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A buzz with pavement cafés, street artists, vendors, boutiques and nightclubs, the dowtown (belváros in Hungarian) or Inner City is the hub of Pest.

A buzz with pavement cafés, street artists, vendors, boutiques and nightclubs, the dowtown (belváros in Hungarian) or Inner City is the hub of Pest and, for tourists at least, the epicentre of what’s happening. Commerce and pleasure have been its lifeblood as long as Pest has existed, first as a medieval market town and later as the kernel of a city whose belle époque rivalled Vienna’s.

Since their fates diverged, the Belváros has lagged far behind Vienna’s Centrum in prosperity, but the gap is fast being narrowed, at least superficially. It’s now increasingly like any Western city in its consumer culture, but you can still get a sense of the old atmosphere, especially in the quieter backstreets south of Kossuth Lajos utca.

Pest

Pest, on the left bank of the Danube, also has many historic districts, resorts and famous sights. There are nine bridges spanning the Danube, the oldest being the Széchenyi Chain Bridge built in 1849.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Széchenyi Chain Bridge

 

Downtown - Pest The Downtown Parish Church on Március 15. tér was the city’s first church. Examples of all architectural styles, ranging from Romanesque to Classicist, blend into the interior of the church.

At 2 Dohány utca Europe’s largest synagogue is found, serving also as a concert hall of excellent acoustics. The Jewish Museum in the courtyard of the synagogue is a centre for Jewish studies.



The Hungarian National Museum (14-16 Múzeum körút) is the finest example of Hungarian Classicist architecture. In existence since 1846, it is the most significant public collection in Hungary, tracing the history of the Hungarian people from prehistoric times to the present day.

Hungarian National Museum
Hungarian National Museum

 

The Vásárcsarnok (Grand Market Hall, 1-3 Fővám körút) is striking in its architectural inventiveness.

The finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Hungary include the Museum of Applied Arts (33-37 Üllői út) with its wide selection of permanent and temporary exhibitions, the houses on Szervita tér (Pest town centre) and the building of the former Postal Savings Bank (4 Hold utca).

The Parliament (Kossuth Lajos tér) is the largest and the most lavishly decorated building in the country. Built between 1885 and 1902 by Imre Steindl, this exquisite edifice is 96-m high and 118-m wide, and has 10 courtyards, 29 staircases and 27 gates. Europe’s first area heating system was put in service in this building. Seat of the Hungarian Parliament and government offices, it provides a place of safety for the Holy Crown and the royal insignia. It is accessible only by guided tours in groups.

The neo-Renaissance St. Stephen’s Basilica (Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út), elevated to the rank of basilica minor, is the largest church in Budapest, and the second largest in Hungary. The right hand of St. Stephen, Hungary’s first king (970-1038), preserved intact for over 1,000 years, is the relic of the Chapel of the Holy Right. The tower balcony of the basilica offers a splendid uninterrupted panorama of the whole of the city.



It is worth taking a walk along the straight Andrássy út, a boulevard that is now a World Heritage site. It is lined with 19th- and 20th-century Eclectic-style palaces.

The State Opera House (22 Andrássy út), with its frescoed interior, seating an audience of 1,200, is a splendid work of by Miklós Ybl, Hungary’s most famous architect, and has been the centre of musical life in Hungary since 1864. There are guided tours.

State Opera House
State Opera House

 

After a stroll along Váci utca from Vörösmarty tér and a look at the splendid view of Várhegy from the embankment, the best way to appreciate the dowtown is by simply wandering around. People-watching and window-shopping are the most enjoyable activities, and though prices are above average for Budapest, any visitor should be able to afford to sample the cafés. Shops are another matter – there are few bargains – and nightclubs are a trap for the unwary, but there’s nothing to stop you from enjoying the cultural life, from performances by jazz musicians and violinists to world-class conductors and soloists.

Founded in 1802 by Count Ferenc Széchenyi, it occupies a Neo-classical palace fronted with a portico with Corinthian columns.

Name: Hungarian National Museum
Category: Museums and art
Location: 1088 Budapest, Múzeum krt 14-16.
Phone: + 36 1 338-2122
Internet: http://www.hnm.hu

Description

Founded in 1802 by Count Ferenc Széchenyi, it occupies a Neo-classical palace fronted with a portico with Corinthian columns. Even if the magnificent crown jewels that it used to hold have been returned to the Parliament, a visit to this museum is still worthwhile. All the history of the country will unfold there before your very eyes, from the arrival of the Magyar tribes the till after communism.

Hungarian National Museum
Hungarian National Museum

 

The National Museum (Nemzeti Múzeum) is what’s Múzeum Boulevard (Múzeum körút) is named after being its most prominent sight. According to urban legend, this was the site where Sándor Petőfi, the great Hungarian poet, recited his Nemzeti Dal (National Song), which proved to be a kind of ignition to the movements that grew to become the Revolution of 1848-1849. The garden of the museum is a favorite studying spot of college students.



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If you only have 1 day in Budapest, you’ll want to see a bit of both Buda and Pest, and this tour lets you do both. You’ll start off with a cultural and historic tour of Pest, then you’ll cross Chain Bridge (an attraction in itself) for a brief tour of the Castle District in Buda, where you can enjoy a meal and a stop in a pub.

 

Start: Inner Pest.

Inner City & Central Pest

Budapest is a city where wide boulevards intersect with some really narrow streets. It is a reminder that it was once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Wide boulevards were especially well suited for accommodating the carriages of royals and others of wealth. This is definitely a city to be walked, so start in the center, wander the grand boulevards, and admire the architecture. Make sure you look up. So many interesting features on buildings are not at eye level.

Central Pest
Central Pest

 

Depending on your travel tastes, you may want to visit a few museums and highlights of the area. You may find the Greek-looking

  • Hungarian National Museum, the
  • Budapest Holocaust Memorial Center, or the
  • Inner City Parish Church

to your liking.

As you wander through the area, remind yourself of two facts: unlike Prague, much of Budapest was bombed during World War II; and the Communist regime only ended in 1989. In a relatively short time, the city has made tremendous strides, although it still has far to go. Many historic buildings have been torn down to be replaced with modern conveniences such as boutiques, apartment complexes, or restaurants. Others have been renovated to their former glory, but in my opinion, certainly not enough. History is being replaced by sterility of the new and modern.

Váci utca is the perennially favorite shopping and walking street of Budapest. Developed after the regime changes in 1989, it has blossomed with many international stores and some Hungarian ones as well. For examples of Hungarian crafts, visit the Vali Folklór folk craft shop, the VAM Design Gallery, at Váci utca 64, and various clothing stores (avoid the touristy cafes here).

Váci utca
Váci utca

 

Walk from Váci utca to the Danube Promenade and stroll along the river. Following the No. 2 tram line, you will be making your way to Kossuth tér for:

Parliament

Budapest’s exquisite Parliament building is the second largest in Europe after England’s Westminster. The main facade faces the Danube. Designed by Imre Steindl and completed in 1902, the building mixes neo-Gothic style with a neo-Renaissance dome reaching 96m (315 ft), significant as the country’s millennium was 1896 and the conquest of the kingdom of Hungary was 896. St. Stephens is also 96m (315 ft) high for the same reasons. It is by far one of our favorite buildings in Budapest. At the top of a grandly ornamented staircase, there is a hexadecagonal (16-sided) central hall that leads to an impressive chamber. The fabled Hungarian crown jewels of St. Stephen are on display.

Parliament
Parliament

 

Unfortunately, you can enter only on guided tours (the 45 minutes tour is worth the chance to go inside).

Szabadság tér (Freedom Square)

This beautifully maintained park is the home of a large obelisk statue that commemorates when the Soviet Union liberated Hungary at the end of World War II. It is the last remaining memorial to the Soviet Union in the city.

Liberty Square
Liberty Square

 

Walk back to Parliament and then south about 0,25 km (0,15 mile) toward the historic Chain Bridge, which you will see in the distance:

Chain Bridge

Known as the Széchenyi Bridge or the Chain Bridge, this bridge holds the distinction of being the first permanent crossing to link Buda and Pest. The idea for the bridge was instigated and funded by 19th-century Hungarian reformer, Count István Széchenyi. Legend has it that due to storms, he was not able to cross the river to be with his dying father. While Széchenyi waited 8 days for the storms to subside so he could cross the river, his father died and he missed the funeral. Designed by William Tierney Clark, an Englishman, the bridge was also one of the largest suspension bridges of its time when it opened in 1849. According to legend, the omission of sculpted tongues on the lions, which guard the bridge at either end, caused the sculptor to drown himself in the river out of shame; however, the lions do have tongues, just not visible from the ground.

Chain Bridge
Chain Bridge

 

Walk across the Chain Bridge, and take the funicular up to the:

Castle District

Castle Hill, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site, consists of two parts: the Royal Palace itself and the so-called Castle District. Most of this area is a reconstructed medieval city, but the original castle was destroyed in World War II and replaced with the current Royal Palace. For a detailed 3-hour itinerary of this area, see  post “Walking Tour 2: The Castle District,” and “Strolling Around Budapest.”

Castle Hill
Castle Hill

 

This is an interesting area for walking and wandering. There are many cobblestone streets, so choose your shoes carefully. You might also wish to stop and visit the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.

The best of Budapest in two days