“My house in Budapest

My, my hidden treasure chest

Golden grand piano

My beautiful Castillo”

George Ezra’s song “Budapest” played on my iPod on loop, as I arrived from Wien Westbahnhof to Budapest Keleti railway station. It remained on my mind, as the shadows of the ceiling-high windows fell on the platform of this grand station. Chances are, if you’re visiting Budapest, it is probably along with other east European destinations, perhaps Prague or Vienna. Being an ardent aficionado of Gothic architecture and the waters, my visit to this “Paris of the east” was long overdue. As my taxi took me to my hotel, passing antique residential buildings that almost felt like they were out of a medieval novel, I wondered what the rest of the city had in store for me.

It was interesting to learn that the Hungarian capital is divided into two parts, Buda on the west bank and Pest on the east bank of the Danube river — christening it Budapest. A number of bridges connect the two, but the most striking one is the Chain Bridge or the Széchenyi lánchíd, the first solid link across the river. The bridge, a classicist-style marvel, with its two walking pathways sandwiching a car-way, is an ideal place to catch some of the most idyllic views of the city, especially at dawn or dusk. The grand lion sculptures at the bridge’s abutments resemble the bronze statuettes of London’s Trafalgar Square and appear tongue-less when seen from below. While the spectacular Hungarian Parliament Building can be seen on the Pest side, the Buda Castle draws attention from the other side. It’s definitely hard to decide where to focus, but I turned towards Pest, where I keenly observed the Hungarian Parliament. This Gothic revival-style structure, with its daunting conical towers is the third largest legislative house in the world. Guided tours are recommended for those looking to admire the edifice more intimately and enter the building to see its main staircase, Hungarian coronation jewels and halls.

Even though Pest doesn’t boast of a history as rich as Buda and its hills, the Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) is still considered an icon of the city’s antiquity. The quadrangular area houses a statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars (leaders of the seven tribes of 895AD Hungary) and is surrounded by the Museum of Fine Arts and Palace of Art. Walking distance from the Heroes’ Square is the Széchenyi thermal bath, the most recognisable symbol of Budapest’s bath culture. This neo-baroque-style palace was built in 1913 for providing aqua therapies in this “city of baths”. Apart from Széchenyi, a number of natural thermal baths can be found in Budapest, a few even influenced by the Turkish bath heritage, considering Hungary was ruled by Ottoman Empire during the 17th century.

My keen interest in history took me back to the other side of the Chain Bridge, leading to Adam Clarks Square and the Zero Kilometre Stone — the point where distances are measured from in Budapest. The Castle Hill Funicular, a 19th century rail line that has been converted into a tourist attraction begins here. This takes you to the Buda Castle, the city’s medieval/baroque-style palace atop the Várhegy (Castle Hill). It’s best to opt for a walking tour (budacastlebudapest.com, 2,227 for an adult ticket) that starts at this point, as the rest of the wonders on the hill are quite elusive. The walk will also take you to the Fisherman’s Bastion — an almost Disney-esque, neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque-style cathedral and the Roman-Catholic Mathais Church — both stunning examples of Budapest’s architectural excellence. The post-card riverscape from these Castle Hill locations is one for keeps.

As the sun sets on Buda and Pest, the iconic landmarks of the city light up and reflect their golden hues on the Danube. Budapest by night is a resplendent beauty that enamours effortlessly. The contradictions of the Hungarian capital arise as a sense of revelry fills the air on the historic streets. Head to Pest in the after-hours to venture into the city’s bustling night-life. Expect raging ruin-pubs, open air dance-floors and even a few speakeasies. For those looking for something rested, quiet walks on the river’s promenade in Pest might be a good way to soak up the city’s dramatic nightfall. While strolling, it’s ordinary to stumble upon bronze statues and intricately carved water-tanks; art isn’t hard to find in Budapest. A personal favourite is the Little Princess (Kiskirálylány) statue, a 50cm of a little girl sitting on the railings of the promenade. The ships anchored at the docks of the river have been converted into restaurants and bars, most priding themselves with exquisite seafood and stunning views, of course.

It wasn’t difficult to find boats at the docks of the promenade that offered hourly cruises on the river — most of these don’t require previous bookings and can be clubbed with dinner or drinks, as per preferences. I hopped on one that didn’t offer any frills, and watched the sky dramatically play with the colour palette as the sun set behind the Buda Castle in a dream-like pace. George Ezra’s “Budapest” played on the ship’s radio, as grandeur of Buda and Pest serenaded me one last time.