The Hungarian capital, Budapest, is situated on the banks of the Danube inCentral Europe.
It’s the political, economic and culturalheart of the nation, and one of the most beautiful and livablecities on the continent.
For centuries this has been a tale of two cities, the city of Buda rising from the steep western hills, and Pest, stretching away into the flat plainsof the East.
The Danube kept these two cities apart until 1873, when the first of Budapest’s seven bridgesbegan stitching the two halves into one.
This tale of two cities has been one of destructionand renewal too.
Just as the Danube’s waters have coursedthrough Budapest, so too have the great tides of European history, often gracefully, but sometimes with ferocious force.
Budapest is a big city, and navigating its patchwork of districts can be as challenging as understanding its complex history.
For a sweeping overview, head to the Citadellaon the Buda side of the Danube, and take in the views from the 19th centuryramparts on Gellért Hill.
Just upriver from the Citadellais Budapest’s oldest area, The Castle District, which is filled with medieval, baroque and 19th century buildings.
Ride the 150 year-old funicular up Castle Hillto Buda Castle.
First built in the 13th century the castlehas been home to Hungarian kings, a stronghold for Ottoman armies, and headquartersfor an elite German Commando Unit.
Over the last seven hundred years, the castle complex has been reduced to rubbleby wars and rebuilt in peacetime many times over.
At the northern end of castle hill rises the defiant spire of Matthias Church, which served as a mosque during the 150 yearsof Ottoman rule.
Step from the church and onto the terracesof Fisherman’s Bastion, whose seven towers represent the seven Magyar Tribes who founded the Hungarian nation in the ninth century.
In medieval times, fishwives peddled their wares here; today the fanciful terraces are yet anothergreat place to catch views across the city.
Once you’ve explored the heights of Castle Hill, stroll across another of Budapest’s iconiclandmarks to the Pest side of the city.
Crossing the Danube wasn’t always this easy, for centuries travellers were at the mercyof the waters’ moods.
In 1820 a young count vowed to create a bridgeafter winter ice flows prevented him from attending the funeral ofhis beloved father.
Thirty years on, The Szechenyi Chain Bridgewas completed.
Hailed at the time as one of the world’sengineering wonders, the bridge was just one of many achievementswhich earned István Széchenyi the title of The Greatest Hungarian.
Once you’ve crossed the river, follow the riverbank upstream to Hungary’sParliament Building.
Lovingly constructed from 40 million bricks, half a million precious stonesand 88 pounds of gold, this architectural masterpiece holds the hopesand dreams of the nation.
It’s also the home of The Hungarian Crown Jewels, which have been hidden, lost, stolen and returned many times over.
Join a tour to see the crown of Hungary’sfirst king, St Stephen, which after being kept inAmerica’s Fort Knox for safekeeping throughout much of the Cold War, now takes pride of place beneaththe Parliament’s central dome.
The Parliament Building is hometo around 100 statues, but none is more cherished than that of formerPrime Minister, Imre Nagy.
In 1956 Nagy enraged the Soviets by announcinghis country’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, sparking a gallant but doomed uprising which cost him and thousands of Hungarianstheir lives.
Just a short walk downriver from the Parliament Building is a sobering memorial to another of the city’sdarkest chapters.
In 1944, thousands of Budapest’s citizens, many of them Jews, were executed here by the ruling fascist party.
60 pairs of iron shoes, lined up along the riverbank, pay tribute to those who were shot and sweptinto the night by the Danube’s currents.
Despite the horrors of World War Two, today’s Budapest has one of the largestJewish populations in Europe.
Lose yourself in the Jewish quarter, an area undergoing renewal thanks toits colorful cafe and bar scene.
Then pay your respectsat The Dohany Street Synagogue, the largest Jewish house of worshipin Europe.
Budapest is home to over 200 museums.
The nation’s most important, The Hungarian National Museum, lies just to the south of the Jewish Quarter.
Here you can explore over 1000 yearsof Hungarian history, from the days of the Magyars, to the Stalinist era and beyond.
But this is more than just a building dedicatedto the past, this is a place where history was made.
In 1848 the first calls for revolution rangout from these very steps, inspiring Hungarians to rise and throw offthe shackles of their Austrian overlords.
Like so many of this city’s historic buildings, the story of St Stephen’s is filled with drama.
The basilica took 54 years to complete.
It would have been finished years earlierhad a storm not caused the dome to collapse, forcing the builders to demolish the entire basilicaand start from scratch.
Thankfully the new dome has held firm nowfor over a century, a reassuring thought as you take in the viewsfrom its top.
From St Stephen’s, allow yourselfto be swept up Andrassy Avenue, a world heritage listed boulevard lined with exquisite neo-renaissance architectureand grand cafes.
Not far from St Stephen’s is another temple, this one celebrating the European gods of music.
Even though the curtains first opened atThe Hungarian State Opera House over 130 years ago, the acoustics here are still considered amongthe world’s finest.
Andrassy Avenue continues to flow to the north-east, through Franz Liszt Square, dedicated to the city’s most revered musical son, before finally opening out onto Heroes Square.
Gaze up at Hungary’s seven foundingMagyar chieftains, and pause for a few moments at theTomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Heroes Square is the gateway to City Park, which in 1896 was the centerpiece of Hungary’smillennium celebrations.
As part of festivities, Vajdahunyad Castlewas created, a temporary attraction made from cardboardand wood showcasing the evolution of Hungarian architecture.
The castle proved so popularthat it was later rebuilt in stone, and today houses an agriculture museum, a fascinating tribute to the Hungarian peoples’close connection with the land.
City Park is also the home ofThe Széchenyi Thermal Baths, a vast water palace of pools, saunas, steam cabins and massage rooms.
Budapest lies across a network ofover 125 thermal springs.
The Romans took advantage of these warm medicinalwaters over two thousand years ago, as did the Turks who later built lavish bathhouseson the Buda side of the city at Gellért.
By the 1930s, Budapest was known throughoutthe world as the city of Spas.
For many in Budapest, “taking the waters”is a weekly ritual.
These are the places locals go to rejuvenatetheir bodies, spirits, and connections with loved ones and friends.
Whether it’s the sparkling Danubeor the thermal springs, there’s something truly special in the waterhere that’s helped Budapest absorb some of history’s most turbulent passages, and re-emerge renewed.
So when you’re ready to experience momentsof reflection, inspiration, and sublime beauty, come to Budapest, one of the world’s great cities.
You’re sure to come away rejuvenated too.