Melodies of the Danube - Saint John's Abbey Travel Tours (# 2005)


Once the co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire (sharing that title with the always glittering city of Vienna), Budapest has a long and storied history.

From its beginnings as a Celtic settlement to its Communist era, Budapest has remained one of the most important European cities, drawing in over 4 million tourists annually. Thermal baths, imperial architecture and a magnificent skyline that illuminates at night, Budapest is a city with something for everyone. It is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the iconic banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter, Heroes’ Square, the Millennium Underground Railway and Andrássy Avenue among them. It is a foodie capital – with goulash, noodles, cold fruit soups and paprika taking center stage. It is the birthplace of Harry Houdini (then known as Erik Weisz), Zsa Zsa Gabor, US Congressman Tom Lantos, physicist Leo Szilard, Noble Prize winner George Olah and many more.

One of Budapest’s most iconic sights is surely the Parliament, sitting on the banks of the Danube. The third largest Parliament building in the world, this gem of neo-Gothic style was built from 1895-1902 in celebration of the thousandth anniversary of Hungary in 1896. The National Assembly meets here to govern the country.

In the Castle Hill area, both Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle are major destinations. Fisherman’s Bastion is a picturesque terrace, built in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles, with sweeping views of the city below – including the Parliament and Danube. The seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled here in 896. Built between 1895-1902, it takes its name from the fishermen that defended the city in the Middle Ages. The nearby Buda Castle, once called the Royal Castle, has been rebuilt several times and in several different styles, sometimes being destroyed by war. The first royal castle was built around the 13th century.

Heroes’ Square, built in 1896 and one of Hungary’s World Heritage Sites, commemorates Hungary’s thousandth anniversary. The archangel Gabriel stands atop the Millennium Monument, holding the holy crown and double cross of Christianity. Seven Magyar chieftains and their horses circle the Corinthian column below, with statues of kings and other important historical figures seated on top of nearby colonnades. Heroes’ Square is also the main entrance to the grand City Park -- home to the famed Széchenyi Thermal Bath (open since 1913 and designed in the Neo-baroque style, it is the largest medicinal bath in all of Europe), Vajdahunyad Castle (built in 1896 and in various styles to represent various periods of Hungarian history in celebration of the thousandth anniversary: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque), the Budapest Zoo (one of the oldest zoos in the world, with over 1,000 animals including the Komodo dragon and wombat), a circus, an amusement park with one of the only remaining side friction roller coasters in the world and the historically popular restaurant, Gundel (which opened in 1894).

Nearby is the Matthias Church – home of several coronations and royal weddings. Pope John Paul II visited the church in 1991. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is one of the most important church buildings in Hungary and one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest. Equal in height to the iconic Hungarian Parliament Building (they are both 316 feet), this symbolizes the equal importance in both worldly and spiritual thinking. Neo-classical in design, the main façade is flanked by two large bell towers with six bells between them (five on the left side, one extremely large bell on the right.

Originally opening in 1897, The Great Market Hall near Liberty Bridge is a fun, colorful way to spend the day for locals and tourists alike – be sure to shop through some of the city’s best stands for local delicacies, vegetables, fruits, salamis and quality meat products. Of course, there are also plenty of shops to purchase souvenirs. Be on the lookout for its stunning Zsolnay tiles, a uniquely Hungarian art form.

The opulent neo-Renaissance National Opera House is another crowd-pleaser, entertaining Hungarians since opening in 1884 along Andrássy Avenue.

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