1. It was almost called Pestbuda

No joke. Even though Budapest may seem like it’s been around forever, it’s actually the result of a somewhat recent merger (1873) between two cities – Buda on the western bank of the Danube and Pest on the east. (Is it wrong that I’m humming the Spice Girls’ song ‘When Two Become One’ right now?) Both sides think they’re the best, of course, and it took some deliberation to agree on the name. Which, by the way, is correctly pronounced Buda-pesht.

West side of the Danube Budapest

This side is technically Pest.

A few other cities could learn from their example (I’m looking at you, Dallas/Fort Worth). Doesn’t Dallasworth have such a nice ring to it? What About Minneapaul? I see a future career developing here…

2. No building can be taller than 96 meters

You won’t see any skyscrapers or high-rises in the newer developments of Budapest. Although the city is rich with incredibly intricate architecture, two very historic buildings have the honor of being the ‘tallest building.’ Both of them are exactly 96 meters high, and this is no accident. The number 896 signifies the year that Hungarian Magyars first settled in the region.

The first, the Hungarian Parliament building was built in the Gothic revival style using no less than 40kg (about 88 pounds) of solid gold. Yeah, it’s pretty epic. It represents the importance of the city’s government.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Hungarian Parliament Building / Photo credit: Heather Cowper

St. Stephen’s Basilica, built to honor the first king of Hungary (later canonized) took a whopping 54 years to complete due to the fact that the original architect got so old he made a major miscalculation, causing the dome to collapse. It represents the importance of religion to the city.

St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica

The fact that they are exactly the same height symbolizes the concept that worldly and spiritual thinking have the same importance in Budapest. An ordinance was passed forbidding any other building from being built higher.

3. Hungarian goulash is totally different than you think

I always thought goulash was macaroni noodles and ground beef with maybe some onion or cheese thrown in. It’s totally not. Authentic Hungarian goulash (actually pronounced gulyas) is basically beef & vegetable soup with dumplings and a lot of paprika. Goulash is traditionally served as a soup, NOT to be confused with Hungarian beef stew. That version is similar to American goulash in that it has a thicker consistency and can include pasta. It also contains copious amounts of paprika.

4. A severed hand has its own parade

Legend has it that nearly 50 years after King Stephen’s death in 1038 they opened up his sarcophagus to check for signs of a miracle and found that his body was all decayed except for his mummified right hand. He was then canonized by Pope Gregory VII, as the hand was deemed to have miraculous properties.

The hand was removed from the grave and sent to the basilica treasury, where it was promptly stolen by the man who was supposed to be guarding it. It was taken and buried on his estate in what is now Romania. It was later discovered, but the reigning King László forgave the thief and even erected a monument in the spot it had been buried.

The hand made its way around the Balkans, traveling from Szentjobb/Siniob back to Székesfehérvár in the fifteenth century. During the Turkish occupation, however, it mysteriously turned up in Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and was held by Dominican friars. Queen Maria Theresa eventually purchased the hand and gifted it back to her Hungarian subjects.

The hand is now housed in St. Stephen’s Basilica and carried in the Holy Right Hand Procession each year on August 20th. I’m bummed I’m going to miss it. However, there is a bit of speculation that the hand in the basilica is not the real hand of St. Stephen at all. I guess if you don’t perform any miracles for a few hundred years people get suspicious.

5. Gellért Monument has a stellar view but a grisly background

St. Gellért was on a pilgrimage to Palestine when he was detained by King Stephen to help convert the pagan Magyars to Christianity. Gellért agreed, although he lived to regret it. Or rather, he didn’t. After the king died, he was no longer under the protection of the palace, and was captured by the pagans. They were slightly pissed  off at his conversion tactics, and showed their displeasure by stuffing him into a spike-filled barrel and rolling him down the hill.

St. Gellert Monument, Budapest

You’d never guess the guy met his death by barrel…

A monument was later erected at the exact spot where he met his death. It can be seen from all over Budapest and provides one of the best views in the city. The monument also depicts heathen Magyars looking up in awe at the Saint, so I guess you can say he got the final word in.

Gellert Monument, Budapest

They even built the guy his own waterfall

6. There are lucky charms everywhere

Forget the leprechauns, Budapest has all the luck you’re going to need. The Hungarian Policeman was built in the 1900’s to commemorate a certain officer who always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. This twinkle was due to the fact that apparently he loved two things in life: food & women. In fact, he liked both of them so much that he devised a way to flirt while he was eating – twirling his mustache at the ladies. Apparently this worked a lot better than it would today because his numbers were said to be in the hundreds. Today, if you rub his belly it’s said that you will be lucky in love, and if you twirl his mustache…well, you’ll just get lucky. (Wink, wink.)

Hungarian Policeman, Budapest

He has a name but I was too busy rubbing his belly to remember it.

Heroes Square is one of the most famous landmarks in Budapest. The statues atop the colonnades symbolize war, peace, work, welfare, knowledge and glory. Around the base, the equestrian statues honor the seven chieftains of the original Hungarian tribes.

Heroes Square

I’m not posting the ACTUAL Statue of Anonymous. You have to find it for yourself. / Photo credit: Lju Photo

Which is all fine and dandy but what I was interested in was the Statue of Anonymous (who looks a bit like the grim reaper) located in the nearby park. It’s believed that if a person finds the statue and touches the pen in his hand, he or she will become a better writer and find great success. New York Bestseller List, here I come…

The Little Princess is the most photographed statue in Budapest. She is a bit of an icon and well ahead of her time. Unlike other young girls her age, she never wanted to be a princess or a queen. Instead, she dressed only in her bother’s clothing and wore a paper crown on her head wherever she went. She aspired, when she grew up, to become the King. Her father, a sculptor, was so amused by this that he immortalized her. If you rub her knees it’s said to bring you luck and self-actualization.

The Little Princess, Budapest

Get down with your bad self, girl

There’s one more iconic statue that students might want to pay a visit to and that’s András Hadik, the Russar general. Near Matthais Church on Castle Hill you can find this statue of a man on his horse. He became famous because, unlike most Hussars who achieved the position through their nobility (ahem, money), he rose through the ranks based on skill alone. Now he is said to bring luck to students before standing for exams or writing a paper. Which lucky part of the statue should you rub to achieve this? The horse’s balls. (Sorry I don’t have a photo of horse testicles for you.)

7. The Chain Bridge is one giant urban legend.

The Chain Bridge was completed in 1849 as the first bridge across the Danube River connecting Buda and Pest. Construction was instigated by Count István Széchenyi, although there are opposing stories on WHY he decided to undertake this feat. The first says that his father had grown fatally ill in the dead of winter, but, because the river had become too dangerous to cross by boat, he could not make it in time to say goodbye. He swore to his mother that he would complete the bridge so that no family would go through that again.

Another version says that he simply had a mistress on the other side of the river and wanted to be able to visit her more often, to…you know. (In actuality he most likely just wanted to stimulate the economy, but I prefer the legends.)

Chain Bridge, Budapest

Photo credit: Dimitry B.

The statues of the four lions, carved by János Marschalkó, guard each end of the bridge. Legend has it that he spent YEARS studying lions in their natural habitats so as to carve the most perfect statues ever created. Before unveiling the lions he boasted to anyone who would listen that his statues were flawless. He said that if anyone could find a flaw in his work he would kill himself.

Unfortunately for him, the story says that one day a young boy was overheard to have asked his father loudly where the tongues were on the lion statues. Upon realizing that he had forgotten this crucial point, Marschalkó jumped from the bridge, thus becoming the first official suicide. (This rumor has been proven completely false as the lions do, in fact, contain tongues. You can only see them from a high angle because they are behind the teeth.)

Lion Statue on Chain Bridge, Budapest

To teeth or not to teeth? That is the question.

Another legend says that the bridge’s architect, Péter Wellner, also jumped from the bridge when he realized that he had miscalculated and did not have enough materials to span the full width of the river. (Also untrue, as the bridge was completed upon schedule and Wellner actually went on to design another bridge).


Palaces are grand and bridges majestic, but I prefer digging up quirky facts about the places I visit. Budapest didn’t disappoint!



Mandie is a writer, rebel & web design junkie. In her spare time she enjoys drinking wine, traveling & working on her perpetually unfinished novel. She was a nerd before it was cool.

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  1. realgunners    

    Thank goodness, Budapest sound much better than Pestbuda IMO. And what’s Minneapaul? Minneapolis and ??
    I’m backing the mistress legend for the bridge. Throughout history men has been well documented to do crazy things to get their women…

    1. Mandie    

      Haha, Minneapolis/St. Paul are known as the Twin Cities in Minnesota (where I grew up).

  2. Amy Lynne Hayes    

    I have always wanted to go to Budapest, although somehow I never quite made it over there. There and Istanbul. These are really fun facts, and the more random the better! Helps give the city its own character and pulse rather than just being a collection of buildings. Love the story about building the bridge for the mistress. There’s a legend about the Maison du Verre in Paris, about how the architect fell in love with the client’s wife and so made a million changes and alterations to the details just to have an excuse to prolong the job and continue to see her. I have no confirmation on that, but hey, it’s possible! 🙂

    1. Mandie    

      I find that rumors involving men and women they’re having affairs with tend to be somewhat true. 😉 Haha. I really want to go to Istanbul too – I keep hearing such awesome things about it!

  3. Frank    

    Great post, I really enjoyed the little stories, especially the randy police officer and how they put St. Gellért in a barrel. We’re in Prague right now (for 3 months) but are planning a long weekend sometime soon in Budapest. Have heard only good things.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    1. Mandie    

      I’m actually in Prague right now as well (my blog is rarely chronological). Budapest would definitely be good for a weekend; there’s no shortage of things to do and see!

  4. Anda    

    Great post, Mandie. The first two things I didn’t know either, although I’ve spent a lot of time in Budapest. Beautiful photos also.

    1. Mandie    

      Thanks, Anda! I had a lot of fun exploring the city – it’s really beautiful!

  5. Joanne Joseph    

    Mandie, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. We were in Budapest a few months ago and this brought back some wonderful memories. I must say that you did a super job of sleuthing out the legends and some fun facts. Prague is one of my favorite cities in Europe so looking forward to seeing your take from there!

    1. Mandie    

      Thanks, Joanne! I love sleuthing in a city. 🙂 Prague is now one of my favorite cities in Europe as well, so I’m excited to write all about it!

  6. diana - life in German    

    Nice post, we haven’t been to Budapest yet, but we realllly want to! Hopefully we can get a good flight soon,.

    1. Mandie    

      Thanks, Diana! It’s a city that you could spend weeks in and still not see everything! Definitely worth a visit.

  7. Kelli    

    Hi Mandie
    This was super-interesting, truly. I visited Budapest many years ago when I did a backpacking trip through Europe. I really loved it. One of the highlights was going to one of the bathhouse places–love anything spa-related. I thought the city was really beautiful. I remember being in a store one day and waiting in line to buy something and the woman started talking Hungarian to me. I apologized and said I didn’t understand and she said she thought I was a local. That was the first of many incidences during my time in Europe that people thought I was ‘one of them.’ Guess there is something European about my appearance 🙂

    1. Mandie    

      I get that all the time, too! I think it’s the dark hair and tan I picked up in Greece. People are always just speaking to me in the local language and are sometimes really surprised that I’m American. Here’s to blending in and not sticking out like sore thumbs! I didn’t visit the bathhouses – I’m so weird about stuff like that – but I heard so many amazing things about them. For some reason spas kind of creep me out, and believe it or not, I’ve never had a massage. Maybe that will be my next fear to face – getting freaked out by having someone I don’t know touching me!

  8. Adelina // Pack Me To    

    I’m always scared reading posts like these on Budapest because what if I don’t know them after calling the city home for 2 years?! Thankfully, I knew most of these. The only things I weren’t too familiar with was the back story behind the lucky charms and the Chain bridge. I have seen all those statues, but never gave them a rub. Great post Mandie. I can’t wait for my next visit to the city 🙂

    1. kelli    

      Never had a massage?? I’m a massage addict. I hope you develop a hankering for them by time you get around to visiting SE Asia–they are so cheap!

  9. Amy    

    I’ve learnt a lot by reading this post but the #1 thing I didn’t know about Budapest until I went was that it can get crazy hot. I didn’t expect 34 degree heat and constant humidity. Sweatiest place I’ve ever been to date! (nice)

  10. Mary {The World Is A Book}    

    I have seen quite a few travel blogs on Budapest and would love to visit someday. I like the angle you’ve taken with the quirky facts. There’s only so much Parliament, Bridge and St. Stephen’s Cathedral you can learn and see. The King Stephen severed hand is such an interesting story. Love all those lucky charms everywhere too!

  11. Sammi Wanderlustin'    

    Budapest is one of my favourite places in the world, that I’ve been so far. I think I fall in love with everywhere but Eastern (or central, whatever) Europe has stolen my heart. I love this area of the world. I wish I was going back to Budapest soon…

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