Budapest, the capital of Hungary, also my hometown for many years, is a large and beautiful city in Central Eastern Europe. It has a very rich historical and cultural heritage and is also an exciting place to discover.
Let’s see the basic and most interesting facts about Budapest!
Top 3 most amazing Budapest facts
1 – The capital of baths
No other capital in the world has more baths than Budapest does and probably it is the only capital that has natural thermal springs (approx. 120 of them all together, with a daily output of 70 million litres!).
From the Roman times, baths have been built in the area.
Under the Turkish rule, between 1541 and 1686, a number of Turkish baths were built on the Buda (western) side of the Danube.
There are approx. 20 baths and lidos all over the city out of which 7 are regarded as historical baths. The most popular, Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, is the largest medicinal bath in Europe.
2 – Biggest synagogue in Europe
The Dohány Street Synagogue in downtown Budapest is the largest synagogue in Europe and one of the biggest in the world (some sources mention it as the 2nd largest in the world, however, I could not find bulletproof evidence for this), built between 1854 and 1859.
Its seating capacity is almost 3000 (1492 seats for men and 1472 seats for ladies) and the total floor space is 1,200 sq m (13,000 sq ft). The height of the towers is 44 m (144 ft).
3 – Famous people born in Budapest
There is a good number of Hungarians that have greatly contributed to the cultural and scientific development of the world.
In many cases they emigrated from their home country and became famous in the West taking up “better sounding international” names.
Several of them were born in good old Budapest (their original names are written according to the Hungarian tradition, i.e. the last name first, the first name(s) second):
- Harry Houdini (illusionist, b. Weisz Erik, 1874)
- Ernő Rubik (inventor of the Rubik’s cube, b. Rubik Ernő, 1944)
- Zsa Zsa Gabor (actress, b. Gábor Sári, 1917)
- John von Neumann (mathematician, physicist, computer scientist, b. Neumann János Lajos, 1903)
- Robert Capa (war photographer, b. Friedmann Endre, 1913)
- Dennis Gabor (electrical engineer, father of holography, b. Günszberg Dénes, 1900)
- László Bíró (inventor of the modern ballpoint pen, b. Schweiger László József, 1899)
- Andy Vajna (film producer, b. Vajna András György, 1944)
Basic Budapest facts
Here are some quick, mostly geographical, facts about Budapest
- Population: 1.75 million
- Population density: 3347 / sq km (8670 / sq mi)
- Area (city): 525.2 sq km (202.8 sq mi)
- Elevation: 105 m (lowest: 96 m / 315 ft; highest: 527 m / 1729 ft)
- Time Zone: Central European Time (CET), UTC+1
- Age: 2000+ years: The first settlement was built by the Celts in the 1st century BC
- Mean annual temperature 11°C, 52°F | Hottest month: July, average temperature: 20°C (68°F) | Coldest month: January, average temperature: -2°C (28°F)
- Annual rainfall: 600 mm (24 in) | Wettest month: June
- Sunshine duration per year: 2000 hours
- Bridges: Budapest has 10 bridges that fully cross the River Danube, two of these are rail bridges
- Location: 47.50N,19.05E (downtown, St. Stephen’s Basilica)
Interesting Budapest facts
Hidden subterranean world
Beneath the city, on the Buda side, there is an expansive cavern system created by geothermal springs.
There are over 200 caverns, some of which are several kilometres long. The most interesting among these is the labyrinth under the Castle District, which was used by locals especially during wars and invasions.
The old zoo of Budapest
The Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden opened in 1866, as the 30th modern zoo in the world.
It is also a nature reserve and features a number of fine art nouveau buildings, such as the Elephant House and the Palm House. The first giraffe arrived in 1868 through a donation by Franz Joseph and his wife, Queen Elizabeth (Sisi).
“Paris of the East”
Budapest is also called the “Paris of the East”. In 1871 a grand rebuilding project started. The new city plans, outlined by Lajos Lechner, were to be completed based on Parisian and Viennese urban planning featuring avenues and ring roads.
The main avenue, the 2.3 km (1.75 mi) long Andrássy Avenue, was built to become “the Champs-Élysées of Budapest” connecting the city centre with the then newly built Heroes’ Square (by the edge of the Budapest City Park).
A great number of prominent buildings were built at the end of the 19th century following similar styles to Parisian and Viennese architecture.
That’s why Budapest, mainly from an architectural aspect, has many things in common with the French capital.
3rd largest parliament building on the globe
The Hungarian Parliament Building was constructed between 1885 and 1904. It is 268 m (879 ft) long and 123 m (404 ft) wide.
Its total floor space is 17,745 sq m (191,000 sq ft) making it the largest building in Hungary. There are 27 gates, 29 staircases, and 691 rooms in the building.
No building is allowed to be built taller than 90 m (soon to change?)
According to a 2018 legal regulation, no building in Budapest can exceed 90 m (295 ft).
The limit used to be 96 m (315 feet), the height of the Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica (they are equally tall).
However, the MOL Campus tower in District 11 will reach a height of 120 m (394 ft) by 2021—seemingly it has been given a special approval. The Mayor of Budapest noted recently (2018) that the 90 m height limit would be reconsidered.
Three UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are three areas in Budapest under special protection by UNESCO:
- The Banks of the Danube – listed in 1987, including monuments such as the Chain Bridge, the Citadel, the Parliament Building, and the Gresham Palace (Four Seasons Hotel)
- The Buda Castle Quarter – listed in 1987, including monuments such as the Matthias Church, the Fishermen’s Bastion, and the Royal Palace
- Andrássy Avenue – listed in 2002, including the Heroes’ Square, the Millennium Underground Railway, and the villas and apartment houses along the avenue
The 3rd oldest underground in the world
The just mentioned Millennium Underground Railway (Line 1) opened in 1896 as the first metro line in mainland Europe and the third in the world (after the London Underground and the Mersey Railway Tunnel in Liverpool).
The northernmost holy place of Islam is in Budapest – really?
I’ve found several websites where it is stated as a fact that the Tomb of Gül Baba, an Ottoman Bektashi dervish poet from the 16th century, is situated the farthest north among Islamic holy places, in Budapest.
I have some doubts about it, however.
To find a fully satisfactory answer to this question, we’d need to:
- Define what an Islamic holy place exactly is
- Find out which of these is situated in the northernmost location
I’d say there are probably several holy places of Islam in Kazakhstan at higher latitudes than Budapest—but it’s just an assumption.
Sziget Festival in Budapest – one of the largest music events in the world
We’re getting somewhat personal here…
Because I happened to get to know my wife during this very festival in the summer of 1999.
Yes, it’s huge. In every respect. In 2018, total visitor numbers reached 565,000 for the seven days of the festival.
There is a plethora of musical events, genres, and performer nationalities. All kinds of people from all over the world dance and shout together—what more would you need?
Some famous stars and bands that have performed here:
David Bowie, Pink, Foo Fighters, Rihanna, Mumford & Sons, Snoop Dogg, Imagine Dragons, Avicii, Robbie Williams, Oasis, R.E.M, Prince, The Cure, OneRepublic, David Guetta, Muse, Motörhead, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After, Slash, The Prodigy, Faith No More, Boney M, Green Day, Suede, Nick Cave
By the way, ‘sziget’ means ‘island’. Yes, you’ve guessed it right: the festival is held on an island in Budapest (Óbudai-sziget).
Free public transport for elderly EU citizens
If you’re over 65 and you’re from the European Union, EEA Member States, or Switzerland, you should not worry about metro, tram, or bus tickets in Budapest. Just take them and enjoy the ride!
Additionally, foreign citizens with Hungarian nationality aged 65+ and their relatives aged 65+ can also travel free on the basis of Act LXII/2001 (on Hungarians Living in Neighbouring Countries). Official details here.
The first bridge in Budapest over the Danube: Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge was designed by the English engineer William Clark.
It is a suspension bridge which was built between 1840 and 1849, supervised by Adam Clark, a Scottish engineer, not related to William Clark.
At the end of World War II, the bridge was destroyed and later rebuilt in 1949.
Its total length is 375 m (1,230 ft), its longest span is 202 m (663 ft).
Fun facts about Budapest
Elvis Presley is an honorary citizen of Budapest
Although Elvis had never visited the capital of Hungary, he was given posthumous citizenship in 2011.
On top of that, a local landmark bears his name, it is the Elvis Presley Square close to Margaret Bridge.
The King was recognized for his support of the Hungarian uprising against the communist regime in 1956.
After the revolution had brutally been shattered, Elvis sang Piece in the Valley on US television in January 1957 and started a donation with Ed Sullivan to help ease the sufferings of Hungarians.
As a result, a sum of 25 million Swiss francs was collected.
The Pinball Museum to be more attractive than the Buda Castle?
The Budapest Pinball Museum seems to be one of the top attractions in the city, based on the visitors’ scores on TripAdvisor.
For many tourists, it seems to be a more interesting venue than the most famous historical sites, such as the Buda Castle, the Chain Bridge, or the Parliament Building.
Here are the scores
Budapest Pinball Museum:
Want to become a great writer? Touch Anonymus’ pen…
In the City Park (Városliget), opposite to the Budapest Agriculture Museum, you can find the statue of Anonymus, notary of King Béla III from the 13th century. His statue was created in 1903.
According to legend, if you touch the pen he (the statue) holds, your writing talent is going to be unleashed and you may become as famous as J. K. Rowling…
The city of ruin bars
At the beginning of the 2000s, a trend in Budapest was unfolding during which youngsters with just a little capital started to rent cheap yards of dilapidated buildings and turn them into cafés.
The cafés were soon turned into pubs furnished with thrown out chairs, sofas, and tables. The low-cost feeling first derived from necessity, then became a unique style that attracted the young, “arts-related” layers of society.
The first ruin bar, Szimpla Kert, opened in 2002 in District 7.
Today the number of ruin bars in Budapest is estimated to be between 80 and 100.
The railway run by kids
The Gyermekvasút (Children’s Railway), 11 km (6.8 mi) long, originally started as the Pioneer Railway back in the communist era, is located in the Buda Hills and it is almost entirely run by children aged 10–14.
They are responsible for selling and checking tickets as well as saluting trains.
But don’t worry, drivers and engineers are grown-ups.
The city of dogs
Every fourth Budapest citizen has a dog. This means that on average every second Budapest household owns a dog. Their total number is approx. 0.5 million.
The Zero Kilometre Stone
I guess only a few travellers get to notice the 3 m (10 ft) white, O-shaped sculpture at the Buda end of the Chain Bridge, just at the tunnel below the Castle Hill (Várhegy).
It is the reference point from which all road distances to Budapest are measured within Hungary.
Island of Rabbits?
Margaret Island (Margitsziget) is a beautiful city park in the heart of Budapest.
It was called Insula Leporum, “Island of Rabbits” in the 13th century.
To be more accurate, it had been one of the three islands that later were connected in the 19th century to form one larger island, the “united” Margaret Island.
The origin of the name “Island of Rabbits” is still unclear. According to some experts, it is due to a simple misspelling and the original name in Latin was “Insula Leprorum”, with an additional ‘r’, which means “Island of the Lepers”.
Well, the ‘rabbits’ version sounds better, doesn’t it?
You can do rock climbing and skiing within city limits
Yes, it’s true, I’ve done both.
In the Buda Hills you can find some nice places for rock climbing and traversing.
In the winter, after a good amount of snow has fallen, you can go up to Normafa in District 12 and enjoy sliding down on the 300 m long ski run.
Not the Alps, but it’s fun!
Budapest also offers great opportunities for practising a good number of other outdoor sports:
- Trail running (Buda Hills)
- City running (top track: Margaret Island, with a very nice 5.4 km (3.4 mi) running loop)
- Kayaking, canoeing (on the Danube)
- Swimming (outdoor swimming pools)
- Tennis (courts are located primarily on the Buda side)
- Golf (as I’ve checked, there are four golf courses within city limits)
- Hiking (Buda Hills)
- Mountain biking (Buda Hills)
- Street workout (all around the city)
- Caving (Buda Hills)
- Paragliding (Buda Hills)
- BMX (Heroes’ Square)
- Roller skating (Heroes’ Square)
- Skateboarding (Heroes’ Square)
- Ice skating (City Park, from mid Nov to end of Feb)
- Frisbee (city parks)
- Football (city parks)
- Pétanque (on Római Part by the Danube)
I do hope you’ve enjoyed checking out these facts about Budapest.
If I hear about anything new and interesting, I’ll add it to the list.
Text and photographs © Daniel Kerek
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