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Budapest - Hungary

St Stephen Statue, Budapest Szechenyi Baths, BudapestFishermans Bastion, BudapestSt Matthias Church, BudapestParliament, BudapestLiberty Bridge, Budapest

Budapest is one of the great European cities, rivalled only by Vienna. With the rise of Prague it's dropped off the radar a little - but there's still plenty to occupy you and the crowds have yet to rediscover this grand city. Budapest is really two cities, divided by the Danuble. Hilly Buda is the castle and royal district, while Pest on the east bank is flatter and contains the more modern buildings.

For most visitors Buda castle is the first port of call. Occupying high ground overlooking the Danube, the castle can be reaced by a series of steep paths or alternatively by a furnicular railway. Plenty of statues adorn the castle courtyards with St Stephen, Hungary's first king having pride of place. The colourful roof of the neo-gothic St Matthias Church sits beside the castle. Fisherman's Bastion, a newer arcade built over the fortiufication wall, has stunning views over the Danube and the fabulously sumptuous Parliament building.

The Danube divides the city in to and is crossed by several bridges. The grandest of these are the mid 19th Century Chain Bridge and the Liberty Bridge, often illuminated at night. The river teems with boats, struggling slowly upstream against the heavy flow or cruising swiftly in the other direction.

East of the Danube is the modern quarter of Pest. Most of this area was developed when Budapest was joint capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is a collection of grand 19th Century buildings. The grandest avenue is wide, tree lined Andrassy ut, running from the modern centre out to the Varosliget (City Park). Under here runs continental Europe's oldest underground line. Heroes square stands at the end of Andrassy ut, celebrating with statues of Hungary's great kings and statesmen.

The city park is home Vajdahunyad Castle, built in a mismatch of styles and now an agriculture museum. The park also houses various art exhibitions alongside the boating lake. Inside the park grounds is the Budapest Zoo, a surprisingly large complex, and the Hungarian State Circus which hosts shows from all over the world. Next to the circus is the enormous Szechenyi Baths complex - with all manner of spas, saunas, steam rooms and outdoor baths. Other baths are scattered throughout the city although none are quite so grand as these.

The tourist shopping area is centred on a couple of narrow pedestrianised streets around Vaci utca a couple of blocks from the river. Here there are plenty of souvenier shops, market stalls and street entertainment. There's also plenty of places to eat here although for cheaper fare an a little more atmosphere head to busy Raday utca. Every restaurant and bar in the street has spead out to cover almost the whole of the pedestrianised street. This is also the student quarter so can be very lively during term time and there are plenty of independent shops too.

 

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