If you want to breathe in a good deal of Budapest as keepsake but have no time to see all of the city, take a stroll on Duna-korzó, a promenade by river Danube. Turn your head to both sides, Buda and Pest, and take your time to check out the sights by the second longest river in Europe while enjoying the fresh air.
Some of them even deserve a longer sip of said air to be had at: Downtown Parish Church (Belvárosi Plébániatemplom), Vigadó, a concert hall operating since the 19th century and the statue of the Little Princess (Kiskirálylány).
Tips: If you continue along the river bank beyond the promenade you can get to the Parliament. Take tram line 2 to travel along the Danube on Pest side for a beautiful view of the Danube, the Parliament, the Royal Castle and Palace and other great attractions.
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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 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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the first excursions of Hungarian children generally leads to the Parliament, and rightly so. The Hungarian attraction of world-wide renown offers enough sights to keep you occupied for half a day. The 268 m long, 96 m high neo-Gothic building with 691 rooms by the Danube designed by Imre Steindl is a breathtaking sight. In addition, one of the halls made of extremely precious materials houses the Holy Crown that rested on the head of even the first kings of the Árpád dynasty.
Attributed to Imre Steindl, this gigantic neo-gothic monument which makes you think, with its dome, its pinnacles, arrows, arcades and galleries, about the one in London or about the Dome in Milan. You can visit part of it and especially admire the crown jewels, previously kept in the Hungarian National Museum. Along the sumptuous staircase of honour, you will reach the immense hall of the dome, the house of deputies (allegories of the trades) and the Meeting Hall, where gold inlay abounds.
Good to know about the Parliamant
The grandiose Hungarian Parliament is one of Budapest's defining landmarks
When the Hungarian Parliament built, this imposing Neo-Gothic building was the largest Parliament in the world and the finest Neo-Gothic building of Europe
The Palace of Westminster in London had much influence on its artchitect, Imre Steindl The building was opened for business in 1896 and represented Hungarian self-confidence of the early 20th century
The building streched 268 meters along the Danube; has over 12,5 miles of corridors; a 96-meter high central dome; and houses 691 rooms
The Domed Hall is the spiritual center of the building; the supporting pillars feature the statues of 16 Hungarian kings
The Hungarian Crown Jewels are held in the Domed Hall. The Holy Crown is the oldest crown in Europe dating back to 1000
Tip: The visit is free for EU citizens. Do not forget your passport or ID in order to prove your citizenship
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: Budapest, Szent István tér 33. Metro: M1 to Bajcsy- Zsilinszky út. M3 to Arany János utca.
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.
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.
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.
The Chain Bridgeopened 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.
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.