For our morning activity we decided to visit the small, medieval town of Szentendre which lies to the north of Budapest. Getting there was easy, first we took the metro line 2 to Batthyány ter station and then caught a suburban HÉV, H5 train to Szentendre. The town is located in Pest county, 19 km from Budapest which is outside the boundary of the Budapest city travel cards so we needed to purchase suburban extension tickets HUK 310 (85p) for each single journey to use with our travel cards.
Trains to Szentendre are frequent and the journey on an old train took 40 minutes. Our first stop was going to be at the Urban Transport Museum which is included in the Budapest Card. This museum is located next to the railway station but when we approached, there was a sign outside indicating that it was only open between April and October which was a disappointment as we love visiting transport museums on our travels and for some reason, this closure wasn’t mentioned on the Budapest Card website.
Fortunately, the museum wasn’t the only reason we had come to visit Szentendre and we set off to explore the town, a ten minute walk away. Our earlier disappointment soon vanished as we wandered along the cobbled, winding streets of this charming town with its old colourful houses.
Soon, we arrived at the main square Fó tér, the narrow streets surrounding it lined with art galleries, museums, gift shops and cafes. It’s a popular tourist town, especially in summer when it’s possible to take a boat trip from Budapest between May and September. Our walk took us along to Castle Hill which is accessed by some narrow steps just off the square. The hill was originally the site of a fortress from the Middle Ages but now the Gothic church of St. John the Baptist is all that remains. It was worth our while walking up the hill as from the terrace we had some splendid views over the red slate rooftops of the town below.
Our walk then took us to the riverside where we enjoyed a peaceful stroll along the tree lined riverside promenade before making our way back to the railway station. Szentendre is a very attractive, albeit touristy, small town and we enjoyed our morning there despite not being able to visit the Urban Transport Museum, as planned.
Returning on the train, we decided to alight at the Nyuagati Station as we’d read that this lovely old station contained one of the most beautiful McCafe’s in Europe and we wanted to check it out for ourselves. We had to agree, it was gorgeous, and surprisingly wasn’t even busy as we settled down with some large cappuccinos and slices of cake for our lunchtime snack.
After our lunchtime rest, we set off again on the Metro line 3 replacement bus service to Arany-Jänos utca so that we could visit St. Stephen’s Basilica. This Roman Catholic Cathedral designed in neo-classical style, is the third largest church in Hungary and was named after Stephen, the first king.
Surrounding the cathedral, final preparations were underway for the forthcoming Christmas market with the last of the small wooden huts nearing completion. Moving on, we continued to the riverside and just as we were approaching a pedestrian crossing there was a loud bang as a car failed to stop and ran into the back of another vehicle. The bonnet of the rear car was totally crumpled but thankfully the driver seemed to be unharmed but was clearly shaken.
We strolled along the embankment passing the Parliament building and 300 metres further along we came across a line of old shoes cast in iron. This moving memorial to the holocaust atrocities is entitled ‘Shoes on the Danube’. Here we found 60 pairs of shoes in different styles and sizes depicting the brutality to the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during the Second World War. It’s a harrowing reminder of the Jews being ordered to remove their shoes and then being shot at the water’s edge.
Leaving there, we headed three blocks inland to Liberty Square where we viewed its monument to communist liberation and the last remaining communist statue. This obelisk honours the soldiers of the Red Army who died in the Second World War during the liberation of Budapest.
We also noticed a bronze statue of the former U.S. President, Ronald Reagan symbolising his role in bringing to an end the Cold War. The square is surrounded by two monumental grand buildings which face each other, these are the Hungarian National Bank and the former Stock Exchange building. Sadly, the grand old Stock Exchange was in a dilapidated state and in need of extensive restoration work.
From there, we boarded the Metro line 3 replacement bus once again, this time to the National Museum of Hungary, adult admission HUF 1,100 (£3) and free with the Budapest City Card. Major reconstruction work was taking place outside the museum detracting from the beauty of this grand, old neo-classical building. However, the interior was unaffected and we spent about an hour learning about the history of Hungary and viewing some of its permanent exhibitions. Galleries included furniture, textiles, weapons, metalwork and ceramics. We peeped into one of the large halls where an orchestra was rehearsing for an event due to take place that evening. As with the National Gallery, the interior of both these buildings is so beautiful that they are worth visiting for the architecture alone with their marble pillars and elaborate domed ceilings.
It was late afternoon by the time we had finished looking around the museum so we caught a tram to Móricz Zsigmond Körtér (trams 47, 48 and 49 all go there) and then transferred to Bus 27 up to Citadella on Gellért Hill. This landmark towers 140 m above the Danube in Buda and is visible from most parts of the city.
We had timed our visit just before the sun was about to set and it was just a short walk through the park to the Citadella. This fortress was erected in 1854 as a defence during the Hapsburg monarchy. From the terrace beneath the fortress there were stunning views along the banks of the Danube in Pest from Liberty Bridge over to Margaret Island.
Despite it being bitterly cold, we waited patiently for fifteen minutes as darkness fell and the city lights started to come on. Gradually,, the city was transformed with twinkling lights adorning the bridges and the illuminated public buildings began to cast a golden glow across the city. It was definitely worth the wait in the freezing cold temperatures to be able to experience such unforgettable views. Although there had been a lot of other people around the fortress, it was surprising that the bus back down the hill was almost empty, perhaps because few people knew of its existence.
We then warmed up back in our cosy hotel room before wrapping up again and going out for a meal. Afterwards, we took a ride on the historic Line 1 metro which is the second oldest underground system in Europe after the London Underground. It has been in constant operation since 1896 and for the last ten years it has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Its stations feature original tiling, dark wood ticket booths with 40 year old heritage trains operating along its line.
We took the train to the Szechenyi Furdo station across the road from the Szechenyi thermal baths which are located in a neo-Baroque palace constructed in 1913 specifically for the baths. We wandered into its elaborate entrance lobby and could feel the opulence of bygone days. Szechenyi is the biggest bath of its kind in Europe and is fed with hot water from two thermal springs. Hopefully, on a future visit to Budapest we will have time to experience them for ourselves and enjoy relaxing in the medicinal waters.
It was almost deserted as we strolled through City Park admiring its grand, old buildings illuminated in the night sky. Our late evening walk concluded with a short walk onto Heroes Square, the largest in the city which also looked magical in the moonlight. From the Hösök ter metro station we returned to our hotel for the night after yet another splendid day exploring both Szentendre and Budapest.
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