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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

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

Locating addresses in Budapest or anywhere in Hungary for that matter can be an exercise in frustration. Not only is strangeness of the Hungarian language confusing, the difference between an o, ö, ó, or ö, u,ú, ü, ű can make all of the difference and with 14 vowels to choose from, it can be a real puzzle. However, with a bit of practice and a good map, you should be successful.

Street signs
Street signs

 

Budapest is divided into 23 districts, called kerülets (abbreviated as ker.). All addresses in Hungary start with a Roman numeral followed by a period signifying the kerület; for example, Budapest, VII. Síp u. 18. is in the seventh kerület.

Many street names are often used repeatedly in different districts, but are not all continuations of the same street. This makes it very important to know which kerület a certain address is in. You will also need to pay attention to the type of street. Is it utca, út, tér, or tere? For example, there are streets named Templom (church) in nine different districts with various utca, út, körönd, and so on added to them.

As a rule of thumb, street numbers ascend away from the north–south axis of the River Danube and the east–west axis of Rákóczi út/Kossuth utca/Hegyalja út. Even numbers are generally on the left-hand side as you head outwards from these axes, odd numbers on the right.

A common mistake made by visitors is to confuse Váci út, the heavily trafficked main road that goes from Nyugati Station toward the city of Vác, with Váci utca, the pedestrian-only street in the Inner City. Similarly, visitors sometimes mistake Vörösmarty utca, a station on the Yellow metro line, with Vörösmarty tér, the terminus of that same Yellow metro line.

If the address you are hunting for doesn’t have a Roman numeral preceding it, look for the postal code for the kerület. Postal codes are four digits with the middle two digits representing the kerület; thus, 1072 Budapest, Síp u. 18, will be in district VII.

Street signs are posted high up on the corner buildings on a street and on two corners; one showing the even numbers and one with the odd numbers. The information given is the Roman numeral of the kerület followed by the name of the district, under this is the name of the street or square, and finally the building numbers found on that block.

Look at the arrow on the sign; for example, 29-35 with an arrow pointing to the right tells you that if you walk to the right, the numbers will get higher. You may have to look at all four corners before you see the one you want. Even- and odd-numbered buildings are on opposite sides of the street; however, they do not follow any pattern otherwise.

You may be in front of no. 98 on one side of the street and see no. 79 directly across from you. Depending on whether you are looking for an even or odd number on the street, orient yourself with the signs showing the even or odd numbering. Numbers are seldom skipped, but two or more places may share a number; often you’ll end up walking longer than you expected to reach a given number. Adding to the “guess where it is” game, many businesses do not have a numeral posted on their doors, so look for other signs.

Many street names were changed following the systemic changes of 1989, reverting for the most part back to their pre-World War II names, aside from a handful of central streets with politically evocative former names, like Lenin körút (now Teréz körút) and Népköztársaság útja (“Road of the People’s Republic,” now Andrássy út).

Finding your way around Budapest is easier than the welter of names might suggest. Districts and streets are well signposted, and those in Pest conform to an overall plan based on radial avenues and semicircular boulevards.

Floors in buildings are numbered European style, meaning that the floor you enter, is the ground floor (földszint), so for the first floor, you have to go up one flight (első emelet), and so on. Addresses are usually written with the floor number in Roman numerals and the apartment number in Arabic numerals, following the street name. For example, a full address would be VII. Budapest Síp u. 18, IV/24. The district is the seventh in Budapest and the location is on Síp u. 18. on the fourth floor, apartment 24.

Read signs carefully and match all of the little marks above those vowels. The Hungarian alphabet has 44 letters, making it very detailed in writing and in speech. Refer to the “Hungarian Address Terms” box below.

Hungarian Address Terms

Navigating in Budapest will be easier if you are familiar with the following
words (none of which are capitalized in Hungarian):

Hungarian Address Terms

utca (abbreviated as u.) street
út road
útja road of
körút (abbreviated as krt.) boulevard
tér square
tere square of
köz alley or lane
körönd  circle
rakpart quay
liget park
sziget island
híd bridge
sor row
part riverbank
pályaudvar (abbreviated as pu.) railway station
állomás station

Street maps

A good map can save you hours of frustration. You can get a decent free map at the Tourinform office. Public transportation lines are shown on the maps, but, in some places, the map is too crowded to make the lines out clearly. If you are really lucky, the BKK térkép (Budapest Transportation Authority map) will be available from metro ticket windows, airport, or hotels.

If you really want one, at the top of the Red metro escalator at the Deák station, you will find an unnamed bookshop. They seem to have an endless supply of transit maps on sale.

You will also find that Google Maps has done a fine job with Budapest if you have your tablet, laptop or Wi-fi-enabled phone with you.

 

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.

Pest is as flat as a palacsinta (pancake), spread over a number of districts, taking in two-thirds of the city. Pest is the heartbeat with the commercial and administrative center of the capital and of all of Hungary.

Pest
Pest

 

Central Pest, the term used in this guide, is that part of the city between the Danube and the semicircular Outer Ring Boulevard (Nagykörút), where stretches of it are named after former Austro-Hungarian monarchs: Ferenc körút, József körút, Erzsébet körút, Teréz körút, and Szent István körút, changing names as the district changes.

Central Pest
Central Pest

 

The Outer Ring begins at the Pest side of the Petőfi Bridge in the south and wraps itself around the center, ending at the Margit Bridge in the north. Several of Pests busiest squares are found along the Outer Ring, and Pest’s major east-west avenues bisect the ring at these squares.

Central Pest is further defined by the Inner Ring (Kiskörút), which lies within the Outer Ring. It starts at Szabadság hid (Freedom Bridge) in the south and is alternately named Vámház körút, Múzeum körút, Károly körút, Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út, and József Attila utca, depending on the district, before ending at the Chain Bridge. Inside this ring is the Belváros, the actual city center and the historic Inner City of Pest. For the traveler, the Pest side is our recommended side for accommodations since this is where the lion’s share of the action is and it is easy to walk to where you want to go.

Váci utca (distinct from Váci út) is a popular pedestrian-only, touristy, shopping street between the Inner Ring and the Danube. It spills into Vörösmarty tér, one of the area’s best-known squares.

Váci street
Váci street

 

The Dunakorzó (Danube Promenade), a popular evening strolling spot, runs along the river in Pest between the Chain Bridge and the Erzsébet Bridge. The historic Jewish district of Pest is in the Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth Town), between the two ring boulevards.

Duna promenade
Duna promenade

 

Margaret Island (Margit-sziget) is in the middle of the Danube. Accessible via the Margaret Bridge or the Árpád Bridge, its an enormously popular recreation park with restricted vehicular traffic. It is extremely popular in the summer for sunbathing, sports, jogging, and bike riding. It has a small petting zoo for children and the remnants of an old monastery.

Margaret Island
Margaret Island

 

Buda & Óbuda

On the left bank of the Danube is Buda; to its north, beyond the city center, lies Óbuda. Buda is as hilly as Pest is flat and is a good place for hiking. The two most advantageous vista points in the city are in central Buda on Castle Hill and the even higher Gellért Hill. Streets in Buda, particularly in the hills, are not as logically arranged as those in Pest.

Castle Hill is one of the most beautiful parts of Budapest with its magnificent view of Pest. Castle Hill is accessed by steep steps, walking paths, and small roads that are not open to general traffic. There are three less aerobic ways to access Castle Hill for those who want to conserve their energy for other adventures. From Clark Ádám tér (at the head of the Chain Bridge) you can take the funicular; from Várfok utca (near Széll Kálmán tér) you can take the No. 10 bus; or from Deák, take the No. 16 bus, all of which will take you to the top.

Castle Hill
Castle Hill

 

Castle Hill consists of the royal palace itself, home to several museums. The previous castle was destroyed in World War II, but was rebuilt afterward and named the Royal Palace specifically to house museums. The Castle District has a long history going to pre-Celtic times, but what remains today are the medieval neighborhoods of small, winding streets, circling around Holy Trinity Square (Szentháromság tér), site of the Gothic Church of Our Lady or commonly referred to as St. Matthias Church. There’s little traffic on Castle Hill, and the only industry is tourism. Souvenirs, food, and drink tend to be more expensive here than in Pest.

Gellért Hill, to the south of Castle Hill, is named after the martyred Italian bishop who aided King István I (Stephen I) in his conversion of the Hungarian nation to Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries. A giant statue of Gellért sits on the side of the hill, where legend has it that he was martyred by angry pagans for his efforts. On top of the hill is the Citadella, marked by a 14m (45ft) Liberation Statue of a woman holding a palm leaf to represent victory. It was erected in 1947 and visible from most points along the Danube on the Pest side.

St. Gellért statue
St. Gellért statue

 

Below Castle Hill, along the Danube, is a long, narrow neighborhood and district known as Watertown (Víziváros). The main street of Watertown is Fő utca (Main St.). One of the original market places is off of Batthyány tér in this district. The famous Király thermal bath from Turkish times is right down the street.

Watertown
Watertown

 

Central Buda, the term used in this guide, is a collection of mostly low-lying neighborhoods below Castle Hill. The main square of Central Buda is Széll Kálmán tér, just north of Castle Hill, a hub for trams, buses, and the Red line metro, this area is in serious need of revitalizing. Beyond Central Buda, mainly to the east, are the Buda Hills.

Buda
Buda

 

Óbuda is on the left bank of the Danube, north of Buda. Although the greater part of Óbuda is lacking any architectural significance, reminding one of the Communist times, the area boasts both a beautiful old city center and the impressive Roman ruins of Aquincum. Unfortunately, the road coming off the Árpád Bridge slices the old city center in half, destroying its integrity. The historic center of the old city is Fő tér (Main Sq.) » a charming square dotted with small, yet impressive museums. Óbuda Island (Óbudaisziget) is home to an enormous park that swells in size every August when it hosts Hungary’s own annual Woodstock music festival, called the Sziget (Island) Festival. This festival has developed an international following.

Óbuda
Óbuda