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More cosmopolitan than Prague, more romantic than Warsaw and more beautiful than both, Budapest straddles a gentle curve in the Danube, with the Buda Hills to the west and what is essentially the start of the Great Plain to the east. With parks brimming with attractions, museums filled with treasures, pleasure boats sailing up and down the scenic Danube Bend, Turkish-era thermal baths belching steam and a nightlife throbbing until dawn most nights, the Hungarian capital is one of the Continent’s most delight ful and fun cities.

Cosmopolitan city
Cosmopolitan city

 

And the human legacy is just as remarkable as Mother Nature’s. Architecturally, Budapest is a gem, with a wealth of baroque, neoclassical, Eclectic and Art Nouveau (or Secessionist) buildings. Overall it has a fin-de-siecle feel to it, for it was then, during the industrial boom and the capital’s ‘golden age’ in the late 19th century, that most of what you see today was built.

In some places, particularly along the Nagykörút (Outer Ring) and up broad Andrássy út to the sprawling Városliget (City Park), Budapest’s sobriquet ‘the Paris of Central Europe’ is well deserved.

Nearly every building has some interesting detail, from Art Nouveau glazed tiles and neoclassical bas-reliefs to bullet holes and shrapnel scorings left from WWII and the 1956 Uprising.

At times, Budapest’s scars are not very well hidden. Over the years, industrial and automobile pollution has exacerbated the decay, but in recent years the rebuilding and renovations have been nothing short of astonishing. Indeed, some people think the city is tidying itself up a bit too quickly.

Yet Budapest remains – and will always stay – Hungarian: exotic, sometimes inscrutable, often passionate, with its feet firmly planted in Europe but with a glance every now and then eastward to the spawning grounds of its people. Budapest is fabulous, romantic and exciting at any time, but especially so just after dusk in spring and summer when Castle Hill is bathed in a warm yellow light.

Chain Bridge

 

Stroll along the Duna korzó, the riverside embankment on the Pest side, or across any of the bridges past young couples embracing passionately. It’s then that you’ll feel the romance of a place that, despite all attempts – from both within and without – to destroy it, has never died.

City Life

Are you ready to head for the hills? No matter your age, you can enjoy the triple-transport triangular trip on the slopes of the Buda Hills. From Széll Kálmán tér, hop on tram No. 61 for two stops to the Cogwheel Railway (Fogaskerekű), which clicks its way up a steep grade to the Children's Train on Széchenyi-hegy (hill).

Cogwheel Railway
Cogwheel Railway

 

Uniformed children, true to the original model of the Soviet Pioneer Scouts, assist in ticketing and boarding the open-air cars. Enjoy the short ride across the wooded ridge. Get off at the fourth stop, János-hegy, where you will find the path to a terrace bufe (cafe) for refreshments, a playground, and toilet facilities.

Erzsébet Lookout Tower
Erzsébet Lookout Tower

 

Nearby, the Erzsébet Lookout Tower, four stories high and on the highest point of Budapest (529m/1,736 ft), is worth the climb. There is no fee. When ready to return to the Danube area, take your seats on the gently descending Chair Lift (Libegő), and marvel at the spectacular views of the city. Just outside the exit, bus No. 22 will take you to Széll Kálmán tér. The whole triangle can be done in reverse too. For those who may want more outdoor action, check with Tourinform for hiking trails atop the Buda Hills.

Chair Lift
Chair Lift

 

Buda

Castle District (Várnegyed). This district is the city’s most beautiful and historic dating back to the 13th century, with some settlements here even earlier. This is district I, which is a small district that encompasses the plateau where the grand Royal Palace and grounds fill the southern end above the surrounding neighborhoods and the Danube below. The Castle District is defined by its medieval walls. The northern end is home to small winding streets, with old homes, St. Matthias Church, the Fishermans Bastion, and the Hilton Hotel.

Castle District
Castle District

 

Watertown (Víziváros). A long, narrow neighborhood wedged between the Castle District and the Danube, makes up district II. Víziváros is historically a quarter where fishermen and artisans reside. Built on the steep slope of Castle Hill, it has narrow alleys and stairs instead of roads in many places. Its main street, Fő utca, runs the north-south length of the Víziváros, parallel to and a block away from the river. It is a high-rent district for residents and tourists.

Watertown
Watertown

 

Rose Hill (Rózsadomb). This is the part of Buda Hills and still part of district II, closest to the city center and one of the city’s most fashionable and luxurious residential neighborhoods.

Rose Hill
Rose Hill

 

Buda Hills. The Buda Hills are numerous remote neighborhoods that feel as if they’re nowhere near, let alone within, a capital city. By and large, the hills are considered a classy place to live. Neighborhoods are generally known by the name of the hill on which they stand. Unless you like to walk neighborhoods, there is nothing more for the traveler in this part of the city.

Buda Hills
Buda Hills

Óbuda

Óbuda makes up district III and is mostly residential now, though its long Danube coastline was a favorite spot for workers’ resorts under the old regime. Most facilities have been privatized, so a large number of hotels are found here. Transportation for the traveler into Pest would be cumbersome, so we do not recommend staying out here. The extensive Roman ruins of Aquincum and the beautifully preserved old-town main square are Obuda’s chief claims to fame.

Óbuda
Óbuda

Pest

Inner City (Belváros). The historic center of Pest, the Belváros, literally meaning “city center” is the area inside the Inner Ring, bound by the Danube to the west. Making up part of district V, it has many of Pest’s historic buildings in this area. In addition, a number of the city’s showcase luxury hotels and most of its best-known shopping streets are here.

Inner City
Inner City

 

Leopold Town (Lipótváros). The continuation of district V is just north of the Belváros, making Lipótváros a part of central Pest. Development began here at the end of the 18 th century, and the neighborhood soon emerged as a center of Pest business and government. Parliament, plus a number of government ministries, courthouses, banks, and the former stock exchange, are all found here. Before the war, this was considered a neighborhood of the “high bourgeoisie.”

Lipótváros
Lipótváros

 

Theresa Town (Terézváros). The character of Terézváros, district VI, is defined by Andrássy út, the great boulevard running the length of the neighborhood from Heroes’ Square through Oktogon and down into the Inner City. This grand street has been regaining its reputation of elegance: Andrássy út is once again the “best address” in town, especially since the upper part is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Teréz körút section of the Outer Ring cuts through Terézváros; Oktogon is its major square. The area around Nagymező utca is the city’s small theater district.

Terézváros
Terézváros

 

Elizabeth Town (Erzsébetváros). This is district VII. Directly to the southeast of Terézváros, Erzsébetváros is the historic Jewish neighborhood of Pest. During the German occupation from 1944 to 1945, this district was where the ghettos were established for the Jewish people. This district is still the center of Budapest’s Jewish life. Although it had been exceedingly run-down due to the war, in the last couple of years, it has become gentrified and considered one of the up-and-coming districts to invest in.

Erzsébetváros
Erzsébetváros

 

Joseph Town (Józsefváros). One of the largest central Pest neighborhoods is district VIII. Józsefváros is to the southeast of Erzsébetváros. It has had a reputation of being a less-than-desirable district of Pest, but there are some places in this district worth your time and energy. It should not be dismissed across the board. It is working hard at gentrifying.

Józsefváros
Józsefváros

 

The best of Budapest in one day

It’s hard to believe that such a large expanse of hilly forest is right here within the capital city. There are hiking trails aplenty; every Budapest native has a favorite - do not hesitate to ask around.

It’s hard to believe that such a large expanse of hilly forest is right here within the capital city. There are hiking trails aplenty; every Budapest native has a favorite - do not hesitate to ask around.

Buda Hills
Buda Hills

 

On a tour to Sváb Hill (Svábhegy) you can set a new record for the use of most types of means of transport in the shortest period of time. Even if this is not your goal, it’s recommended to give a try to the Chair-lift (Libegő), the Children’s Railway (Gyermekvasút) and the Cog-wheel Railway (Fogaskerekű) and the fair distance of walking in between.



If you do it in the above-mentioned order, you can get from the Belvedere Tower (Erzsébet-kilátó) on János Hill (János-hegy) to Sváb Hill.