As one of Europe's truly great capital cities, first time visitors are usually overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the city. Divided in two by the Danube, the numerous vantage points from hilly Buda and Óbuda offer spectacular views of a flat, busy, sprawling Pest on the river's eastern bank (pictured above left: Heroes' Square).
A city that manages to surprise and enthral in equal measure, reminders of Budapest's rich and often tragic history are ever present. Indeed, the scars of the nation's crushed 1956 uprising (which have yet to fade from the nation's psyche) are still evident from the many bullet hole ridden buildings around the city. Of course, one hopes that now, following Hungary's accession to the EU on 1 May 2004, its younger citizens can take advantage of the opportunity and stability that lie ahead in a united Europe.
Certainly, since the move to parliamentary democracy in 1990, Budapest has witnessed rapid change. Sizeable investment from the west, coupled with a greater choice of goods and services means that daily life is now little different to any other major city in Europe. Of course, this leap into a "brave new world" has also brought problems too. A widening gap between rich and poor, rising house prices, organised crime and graffiti arguably being of most concern.
That said, a renewed sense of vibrancy and pride has taken hold, with many of the fine apartment blocks that turned Vienna and Budapest into two of Europe's most beautiful cities (during the early 1900s) now being restored to their former glory.
And, most importantly, the city has retained its unique character, while the locals remain just as polite, stubborn and individualistic as ever (pictured above right: Széchenyi Baths).
- ˇ Budapest
- Known as the "Queen of the Danube", Budapest's look is an amalgam of architectures from diverse cultures and points in time. Buda contains Roman ruins, the Castle, and remnants of the medieval city. Pest, on the other side of the Danube, contains the commercial and governmental sections of the city. Budapest offers many good quality museums, fine food, and good tourism.
- ˇ Danube Bend
- ˇ Before reaching Budapest, the Danube flows through a significant curve and wanders through a narrow valley containing several interesting towns. The three best towns from a tourist's perspective are:
- ˇ Szentendre
- ˇ Visegrád
- ˇ Esztergom
- ˇ Kecskemet
- ˇ A good stopping off point if you are headed south in Hungary, Kecskemet offers a number of interesting museums.
- ˇ Szeged
- ˇ Once a "Royal Town", Szeged is another great stop if you are headed south from Budapest.
- ˇ Lake Ballaton
- ˇ Lake Ballaton is where the Hungarians' vacation. The area is known for vineyards, resorts, and thermal baths.