The region’s former empires have left their traces on Budapest’s physical and cultural landscape. The Ottomans built mosques and luxurious baths all over Buda (the Western side of the Danube River) for 150 years. Then, the Austrian Hapsburgs absorbed the entire Kingdom of Hungary, and, despite the Hungarians’ best efforts, maintained control until WWI. After WWII, the Communists rebuilt a largely leveled Budapest in their own image, complete with squat apartment buildings and monumental statues.
While the occupations themselves were never welcome, the influences that came with them have helped to shape Budapest into a modern, cosmopolitan city. Read through the post below for a list of 8 Budapest historical and architectural highlights you should be sure to check when you visit Hungary.
Tomb of Gül Baba and Rose Hill
The death of Suleiman the Magnificent’s poet-in-residence and comrade at the walls of Buda Castle cast a dark shadow over the Ottoman’s victory celebrations. His ornate and octagonal tomb, however, is a fitting tribute. The nearby rose gardens that give Rose Hill its name were said to have first been planted by the Ottomans during their stay in Buda’s most desirable neighborhood.
The city’s only siege-proof baths are a testament to Ottoman forward-thinking and Epicureanism. Soak in the spirit of the Ottomans as you relax in the thermal baths beneath 500-year-old domes. Experiencing history has never felt so relaxing; just make sure you’re going on the right gender-specific day.
Historical Museum of Budapest
Located in the Buda Palace, which has itself housed more than its share of foreign regimes, the Historical Museum contains numerous artifacts from the city’s not-so-welcome guests, including Turkish plates and silverware and dresses replicating the latest Vienna fashions. You’ll also find artifacts dating from the original imperialists, the Romans, and their settlement at Aquincum.
This structure was designed and built by the Hapsburgs after the failed revolution of 1848 as a reminder to the Hungarian people of who wore the pants along the Danube. Even after Budapest became a dual-capital, it took the Austrians until 1897 to vacate the Citadella, which remained vacant until World War II, when it was turned into an air-raid shelter. Skip the exhibit inside, but soak in the fantastic view of Pest.
Double back to cross the Széchenyi Lánchíd (Széchenyi Chain Bridge), the first permanent Bridge across the Danube in Budapest. At the time of its construction, the bridge was the longest in the world and considered an architectural marvel. Though built under the Hapsburgs, the bridge became a symbol of growing Hungarian national consciousness. Just don’t believe that myth about the lions not having any tongues.
Hungarian State Opera House
Despite Emperor Franz Joseph’s stipulation that the new opera house in Budapest must be smaller than his beloved opera house at Vienna, the Hungarian-designed and built opera house is one of the city’s greatest cultural treasures. Even better, cheap student tickets let you have a taste of European culture at a fraction of the price you’d pay elsewhere.
While the Turks have been gone for more than 300 years, their culinary influence thankfully remains, though it’s largely confined to nonstop gyro stands (here usually called Török gyorsétterem or “Turkish fast food”). For those willing to look, the tiny Hummus Bar serves some of the best mashed chickpeas this side of Istanbul. If you can find a volume of Gül Baba’s collected poems, there’s no better place to get acquainted with them than on the softly padded upper floor of this popular Erzsébetváros eatery.
If there’s one thing the Hungarians are good at, it’s turning abandoned buildings into places to drink. Budapest’s youth live it up on top of an ugly, gray Communist-era building where most of their parents will remember waiting in long lines to buy light bulbs and underwear. The service elevator is the oldest in Hungary, and offers the truly impatient a chance to start drinking before they even get to the roof, thanks to a handy in-elevator cooler. If you have the fortune to be here on a warm summer night, grab a good seat and wait for the sunrise.