Explore Budapest with Emerald Waterways

Graceful, imposing and steeped in history, Budapest has earned her reputation as the 'Queen of the Danube'.

Few cities embrace their riverfront location quite like Budapest.

From the Hungarian Parliament Building to Buda Hill, the Hungarian capital flexes its architectural grandeur with pride along the banks of the Danube, providing an awe-inspiring panorama before you’ve even set foot on dry land.

Settled by the Romans, founded by the Huns and embattled by the Ottomans, Nazis and Soviets, Budapest has emerged from generations of upheaval and conflict as one of Europe’s foremost capitals. Its architecture, culture and culinary highlights are second-to-none, making it a wonderful destination to explore as part of a Danube river cruise.

Here, in our in-depth Budapest city guide, we explore the architecture, culture, history and cuisine of the so-called Queen of the Danube.

Architectural Highlights

From the Gothic to the Baroque, Budapest puts on an architectural showcase to rival any of Europe’s illustrious capitals. See Castle Hill and the elegant boulevards of Pest, and take in the dramatic banks of the Danube, themselves home to heritage architecture on an epic scale. Explore a handful of the city’s foremost architectural highlights below.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge

image of budapest chain bridge
Regarded as one of the world’s great wonders of engineering when it was completed in 1849, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge was one of the first modern suspension bridges. As the first bridge to span the Danube in Hungary, it became incredibly important to the country’s social, economic and cultural life. Commissioned by Count István Széchenyi, a leading figure in the development of Hungary in the 19th century, the bridge literally ‘bridged the divide’ between Buda and Pest, bringing about their unification in 1873. The bridge stands at a height of 48 metres, its stone river piers built in a classicist style. Needless to say, it’s an awe-inspiring spectacle, especially when you cruise underneath on-board your Emerald Star-Ship.

St Stephen's Basilica

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The neoclassical church, completed in 1905, has played a significant part in the religious and artistic culture of Budapest for more than a century. As well as serving as the co-cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Esztergom-Budapest, St. Stephen’s Basilica has also hosted a huge number of concerts, including classical performances from some of the leading lights of the genre. The church is dedicated to the Holy King St Stephen, who founded Hungary in the 10th century, and contains several exquisite mosaics which were designed and painted by a troupe of Venetian masters. The cupola at the top of the basilica is home to a panoramic viewing platform, where you can enjoy an exceptional view over the city.

Buda Castle

image of buda castle
The historic castle and palace of Hungarian kings, Buda Castle can trace its history back more than 750 years. The massive complex provides a unique insight into the history and culture of the city and Hungary as a whole – housing hundreds of works of art since the 14th century. The castle is home to a large four-floor museum, The Budapest History Museum, presenting the full history of the city from the 14th century to today. The hill on which the castle is located is also among the most lauded destinations in Budapest, offering a blend of charming cobblestone streets and unique heritage architecture, including Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Take the Buda Hill Funicular, the best way to reach the top.

Hungarian Parliament Building

image of hungarian parliament building
An invaluable treasure and miraculous architectural feat, the Hungarian National Assembly and Parliament Building is among the finest buildings in Budapest, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. Constructed over a 17-year period from 1885 to 1902, the building has become an enduring symbol of Hungary, and one of the most dramatic sights of the Danube River. The wing that runs parallel to the banks of the river commands a space of 268 metres, making it a true spectacle as you cruise through the heart of the city. Remarkably, the total floor space of the Parliament Building is 18,000 square metres, spread over four storeys. This makes it one of Europe’s grandest civic buildings, and one of its most impressive to boot.

Cultural Features

Blending Hungarian folk traditions with poignant memorials to the recent past, Budapest is home to a wealth of cultural features which highlight its fascinating and complex history. Explore a handful of the city’s must-sees below.

Margaret Island

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No cruise down the Danube is complete without a visit to the beautiful Margaret Island, or Margitsziget as it’s known in Hungarian. Made up of landscaped parks, the island also houses the remains of medieval ruins – used as the religious centre of the city in the Middle Ages. Access to the island by car has been limited, ensuring the atmosphere and ambience remains peaceful. Some of the best times to visit Margaret Island are in the spring, when its landscaped flowerbeds are in full bloom, as well as autumn, when the park’s extensive woodlands put on a miraculous display of seasonal colour.

Traditional Hungarian folklore show

image of folk dancers
Music and folklore are deep-rooted in the cultural heritage of Hungary. Stemming from the historic ‘Gypsy’ music of the Romani people, this genre of folk infused the culture and traditions of Hungary over the centuries, and is today considered the national soundtrack of Hungary. As part of an evening cruise through the heart of the city, you’ll enjoy a traditional Hungarian folklore show on-board your Emerald Waterways Star-Ship, performed by local musicians in traditional Hungarian Gypsy folk attire. It’s the perfect way to end your visit to this exceptional European city, and a memorable introduction to Hungary’s colourful and vibrant heritage.

Shoes on the Danube Bank

image of shoes on the danube bank memorial
A poignant reminder of a dark period in Budapest’s history; the Shoes on the Danube Bank is a moving tribute to the Hungarian Jews who, in 1944-1945, were shot and killed by the Arrow Cross Party on the banks of the river, their bodies falling mercilessly into the water. The arresting memorial, which was designed by film director Can Togay in 2005, features dozens of pairs of shoes scattered along the water’s edge, including men’s, women’s and children’s shoes. Cast in iron and bolted to the floor, the shoes serve as a stark reminder of the threat of fascism; a must-see cultural experience on your visit to the city.

Széchenyi Thermal Baths

image of Széchenyi Thermal Baths
The largest medicinal baths in Europe, the Széchenyi Thermal Baths are heated by two thermal springs, providing a consistent temperature of 74°C. Whether you simply want a relaxing dip or wish to treat conditions such as joint illnesses, chronic and sub-acute joint inflammations or orthopaedic complaints; the baths provide a perfect way to end a glorious day in Budapest. The site features 15 indoor baths and three grand outdoor pools, with plenty of space to take advantage of the soothing waters. Built in 1913, the baths have welcomed visitors and locals alike ever since, so be sure to pack your swimwear if you’re planning a visit.

A glimpse into Budapest's past

From its tenure as a Roman frontier town to its unification in the 19th century, Budapest has a long and storied history befitting any European capital. Take a step back into the city’s past with our interactive timeline.

Culinary highlights

Goulash, lecsó, lángos; the list of iconic dishes to be found on the streets of Budapest goes on and on. Hungarian cuisine is revered for its bold flavour and traditional ingredients, and you’re guaranteed good eating wherever you wander across the city.

Here are some of the city’s choice culinary highlights to inspire your visit.

Goulash

image of goulash
Visiting Budapest, or Hungary for that matter, without sampling goulash is almost unthinkable. This is, without doubt, the country’s national dish, based as it is on Hungary’s leading culinary export: paprika. Red in colour and chunky in texture, this is the perfect winter warmer, and is traditionally served with a mixture of beef and vegetables, though chicken and pork can also be used. You’ll find it throughout Budapest, in café and restaurant menus as well as at street food vendors, so be sure to sample it for a true taste of Hungarian flavour.

Lecsó

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Vegetarians will be pleased to see a plant-based dish high up on restaurant menus in Budapest. Hungarian lecsó is a traditional peasant dish comprising of a blend of stewed vegetables, typically pepper, tomatoes, peppers and onions. The dish is, of course, seasoned with the ubiquitous paprika, and delicious served with a hunk of bread and a large scoop of sour cream. This is a classic rustic dish that’s been enjoyed in Budapest for generations, and we’d recommend it even if you are a meat-lover.

Lángos

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Something of a cross between a pizza, a Yorkshire pudding and a pancake; Hungarian lángos are among the most popular street eats of Budapest, and are well worth seeking out if you’re looking for a savoury snack during a walking tour. Lángos comprises a disc of dough, deep fried and then topped with a blend of cheese, sour cream and garlic oil. It’s one of the favourite dishes to enjoy at Budapest’s Grand Market Hall, a food and produce market in the heart of the city, though you’ll also find it on café and restaurant menus throughout the city.

Featured Tours

Inspired to visit the Queen of the Danube as part of an upcoming river cruise? Our collection of river cruises on the Danube include wonderful experiences in Budapest, so you can enjoy an immersive break in this exceptional city. For more information or to book, visit the homepage or call us today on 0808 256 8895.