A Budapest style passport: inside the city’s stunning Belle-Époque heritage
Its history makes it the oldest locale in Budapest, it’s a survivor of more than 30 sieges, its views don’t need Instagram filters to look good, and its sheer bounty of important landmarks has earned it coveted UNESCO status. No wonder the Buda Castle District ranks high on visitors’ lists. From the Hungarian National Gallery to the Matthias Church, the Castle Hill Funicular to the sweet treats of Ruszwurm, these nine attractions should have you well on your way to exploring Budapest’s old heart. Wear the most comfortable shoes you’ve packed – there’s a lot of cobblestoned strolling ahead.
Exploring the Buda Castle District? It only makes sense to begin with the namesake Royal Palace. Though the first palace in the area was established as far back as the mid-13th century, thanks to dozens of ensuing sieges, battles, and wars, the structure that stands today is a more modern specimen, with most reconstruction having taken place after WWII. Still, its neoclassical good looks endow it with old-fashioned grandiosi
Once you’ve marvelled at its façade, head indoors: the Royal Palace also happens to host several of the city’s premier cultural institutions. The most expansive of the lot is the Hungarian National Gallery, which encompasses four floors and traces Hungarian art history from medieval bas-reliefs up to 20th century abstract paintings.
Inspired by Ottoman takeovers? Interested in ancient architecture? Dizzied by dynastic history? Just next door to the Hungarian National Gallery is the Castle Museum (one of several divisions of the Budapest History Museum). After you’ve gotten your artistic fill, it’s the best way to quickly brush up on 1,000 years of the Hungarian capital’s history.
Odds are that, while wandering the Buda Castle District, you’ll likely catch sight of the Changing of the Guards ceremony – during daytime, it’s held every hour in front of the presidential Sándor Palace. Unlike the pomp of, say, Buckingham Palace, this ceremony happens within feet of local visitors, who can trail after the nattily dressed troops as they circle the grounds and salute with their immaculate choreography.
Given its height above the Danube, the Fisherman’s Bastion doesn’t allow for much fishing (the name honours the medieval guild of the fishermen, which historically protected this stretch of the district). But you will be able to drink in those city views. Perched on the edge of the castle fortifications and overlooking the picturesque Pest cityscape, it’s a travel photographer’s dream.
It may not quite match the gilded opulence of St Stephen’s Basilica across town, but the Matthias Church in the Buda Castle District is no less worthy an ecclesiastical stop. Having gone through many renovations – it was even used as a mosque during the Ottoman era – the structure is now famed for its Gothic elegance, colourful roof tiles, and the Art Nouveau frescoes and mosaics within.
It was its defensive, hilltop position that made the Buda Castle District popular amongst the city’s early settlers – but it’s that same hilltop vantage that makes it a sweaty undertaking for today’s travellers. Luckily, there’s the Castle Hill Funicular, which offers a quick trip to the summit and back for the weary-legged (and excellent views besides).
Time for a sugar hit? For the weary sightseer, it’s lucky that Ruszwurm is but a short shuffle from the district’s most popular sights. This old world pastry shop has been a local favourite since 1827, and cakes like the cloudlike, utterly decadent Ruszwurm Torte keep them coming
After you’ve washed down your cake with a coffee, finish up your explorations with something a bit harder. Though unknown to many foreign visitors, Hungary produces a huge range of truly exceptional vintages. And while local grape varieties like Hárslevelű and Kékfrankos may leave visitors guessing, the Faust Wine Cellar offers tutored tastings for those looking to revise. It shouldn’t prove too taxing.