The Citadella is a fortress that sits on top of Gellért Hill on the Buda side of the Danube River. The Liberty Statue that is located next to the citadel can be seen from throughout the downtown area of Pest. The bronze statue features a woman raising a palm leaf toward the sky and, although it was built by the Soviet Union, it still represents Hungary’s freedom from Nazi occupation. As interesting as the fortress and statues are, the main reason for making the trek to the top of Gellért Hill is for the views of Budapest. You can see the Buda Castle District, the Parliament Building, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Danube River, and the heart of Budapest.
We walked from our hotel down to the river where we crossed Liberty Bridge to start our hike to the top of Gellért Hill, which is 771 feet above the river below. The winding path is fairly steep and takes you through a wooded area as well as by the St. Gellért Monument. The hill gets its name because it is the location where St. Gellért was brutally killed and apparently tossed from the hill. It took us about an hour to make the walk to the top of the hill, but we stopped several times to take in the scenic views at the various overlooks.
As we reached the Citadella at the top of the hill, we had worked up quite a thirst and were quite happy to find out that their were several vendors selling food and drinks next to the fortress walls. In addition to the Liberty Statue, there were also two smaller statues that remain from the original four statues that were erected at the site. The other two statues were moved to Statue Park some time after 1947 when Liberty Statue was erected. Once at the top of the hill, we spent about thirty minutes walking around the fortress and statues. We happened to go on a Saturday and there was a mix of tourists as well as locals enjoying the beautiful weather.
There are many wonderful sites to visit while in Budapest and the Citadella is certainly one of them. We would definitely recommend going on a clear day in order to take full advantage of the incredible views of the city.
One of the focal points for any visit to Budapest is the St. Stephen’s Basilica. Located in the Inner City District, it is in the heart of the old town region with all of the restaurants and shopping. Visiting the basilica is free, but there is a recommended donation of 200 Ft (~2 euros) for entering the cathedral. The inside of the cathedral is quite beautiful with all of the ornate gold arches and wonderful domes. Another highlight of the basilica is the observation deck, which has spectacular panoramic views of the city from a different perspective than those of the Castle District or the Citadel.
We actually visited St. Stephen’s Basilica twice, once on a rainy day to see the interior of the cathedral and then a second time when the weather was better to go to the observation deck and take photographs of the city. Due to its central location, the cathedral can be quite crowded with tourists, so you’ll want to be patient as you walk around the cathedral. Depending on the time of year, there can also be long lines waiting to get up to the observation deck, but we didn’t have too long of a wait while we were there.
St. Stephen’s Basilica also offers organ concerts at different times during the week and a schedule is available if you are interested. The cathedral is named after St. Stephen I, who was the first king of Hungary. Construction began in 1851 and it wasn’t completed until 1906. The domes of the basilica and the Parliament Building are the same height and they dominate the skyline of the Pest side of the Danube River. They were purposely created to be of equal height in order to symbolize the balance between church and state in Hungary.
It is possible to get guided tours of St. Stephen’s Basilica, but we found that most people just tour the cathedral on their own. The basilica is one of the most important sites to visit during a trip to Budapest and we would definitely recommend taking the time to go the observation deck for the views.
One of the keys to the success of any trip can often be based on the place that you stay at during your visit. While people, including ourselves, often say it is just a place to sleep and not as important as the destination itself, it can effect your overall impression of a location and even your mood while you are there. We didn’t list hostels as a place to stay only because we have never stayed in a hostel, although we would assume that the same principals would apply. Some people can just show up and find a place to stay once they get there, but we’re not comfortable with taking our chances that way and always make reservations ahead of time. When selecting a place to stay, there are several factors that we consider as we go through the process of deciding on a where to make our reservations.
Location – This is clearly one of the most important things to consider when choosing a place to stay. How far is it away from the major sites that you want to see, how convenient is the transportation from the place, is it located in a safe area of the city, and how much noise is in the area? Especially if you don’t have your own vehicle, being within walking distance or at least short rides to the various places that you want to see is very important. We love to walk as much as possible in the cities that we visit, so the more central the location, the better that we find it. Although it isn’t a high priority, staying at a place that has views of the city is often a nice bonus that can make your stay even more enjoyable.
Amenities – Obviously, this is dependent upon your needs and travel style. For some people, having a restaurant on site or free breakfast can be important. Is there a private bathroom, does the property provide a hair dryer and bath products, etc. Is there a concierge on site, do they allow pets, do they have Wifi, is there a safe in the room, and whether the property provides housekeeping are things that might be important to some people. For others, having a kitchen or in-room refrigerator and coffeemaker are must have items in order to save time and money. We like to know if there is a bar on-site and whether room service is offered because we often want to unwind after a long day of touring the city and surrounding area. We also prefer a location that has housekeeping since we don’t want to do any cleaning during our stay, so we tend not to stay at Airbnb or VRBO type property.
Comfort – The size of the room and bathroom may or may not be important, but whether the sheets and carpets are clean should definitely be a consideration. Even if you only spend a few hours in the room sleeping, you want those hours to be as comfortable as possible. We prefer at least a king or queen size bed as opposed to having to push two twins together. We definitely want to have a shower and a bathtub is a plus. Unless we’re in an ecolodge in the jungle, we’d definitely expect to have hot, running water. If there are multiple floors, some people might need an elevator, although that isn’t a concern for us, at least for now.
Staff – Other than through reviews, there isn’t really a way to determine whether the staff will be friendly and helpful until you arrive, but it can definitely determine how much you enjoy your stay. Rude staff that isn’t willing to help, especially if there are any issues during your stay, can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth for the entire place that you are visiting. We rely heavily on getting tips for local restaurants that aren’t touristy as well as places that might not be on your tourist guide to visit during our stay. We have even remained friends with some of those people long after our time in that location.
Price – The place where you are staying can be one of the most expensive costs of a trip and therefore it is one of the main considerations. Obviously there is more to it than just the actual nightly room rate, it is a combination of all of these considerations to determine what value you are getting for the price. Even so, if after researching the various choices that can be found at a destination, there are several places that provide similar value, then obviously trying to spend the least amount as possible is desirable. Paying more doesn’t mean that it is better. We are definitely believers in getting the most value (location, comfort, amenities, and friendly staff) for the money that we do spend.
Regardless of what your priorities are, researching a location is important. Reviews from people who have actually stayed there are often one of our primary deciding factors. We’ll visit the site’s website, assuming that they have one, look at the pictures, read what they have to say, but we don’t stop there. Pictures can be deceiving and marketing material is meant to entice you, even if they over promise. We also pay attention to whether the manager or owner of a property responds individually to reviews and if they demonstrate an honest commitment to making the stay’s of their guests successful. Brand loyalty is also a factor for us as we belong to a couple of loyalty programs and there is a sense of comfort knowing that you can trust what to expect. What are your priorities when looking for a place to stay when traveling?