I’m not talking about those places that you should see in Budapest — you know, the Parliament, the bridges, all of that. That’s easy enough for you to find out about. I’m talking about those places that you can walk right by without a second glance, those places well worth seeing yet that rarely make it on popular travel sites as the go-to destinations in Hungary’s largest city.
#5 — The Duck Pond at Vajdahunyad Vára
Vajdahunyad Castle is most likely a destination on your trip to Budapest, but there are a lot of hidden gems surrounding the castle that you’re unlikely to find while your focus is still on the castle itself.
Because you can enter the castle through that bridge, many people neglect walking past the bridge and onto the docks. There’s a small, homey park with wooden paths spanning the waters of the lake around Vajdahunyad, so take some friends for a relaxing day at the water’s edge or feed the friendly ducks.
#4 — The Lucky Horse on Várhegy
Várhegy, more commonly known to tourists as Castle Hill, is a great place for a new visitor to Budapest to experience a great view a city while knocking quite a few popular items like Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion off of the sightseeing list. However, if you spend some time wandering the narrow side streets at the top of the hill, you’ll discover a statue, rain-worn and sun-bleached, of a horse and rider. At first is appears to be nothing special, as Budapest is especially fond of making statues for everything.
However, young people from all over Budapest come up to this statue in the dark hours of night to crawl underneath it and place a hand on the horse’s testicles, which are gold. If you’d like some good luck for your stay in Budapest, stop by and pay the horse (or rather, his testicles…) a visit!
#3 — The Lock Block between St. Istvan Cathedral and Deak Square
On your way to see the popular tourist attraction known as St. Stephen’s Basilica, take a break in the small park nearby and find the testament to all the young love blossoming in Budapest — a block of steel bars on which are fastened hundreds of locks inscribed with the names of two lovers who are committed to staying together forever. Together, they throw the key into the nearby Danube.
A good place to propose or confess your love for the person you’re traveling with? Perhaps. Bring a lock of your own if you feel like it. You’d probably be a little more confident than some of the young soulmates in Budapest….
#2 — The Tree of Life in the Great Synagogue
The Great Synagogue just a short walk from Astoria is surely an eye-catcher, but take a tour of the inside to get a glimpse of the giant steel tree known as the Tree of Life. Metal leaves inscribed with names commemorate the Jews taken from Hungary during the Holocaust. Walk underneath and get yourself lost in the glimmering steel branches, which were fashioned in vague resemblance of the Jewish candelabra.
#1 — The Timewheel near Heroes’ Square (especially on New Year’s Eve!)
One of the world’s largest hourglasses, the Timewheel in Budapest clocks in (ha ha…) at more than 60 tons and runs constantly all year long.
However, on New Year’s Eve, the sand runs out. The wheel is then rolled by human hands to restart, the crystals within beginning again with the new year.
Make sure you get someone to take your picture in front of it — this thing is bigger than it looks! [photo courtesy of trekearth, cattaro]
Budapest is full of all kinds of unique and interesting things that didn’t make it onto this list, such as a water fountain in Egyetem Ter shaped like a book (with turning pages!), lion statues without tongues, and a wall of amateur paintings at Moricz Zsigmond, to name only a few. Part of the joys of travel is finding these hidden treasures yourself, so get out and explore!