With city life traced back to the Romans, Budapest’s history is well documented in its architecture and culture. It’s Great Synagogue for example is an awe inspiring sight, and the largest Jewish house of worship in the world outside New York. Dating back to 1859, its internal Neolog synagogue was designed by Viennese architect Ludwig Förster and has key features including a central rose window and the sumptuous organ which date to 1902. One of the particularly poignant elements is the Tree of Life Memorial, designed in 1991 by Imre Varga, and inscribed with the names of some of the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Holocaust.
The Neoclassical Basilica of St Stephen took more than 50 years to build, and was only completed in 1905. The story of its construction is one of trials and tribulations in itself, but the result is an impressive dome which you can take a trip to the top for incredible views. Inside it is a little gloomy, but perhaps one of the more interesting, if gruesome, points of interest the Holy Dexter – the mummified right hand of St Stephen and an object of great devotion, restored to Hungary by Habsburg empress Maria Theresa in 1771 after being discovered in a in a Bosnian monastery.
Whether it’s your thing or not, a night at the opera in one of the places that’s really designed for it is an experience worth savouring. For fans, the Hungarian State Opera House designed by Miklós Ybl in 1884 is like returning to the mother ship, for those who are new to the experience, this will spoil you for life. Marble columns, gilded vaulted ceilings, chandeliers and near-perfect acoustics form the backdrop for some of the most beautiful music, surrounded by statues of muses and opera greats such as Puccini, Mozart, Liszt and Verdi.
For something a little lighter, a drink at Szimpla Kert is a real must. The city’s first romkocsmá (ruin pub), it’s a huge complex with nooks filled with bric-a-brac, graffiti, art and all manner of unexpected items. You can watch a film in the open-air back courtyard, down shots or join in an acoustic jam session – essentially it’s far more than a standard pub and a unique cultural experience that’s in stark contrast to the formality of the synagogue, opera house and cathedral already mentioned here.
A kilometre-long limestone plateau towering 170m above the Danube, Castle Hill is a Unesco World Heritage site and a treasure trove of medieval monuments. Below it is a 28km-long network of caves formed by thermal springs, and it is made up of two distinct parts – the Old Town and the Royal Palace. It’s a central feature of the city and well worth a walk to explore.
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