- 13 May 2022 2:10 PM
There are more and more public bikes, docking stations, multilingual phone apps, making it easier than ever to see the best of the city by bike.
Here's a classic bike sightseeing route well worth the effort:
1. Great Market Hall
Today, in the age of boxlike shopping malls, it is hard to believe that such beauties were once dreamt up to make daily purchases easier: the roof tiles, for instance, were manufactured by the same company that made the roof of Matthias Church. The location of the hall was selected due to the proximity of the river, and the passages that connected it to the quay are still there, as in the 19th century it was mainly boats that carried cargo.
The hall has been in operation since its opening in 1897 and, apart from being a tourist sight, it is still a lively market and the best place to buy paprika, for example. Everything can be found in its almost one-hectare space, attracting every celebrity visiting Budapest to come and see this place, including Queen Elizabeth II, Lady Diana and Margaret Thatcher (to take a sample of British guests only).
Tip: Modern architecture can also create beautiful things, for which you can find proof if you go down to the Fővám Square metro station.
2. Liberty Bridge
Budapest’s third bridge is easily recognisable by the statues of the Turul bird at the top of the bridge, which, according to ancient Hungarian mythology, is the forefather of the Hungarian people. In 1896, the last rivet of this bridge was driven in by Emperor Franz Joseph himself. This was the first bridge to be rebuilt after the Siege of 1944-45, during which the Germans blew up every single bridge.
Tip: Closed to motor traffic for a month in the summer, people can do yoga and listen to concerts here then. At any time you will also find a tiny statue of the king on the bridge, waiting in a hammock for party time.
3. Saint Gellért Square
The Gellért Hotel, which is located on the square, is one of the most beautiful hotels in Budapest, a gem of the Hungarian Art Nouveau, and will hopefully be even more beautiful after the current renovation. Queen Juliana of the Netherlands spent her honeymoon here, but Nixon, Shostakovich and Yehudi Menuhin also stayed in this hotel.
The Gellért Bath next to the hotel is famous for its sky-blue tiles and thermal water – unfortunately, it will be closed for renovations after May, but we can console ourselves with a Ryan Gosling commercial shot here.
It is difficult to get up there by bike, but the Rock Chapel opposite the hotel is a unique feature of Budapest. Here you can find the most sacred relic of the only monastic order founded in Hungary, the Pauline Order.
During the communist era, when going to church was disapproved, the chapel was simply walled up. Now the most peaceful king statue in the city stands at the entrance: St Stephen, dismounting from his horse, with a model of a church in the palm of his hand, symbolises peaceful construction.
Tip: You can refill your bottle at the drinking fountain. It is not medicinal water, but you will enjoy it.
4. Buda Embankment
It is one of Europe’s most beautiful cycle routes in Europe, the best reason for learning to ride a bicycle. It passes Rudas Bath, which has been in operation since the 16th century (you can wave to the guests relaxing in the jacuzzi), the airy Elisabeth Bridge, the elegant Royal Garden, which stretches all the way to the Royal Castle, and the legendary Chain Bridge (currently under renovation).
Tip: Stop at Batthyány Square to take the best photo of the Parliament from this spot.
5. Margaret Bridge
It is the most French-like bridge in Budapest, not only because it was designed and decorated by French people, but also because, when viewed from a certain angle, it looks like the Eiffel Tower reflected on the Danube. It was accidentally blown up by the Germans in 1944, killing more than 150 people.
The bridge carries the busiest tram line, in the world, “négyeshatos” (meaning “foursix”), with a record of over 200 000 passengers a day. It is not without reason that even a poem was written about this tram.
Tip: If you feel tired, take a detour to one of the oldest spas and get some medicinal water in the drinking hall. Being a meeting place for Pest’s writers and actors, Lukács is the least touristy spa. The marble plaques of thankfulness at the entrance testify to its healing powers. Budapest Card grants you free admission.
6. Margaret Island
On the island you can still see the ruins of the monastery where one of the Hungarian saints, Margaret, lived and died. She was born as a princess, but her father, King Béla IV, made an offering to God: if God would let him rebuild the country, which was destroyed by the Mongols in 1241-42, he would send her to a monastery.
The building of the swimming pool in the middle of the island was designed by the first Hungarian Olympian, Alfréd Hajós, who himself won two gold medals as a swimmer in 1896. In 1924, he won a silver medal for his stadium design – because back then the Olympic Games also had an art competition part.
Today the island is a favourite park for the inhabitants of Budapest, with a wide range of children’s activities and sports facilities.
Tip: You can find one of Budapest’s Japanese gardens on the northern part of the island, with the Water Tower next to it. Take a nice break to watch the lucky koi fish and listen to music.
7. Pest Embankment
At least as beautiful as its Buda counterpart: while you are pedalling, the view of the whole of the Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and the Statue of Liberty will unfold in front of your eyes. At night, it resembles a fairy tale scene with its ornamental lighting. Plus, from spring 2022, there is no motor traffic on it, so it is safe to try it with kids.
Europe’s second biggest parliament, the third largest in the world, was completed in 1904. It contains 40 kg of gold, 40 million bricks, 365 towers, 242 statues and 3 km of red carpet. It is home to the Hungarian legislature and the Holy Crown, symbolising Hungarian independence. It was Europe’s first building with district heating and air conditioning. Urban legend has it that Freddie Mercury wanted to buy it in 1986 (he was actually joking).
Tip: You can see a replica of the Parliament made of marzipan at the Szamos Chocolate Museum and you can even leave with chocolate made by you and taste classic Hungarian pastries. With the Budapest Card, you can also get a discount.
9. Liberty Square
It is one of the most beautiful squares in the city, owing to the fact that its palaces were built at the same time, just after the much-loathed central prison, which stood here, was demolished. This is the place where the first Hungarian Prime Minister was executed in 1849, and this is where the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church took refuge in the American Embassy after the anti-Soviet revolution of ’56, never leaving the building for 16 years.
But there is a secret communist bunker, a memorial for Soviet heroes, a memorial for the German occupation, civil protests and the statues of two US presidents. Historically speaking, it is the densest and one of the most beautiful squares in the city.
Tip: Even Kermit the Frog has a statue in this square, which you can find if you are attentive!
10. Saint Stephen's Basilica
It is one of the tallest buildings and the largest church in the city, which took more than half a century to be built and even collapsed once during the construction. It is no coincidence that, strangely, it turns its back on the city – when it was first built, Pest was much smaller and had grown enormously by the time it was inaugurated in 1905.
The most important Hungarian relic, the right hand of the first king, St Stephen, can be seen in the side chapel. Legendary football player Ferenc Puskás is buried in the crypt of the church.
Tip: The basilica’s observation terrace offers one of the most beautiful panoramas of Pest. If you are not yet tired, you can take the steps to walk up to the height of 65 metres, but you can also elect to take the lift. With Budapest Card, you can enjoy a discount.
11. Andrássy Avenue
What is the Champs-Elysées for Paris, the same is Andrassy Avenue for Pest. It is named after Gyula Andrássy, a freedom fighter of 1849, who was lucky enough to be in Paris as a diplomat when he was sentenced to death and, as was the custom at the time, symbolically hanged.
After the Austro-Hungarian reconciliation, he became Prime Minister of Hungary and then Foreign Minister of the common empire. Emperor Franz Joseph once remarked that he was glad that Andrássy had not been executed.
The road was originally covered with wooden cobbles to muffle the noise of horse-drawn carriages. Ever since it was built, it has been renamed many times – it was even called Stalin Avenue, for example. As it is humorously said in Pest, it was the period in which the last stops of the Millennium Underground, which runs under Andrássy Avenue, were announced by the conductor as follows: Mussolini Square – Hitler Square – Zoo – Terminus…
Tip: Make sure you stop at the Opera House. The statue of Ferenc Liszt at the entrance is the first statue of a person in Budapest to be made in his lifetime.
12. Heroes' Square
The gateway to the 1896 Budapest World Exhibition, a traditional venue for political demonstrations and giga-sized concerts. It has hosted Catholic World Conferences and holy masses (several times), communist jamborees (several times), military parades (several times) and concerts by Sting (even these ones took place several times).
In the centre of the square, you can see the leaders of the land-taking Hungarian tribes, and around them statues of the great figures of Hungarian history. The picture and our view of history is somewhat finetuned if we know that the statues, especially the last ones, have been replaced several times, and poor Franz Joseph had two statues made here, yet we see neither of them.
In the time between the design and construction of the group of statues, the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy ceased to exist and we now see the leaders of the anti-Habsburg independence movements instead of the Habsburg rulers (which is why there are no women among them, unfortunately, as Queen Maria Theresa was also removed – it is now on display in the garden of the Royal Palace in Gödöllő).
Tipp: Stop in front of the monument to the unknown soldier and think about the fact that this square has one of the springs of the Széchenyi Bath.
13. Széchenyi Bath & City Park
The largest spa complex in Budapest has 15 indoor and 3 outdoor pools and offers a wide range of services. It has been open since 1913 and its decor is all about water: there are waves, jugs, fishermen and stylized marine life in all its forms.
One of its many springs is one of Europe’s hottest springs, at 77 degrees Celsius – it must be cooled before it can be used. The hippos at the neighbouring zoo are probably the healthiest on the continent, as they get their water from here, due to its chemical composition being similar to that of the Nile.
It is a really special experience to go to Széchenyi in winter, when people in bathing suits walk around the outdoor pools in sub-zero temperatures and the steaming surface of the water covers everything in mist – if you are lucky, it might even snow while you are sitting in the pool. But also do not miss the music parties at night where music and light shows set the party mood.
Tip: Play a game of chess with the older gentlemen sitting in the water. They are easy to find, there is always one or two interested parties around, trying to figure out the next move. Anyone can go there - and you do not even need to speak Hungarian to play chess.
MTI Photo: János Marjai