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River Cruises Destinations: Budapest

There was a time, during the 1980s and ’90s, when Hungary’s capital languished behind the major urban areas in other parts of central Europe, at least as far as modernization and tourism was concerned. Such is no longer the case today, as evidenced by the ever growing popularity of our Budapest river cruises. In fact, Budapest is considered by many to be one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, and the city is a well-loved stop on many of our European river cruise  itineraries. — A travel feature published in the New York Times a decade ago even went so far as to suggest that the Hungarian capital is now “stealing some of Prague’s spotlight.”

The Queen Of The Danube

At one point in time, Budapest was known as the Queen of Danube, a nickname earned by the fact that the Danube River crosses through the city, separating the palace-laden neighborhood of Buda—which is built upon the hills that stretch through western Hungary—and Pest, which is more densely populated and features grand boulevards and bustling commercial centers that sprung up during the 19th century. Nine bridges, two of which are dedicated to railways, connect the city’s divergent sections.

Close to 400,000 people flock to Budapest each August for the Szieget Festival, a world-famous, week-long event that celebrates live music of all forms. However, the city is a bustling tourist destination all year long, thanks to chic shopping districts, a diverse culinary scene, and centuries of preserved history. As proof, about half of Hungary’s foreign tourism income is generated within the city limits of its capital. Fortunately, from history to art and world-class cuisine, a Scenic river cruise through Budapest is the perfect way to explore all that this cosmopolitan city has to offer.

How Two Cities Became One

Despite the fact that Budapest’s roots extend as far back as the rule of the Roman Empire, the modern Budapest that our river cruise guests know and love grew out of the expansion of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The city as it is known today was formed in 1873 when the individual cities of Buda Óbuda (Old Buda) and Pest were linked. Yet, there are sections of the city that date back to medieval times, such as the city’s royal castle, which was built in the mid-13th century, following a Tatar invasion.

During the Middle Ages, Buda was the dominant settlement, which began with the construction of the Buda fortress and a palace for King Bela IV of Hungary in 1247. Centuries later, during Maria Theresa’s reign as the queen of Hungary, the fortress was replaced by a Baroque-styled palace. The structure still stands, which is a testament to numerous restoration efforts over the centuries.

Pest, on the other hand, existed for almost a century before Buda fortress was built (references to the independent city of Pest can be found in documents produced in 1148). The city was a strong economic center during the latter half of the Middle Ages, and though it was destroyed during a Mongol invasion in 1241, the city was quickly rebuilt. Following a catastrophic flooding of the Danube in 1838—an event that damaged almost 75 percent of Pest’s buildings—a suspension bridge (Széchenyi Chain Bridge) was constructed which connected Buda with Pest. About 25 years later, the two cities were unified (with Obuda) to form what is now the modern Hungarian capital.

For centuries, Buda was the dominant city of the two main sections of today’s Budapest; however, during the late 18th century, Pest quickly expanded and soon surpassed Buda in population. Today, both sections of the city are growing at about an equal pace, though Pest accounts for about two-thirds of the city’s 203 square miles. 

River Cruising Through Budapest

As one might expect with a city made up of distinct sections that were unified less than 150 years ago, a Budapest river cruise stop offers guests very distinct sightseeing opportunities in each of the cities' major neighborhoods. Even getting around to those different sites is, in some ways, a unique experience, since Budapest is home to the second-oldest subway system in Europe. (The railway line, now known as M1, opened in 1896 and is still in operation, connecting the city center to City Park.)

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