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My Top 10 sights in Budapest with the help of the Eyewitness Guide from Dorling Kindersley

For short European city-breaks, one of my favourite guide books has to be the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness Top 10 series – read on for my review of the Budapest Guide and some of the things we enjoyed in Budapest.

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide Budapest

DK Eyewitness Top 10 Travel Guide Budapest

If you’re a regular reader of Heather on her travels, it won’t be news that I’m a fan of the DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 guidebook series – after all I’ve used and reviewed the Munich Top 10 guide and the Lisbon Top 10 guides on the blog in the past.

These guides are a handy handbag size, but they manage to pack in plenty of information on the top things to see and do, not to mention practical tips and a pull-out map.

The format is best for those who already have their accommodation booked and are interested in sightseeing and exploring a city and want to pack in as much of interest as possible. The guides have the colourful, photo rich presentation and easy to follow lay-out that Dorling Kindersley is known for and will give you a range of Top 10 things to see and do, with the detailed information you need on each recommendation.

As an example the first section of the Budapest guide recommends 10 Budapest highlights, from the Hungarian Parliament building to the Gellert Hotel and Baths, with a couple of more detailed pages on each one. Then there is a section on different Top 10 themes, such as Top 10 Baths and swimming pools or Top 10 Danube sights. The third section divides the city into different neighbourhoods, and in each one lists the recommended things to see and Top 10 cafes and pubs, with a suggested walking tour that will take you around some of the sights in a day. The final section covers useful information, such as shopping tips, getting around and hotel recommendations. Even if you’re not a great fan of Top 10 lists, you can see how using a guide that’s selective like this is really helpful when you’re just visiting Budapest for a few days or a weekend as we were.

When we are travelling en famille, it’s impossible to make detailed plans that will please everybody, so I normally try to pick out one or two things that we hope to see each day and go with the flow for the rest of the time. Here are some of the things that we really enjoyed on our visit to Budapest, that were also recommended in the DK Eyewitness Top 10 guide to Budapest.

At Memento Park near Budapest

At Memento Park near Budapest

Memento Park

Memento Park, situated on the outskirts of the city contains statues and icons from Hungary’s Communist past, and is recommended in the guide as one of the Top 10 highlights of Budapest. I’d agree with that, as we really enjoyed our visit in August, although I suspect that the place might be a bit bleak in winter.

The design of the park incorporates a philosophical message about the Communist era in an imposing brick facade with little substance behind it and ending in a wall, symbolising a road that leads to nowhere. The park is full of statues of Hungary’s communist leaders, with the one exception of Stalin, as he was so reviled that after the fall of communism, his enormous statue was pulled down, leaving only the boots which now stand on top of a plinth outside the park walls.

We took an English tour of Memento park with a young guide who had grown up under communism, and my children enjoyed posing by the old ‘Trabbie’ car and listening in on the communist hotline to the speeches of Communist leaders. In the courtyard outside the park there’s another exhibition room where we watched an extremely spooky film used for training secret agents – I’ll now always be suspicious of men in suits who leave their briefcases on the coffee table, in case they’re secretly filming me.

Read my article about Memento Park – Icon’s of Budapest’s Communist past

Palatinus Strand on Margaret Island, Budapest

Palatinus Strand on Margaret Island, Budapest

Margaret Island – Palatinus strand

One of the musts for a trip to Budapest is the thermal bath or spa experience that is part of the Hungarian culture. The most famous of these baths is the Gellert Hotel and Baths, but there are many others scattered around the city. With two teenagers to entertain, we looked for baths that are family-friendly and found them in the Palatinus Strand on Margaret Island. Margaret Island is mentioned in the guide as one of the Top 10 things to do in Budapest and is an island in the middle of the Danube that can be reached by bridge or ferry and is a favourite green space for locals to take a weekend stroll, or go jogging, cycling or rollerblading.

The island is named after Princess Margaret, the daughter of King Bela IV, who in 1242 vowed that if God would spare his country from further invasion by the Mongol invaders, he would give his daughter to God. The nine year old princess was promptly sent to live on a convent on the island, where she stayed for the rest of her life.

There are a couple of bath complexes on Margaret Island, but Palatinus Strand is the larger of the two and is a complex of out-door pools, some with waterslides and wave machines, others with fountains and jets and still others with warm thermal water. Palatinus Strand is mentioned in the guide both as one of the Top 10 Children’s attractions and Top 10 Baths and swimming pools in Budapest. You can have treatments at the complex and the place has a rather old fashioned air with slightly crumbling concrete buildings and cafes. We spent a couple of hours there swimming and relaxing and had lunch from the outdoor cafe that sold a mixture of burgers, pizzas and Hungarian specialities like fried chicken livers.

Matyas church in Budapest

Matyas church in Budapest

Mátyás Church

On the Buda side of the city, the ground rises steeply above the River Danube, with a stone look-out point of the ornate Fisherman’s Bastion and behind it the Mátyás Church, both of which are major tourist attractions. The Mátyás church is in the guide as one of the Top 10 Budapest sites and it is notable for the colourful tiled roof and the interior that is also painted in the same rich shades of red, teracotta and green.

The church is only open to tourists at certain times, and if you go in wearing a top that leaves your shoulders bare, you’ll be given a scarf to cover yourself up. As the family are not that bothered about looking around old churches, I left them in a pleasant outdoor cafe in the small park just opposite and went in on my own, taking the English language audio-guide, to find out about the history of the place.

Afterwards we climbed up on the Fisherman’s bastion where there is a cafe on the walkway around the walls, and where you can get an amazing view over the Danube towards the Hungarian Parliament Building. There was a gypsy band playing for the tourists, and we listened for a while and then continued along the top of the hill towards the Hungarian National Gallery.

View from the Fishermen's bastion in Budapest

View from the Fishermen's bastion in Budapest

Hungarian Parliament

Just across the river from the Fisherman’s Bastion and Matyas Church is the Hungarian Parliament Building mentioned as another Top 10 sight in Budapest. The parliament building was completed in 1902 and was inspired by the Houses of Parliament in London, with its river frontage and neo-gothic style. There are daily tours but we contented ourselves with the fantastic view we got from our bedroom window from Art’otel, the hotel where we stayed, just opposite.

Hungarian Parliament building

Hungarian Parliament building

Hungarian Arts and Crafts festival

After visiting Matyus Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion we walked down towards the Hungarian National Gallery, mentioned as another Top 10 Budapest site. However, as we got closer and found craft and food stalls, we realised that the Hungarian Arts and Crafts Festival was in full swing in the grounds all around the Castle District. We paid to enter and found many different stalls selling traditional crafts such as painted eggs, ceramics and embroidered textiles. There was also a stage where a succession of folk groups and singers were performing as well as traditional Hungarian dancers with plenty of skirt twirling by the ladies and boot slapping by the men.  The festival is named as one of the Top 10 Festivals and events and takes place every year in August.

Hungarian Folk art festival in Budapest

Hungarian Folk art festival in Budapest

The Chain bridge and the Castle Funicular

Once we had enough of the crafts and gypsy violinists, we found ourself at the top of the Castle Funicular, with a great view over the Chain Bridge, another Budapest landmark and one of the Top 10 Danube sights in the guidebook. The bridge was the first permanent crossing between the two originally separate cities of Buda and Pest and was completed in 1849, with towers supporting the enormous chains from which the tower gets its name. The Funicular is another Top 10 Danube Sight and is popular with tourists, although to be honest it was rather expensive, for the very short ride down, that could have been easily walked.

Funicular up to Hungarian Palace, Budapest

Funicular up to Hungarian Palace, Budapest

The chain bridge at Budapest

The chain bridge at Budapest

We were only in Budapest for two full days, at the beginning and the end of a week’s stay in Hungary that was mainly spent at Lake Balaton, but I’m amazed how many things we managed to pack in to that time.

Not that I want you think that we’re into tick box sightseeing, but we found plenty to enjoy just by wandering around the key areas or by planning to go out of our way to see a few specific things that proved to be worth the recommendation.

I’d recommend the Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Guide to Budapest from Dorling Kindersley as a great small guide if you only have a short time to visit the city and want to choose some key sights to focus on. Like all good travellers, I’m sure you’ll also come across your own favourite places just by wandering the neighbourhoods and seeing what you come across.

Do let me know whether you explored any of the places we visited and whether you found them to be worth their Top 10 recommendation – or perhaps you have your own Top 10 list to share?

The Top 10 Eyewitness travel guide to Budapest by Craig Turp costs £7.99 and can be bought from Amazon, the Dorling Kindersley website and other good bookshops and can find more information about the series on the Dorling Kindersley website here.

Disclosure – I received a complimentary copy of the Dorling Kindersley Top 10 guide for the purposes of this review

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17 Comments

  • Reply
    Hels
    January 15, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Good stuff. Not enough bloggers write about the cities I have visited or want to visit in the next five years.

    Margaret Island is terrific for all the reasons you mentioned. My parents in law were Czech not Hungarian, but they had cousins in Budapest and seemed to have visited often.

    I agree that the thermal baths and spas are core parts of the Hungarian experience, particularly at a time when Budapest was the centre of high culture in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and afterwards. Photos of well dressed couples enjoying the sun, water, coffees etc appeal enormously.. still! Even the old fashioned and slightly crumbly atmosphere seem time-appropriate.
    Hels´s last blog post ..Ballets Russes- Russian- French and Spanish collaboration

  • Reply
    Mark H
    January 17, 2011 at 1:32 am

    I just love the river, Chain bridge and buildings at night time – a beautiful sight.
    Mark H´s last blog post ..The Heartbreak of Queensland Floods Australia

  • Reply
    Andrea
    January 17, 2011 at 4:19 am

    I used that guidebook when I visited Budapest last year. Found it be very helpful and it’s great not having to carry a heavy book around.

    Budapest is an amazing city. One of my favourites and just wandering about without knowing where you’re going is also a lot of fun.
    Andrea´s last blog post ..5 Great Day Trips from Paris

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    January 17, 2011 at 8:29 am

    @ Hels – Yes I didn’t realise how much spas and baths were a feature of Hungarian life until I visited Budapest and also the thermal lake at Heviz, where everyone was taking it very seriously. When I said crumbling about the Palatine Baths I meant crumbling Communist concrete, rather than faded turn of the century slendour!
    @ Mark The views across the Danube were splendid
    @ Andrea Glad you enjoyed Budapest and this particular guide

  • Reply
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    January 18, 2011 at 3:26 pm

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  • Reply
    Sherry Ott
    January 19, 2011 at 7:08 pm

    I’m going to Hungary this summer as part of the Mongol Rally – I can hardly wait!! Thanks for getting me all excited about it!
    Sherry Ott´s last blog post ..signs

  • Reply
    [email protected] service
    January 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    The Hungarian Parliament is a must see spot. The Gellért-hegy “mountain” has a nice view as well over the city and the Danube.
    I am also fond of the DK travel guides,they always come in handy.
    [email protected] service´s last blog post ..Servicing your trees as easy as 4254402007!

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    January 28, 2011 at 3:48 am

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  • Reply
    Anil
    January 29, 2011 at 5:30 pm

    Seems like the perfect amount of things to plan a trip around. I like doing that too, having some anchor plans and branching out from there after arrival.

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    February 5, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    @ Denise – I think the hill you mention is where there is the liberty statue – we say the part of it they removed that was the Russian soldier ‘guarding’ the freedom of Hungary, at the Memento park.

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    Hungarian Folk dancing at the Festival of Folk arts in Budapest | Heather on her travels
    February 25, 2011 at 7:42 am

    […] up the cobbled streets behind Art’otel where we were staying, and admiring the view from the Fisherman’s Bastion and colourful Mátyás Church, before walking along the street that runs along the top of the hill, overlooking the […]

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  • Reply
    Deb
    August 26, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Heather, my husband and I are going to do a Budapest-Keszthely trip in Sept 2011, but without the car! A tourism expert told me not to take the trains from Budapest to Keszthely, due to dangerous thieves who like to steal Americans’ luggage etc. Also, the Lake area is full of mosquitoes and very unpleasant. Your blog does not mention either thievery or mosquitoes, so I am trying to anticipate a great trip. Thanks, Deb

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    August 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    @Deb We loved Lake Balaton and Keszthely – please don’t be put off. Although we did hire a car, I met others who had travelled from Budapest by Train although it does take longer. The Lake is very green and fringed with reeds with grassy areas where they have made swimming places – I imagine there will be some mosquitos but we stayed in a hostel 5 mins walk from the Lake shore and we were not bothered. I can’t comment on security on the train but I don’t expect that it’s any worse than many other popular train journeys – just take the usual precautions to watch your luggage. I highly recommend the northern shore of the lake and suggest that you try and stop at some of the small resort towns on the train route. We had a lovely time at the Hullam Hostel at Revulop. While at Keszthely, make sure you visit the thermal spa lake of Heviz – it’s quite a sureal experience floating around in the warm lake water – read my article on Heviz.

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  • Reply
    Andy
    February 23, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    I have heard so many good things about Budapest, it is on my next list when I go to Europe for sure. That church looks really interesting! Thanks for sharing

    • Reply
      Heather Cowper
      February 23, 2013 at 11:37 pm

      @Andy Budapest is a great choice if you want somewhere that has all the fun and sophistication of Europe but a lot cheaper than many other countries nearby

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