There’s no better way to see Budapest than from above, where the magnificent sweep of the city spreads out before you. This is particularly true in autumn, when sun’s still bright and the trees provide a panoply of golden colours. Don’t forget to snap your own pictures as you discover these popular panoramic vantage points.
St Stephen’s Basilica
Completed in 1905, St Stephen’s Basilica in downtown Budapest reaches as high as the Parliament building, the 96 metres tallying with the Hungarian millennial year of 1896. From the top of its dome, the panoramic view of the city should not be missed. A lift can take you halfway, but you’ll have to get to the very top under your own steam.
Open: Daily Apr, May & Oct 10am-5.30pm, Nov-Mar 10am-4.30pm, June-Sept 10am-6.30pm
Admission: 1,000 HUF, free under-7s
The Disneyesque Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park has two observation points for magnificent views. The 37-metre Gate Tower and the 64-metre Tower of the Apostles overlook the adjoining lake, the park and Heroes’ Square. The castle is a replica of the original Gothic-Renaissance one in Hunedoara, Romania, and displays the hallmarks of Hungarian architecture throughout the ages.
Open: Gate Tower daily 9am-7pm. Tower of the Apostles Tue-Sun 10am-5pm
Admission: Gate Tower 300 HUF. Guided tour of the Tower of the Apostles 600 HUF
Backdropped by the slopes of Buda, Citadella atop Gellért Hill is the number one choice for prime panoramic views over the city, and a favourite with newly weds. Built by the Austrians after the Hungarian uprising of 1848, the hilltop fortress was augmented by the statue of Lady Liberty a century later, a towering figure visible from across the city.
Bus No.27 runs from Móricz Zsigmond körtér to the nearest stop of Búsuló Juhász, after which it’s a steep ten-minute climb to the statue. Alternatively, put on your most comfortable shoes and walk to the top from behind the Gellért Hotel for this stunning view.
Tucked away in a quiet, green area up Gellért Hill from Elizabeth Bridge, the Philosophers’ Garden comprises a cluster of statues representing the world’s major religions. The view from here is no less spectacular, and less-visited by other sightseers.
Many visit this landmark Gothic cathedral dominating Szentháromság tér in the heart of Buda’s Castle District – but not everyone realises that you can climb the South Tower of Matthias Church. You’ll have to climb 197 steps of a spiral staircase, and pay admission of 1,800 HUF on top of the 1,800 HUF fee already charged to enter the church. For this, though, you get a 50-minute guided tour in English and, of course, a supreme view of the historic Castle District and Budapest around it. At this height, you can also admire the church’s enormous bells and weather vane.
Open: Group tours of the tower Daily/hourly 10am-5pm.
Admission: 1,800 HUF, reduced admission 1,200 HUF, free under-6s
Built as an architectural confection as a complement to neighbouring Matthias Church when it was rebult in the late 1800s, the Fishermen’s Bastion is one of the postcard superstars of Budapest. Through its arches, along its stairwells and from the top of its turrets, the views of the city attract the crowds, even in autumn. Even better, access to the highest points is free from mid-October until after the national holiday on 15 March. The lower levels are open year-round with no charge to enter.
Open: 16 Mar-30 Apr 9am-7pm. 1 May-15 Oct 9am-8pm
Admission: 1,000 HUF, reduced admission 500 HUF, free under-6s
The back entrance to the Castle stormed by Christian troops to retake Buda in 1686, the Vienna Gate is open to the public. Take bus No.16 from Deák tér or Széll Kálmán tér and alight at the Bécsi kapu tér stop by the the archway. Ascend a few steps and you can admire the city from a northward angle – images shot from this lesser-known vantage point cover the Buda hills and dense parkland of Buda, all awash with colour at this time of year.
Gül Baba türbéje
Recently unveiled after long-term renovation, Gül Baba’s tomb, a memorial to the Ottoman poet of the same name who died around the time of the Turkish conquest of Budapest in 1541. Completed in 1548, it marks the furthest reach of the Ottoman Empire in Central Europe. Thanks to the revamp, the rose garden here is a delight – Gül Baba means ‘Father of the Roses’, and he is said to have introduced the flower to Budapest.
The area around the tomb, housed in a small octagonal building, has also been relandscaped. A statue of the poet, hand on heart, stands before a magnificent view of Budapest. To access this sight, scale steep Mecset utca (‘Mosque Street’) from Margit utca near the Buda foot of Margaret Bridge.
Open: Tue-Sun 10am-6pm
Mansfeld Péter Park
Further up from Gül Baba’s Tomb, Mansfeld Péter Park on Veronika utca is named after the youngest martyr of the 1956 Revolution. Teenager Mansfeld continued to store weapons surreptitiously should another uprising break out. Arrested and tortured, he was executed in 1959. His statue stands here, surrounded by a panorama of Budapest he fought so bravely to liberate.
Normafa, panoramic woodland named after an opera that was staged here in 1850, is popular year-round. As the leaves turn orange in autumn and the air becomes brisk, the hills provide a nice frame to the supreme city views. If it gets chilly, you can warm up with a mulled wine at the Ski House – the strudel hut alongside is also a must. Those after a more active visit can take advantage of the rubberised jogging track. Bus Nos.21 and 21A trundle all the way up here from Széll Kálmán tér.
Elizabeth Lookout Tower
Perched atop János Hill, emerging above the tops of the trees, the Elizabeth Lookout Tower stands 528 metres high. Named after the Habsburg Empress who loved the Buda hills, this wedding-cake confection bears similarities to the Fishermen’s Bastion – no coincidence, as the architect, Frigyes Schulek, was the same. From the upper terminus of the Zugliget Chairlift, it’s a calf-crunching ten-minute walk up a steep incline. And, to get the best views, it’s a further 100 steps around a spiral staircase.
Open: Daily 8am-8pm
This is a panoramic view with a difference – all you have to do is sit back and let the chairlift do the rest. Scaling the side of János Hill, the highest in Budapest, this romantic retro attraction features two-seater gondolas that shuttle between the lower and upper terminals 15 minutes apart. Budapest spreads out around you as you climb. Bus No.291 from Nyugati station takes you all the way there. The chairlift is run by the same BKK company as city buses but requires a special ticket sold on-site.
Open: Daily 10am-dusk (Oct till 5pm, 27-31 Oct till 4pm, Nov-Jan till 3.30pm). Closed: 14-18 Oct.
Admission: 1,000 HUF, return 1,400 HUF. Reduced admission 600 HUF/800 HUF
Guckler Károly Lookout Tower
Sat on top of Hármashatárhegy, a favourite hang-gliding spot 495 metres high, this bizarre octagonal contraption is free to access and open 24 hours. Bus Nos.65 and 65A take you most of the way there from Kolosy tér in Óbuda, journey time 10mins, to the terminus at Szépvölgyi dűlő.
Nagy-hárshegy & Kis-hárs-hegy
These two hilltop vantage points, a 20-minute walk apart and each featuring a lookout tower, are best accessed by taking the Children’s Railway to the Szépjuhászné stop. The tower on Kis-hárs-hegy is notable for having been designed by Hungary’s most renowned contemporary architect, Imre Makovecz, while the Kaán Károly tower on Nagy-hárshegy is 454 metres high. You’ll find a little bar/eatery by the railway stop: Mint a mókus fenn a fán, Like a Squirrel Up in the Tree.