I woke up on Day 3 in Vienna to an overcast sky and rain. I wanted to go take a picture of the famous status of Johann Strauss in Stadtpark, but didn’t feel like getting wet, so I had breakfast and departed for Budapest.
Budapest Castle District
I spoiled myself in Budapest, starting with staying at the InterContinental Hotel right on the Danube River, and with a private guided tour of the Castle District. The Budapest Castle District is not what it seems, I absolutely advise against seeing it without a guide. My private guide, Andi, was knowledgeable, spoke good English and ensured I learned a lot.
We started the tour from my hotel, as we made our way to the UNESCO World Heritage Budapest Castle District by public transportation; she began my education about the Hungarian people. Hungarians are not European, but nomadic people from Asia who migrated and conquered their way to Central Europe. They were a successful people for centuries and fought many wars to expand their territory but eventually, they began to lose the wars and became the conquered. The Castle District holds all the stories of their history, especially the more recent history for the last 100 years. Hungary has been conquered in the last 200 years by the Turks, and occupied by the Austrians and Russians. Their independence is rather recent.
We started the tour with the 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion. Matthias is the last of the Hungarian Kings still beloved by his people today. Matthias Church, under the rule of the Turks was a mosque, so it is different compared to other churches across Europe. The inside is much more colorful, it’s also the only church I know which has a severed human foot displayed in a case.
The view over the Danube, across to Pest from the Fisherman’s Bastion is beautiful. From there we walked over to the President’s house and the castle next to it. Andi had a lot to say about the Prime Minister, the current state of affair in Hungary and the role of the President. She’s not happy with the way things are and concerned with where they’re heading.
The castle, like much of the entire Castle District has been rebuilt over the last 70 years since much of it was destroyed during WWII.
Some of the reconstruction took place when Hungary was under Russian rule, so the Russian block building concept can be found across Budapest and a little bit in the Castle District. The Hungarian, to protect their history and architectural past, made it mandatory to use whatever former structure was still standing when rebuilding and that’s how you end up with the ugliest Hilton hotel ever. Built during Communist rule, the Hilton hotel is a mixture of 13th, 17th and 21th century architecture. Andi asked how I thought it was possible for Conrad Hilton to build one of his hotels under Russian rule…I guessed money, to which she agreed but it wasn’t just money. She reminded me of his famous, beautiful Hungarian wife: Zsa Zsa Gabour.
We stopped for coffee and cake and talked some more. Andi spoke highly of Sissi, and how important she was for the Hungarian people. One of the bridges is dedicated to her, and you can find status of her across the city. She said, Sissi fought for the Hungarian people while they were under Austrian rule, and spent a lot of time in Buda. Sissi was the reason Pest was able to get an Opera House. Sissi’s best friend was from Hungary.
We headed back to the hotel shortly after that; I was quite satisfied with my tour. I highly recommended it and can be booked through Absolute Walking Tours.
I didn’t have any plans for my first evening in Budapest, but after my walking tour I felt energized, and interested in learning and seeing more so I inquired about the evening cruise on the Danube. I booked a ticket on the Duna Bella 9pm cruise from the hotel concierge and then headed out to dinner.
I have not seen any other city look the way Budapest does at night. Paris might be the city of lights, but it pales in comparison to Budapest due to its location on the Danube River, the many bridges, the Castle District and Parliament. You must take the night river cruise to get the full sense of what Budapest looks like at night.
As I walked back to the hotel after my evening river cruise, I felt extremely satisfied with my first day in Budapest. I had seen a lot and learned so much. There’s no way for me to cover everything from that day in a blog post…you must go out and experience it yourself!
How About You?
Have you ever visited the Budapest: Castle District and Cruise? Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.