Budapest was actually one of the very first cities I ever visited in mainland Europe. I dreamt about Eastern Europe after reading The Historian in college and found myself oddly drawn to cities like Budapest and Istanbul before other popular spots like London and Rome.
When I visited Budapest for the first time in 2012, I instantly fell in love.
The city has changed a bit since my first visit; it’s not quite as much of a secret as it used to be. But everything that I loved about Budapest on that first visit still holds true: the food, the culture, and the history are all still there.
As a self-professed history nerd, I never feel like I can truly connect to a place until I know a little bit about its past. And when it comes to history, Budapest has plenty of it.
Note: This post was written after my third visit to Budapest, as part of a paid project between myself, Avalon Waterways and ambassador. As always, all opinions (and historical geek-out moments) are completely my own.
A quick Budapest history lesson
The history of Budapest stretches back to long before Budapest ever existed – and in fact before Hungarians even lived in the area that is now Hungary. The city that is now Budapest started out as a Celtic settlement and became the ancient Roman town of Aquincum in the 1st century. Ruins from this Roman town can still be found in Budapest today.
Aquincum was largely destroyed during the fall of the Roman empire, and the city that would become Budapest changed hands several times in the next 1500 years. Modern-day Hungary began when the Magyars (Hungarians) arrived in the area in the 9th century. Stephen, I became the first official king of Hungary in the year 1000 and is largely credited with founding the nation.
By this point, two separate cities existed on either side of the Danube River: the city of Buda and the city of Pest. Buda was the seat of the Hungarian kings and became especially important culturally during the reign of King Matthias Corvinus, who basically brought the Italian Renaissance to Hungary.
Buda’s age of enlightenment was brought to a halt, though, when the Ottomans finally conquered the city in the mid-1500s and ruled for the next 150 years. The Ottomans were driven out of Buda in 1686, but Hungary soon found itself under the rule of the Habsburgs. An attempted (and failed) revolution in 1848 eventually led to the formation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Budapest officially became Budapest when Buda and Pest were combined in 1873, and it served as a co-capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the empire was dissolved following World War I.
Following World War II, Hungary was brought in to the Soviet fold. An attempted revolution in Budapest in 1956 failed, and Hungary remained part of the Soviet bloc until the Soviet Union fell. Hungary became a republic again for the third time and held its first democratic elections in 1990.
Whew. Are you still with me? If you got through all that, you might have noticed all the different groups that have controlled Budapest through the centuries. Each of them have influenced and shaped the city into what it is today.