The grand capital city of Hungary
. It is of interest to the dark tourist due to the grim parts of its history especially during the Nazi
periods, covered in a number of specialized museums, as well as for a great number of monuments and a couple of atmospheric cemeteries.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info: Budapest's history goes back to antiquity, once a Roman settlement, then taken by the arriving Hungarians, looted by the Mongols and occupied by the Ottomans for a century and a half, then after the reconquest in the late 17th century began a longer phase of prosperity.
Originally two separate towns, Buda and Pest, it became a unified city only in 1873. It was the co-capital (alongside Vienna
) in the Austro
-Hungarian Empire until its fall at the end of WW1
, after which it became the capital of the now separate and independent republic of Hungary
Budapest had long been a centre of Jewish life, with a large proportion of Jews amongst the populace (almost a quarter at its peak). That changed radically in WWII
. Initially, Jews were safe in Hungary as the government, though siding with the Axis powers including Germany
, was reluctant to target its large Jewish population. But as the Germans came to occupy Hungary and Budapest from March 1944, they and their local accomplices of the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s own Nazis (see House of Terror
), brought the Holocaust
to Budapest too. Tens of thousands were deported to especially Auschwitz
and gassed. Locally, the Arrow Cross committed mass executions of Jews and others, often right by the banks of the River Danube (see below
The Siege of Budapest (aka Battle of Budapest) towards the end of the war took 50 days beginning in late December 1944 and ending in mid-February 1945, when the Soviets managed to take the city against fierce resistance by Hungarian and German troops (see also Hospital in the Rock
Now under the Soviet sphere of influence after WWII, a communist
regime was installed in Hungary
that took on a Stalinist hard-line stance. But in 1956, protests on 23 October demanding reforms and an end to repression triggered the beginning of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, with Budapest at its very centre. But this Uprising was brutally crushed by the Soviets
– scenes of T-54 tanks in the city confronting civilians became a worldwide image of horror in the Western media.
However, in the following decades, Budapest repaired most of the wartime damage and improved the infrastructure (e.g. through new metro lines being constructed deep underground – after the Moscow
model). The population slowly began to enjoy a somewhat better standard of living compared to other Eastern Bloc
capital cities thanks to the reforms introduced in the so-called “Goulash communism” under János Kádár, who was chairman of the Hungarian communist party until 1988.
In the wake of the 1989 fall of communism in Hungary and eventually all of the former Eastern Bloc
, many of the statues and symbols of the era were removed – and a good collection of these ended up in Memento Park
Today, Budapest is cosmopolitan city with a great vibe. At ca. 1.8 million inhabitants (and 3.3. million in the metropolitan area) it is by far Hungary
’s largest city and its absolute economic hub.
What there is to see: The following is a list of all dark attractions so far covered on this website for Budapest in separate chapters:
Apart from these dark sites there’s also the old Jewish quarter with Europe's largest synagogue, the Dohany Street Great Synagogue
. Adjacent to that is a museum
which also includes a section on the Holocaust
. Outside the synagogue and museum is an impressive Holocaust sculpture in the form of a metal tree and various other memorials.
A rather strange monument
in honour of Carl Lutz
(see Holocaust Memorial Center
and Swiss National Museum
) is located nearby on Dob Utca at No. 12. Raoul Wallenberg
, another Righteous Among the Nations (see Yad Vashem
), is honoured by a monument north of the Parliament building within Szent István Park. And a bit closer to the Parliament, on Jászai Mari tér, is an atmospheric sculpture of Imre Nagy
, the Prime Minister during the 1956 Uprising who was executed after its crushing by the Soviets (see New Municipal Cemetery
On Liberty Square south of the Parliament stands a typical Soviet
monument commemorating the liberation of Budapest from Nazi Germany
. And at the southern end of the square is a more recent addition that is quite controversial (politically and also artistically). This rather kitschy monument is supposed to commemorate the victims of the German Nazis
in “innocent” Hungary. However, there’s not the slightest indication that Hungary’s own Nazis (of the Arrow Cross – see House of Terror
), as well as other Hungarians, were very much complicit in those crimes against humanity. After all Hungary
was an ally of Hitler
. Hence a grass-roots movement formed to counter that omission/falsification of history. Numerous photos and laminated texts that point out such crimes committed by Hungarians have been placed on a low fence right opposite the official monument, together with symbolic suitcases to stand for the deportations, as well as other objects such as old children’s shoes ... and pebbles (the usual Jewish form of individual commemoration and paying of respects). Newer additions I spotted include a note to commemorate also the victims of the Covid-19 pandemic (and lamenting the inadequate measures taken by the Orbán government) and another in solidarity with Ukraine
’s president Zelensky’s contemporary standing up to an aggressive dictator today. There are also regular evening meetings and discussions by this memorial to this day.
A short distance to the south of the Parliament is what is perhaps Budapest’s most unusual memorial monument. It’s called “Shot into the Danube” but is also informally known simply as “shoes by the Danube
”, as it consists of a row of replica shoes made of rusty metal and set into the embankment by the river. The metal shoes, looking like they were randomly left behind, represent the shootings of Jews by the Hungarian Nazis
of the Arrow Cross which frequently took place right by the Danube (so that the bodies would be washed away by the river). Often the victims were forced to leave behind their shoes, as footwear was in short supply at the time and thus valuable. Three plaques set back from the embankment a bit specify the significance of the monument (in Hungarian, Hebrew and English), but it seems that few people take note of these plaques, as visitor behaviour can leave something to be desired, what with people taking selfies amongst the shoes or placing their kids in between them for snapshots. Such rather disrespectful behaviour suggests that these people are unaware of the sombre meaning of the monument.
On the opposite bank of the Danube I discovered a couple of tiny little “sculptures”, including a miniature tank with a drooping gun barrel … it looked a bit like a T-54 tank, so is probably a subtle reference to the 1956 Uprising too (a real life-size T-54 can be found in the atrium if the House of Terror museum
On top of Gellert Hill there's a citadel
, which features an exhibition on the theme of the Nazi
use of the citadel during the German
occupation in WWII
. Outside there's also various military artefacts on display. [UPDATE: when I was in Budapest in June 2022, the citadel was “temporarily closed”, not due to Covid but apparently for refurbishment, as the scaffolding along its walls suggests.] And at the far (southern) end overlooking the Danube and the city stands the statue of liberty (which originally wasn't actually intended to serve that peaceful symbolism at all but was only reworked and reassigned to this function after WWII).
pretty much in the centre of Hungary
(OK, a bit off-centre to the north-west), and being the country's only large-scale conurbation it's also THE transport hub in it. So most road and rail connections lead to (and through it) as does the whole region's dominant waterway, the River Danube, coming from Austria
and carrying on towards Serbia
. The city is ca. 130 miles (210 km) south-east of Vienna
and ca. 200 miles (320 km) north of Belgrade
Google maps locators:
Access and costs: fairly easy to get to, and not too expensive.
the best way of reaching the city is probably by train. There are very regular (and cheap) train connections from Vienna
, taking well under three hours, to the north-west, and from Belgrade
to the south-east (taking somewhat longer). There are several train stations, with Keleti to the east of the city centre and Delí to the west of Buda Castle Hill the most important. Both are connected to each other by metro line 2 (red line) – see below.
Coming from further away, flying in may be more convenient. Budapest’s international airport is served by several regular airlines as well as by the Hungarian budget carrier Wizz.
Getting around within Budapest is greatly facilitated by an excellent public transport system, including several super-fast metro lines as well as a dense network of trams and buses. Tickets are cheap – and fare dodging is thus not necessary and pointless anyway, as tickets are routinely checked, especially at metro stations. If you want to use public transport frequently, a 24-hour ticket is advisable (it pays off from five rides within that time span – which is easily reached). Otherwise by single tickets. These need to be validated by means of the little stamping machine on board trams/buses and at metro stations. Buying tickets is easy at machines or at windows in the larger stations. These days you can usually get by with English. Otherwise write down “24h”, which should do the trick.
The range of accommodation is vast, ranging from budget to top-class luxury. Do take your time shopping around thoroughly.
For food & drink
, Budapest is a delight. Many international cuisines are represented these days, but if you want to explore traditional Hungarian
specialities, you’re spoiled for choice. Excellent Hungarian wine is easily available (often at good prices) and the craft beer revolution has taken Budapest by storm, with dozens of places offering excellent ranges, again often at prices much lower than in much of the rest of the world (except for other Eastern European countries such as Poland
, which offers similarly good prices and even better quality).
Time required: In order to see the dark sights, three or four full days are probably the minimum. But note that many museums are closed on Mondays and Jewish sites are always closed on Saturdays, so better allow a couple days more if you want to take it all in in one go at not too frantic a pace – and also allow some time to savour the fabulous cityscape and vibrant atmosphere in this gem of a city.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
None really. At least not in the nearer vicinity. Hungary
is very centralist and that certainly applies even more to sights developed for dark tourism, so Budapest is pretty much the sole destination for the dark tourist in Hungary
. On a wider ranging dark-tourism itinerary, a trip to Budapest could of course be combined with visiting neighbouring countries, especially Austria
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
Budapest is a prime mainstream tourism destination too, a grand capital with some stunning architecture
, and one of the few large cities on the River Danube
that actually makes good use of that setting (unlike, e.g. Vienna
). The river also cuts the city into two quite distinct parts, Buda
(which in fact only became one city as late as 1873), connected by a series of landmark bridges, most notably the iconic Chain Bridge
. [Update: this bridge is currently undergoing substantial restoration work and will be unusable until that work will have been completed.]
Buda is the hilly bit, with Castle Hill being the main tourist draw, leaving Gellert Hill with its citadel a distant second. The Pest side is the flat bit and much more sprawling. On the Pest side of the River Danube, however, lie the shopping and hotel districts, many museums, the central boulevard of Andrássy útca and, last but not least, Budapest's most iconic sight, the majestic neo-Gothic Parliament building.
Budapest is also well known for its spas, of which the Gellert, just south of Gellert Hill is the most famous.
A must-see gem for foodies is the vast Central Market Hall between Szabadság (Liberty) Bridge and Kálvin tér – get there earlier in the day, it closes at 3 p.m.!
There is plenty of architectural grandeur around, from neoclassicist to art nouveau but also some stunning contemporary architecture, especially the new Ethnographic Museum near Millennium Square and the Városliget City Park north-east of Andrássy útca boulevard.
What is noticeable in general is that the cityscape of Budapest is far less dominated by those typical socialist-era prefab apartment blocks than other ex-Eastern Bloc countries. You do find clusters of such structures in the suburbs, but nowhere near as concentrated as in cities like Bratislava
or (Eastern) Berlin
Outside the most central touristy areas, the city may still appear a little run down. Having been spared the wholesale destruction in WWII
that other Central and Eastern European cities suffered, there are loads of original little architectural gems to be discovered. Its particular appeal can be called “shabby chic
”, as not all facades have been refurbished and given a fresh facelift since the end of communism, so in places the visual impression is closer to those times, so adding a slight element of “pseudo-time-travel” … I for one like that. Budapest’s so-called “ruin bars” are testimony that the “shabby chic” appeal is being locally embraced. These “ruin bars” are typically in dilapidated former industrial compounds or courtyards and are a mix of street-food stalls, bars and party zones.
One more general tip: it pays off looking up when wandering the streets of Budapest – you can discover wonderful little (and not so little) details and works of art higher up on the facades. Keep your eyes open!
- Budapest 01 - Dohany Street Great Synagogue
- Budapest 02 - monument behind the Great Synagogue
- Budapest 03 - more monuments by the Great Synagogue
- Budapest 04 - Carl Lutz memorial on Dob utca
- Budapest 05 - Raoul Wallenberg monument
- Budapest 06 - Imre Nagy sculpture on a bridge in a park
- Budapest 07 - Imge Nagy looking pensive
- Budapest 08 - Shot into the Danube memorial
- Budapest 09 - metal shoes by the Danube
- Budapest 10 - tiny tank sculpture with a drooping gun barrel
- Budapest 11 - 1956 memorial monument
- Budapest 11a - Soviet liberation monument
- Budapest 11b - controversial victims of Nazis monument
- Budapest 11c - grass-roots counter-memorialization
- Budapest 12 - Citadel on Gellert Hill
- Budapest 13 - Buda Castle Hill
- Budapest 14 - Parliament building
- Budapest 15 - the Gellert baths
- Budapest 16 - The Fisherman Bastion on Castle Hill
- Budapest 17 - the iconic Chain Bridge seen from castle Hill
- Budapest 18 - Chain Bridge and Castle Hill by night
- Budapest 19 - Chain Bridge undergoing refurbishment in 2022
- Budapest 20 - the Danube runs right through the middle of the city
- Budapest 21 - bridge and tram
- Budapest 22 - market hall
- Budapest 23 - inside the market hall
- Budapest 23b - that chicken-and-egg thing
- Budapest 24 - grand old architecture
- Budapest 25 - recent addition of modern architecture, the Ethnography Museum
- Budapest 26 - curved and with green roof gardens
- Budapest 27 - Millennium Square
- Budapest 28 - castles
- Budapest 29 - another synagogue
- Budapest 30 - famous cafe
- Budapest 31 - shabby-chic
- Budapest 31b - more shabby chic
- Budapest 31c - very shabby
- Budapest 32 - curved street
- Budapest 33 - at Deak Ference ter
- Budapest 34 - always look up for interesting details
- Budapest 35 - very art nouveau
- Budapest 36 - a hunting scene above a doorway
- Budapest 37 - fisherman bas relief
- Budapest 38 - graffiti
- Budapest 40 - cocktail owl
- Budapest 41 - St Stephen Basilica
- Budapest 42 - former industrial basilica
- Budapest 43 - modern metro station
- Budapest 44 - driftwood by the Danube
- Budapest 45 - great craft beer