“When I first came to Budapest, I was bowled over by an often sad but confident city whose history seemed too complex to comprehend, by a beautiful but impenetrable language, and by a people I thought I’d never know.” – Steve Fallon
I woke up that morning inside my České dráhy couchette after an overnight train ride from Prague.
Looking out the window, I realized that the familiar scene of grandiose European architecture has long faded into the distance. In its place is the sight of Transdanubia grassland, not immediately striking but intriguing all the same. It might just be 525km away, but it feels like I have left the Czech capital far, far behind.
Yet, as the train pulled over and I made my way out of Budapest-Keleti Railway Terminal, I was enthralled by the sheer size of Budapest. It’s a city full of contrast—and such contrast characterizes Budapest for my remaining sojourn in the city.
Romance of the sad, but confident city…
I remembered walking along the boulevard of Andrássy Avenue. Like the rest of the city, it feels positively cosmopolitan but at the same time full of history.
There’s something chilling about learning the city’s dark past as you strolled down the boulevard, which had been renamed three times in the 1950s alone, reflecting the series of political uprising shaping the history of the region.
Hungary fell into Soviet occupation post-World War II and suffered from the resulting communist policies. Hungary was the first European country to successfully rebel against Soviet’s communism and transition into modern democracy. All those came at a costly price of over 2,000 lives, yet the young boys and girls of Pest were so brave to lead the revolution without fear.
Standing proud at the heart of the city are its two crowning jewels.
At the Pest side is the now-iconic Hungarian National Parliament building, the largest of its kind in Europe and arguably the single most beautiful monument in the continent (as far as I’m concerned, it certainly is). Over the Széchenyi chain bridge at the hilly Buda side is an equally breathtaking castle complex.
They call Budapest the Paris of the East—I say, find out for yourself.
There’s something intriguing about seeing such a seemingly everyday white city carry so much punch and beauty, stealing hours from my life quietly as I observe every single details from the Fisherman’s Bastion.
There’s just something so unbelievably romantic about walking along the Danube River as the moon shows up early while the sunset bathes the city with a warm, orange glow.
And there’s something magical about seeing the cars and the city gradually lit up from the top of Gellért Hill, showing just how far the city has left its dark past behind.
1. Uniqueness: 16/20 — It stands right at the transposition between the grandiose beauty of classic Europe, but at the same time carries the understated charm of Eastern Europe. Not many big cities can strike a chord quite like this.
2. Aesthetic: 17/20 — The beauty of Budapest is mostly concentrated on the banks of Danube River, which is strong enough to carry the weight of the entire city’s reputation.
3. Integrity: 12/15 — As far as the historic city center goes, the atmosphere is still well-kept and it’s still relatively less visited compared to its western European counterparts.
4. Significance: 12/15 — A center of Central European culture, but most importantly, Budapest symbolized one of the first countries overturning the spread of communism and led to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.
5. Shelf Life: 10/15 — Budapest is huge so it can keep you occupied for a little while, but unfortunately, most of the things which you’d be interested to do is really still within the Danube banks and the Buda castle area.
6. Access: 14/15 — Pretty decent international air connection and the city is well along the European rail/bus routes.
Destination Score: 81/100
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