The 1st district is Commonly referred to as the Castle District (Vár), Budapest’s first district is not only home to the Buda Castle District, the UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the royal palace and the old town, but also other neighborhoods.
During this first sightseeing tour I focused mainly on the Castle District itself, which is up on the hill and surrounded by the castle wall and where most attractions are. The cold and rainy weather most of the day and camera issues made me consider postponing this first district tour, but I continued as planned because I was very eager to begin writing this blog. Luckily things got better and I ended up having a pleasant experience.
After crossing the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Lánchíd) from Pest, I arrived at Clark Ádám tér (Adam Clark square), passing the small park where the Zero Kilometer Stone is located. This is the point from where all the city’s distances are measured.
It was in the Buda Castle courtyard that Katy Perry filmed her “Firework” video.
Formerly a royal residence, the Castle now houses the National Széchényi Library (Országos Széchényi Könyvtár), the Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galéria) and the Budapest History Museum (Budapesti Történeti Múzeum), which I had never been to, and the cold and rain made it a perfect place to visit.
There was a temporary exhibit of paintings about Budapest. The objects in the permanent exhibition tell the history of Budapest from the prehistory to modern times, and also the turbulent history of the Castle through the times including the Turkish invasions, revolutions and World War II, all of which left the castle in ruins or significantly damaged and having to be restored.
While the Castle was rebuilt many times after the battles it witnessed, this building nearby still has bullet marks from the Second World War.
For a cheap and quick lunch, the Fortuna Önkiszolgáló (self-service) restaurant fit the bill with their friendly staff and a good variety of Hungarian dishes. The restaurant is located in the Fortuna passage (pictured) on the left side, upstairs.
After eating I went to the Fishermen’s Bastion (Halászbástya), which offers a great panorama of the city. During the day there is a small entrance fee, but at night it’s free, and that’s when you get the best view.
I also visited the Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom), which is where the German-speaking community attended mass, while Hungarians frequented the Mary Magdalene church on Kapisztrán tér. That church was destroyed during World War II and now only its tower remains.
When I bought my ticket for the Matthias Church I received a discount coupon for the Hospital in the Rock (Sziklakórház), the former secret nuclear bunker and emergency hospital used during World War II and the revolution of 1956.
On my way there I made a stop at Ruszwurm, the oldest confectionery in Budapest (with an even older clientele) well-known for its pastries. It is a tiny and simple but cosy place with friendly service.
My tour ended at the Hospital in the Rock. It was an interesting and informative exhibit, but a little disappointing. My guide wasn’t very good, and the one-hour tour only lasted thirty minutes. But I learned a lot about the history of the place, with dedicated hospital staff making the most of difficult circumstances. It was also interesting to see the original equipment there and the (creepy) wax figures also helped bring the exhibit to life.
Overall, I’d say the theme of this tour was survival and perseverance. Buda, once a great city, was attacked many times but never fails to rise again, transforming itself and evolving each time. This history can be felt within the walls of the Castle District and in the present, as Buda continues to thrive as part of Budapest, one of Europe’s great capital cities.