Taking in the dazzling sights of Budapest’s historic Castle Quarter—where the towering Buda Castle, the spires of the Hungarian Parliament Building, and the turrets of Fisherman’s Bastion all overlook the glittering waters of the Danube—has long been considered essential for visitors to the city. Generations of travelers have enjoyed wandering through this district, whose wealth of cultural treasures has established it as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For today’s visitors, though, there’s another, newer option for appreciating the quarter, as well as Budapest’s other UNESCO-listed jewels: From the vantage point of one of the city’s chic rooftop bars. These stylish spots, which offer splendid views along with refined libations, have given history buffs the option of surveying Budapest’s iconic attractions from on high, as well as on the ground.
Here’s how to do both.
The Danube Riverfront
On the ground: The glorious Danube River, which bisects the city into its two parts—Buda and Pest—is delightful to explore by ferry tour, or with a walk along the Danube Promenade. This pedestrian path, which has been UNESCO-listed since 1987, extends along the Pest riverfront between the city’s two iconic bridges, the Elizabeth Bridge and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. The length of the esplanade is punctuated with both sculptures and architectural jewels, such as the Art-Nouveau Gresham Palace (now a Four Seasons hotel) and the Neoclassical Vigadó Concert Hall.
From above: The city’s newest rooftop bar, LEO, offers some of its most breathtaking and panoramic views. Set atop the modern, newly opened Hotel Clark in Buda, this sleek boÎte abuts Castle Hill, with its funicular and namesake palace. But it also affords a truly unique and dramatic view over the expansive Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the wide blue-green Danube, and the promenade along the far riverbank. The scenery is best enjoyed from one of the bar’s plush jungle-print banquettes, where a trendy crowd gathers over tropical-themed cocktails and fine spirits.
On the ground: This grand, tree-lined boulevard, flanked by elegant 19th-century buildings, was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2002. A walk along its length gives visitors an up-close look at some of the city’s most culturally significant venues, including the Miklós Ybl-designed Hungarian State Opera Building; the nearby Academy of Music, founded by famous Hungarian composer Ferenc Liszt; Heroes’ Square, with its statuary-topped colonnades as well as the Museum of Fine Arts (and its newly renovated Roman Hall); and the garden-fronted neo-Renaissance villas of the Kodály Circus. The 1.5-mile avenue also teems with fashionable restaurants, upscale cafes, and luxury boutiques.
From above: Just steps from the Hungarian State Opera and jaw-droppingly close to the domed towers of nearby St. Stephen’s Basilica, 360 Bar also looks over the shops and cafes along Andrássy Avenue far below. Well-heeled locals and visitors mix here to sip craft cocktails, listen to DJ-spun tunes, and—during cold-weather months—cozy up in one of its fabulous glassed-in igloos.
Buda Castle Quarter
On the ground: A funicular ride up Castle Hill—followed by a stroll along the cobblestoned lanes of the Castle Quarter—lets pedestrians encounter a profusion of celebrated UNESCO-listed heritage sites. Gaze up at the 700-year-old Matthias Church, whose soaring steeple dominates the city skyline; take photos atop the terraces of the 19th-century Fisherman’s Bastion; tour the imposing, neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building; and wander the grounds (and subterranean labyrinths) of the stunning Buda Castle, which houses the Hungarian National Gallery and hosts festivals and concerts throughout the year.
From above: Sitting atop the posh Hotel President, Intermezzo is known all over the city for its unparalleled vistas over the majestic Parliament building and Buda Castle, as well as the elaborate Zsolnay roof tiles of the Hungarian State Treasury. Enjoy crowd-pleasing classic cocktails at this popular bar; in winter, you’ll also find mulled wine along with a small skating rink.
Discover even more of the architecture and nightlife that make Budapest such an unforgettable destination at SpiceOfEurope.com.