Óbuda has a lot to keep you occupied: Medieval main square and Aquincum, the remnants of the Roman-time settlement bearing the same name for history buffs and Római-part for the lovers of nature. The two former are exciting enough for everyone to appreciate, while the latter provides a venue for relaxation with places selling fried fish, beautiful weekend houses and the closeness of the Danube beside the many sights. In the evening the older generation is attracted by the live music of Evezős Sörkert, whereas Fellini Kultúrbisztró offers concerts and draught Belgian beer for younger people.
This suburb, an independent town till 1873, is the oldest part of Budapest. Its name also means old (ó) Buda. It may be doubted if you consider the large number of buildings or tower blocks without any character which "have risen up" and which spoil the landscape. At first sight therefore, nothing attracts you especially, and however.
Aquincum, the ruins of a two thousand years old forerunner of Budapest, can be found in the northern part of the city. The remains of this civil and military town of the Roman period include two amphitheatres, villas with superb mosaic works, a military bath-house and the stone pillars of an aqueduct. The Aquincum Museum (139 Szentendrei út) is a contiguous area of ruins, where the most valuable items include carved stones, wall paintings and an ancient organ.
Old single-storey houses, taverns and fine museums create a unique ambience at Fő tér in Óbuda. Nearby are two museums: the Varga Imre Museum (7 Laktanya utca), exhibiting the works of a contemporary sculptor, and the Vasarely Museum (6 Szentlélek tér) housing the complete oeuvre of Victor Vasarely (originally: Győző Vásárhelyi), father of op-art.
At the Kiscelli Museum (108 Kiscelli út) there is a rich collection of works depicting Budapest in addition to 20th-century Hungarian works of fine arts.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Most people who only arrange a day or two in Budapest find they have shortchanged themselves and pledge to return for a longer visit in the future. However, if your time in the city is limited, you will find ways in this chapter to maximize your trip.
Historic Budapest is basically a small area and many sights are relatively easy to walk to as listed on this Guide Website, and you’ll have the added pleasure of perusing the architecture along the way. However, if you are severely limited by time, we suggest you invest in a transport pass, covering the number of days you will be here, so you can get around more quickly.
Conversely, if you scheduled more than a week in Budapest, you may want to balance it out with one or two side trips using the city as your base. In an easy day of travel and touring, you can visit the small, quaint villages of Szentendre, Vác, Gödöllő, or Esztergom, each within an hour of the Hungarian capital.
You may want to consider the information here as a supplement for the itineraries of the walking tours listed in post, “Strolling Around Budapest.”
To really appreciate the city and the layout, you will need a short history lesson. The city of Budapest came into being in 1873, making it relatively young in its present form. It is the result of a union of three separate cities: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda (literally meaning Old Buda) consisting of 23 self-governing municipal districts.
Budapest is divided by the River Danube (Duna) with Pest, almost completely flat, on the eastern shore, making up almost two-thirds of the city. On the western bank is Buda and farther yet, Óbuda, which has the hilly areas, these areas being much older settlements. The entire Danube River flows eastward for a distance of some 2,850km (1,771 miles) making some strange twists and turns as it goes flowing through or forming part of a border of 10 European countries, making it the longest river in the European Union.
The stretch of the Danube flowing through the capital is fairly wide (the average width is 400m/1,312 ft), and most of the city’s historic sites are on or near the river.
Nine bridges connect the two banks, but two are for rail travel only, with five in the city center. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Lánchíd) built in 1873, was the first permanent bridge across the Danube uniting Óbuda, Buda, and Pest. Although it was blown up by the Nazis in 1945, it was rebuilt after the war, reopening in November 1949.
If you look at a map of the city, you will see that the districts are numbered in a spiral pattern for the most part with districts I, II, and III on the Buda side and then IV starts the Pest side until XI, which again is the Buda side.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Budapest, being the capital, is the largest city in Hungary with 1.7 million people within the city proper. However, if the greater Budapest metropolitan area is included, this figure climbs to 3.27 million inhabitants. The metropolis is separated into 23 districts, 6 in Buda, 16 in Pest, and one consisting of Csepel Island making it seem like an immense city at first glance, but the majority of districts are residential and not of interest to most travelers.
Budapest officially became one city with the unification of Buda, Pest, and Óbuda on November 17, 1873. One contributing factor was the building of the Széchenyi lánchíd, commonly known as the Chain Bridge. This was the first connecting bridge over the Danube in Budapest. It was named for Count Széchenyi who was a major financial supporter of the project. The story goes that Széchenyi was on the Pest side of the river when he received word that his father was on his deathbed. Due to a major storm, Széchenyi was unable to get a boat to traverse the river for a week, thus missing seeing his father one last time before he died. He vowed this would never occur again. Not only did the bridge have practical implications, but it also aided the cultural and economic advancements of the people.
Interestingly, William Tierney Clark, the engineer who designed the Marlow Bridge across the river Thames in Marlow, England designed this bridge as well. Both bridges are similar in design. Construction of the bridge was supervised by a Scottish engineer, Adam Clark, though they were not related. On the Buda side of the bridge is a turnabout named Clark Adam tér. The bridge officially opened in 1849. Its center span of 202m (660 ft) was the largest in the world at that time.
On the ends of the bridge are sculptures of lions, added in 1852, producing a humorous folk legend. When a group of schoolchildren were brought to view the lions and the bridge, the sculptor who was in attendance bragged about the lifelike details of his lions. One child pointed out that the lions did not have tongues. The sculptor was upset over this missing detail; he jumped to his death into the Danube. Of course, this is only a legend as the sculptor lived well into old age.
Budapest is also home to the oldest metro (underground) line in continental Europe, the second oldest in the world after London.
It has the largest Parliament building in Europe, again being beaten only by Westminster in London.
The Dohány Synagogue is the second-largest working synagogue in the world after Temple Emanu-El in New York City.
Budapest has the worlds largest cave system of thermal water with 80 geothermal springs running below it.