Hungary is the epitome of a wild child – brought up in a well-to-do environment but as a teenager subsequently fell in with the wrong crowd twice, rebelled and fell out of those formative years a product of their experience. The river Danube splits the capital city of Budapest into distinct parts; beautiful Buda on the west bank overlooks the gritty eastern quarter of Pest. 

Strategically perched aloft of the city in Buda, the district of Castle Hill is the perfect place begin to unravel the story of this city. Begin by climbing the stairs to Castle or, if you prefer, take the funicular up to the top. From there you will be greeted by a spectacular view along the banks of the river. Looking down you will be able to see the infamous Szechenyi Chain Bridge. Its construction sparked the unification of the towns of Obuda, Pest and Buda into their polygamous marriage of a city in 1873.

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Taking up most of the hilltop is the Royal Palace, which is now known as Buda Castle. The first building that stood on this precipice was constructed during the 13th century. From then onwards the medieval residence was expanded and updated with the ‘in fashion’ architectural advancements and adornments on the orders of the royal inhabitants. It houses two top museums, the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery, as well as the National Library. You could spend a couple of days just in there, checking out the exhibits, which may feature a famous Hungarian or two, such as Mr. Biro, who invented the ballpoint pen. Or you might just want to have a look at the wonderful interiors and all the books and paintings.

There are plenty of statues outside, most notably Hungary’s national symbol: a two-headed mythical creature the Turul. In legend, it is a bird of prey, a protector of babies that also saved the Hungarian tribe’s horses from attack by eagles. Must have come from a good egg, this freaky feathery friend.

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Just next-door is Sandor Palace, where the President lives. It is occasionally open to the public on weekends in the Summer. You could also possibly find some random people dressed in costumes on horseback, for some reason.

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Take a wander through the streets on a northerly direction and you will come to the rather grand Mattias Church. Originally a place of Christian worship, the building became a mosque during the Turkish occupation. Once the Turks were ousted, it then reverted to being a church again and renamed after the King that ordered a grand restoration. This remodelling makes the church quite the compliment to the castle and a rather grand spectacle in this prosperous neighbourhood.

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Protecting the church from the Danube is the Fisherman’s Bastion, which is a fancy Disneyesque viewing terrace. The original intention was to beautify the castle walls and change them into a place for the community to enjoy, rather than as a barrier. The Bastion’s seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that made the Carpathian basin their home; i.e the founding fathers of Hungary. It serves its purpose very well, you can see across the river over to the poorer side of the city, ironically dominated by Parliament, the largest building in Hungary.

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Back down the bottom of the hill lies a traditional and rather good restaurant. Ildiko Konyhaja (Ildiko’s kitchen) has an extensive menu, as the blackboard scribblings like to advertise. The staff is efficient and the clientele is a mix of regular locals and one-off drop in tourists. Handily the dishes come in two sizes, which is great if you are not so hungry or very hungry whilst in Hungary! I chose the beef stew, a.k.a goulash with Hungarian style noodles. It was really tasty, much more suitable as a main dish during the colder months than a summer lunch but very pleasing all the same. After such hearty sustenance, it was time to climb back up the hill to explore it inside.

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One of the world’s most interesting and fascinating museums has to be Buda’s Hospital in the Rock. The network of natural caves underneath the castle was once used by the townsfolk for several purposes, including food stores and a jail. They were then transformed into a medical facility during periods of conflict. In each room, there are all the original machines and equipment, along with waxwork representations of the staff as well as the sick and injured. Whilst war was raging, the hospital ran out of capacity and the facilities could not cope with the numbers. Unfortunately, the wards became hotbeds of infection and many of the patients died.

The exhibition is a stark reminder of the horrors of war and a great insight into the history of this strategically important area of Budapest. Towards the end of the tour, you are taken through a series of vaults with information about how the caves were prepared as potential bunkers in the case of nuclear attack during the cold war era. This included quite a few exhibits from the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which somehow felt out of place. Nevertheless, the whole insight into this unique institution is well worth a visit.

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Buda may be the more affluent side of the capital, but it does have quite a few cultural tales to tell. Take a wander through the pretty hillsides to discover the history of this grand prima donna of a principal city. You are then ready to dive into the rough and ready part of town, over the river. Handily, here’s a great guide to the best of Pest. Enjoy!

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If you need travel advice, request a free 30 minute coaching session. In the chat Annie will help you choose a destination, create your itinerary and review safety precautions. Or she can discuss how you can incorporate more travel into your life by saving, making money, travelling for free or being paid to travel.

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