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After strolling around the castle walls and enjoying the views or visiting a museum, why not enjoy the delights of wandering through the old part, where you can stop here and there to look at a shop window, a façade, a monument, to capture it on your.

Name: The castle district
Category: Architecture, castles and historic districts
Location: 1014 Budapest, Szent György tér

Description

After strolling around the castle walls and enjoying the views or visiting a museum, why not enjoy the delights of wandering through the old part, where you can stop here and there to look at a shop window, a façade, a monument, to capture it on your video or in a photo. If you are hungry or thirsty, just stop one of at one of the stalls or the bars along the street and you will be spoilt for choice.

The castle district
The castle district

The Castle District

The Castle District in Buda Erected in the 14th century and rebuilt in the Baroque style 400 years later, the royal palace at Szent György tér was the residence of the Hungarian monarchs for 700 years.

Today it houses Budapest’s most frequented museums and galleries. The Hungarian National Gallery (Buildings B, C, and D) offers a selection of the history of arts in Hungary from the 10th century to the present day. Exhibits include a collection of early medieval and Renaissance stone works, Gothic wood-carvings, panels and triptychs, Renaissance and Baroque art, 19th- and 20th-century painting, sculpture and collections of coins and medals. Guided tours are available to the crypt of the Hapsburg viceroys.



At the History of Budapest Museum (Building E) restored sections of the medieval royal palace in Buda, its chapel and Gothic sculptures as well as permanent and temporary exhibitions on Budapest’s history can be seen.

The National Széchényi Library (Building F), the country’s largest library, houses - among others - a rich collection of the Corvinas, medieval codices from King Matthias’ library.

In Building A the Museum of Contemporary Arts, also known as the Ludwig Museum, displays the works of outstanding Hungarian and foreign contemporary artists.

Topped by a tower of stone tracery, Matthias Church, also called the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, (2 Szentháromság tér) was the scene of coronations and royal weddings. In the early 19th century it was rebuilt in a neo-Gothic style. Its crypt now displays a collection of ecclesiastical artefacts. From spring to autumn concerts are organised here.

The Fishermen’s Bastion, a neo- Romanesque bulwark with seven towers built on medieval walls, offers an excellent view of the city. Further back the remains of the 13th-15th-century St. Nicholas Church with a Dominican monastery have been ingeniously incorporated into the interior of the stylish Hilton Hotel. The Dominican courtyard of the hotel hosts open-air performances.

The urban middle-class houses in the streets connecting Bécsi kapu tér and Dísz tér, gates to the Castle District, were built on medieval foundations. The Gothic sedilia of their doorways lend a unique feature to them. The Castle Cave, a 1,800-m section of the 12-km cave system under Castle Hill (entrance at 16 Országház utca) is open to the public only by booking in advance.

The Military History Museum (40 Tóth Árpád sétány) displays memories of Hungary’s military past, and the medieval Jewish Chapel (26 Táncsics M. utca) offers an insight into the past life of the Jews in Buda.

The Baroque Erdődy- Hatvany Mansion (7 Táncsics M. utca) keeps rare musical instruments from the Museum of Musical History as well as a rich collection of the manuscripts of the great Hungarian composer Béla Bartók (1881-1945).

Good to know about the castle district

  • The Buda Castle District dates back to the 13th century when King Bela IV built a castle here after the devastating Mongol attacks of 1242
  • The medieval town of Buda grew around the castle; the town's real development started when the Royal Court moved here in the 15th century
  • Under the rule of King Matthias (1458-90), Buda became one of Europe's most powerful cities
  • The Turks occupied the castle in 1541 and ruled it until 1686 when the Habsburgs and their allies took it back; the siege devastated both the casle and the town
  • After the Turks left and the Habsburgs moved in reconstructions began; the area became a government district; the current Baroque appearance was finalized by mid 18th c.
  • World War II devastated the area once again; reconstructions recreated the Habsburg appereance
  • The Royal Palace houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The building's grand design is the master work of local architects
  • Another major site is Sandor Palace; the official residence of the Hungarian president
  • The district is a Unesco World Heritage Site

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Here, we are taking you on an action-packed tour that will leave you in awe of Budapest’s architectural magnificence and magnitude. Particularly noteworthy is the architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Hungary had finally found peace and prosperity.

START: Take the M1 Millennium Underground to Hősök tere.

Heroes Square (Hősök tere)

There’s no better place to start getting your head around the turbulent history of Hungary than Heroes Square. The key protagonists are strikingly introduced as a series of imposing statues. The central column is guarded by the seven Magyar tribe leaders who, in 896AD, stormed into the Carpathian basin, comprising present day Hungary and beyond.

A statue of Árpád leads these seven heathen horsemen, and they appear to be kept in check by Archangel Gabriel, who presides over them from the top of the central column. The founding fathers are flanked by heroes including Szent (Saint) István, who converted Hungary to Christianity on Christmas Day in the year 1000AD, and all-conquering Kings Béla IV and Mátyás Corvinus, as well as perennial thorns in Habsburg Austria’s side like Rákóczi and Kossuth.

Heroes' Square
Heroes' Square

Built in 1896 to celebrate a millennium of Magyar presence, nowadays Heroes Square is a popular place with skateboarders and with rightwingers who use it as a backdrop for rallies.

Time: 30 minutes.

Location: Hősök tere at crossing of Andrássy út and Dózsa György út.
Metro: M1 to Hősök tere.

Millennium Underground

Take a ride on continental Europe’s oldest metro, which opened in 1896 to coincide with the 1,000th anniversary of Magyar presence in Hungary. Get on at the Hősök tere stop and be whisked, just under street level, directly down the elegant Andrássy út (boulevard) - which we recommend you walk down on Day 2.

Get off at Oktogon to see one of Budapest’s several centers where Andrássy út meets the Nagy körút (the Great Boulevard), or stay on one more stop to Opera.

After London’s underground system, this is the next oldest in the world and the stations in particular retain the fin-de-siecle feel.

Time: 15 minutes.

Location: Entrance at end of Andrássy út at crossing of Andrássy út and Dózsa György út; on righthand side of Andrássy út if looking from Heroes Square.

Millennium Underground
Millennium Underground

First metro 4:36am, last 11:20pm. Read this post about public transportation in Budapest.

Opera House

The Miklós Ybl-designed Opera House provides the sumptuous veneer to classy Andrássy út. If you can, we suggest you look now but come back and experience the Opera House in all its glory by catching a performance. Be warned that the supersteep cheap seats are not for sufferers of vertigo. The neo-Renaissance style of the exterior is all semi-circular arches and columns, and is symmetrically topped off by statues of idols of Hungarian opera, while statues of the two Hungarian musical greats, Liszt and Bartok, flank the main entrance. Step inside and the style changes dramatically to neo-classical with the walls and ceiling adorned by lavish works from leading Hungarian artists of the day, including Gyula Benczúr and Bertalan Székely.

Opera
Opera

Exclusive Hungarian participation was deemed crucial in establishing the home of Hungarian opera, although the scary but magnificent-looking goldplated, three-tonne chandelier was imported from Germany.

Time: 15 minutes, 45 minutes if you take the tour, but check ahead as tours may be cancelled due to rehearsals.

Location: Budapest, Andrássy út 22.

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Building this Budapest landmark proved a job too far for defining Hungarian architects József Hild and Miklós Ybl, who both died during the prolonged 54-year construction.

The Basilica project literally hit rock bottom when the dome collapsed in 1868, a year after Hild’s death. Architect József Kauser was called in and dragged Budapest’s biggest church over the finishing line in 1905. A massive restoration project was completed in 2003 and the gleaming marble is the result of the application of 200kg of beeswax.

St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica

Mathematically minded Hungarians love dealing in numbers and, like the Parliament’s dome, Szent István’s stands 96m/315ft high, as a tribute to the Magyar settlement of Hungary in 896. Had they arrived a few years earlier, perhaps the roof wouldn’t have fallen in! The almost 1,000-year-old withered hand of St. Stephen, Hungary’s first King, is displayed in the Szent Jobb Chapel.

Another great Hungarian hero Ferenc Puskás, the talisman of the Magical Magyars and Real Madrid goal machine, was laid to rest here in 2006.

An elevator is on hand to whisk you up to near the top for sweeping views of Buda and Pest.

Time: 60 minutes. Opening hours: Mon–Fri 9am–5pm, Sat–Sun 10am–4pm.

Location: Budapest, Szent István tér 33. Metro: M1 to Bajcsy- Zsilinszky út. M3 to Arany János utca.

Parliament

Architect Imre Steindl’s mostly neo-Gothic extravaganza dominates Pest’s waterfront and bucks the Gothic trend with the 96m/315ft-high dome at its center.

While it was once the biggest Parliament in the world when it opened for business in 1896, the building has lost none of its opulence. The exceedingly long corridors of power, the grandiose gold-plated interior and red-carpeted staircases do nothing to instill any form of collective unity between the polarized politicians.

While much like any Parliament, should you happen to enter the chamber after a debate, to which the opposition actually shows up, you can almost feel the steam rising as you enter.

Look out for the Hungarian crown, a gift from the Pope to King (now Saint) István (Stephen) in the year 1000 to thank him for signing up Hungary to Catholicism.

Parliament
Parliament

Watch out for protestors outside calling for the current Prime Minister’s head.

Time: 60 minutes for tour, 15 minutes viewing from outside. Enquire ahead via internet as Parliament is closed when in session & turn up 10 min before the tour begins. Buy tickets at gate X. English tours at 10am, 12am, and 2pm daily.

Location: Budapest, Kossuth tér 1–3. Metro: M2 to Kossuth Lajos tér.

Chain Bridge

This, the pick of Budapest’s varied bridges, isn’t just an architectural marvel but is the first permanent bridge that linked Buda with Pest, setting in motion their eventual unification.

It’s also still the best and most scenic way of traversing the Danube to get from Parliament and Pest’s old town to the Castle District. The brainchild of István Széchenyi, an anglophile Hungarian Count who sought to bring rural Hungary into the modern age, he employed two designers to build the ornate bridge, each with the name of Clark: William, an Englishman, and Adam, a Scot.

Chain Bridge
Chain Bridge

The Chain Bridge opened in 1849, during Hungary’s War of Independence with Austria and fortunately survived an immediate botched attempt to blow it up, something that the more efficient Germans managed when retreating from occupying the city in 1945. It was soon rebuilt and reopened on its centenary in the original style.

Come back at night when it and the Royal Palace are both lit up dramatically.

Time: 20 minutes.

Location: Connects Széchenyi István tér with Clark Adám tér. Bus 16/105 or Tram 2.

The Castle District

Bombed, burnt, battered, and rebuilt many times throughout the centuries, the Royal Palace and St. Matthias Church dramatically portray Hungary’s trials and tribulations. We suggest you wander the district at your leisure to soak up the history of the place and return later for a more in-depth tour.

The Castle District
The Castle District

Time: 2 hours.

Location: Castle District, take the Bus No. 16 to Dísz tér.

Budapest's Bests in Two Days

 

Main shopping streets

Shopping is the most beloved activity of modern-day human being. Budapest, as every other big city, has shops of worldfamous brands to offer. These are to be found mainly in malls, Vörösmarty Square (Vörösmarty tér), Fashion Street and Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy út). But in order not to arrive home with worthless pieces of junk as a result of your frantic shopping spree, take a little time to look through our selection of shops.

 

The most sensitive issue is, of course, that of the souvenirs. These are the items traditional tourist hubs are flooded with. Fortunately, there’s another option. If you want a classic Hungarian product, purchase ground paprika at the Great Market Hall (Központi Vásárcsarnok), Rubik’s cube at any of the souvenir shops or Hungarian porcelain of worldwide fame in Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy út).

Apart from next-generation popup stores, there are many young and progressive shops with permanent headquarters, many times around clubs. Uniquely designed, colored, scented souvenirs, jewels, clothes and pieces of art can be bought here for reasonable prices. If you’re an avid collector of clothes, you’ll go crazy seeing what Budapest has to offer. The choice ranges from classic, elegant shops and trendy, shiny showrooms to designer stores with creaky floors, and the pricing could be surprisingly friendly for tourists. Or if you’re looking for the lowest prices, check out the vintage shops and those selling earlier models. You might as well find timeless favorites. All in all, with some creativity and keeping your eyes open you can have a richer piece of Budapest than you might have thought you would. Here is why:

The world of fashion and commercialization has bombarded the capital with a silent invasion. Each week, coming soon signs are appearing on storefront windows, promising yet other items of globalized fashion, but you can rest assured they are not for the average Hungarian. From famous designer labels like Louis Vuitton and Chanel, brand-name items, stylish secondhand shops, and, sad to say, As Seen on TV stores, Budapest offers a far wider array of shopping experiences than just a few years ago.

Should you want an entertaining „Hungaricum”, your best choice is Rubik’s cube.

A popular yet overpriced shopping area for travelers is the Castle District in Buda, with its abundance of folk-art boutiques and art galleries. A healthy education about Hungarian wines from historical local viticulture regions can be found in the intimate labyrinthine cellar of the House of Hungarian Wines, but buy elsewhere for a better price. Most supermarkets carry an extensive selection of Hungarian wines.

Hungarians tend to do their serious shopping on Pest’s Outer Ring (Nagykörút), which extends into West End City Center, a shopping mall, located just behind the Nyugati Railway Station. Another favorite shopping street is Pest’s busy Kossuth Lajos utca, off the Erzsébet Bridge, and its continuation, Rákóczi út. Andrássy út, from Deák tér to Oktogon, is popular for browsing or wishing, since it is the more upscale shopping street. It is out of question that the most popular shopping/pedestrian walking street of Budapest is Váci utca.

West End City Center
West End City Center

 

Together with the adjacent Liszt Ferenc tér and Nagymező utca, Andrássy út is a popular hub for nightlife, with numerous coffee shops, bars, and restaurants (many change often). Nestled among the plethora of cafes and restaurants on the lively Ráday utca, you will often find small boutiques and shops where you can find unique presents and doodads. You can often pay by credit card in the most popular shopping areas.

Opening hours

Most stores are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm and Saturday from 9 or 10am to 1pm or sometimes 2pm. Some stores stay open an hour or two later on Thursday or Friday. Sunday, most shops are closed, except for those on Váci utca. Shopping malls are open on weekends, sometimes as late as 7pm.

Taxes & Refounds

Refunds on the 27% value-added tax (VAT), which is built into all prices, are available for most consumer goods purchases of more than 45,000 Ft ($173/EUR 143) purchased in one store, in 1 day (look for stores with the taxfree logo in the window).

The refund process, however, is elaborate and confusing. In most shops, the salesperson can provide you with the necessary documents: the store receipt, a separate receipt indicating the VAT amount on your purchase, the VAT reclaims form, and the mailing envelope. The salesperson should also be able to help you fill out the paperwork. Use a separate claim form for each applicable purchase.

If you are departing Hungary by plane, you can collect your refund at the IBUSZ Agency at Ferihegy Airport. You have to do this right after checking in but before you pass security control. Otherwise, hold on to the full packet until you leave Hungary and get your forms certified by Customs when you land. Then, mail in your envelope and wait forever for your refund.

Two wrinkles: You must get your forms certified by Customs within 90 days of the purchase showing that it is leaving the country, and you must mail in your forms within 183 days of the date of export certification on the refund claim form. We have never found this to be any significant savings since there is a “service charge” for the service. Unless you are making grandiose purchases, you may want to save your time and energy for other things. For further information, contact Global Refund (Innova-Invest Pénzügyi Rt.), Budapest, IV. Ferenciek tere 10. (00 36 1 411-0157; fax : 00 36 1 411-0159; www.globalrefund.com).

Shipping & Customs

You can ship a box to yourself from any post office, but the rules on packing boxes are as strict as they are arcane. The Hungarian postal authorities prefer that you use one of their official shipping boxes, for sale at all post offices. They’re quite flimsy, however, and have been known to break open in transit.

The Hungarian post does not have a five-star rating on service, but they do rank four stars with misappropriating packages coming and going from the country.

Very few shops will organize shipping for you. Exceptions to this rule include most Herend and Zsolnay porcelain shops, Ajka crystal shops, and certain art galleries, which employ the services of a packing-and-shipping company, Touristpost.

Touristpost offers three kinds of delivery: express, air mail, and surface. The service is not available directly to the public, but functions only through participating contracted shops. You need to consider whether the cost of shipping will still save you money by purchasing your fine porcelain and crystal in Hungary than at home.

Hungarian Customs regulations do not limit the export of noncommercial quantities of most goods, except collectibles. However, the export of some perishable food is regulated, but allowed if acceptable to the receiving country. The limit on wine and spirits is not limited at export if shipped, but may be limited by Customs at your destination. Shipping wine can be prohibitively expensive.

Once you have discovered the charms of Inner Pest and the Castle District on Day 1, it is time to broaden the scope with a walk around the Outer Ring Boulevard (körút). Note that as you walk the körút, the name changes from district to district.

Start: New York Palace Hotel.

 

New York Palace Hotel

The New York Life Insurance Company originally commissioned the building, which opened on October 23, 1894. During the 1900s, its cafe was a center of intellectual life in the city, with writers and journalists as frequent patrons. After many years of remodeling and revitalizing the original eclectic style with a strong Italian renaissance influence, the Boscolo hotel chain reopened the hotel and its legendary cafe in 2006. The detailed reconstruction is worth admiring and returning to see in the evening when lit up.

New York Palace
New York Palace

 

Walk toward Oktogon, noting the grand turn-of-the-20th-century architecture of Pest. At Oktogon turn right and walk up to Andrássy u. 60.

Terror Háza (House of Terror)

First the headquarters of the secret police of the Nazi Arrow Cross regime, when the Soviets liberated Hungary, it immediately turned into the headquarters for the Communist secret police. This building is the setting of some of the most horrific days of 20th-century Hungary, which lasted for more than 50 years. Hundreds were tortured and murdered in the basement by both regimes. The Nazis’ primary victims were Jews, but the Communists targeted anyone who spoke out against the government.

House of terror
House of terror

 

The building is a museum functioning as a memorial to the victims of both Fascism and Communism and is an everlasting reminder of the effect of oppressive regimes in Hungary. However, it has caused continual controversy since it opened in 2002, especially because the building’s overhang has the word “TERROR” stenciled on it, which is quite striking when the sun shines through it.

Andrássy Boulevard

Strolling up the majestic Andrássy Boulevard toward Heroes’ Square and City Park, you are taking the UNESCO World Heritage Site tour. The boulevard is lined with trees and a wealth of beautiful apartment buildings, many of which are now used as embassies. In addition, there are restaurants and museums scattered along the way leading to Heroes’ Square. This is Pest’s greatest boulevard.

Andrássy Boulevard
Andrássy Boulevard

 

Once you reach the end of Andrássy Boulevard, adjacent to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Műcsarnok, and City Park, you'll find:

Heroes' Square

Heroes’ Square was created for the millennium in 1896 (remember the reoccurring 96), which celebrates the arrival of the Magyar tribes in the Carpathian Basin in 896. The statues represent the chronology of some 1,000 years of Hungarian history. The seven statues on the left side are all Hungarian kings. On the right side, they are all famous Hungarians, but only one was a king. In 1896 during the famous world exhibition, this space was the apex of some 200 pavilions that made up the festivities. Many festivals are still held here.

Heroes' Square
Heroes' Square

 

To your left you will find the Museum of Fine Arts. The museum is the main repository of foreign art in Hungary. It has one of central Europe’s major collections and it is considered one of the most important art collections in Europe. Free 1-hour tours are offered by highly trained docents Tuesday through Friday at 11am and 2pm and Saturday at 11am.

Walk through the park and you will arrive at:

The Széchenyi Baths

After a long day, you deserve to rest and relax. Nothing could be better after a day of touring than a soak in a thermal. This is one of the largest spa complexes in Europe and the first thermal bath on the Pest side. Chances are if you have seen photos of men playing chess on floating chessboards, the men were in this thermal. It is mixed men and women and bathing suits are mandatory.

Széchenyi Baths
Széchenyi Baths

 

See post “Thermal Baths”.

After your afternoon of thermal bathing, you may want to head back to your hotel to rest, but if you have done so at the thermals, then head out for dinner. You can take the Yellow metro from Széchenyi and go one stop to Mexikói or choose a dining spot from post "Where to Dine in Budapest," but either way make a reservation.

Some Nighttime Culture

Spend an evening attending an opera at the Opera House. It is a premier venue. The Opera House is magnificently beautiful inside. The fine arts are alive and well in Budapest, and a nighttime cultural event is the way to round out your short stint in the city. Note that performances usually start at 7pm not the customary 8pm.

Opera House
Opera House

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