Exploring Budapest

Budapest is in two halves divided by the River Danube. “Buda” and “Pest”. The castle is on the Buda side and in fact most residents live in hillier (but less expensive) Buda. However, the commercial centre (and where most people work) is in Pest. Pest is fairly flat and making exploring Budapest on foot a pleasure.

What is peculiar about Pest is the age of the buildings. Budapest was founded in 896. It celebrated its millennium a thousand years later in 1896. Being a part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, The Emperor Franz Josef was keen to spruce up the city for the millennium. As a result most significant buildings were built leading up to 1896 – making them much younger than you would expect of such an old city.

The Parliament House and Opera House are two such buildings. The Opera house was not allowed to be bigger than its counterpart in Vienna and indeed it isn’t. But the Emperor was distressed at the opening to discover that although smaller it is far grander inside than the Vienna Opera House. In keeping with the millennium theme, Parliament House is 96 metres high as is St Stephen’s Basilica.

A feature of Budapest is public baths filled by natural springs. They are at various temperatures ranging from nippy through pleasant to darn hot. Perhaps the best known public bath house is the Szechenyi Baths. Even though “taking the waters” has been a feature of Budapest for centuries, the Szechenyi Baths were developed for, you guessed it… the 1896 millennium!

We rented a cabin for the day at Szechenyi (book online). This entitles you to a change room a bit smaller than a typical clothing store change room) with a lock. It gives you somewhere to change and leave your belongings securely. It also gave us skip the line privileges upon admission. The only video footage we took was of the large outdoor pool but inside there are saunas and lots of pools at different temperatures. Although sending a full day here would have been nice, our visit of only a few hours was enough for the experience.