Chances are, you know that Budapest is brimming with fairytale buildings, a layered history, Turkish baths, and paprika-packed dishes like goulash. But, are you aware that stunt performer Harry Houdini was born here? Or that the world’s largest geothermal cave system can be found under the city? Turns out, there’s probably quite a bit that you didn't know about the Hungarian capital city. Lucky for you, we rounded up six trivia tidbits to whip out at your next cocktail party.
1. Budapest was once three different cities — and almost had a different name.
Built in 1849, the picturesque Széchenyi Chain Bridge stretches across the Danube river and looks equally enchanting in the day as it does when it’s illuminated at night. On one side, visitors will be greeted by the majestic Parliament building while the other hosts the historic, monument-packed Castle Hill. Walk across the Chain Bridge today and you might even feel like you’ve stepped into an entirely different city. That’s because the two ends were in fact separate destinations. Buda, the quieter, hilly, and more residential area, lies west of the river; Obuda (Buda’s oldest neighborhood) lies just north of that; and Pest, the flatter, livelier one of the trio sits on the east. It wasn’t until 1873 when the three split personalities joined forces and became the Budapest we know and love today. There was even some talk of calling the new combined city Pestbuda, but that didn’t last long.
2. No building is higher than 96 meters for a reason.
Look up and you’ll find that the two tallest buildings in Budapest are St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Parliament. The former, which took more than five decades to finish, honors the first king of Hungary, while the latter, which is constructed in a Gothic Revival style, boasts more than 80 pounds of solid gold. Although the two buildings were erected during different periods (and in different designs), they share one thing in common. They both stand at the exact same height — 96 meters, to represent the year the Hungarian Magyars first settled in the area. And this is no coincidence. Their identical height serves as a symbol for the equal importance of religion and government. Plus, it’s against the law for any structure to top them, so don’t expect to find skyscrapers popping up in the city any time soon.
3. It holds some of the oldest attractions.
Following London’s Tube, Budapest boasts the oldest subway line in the world. Making its debut in 1896, during Hungary’s 1,000th anniversary, the underground system inherited the name Millennium Underground. But that’s not all. The city also happens to house one of the oldest zoos in the world. The Budapest Zoo & Botanical Gardens, which opened in 1865, comes with a variety of animals as well as gorgeous Art Nouveau architecture, making it a treat for both adults and kids.
4. And some of the largest, too.
Situated in Budapest’s Seventh District, The Dohany Street Synagogue, also known as The Great Synagogue, is the largest functioning synagogue in Europe (and even more impressively, one of the biggest in the world). Built in the 1850s in the Neo-Moorish style, the 21,528-square foot space can accommodate 3,000 people today. During WWII, it also served as a shelter for the city’s Jews. Gorgeous from the inside and out, it’s worth taking a guided tour of the grounds as well as adjacent museum to soak up its history.
As for other superlatives, Budapest also holds the title for hosting the largest music festival in the world. Sziget Festival, a week-long extravaganza that occurs every August, welcomes about 400,000 people from around the world. Here, expect to hear tunes that range from electronic to hard rock and everything in between.
5. Budapest wasn’t always the capital city.
Budapest might be Hungary’s capital city as well as the largest in the country, but this wasn’t always the case. Esztergom, the birthplace of the first Hungarian king, served as the capital from the 10th until about the 13th century. It was then, during the Mongolian invasion, that King Bela IV relocated the royal seat to Buda and the rest was history.
6. Budapest also comes out on top for most thermal springs.
In addition to its charming architecture, hearty cuisine, and rich history, Budapest is well-known for its thermal baths. In fact, it has more thermal springs — more than 100 — than any other capital city in the world. Here, the temperatures go from warm to sizzling and offer up health benefits for muscles, bones, and skin. Many of these medicinal baths, which have been used since Roman times, are also still open today. Choose from top options like Gellert, Szechenyi, Rudas, and Kiraly.
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