once occupied the island.

Day Two: Architecture

Otto Wagner's attractively designed Rumbach Street Synagogue was a sight to behold. It was built back in 1872. Next, I went over to have a look at St. Stephen's Basilica. It is quite beautiful, but I found something very odd on the inside: the preserved right hand of Stephen, the first king of Hungary.

From there, I went to Elizabeth Lookout, which is situated on top of Janos-hegy. That is the highest hill in Budapest at 528 meters, and from the tower on that hill, I got a breathtaking view of the cityscape. Fisherman's Bastion, a sort of miniature castle on the banks of the Danube, had seven towers and a huge terrace overlooking the river. It didn't take long to explore, but it was well worth the visit.

On a more political note, I perused the residence of the Hungarian president- Sandor Palace. It was very attractively laid out, but it seemed a bit small for a presidential abode. Later, I found out that it is only the 37th biggest palace in the country. The  Hungarian Parliament Building, in Kossuth Lajos Square, was a much more imposing sight.

Day Three: History

I toured the Hungarian Natural History Museum to get an idea of the flora and fauna of the land and I visited the Hungarian Technical and Transportation Museum, one of the oldest transportation collections on the continent. Then I hit the Hungarian Railway History Park, and endless marvel if you have any interest in locomotives. I wound up the day reading up on all things to do with Hungary at the largest library in Budapest, called Fovarosi Szabo Ervin Konyvtar. It houses around a million books, but alas, I didn't quite have time to read them all! It is an interesting contrast that this library is located inside old Wenckheim Palace, but it is a fully modern establishment on the inside.

Day Four: Art

Though the whole town is a virtual work of art, I decided to spend the last day of my trip appreciating something more technically labeled "art." I visited the Hall of Art  near Heroes' Square to view their contemporary art collection. Across the way, I took some time at the Museum of Fine Arts as well. Near at hand, I saw the Timewheel in Budapest City Park. It is one of the largest hourglasses in the world, being round but with a built-in, sand-pouring hour glass in the middle. Finally, I attended an authentic Hungarian play at the National Theatre.

Budapest is a truly unforgettable experience

My four-day exploration of Budapest could never hope to be thorough, for the city has a near-endless supply of wonderful tourist attractions. However, I console myself with the thought that this gives me an excuse to return again someday. Budapest is a truly unforgettable experience, especially if you take time to cruise on the Danube rather than always sticking strictly to the streets. Now that Hungary is in the E.U., travel to Budapest is easier than ever, and I can definitely recommend it to anyone as an adventure they will never forget.

 

Written by Luke Duggan — February 17, 2015

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