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Local Sights

I’d like to think that the creator was aware of the double meaning of this sign. Spotted inside Szent István-bazilika last spring, when I went back to Budapest for a short visit. We can all sympathize… as we plan our own tourist outings.

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Do not pass Go. Do not collect a hundred palinkas.

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If you can catch Fisherman’s Bastion in the off-season without tourist groups, you’ll find yourself in one of the most romantic spots in Budapest. At night under the glistening Buda lights or in broad daylight under warm sunshine, this place is just breathtaking. I’ve also enjoyed it at sunrise, as a serene way to finish a hike from Pest.

This popular viewing terrace and Buda landmark took its name from the guild that, during medieval and early modern battles, was responsible for the stretch of land on which it now stands. The Bastion was completed in 1905, destroyed along with much of Budapest during World War II, and restored shortly after. It actually stands on a stretch of the original Buda Castle walls. At the turn of the century, with castles and defensive walls no longer strategically relevant, this space transformed in both shape and function. Architect Frigyes Schulek used the remnants of the wall as a foundation for a viewing terrace — a public space, one devoted to shared leisure and pleasure rather than exclusion and militancy.

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Three of the seven towers, each representing a Magyar founding tribe

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The skies were overcast and drizzly when I visited this spring, so looking across the Danube came with a wholly different feeling. You know what wasn’t different? The whoosh of breath when you realize (again) how majestic this place really is.

Nagymező utca is full of great things: the ruin pub Instant, the restaurant Két Szerecsen, a major photography gallery, many many theatres, many many theatre cafes, the sketchy B-City Pub and its friends, a classy tattoo shop, an awesome grocer with a season-defying supply of clementines and apples, and a relic of the past in the form of DVD/CD store where English-speakers are automatically welcomed with gangster rap and Selena albums reign supreme. On top of that, it crosses three other pretty amazing streets in Pest — Bajcsy, Andrassy, and Kiraly. On top of THAT, it’s home to fun statues like this one.

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All that to say that you should take a stroll down its very narrow sidewalks. Just take care to avoid beer bottles and dog poop.

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Tram No. 2 in twilight, traveling along the Pesti side of the Danube. An effortless way to get an eyeful of the city’s major sights. Just hop on at one of the ends — near Margaret Bridge (in Jászai Mari Tér) or near Rákóczi Bridge (at Vágohíd Utca). Do buy a ticket, since inspectors apparently bring their personal bouncers around the trams now.

Hősök Tere, or Heroes’ Square, is a huge expanse aaaaaaaaall the way at the end of Andrássy Ut, just short of the beautiful City Park. Home to the three portions of Millennium Monument: an obelisk supporting a menacing Archangel Gabriel with the Seven Chieftains at his feet and two arched colonnades of various state figures. Very grand, very symbolic, clearly meant to impress.

I’m not a fan of either very big squares or very tall monuments. (Maybe a side effect of my thesis, as it’s both about big squares and tall monuments?) Whether or not it’s because I smell squashed revolution, something about physically concrete, monumental shows of the national ego irk me, no matter what the nation. But because I was lucky enough to be in Heroes’ Square during an incredible time of day — just as rain clouds were clearing away and letting sunlight through — I have beautiful photographs to share. And my personal preferences aside, this place is undeniably beautiful and well worth a walk to the end of Andrássy.


The square has been host to a few great events and oddities over the years, including the mass gathering before Imre Nagy’s reburial, a symbolic dismissal of Habsburg rulers from one of the colonnades, an ego trip of Michael Jackson’s, and a few Soviet hissy fits.

If you decide to visit, stay a bit longer for a few neighboring sites: the Museum of Fine Arts (pretty good), the Palace of Art (hit or miss — they had absolutely nothing on display when I visited), City Park (refreshingly green escape from Pest), Vajdahunyad Castle (surprisingly pretty result of architectural incest), and the statue of Anonymous (if you require luck in writing).