Nyugati Pályaudvar, Budapest’s most beautiful railway station

There’s something about railway stations that always stirs my traveller’s soul; it’s the thrill of the imminent journey; the feeling of haste, purpose and urgency; the echoing sounds of footsteps, voices and rumbling engines; the smells of coffee, fries and pastries; the crowds and their thousands of stories. But often, too, there’s a special magic in the station itself that is more than the sum of all this; it’s the rows of constantly flickering arrivals and departure boards, the lines of quais and the tracks leading away to who knows where; it’s the lofty halls, the broad concourses and the grand facades; the exquisite architectural details and the decorative flourishes in unexpected corners; it’s the perfect marriage of form and function.

Budapest's most beautiful railway station
Budapest’s most beautiful railway station

Budapest’s Nyugati Pályaudvar is one of the world’s great railway stations and one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. The elegant glass and iron construction was completed in 1877. It was designed by August de Serres and the Eiffel Company of Paris which was responsible for that famous French tower.

The station’s iron-framed hall is typical of its time and is considered to be one of the best examples of Eiffel’s magnificent complex ironwork.  The finished building measured 6,153 meters square and 25 meters high  which made it, at the time, the fifth largest train station in the world. For many years, it was also Europe’s most modern railway station.

Renovations to the station during the past few decades have included the addition of a traffic overpass, an underground area for passengers, and several stores including a large department store.

Alongside the Nyugati Pályaudvar is one of the world’s most beautiful and ornate McDonald’s restaurants. It also the second busiest McDonald’s in the world.

 

Margaret Island

Margaret Island lies in the Danube, between Budapest’s Arpad Bridge, which links it to Obuda and Pest at one end, and Margaret Bridge which provides its access to Buda and Pest at the other. Hidden among its 225 acres of rambling gardens, are playgrounds, sports venues, spas, pools, monuments, fountains, hotels and historic ruins.

The Fountain on Margaret Island
The Fountain on Margaret Island

Before the 13 the century the island was a wilderness, given over to nature, and known as Rabbit Island. In the middle ages it became home to a number of monasteries and convents. The first of these was the Dominican Convent built in 1241 by Bela IV. The grateful King then sequestered his unfortunate daughter Margaret here in thanksgiving to God for deliverance from the Mongol scourge. In recognition of the hapless girl’s great sacrifice, he named the island after her. The ruins of the convent, along with Margaret’s grave can still be seen today.  Nearby is the Chapel of the mediaeval Premonstratensian Monastery with oldest bell in Hungary, cast in the 15th century and which, until it was accidentally discovered last century, lay buried under a tree. Near the rose gardens in the South of the island are the ruins of a Franciscan church.

By the mid 18th century, the Hapsburg royals had taken over Margaret Island and turned it into a magnificent private garden. Many of its beautiful walks and towering trees date back to this time

In the days of the Dual Monarchy, the island became a popular leisure playground and the island’s elegant 57 metre, octagonal Art Nouveau water tower is part of that legacy.

This was also the time when Budapest’s therapeutic springs began to enjoy great popularity, attracting visitors all over Europe. Subsequently, Margaret Island became a health resort and visitors flocked to its spas. They still do.  At the northern tip of Margaret Island the majestic old Grand Hotel and its younger sister, the Hotel Thermal, both famed for their luxurious spas, are neighbours to a spectacular rock garden and waterfall.

Today, the open-air theatre, just near the water tower, brings audiences to the island for ballets, opera and rock concerts. In the summer crowds pack the garden courtyard of the pavilion café, with its high trellis fences, or gather on the lawn to watch Margaret Island’s fantastic animated musical fountain, leaping and crashing to the strains of Strauss (of course!) or flock to the hugely popular (and huge) 17 acre Palatinus Baths.

Budapest’s Centenary monument, built in 1972 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the creation of Budapest, stands at the southern entrance to the island, just off the Margaret Bridge.

Peaceful, pretty and romantic, Margaret Island is a wonderful retreat from the noise and movement of the city streets. So lose yourself for a day, lie under a tree, in a spa, or even on the banks of the Danube, climb to the top of the water tower and look down into the tree tops, wander in the ruins of Margaret’s old convent, stroll through the flowers and lose yourself for a day

The Bridges of Budapest, Part 4

The Szabadság híd or Liberty Bridge, sometimes called the Freedom Bridge, is Budapest’s third southernmost bridge. On the Buda bank, it ends at the foot of Gellért Hill, with the Gellért Spa and Hotel Gellért nearby. On the Pest bank it ends in Fővám Tér near the Greta Market Hall and the Budapest University of Economics.

The Liberty Bridge, Budapest
The Liberty Bridge, Budapest

The Liberty Bridge was designed by Janos Keketeházy and completed in 1896. It is 333.6 metres long and 20.1 metres wide. While its structure is different, its shape follows that of the chain bridge. The top of the four masts are decorated with large bronze statues of the Turul, a falcon-like bird which is prominent in ancient Hungarian mythology. The bridge was originally named after the doomed Emperor Franz Joseph, who officially opened it and nailed in the last silver rivet on the Pest abutment.

Petőfi híd or Petőfi Bridge, named after Sándor Petófi the poet who inspired the revolution of 1848 is the second southernmost public bridge in Budapest. Designed by Pál Álgyai Hubert it was built between 1933-1937, it links Boráros tér on the Pest bank of the Danube with Goldmann György Tér, next to the Budapest University of Technology and Economics on the Buda bank.

Lágymányosi híd or Lágymányosi Bridge, sometimes Lágymányos Bridge, is named after the south Buda district of Lágymányos. Opened in 1995, it is Budapest’s southernmost and the newest public bridge.

The Bridges of Budapest, Part 3

Erzsébet híd, or Elisabeth Bridge, which was completed in 1903, is the second newest of Budapest’s Bridges.

The Elizabeth Bridge
The Elizabeth Bridge

The bridge was named after the popular Dual Monarchy Queen Elisabeth, who was assassinated in 1898. Her bronze statue sits in the middle of a small garden in Buda’s Dobrentei Square, just below the Gellért Hill near the Rudas Baths.

Situated at the narrowest part of the Danube, the Elisabeth Bridge is only 290 metres long. On the Pest side it ends in March 15 Square, site of the 13 century Inner City Parish Church, (Budapest’s oldest place of worship) and the Mátyás Prince (Budapest’s most famous restaurant) At the Buda end, it finishes in a death-defyingly sharp bend at the  foot of Gellért Hill.

The Erzsébet was the only bridge in Budapest which could not be rebuilt in its original form after World War II. The current slender white cable structure  with its hexagonal  spars and thousands of steel wires was designed by Pál Sávoly. At the time of completion, it was a first in Central Europe. It considered one of Budapest’s loveliest bridges.