The pearl of the Danube, Budapest was born in 1873 when authorities of mountainous Buda and lowland Pest decided to join forces and create one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Until the First World War the city flourished impressively as the second capital of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Following the II World War, Hungary fell under the influence of the Soviet Union. The communist ideology changed a great portion of the urban environment mostly in peripheral areas. Luckily the large historic heritage still dominates the city center. Once an elegant bourgeois city, today Budapest is a decadent metropolis full of culture and art.
The river Danube flows through the geographical center dividing it between Buda and Pest, two morphologically different areas. The chaotic urban grid of Buda owes its organization to its hilly terrain, while Pest’s tidy urban fabric fits well in the compact flat landscape. Buda’s side is dominated by private houses and local streets, while the Pest side includes wide boulevards and large palaces. The two are connected with one ring road and one semi ring, inside which the city center is located on the Pest side. The city is divided into 23 districts with Leopold town (district V) being the most centrally located.
There is so much to see and do in Budapest, but several places stand out for their beauty and historical importance. Buda hill overlooking the city center is dominated by the neo-gothic Matthias Church, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and the monumental Royal Palace, built at the end of the nineteenth century. Amongst the nine bridges that link the two sides, Chain Bridge, adorned with four lion statues, is the most beautiful. Not far from that bridge the large Basilica of St. Stephen is the main church in Budapest. The spectacular neo-gothic Hungarian Parliament, 500m north of the bridge, is the largest building in Hungary and one of the oldest parliament buildings in Europe. The main pedestrian street Váci Utca, begins at Vörösmarty square and goes all the way to the colorful Central Market. The Great Synagogue is the largest in Europe and owes its size to the large Jewish community Budapest once had. The elegant Andrássy út connects the center to the green lungs of the city, the beautiful City Park (Városliget). Other attractions include several glamourous thermal baths, and famous ruin pubs located in several areas around the center.
Check out this post for the most romantic things to do in Budapest.
There are all kinds of accommodation in Budapest. The city is especially known for its luxury accommodation, due to the large number of elegant palaces. The typical Budapest palace (mostly from the nineteenth or twentieth centuries) includes the rectangular atrium through which residents access their apartments/rooms via large balconies. The most expensive hotels are located around the castle hill and near the Danube in Pest. Midrange and budget hotels are dispersed all around the city. However, the best option is between districts VI, VII and VIII, areas near Belváros (city center).
Due to the terrain characteristics it’s quite pleasant to walk around Budapest. While Pest is completely flat, the only places to visit in Buda are concentrated on the hill just across the Danube, which can be accessed walking all the way to the top or taking the funicular (Budavári Sikló). Biking can also be a rewarding experience, especially in Pest or on Margaret Island. There are plenty of bike rental agencies and bike lanes are common in many neighborhoods. If you prefer a faster and more efficient way of moving around the city, public transport is the best alternative. It comprehends four metro lines together with suburban trains, many tram, bus and trolleybus lines. Another way of discovering the city is by taking a boat ride on the river.
Very few cities in Europe have such a vast neoclassical heritage as Budapest, since it was the main city of one of the richest monarchies at the time. Today, a large portion of that heritage is being neglected and remains in bad shape. The thermal baths and the ruin pubs are a good metaphor that reflects the big contrast existing between modernized and reconstructed old palaces and abandoned ones. In order to generate income, baths where recognized as a national treasure and brought back into shape; while young people took advantage of such neglect to launch ruin bars. And that’s Budapest, a large metropolis with many faces.
Budapest Travel Guide
- Stay near Belváros in districts VI, VII or VIII. Happy Frog recommends Danubius Hotel Astoria If you are on a budget check out this list.
- The Royal Castle, Matthias Church and Fishermen bastion;
- Stephen Basilica;
- The Hungarian parliament;
- The National Museum.
- Have lunch and shop in the Central Market;
- Have a beer in a ruin pub in Kazincy street and lunch in Raday street.
- On foot, by bike, metro, tram, bus and taxi.