Straddling the Danube River, with the Buda Hills to the west and the Great Plain to the east, Budapest is a gem of a city.
1 Castle District
The Castle District encompasses Castle Hill (Várhegy) – nerve centre of Budapest’s history and packed with many of the capital’s most important museums and other attractions – as well as ground-level Víziváros (Watertown). What the latter lacks in sights it makes up for in excellent restaurants, many of them around Széll Kálmán tér, a major transport hub and the centre of urban Buda.
5 Parliament & Around
Bordering Belváros to the north is Lipótváros (Leopold Town), with the landmark Parliament facing the Danube to the west and the equally iconic Basilica of St Stephen to the east. In this guide we’ve included part of Terézváros (Teresa Town), named in honour of Empress Maria Theresa, as well. Budapest’s Broadway or West End is that district’s Nagymező utca.
7 Erzsébetváros & the Jewish Quarter
You’ll probably be spending the bulk of your time in this neighbourhood, which takes in ‘Elizabeth Town’ and most of Terézváros, including well- and high-heeled Andrássy út, the long, dramatic and très chic boulevard that slices through Terézváros. Here you’ll find a large percentage of Budapest’s accommodation, restaurants serving everything from Chinese to Serbian, and Pest’s hottest and coolest nightspots.
9 City Park & Beyond
City Park, at the northern end of epic Andrássy út, is the largest park in Budapest but a lot more than just a pretty face. Its main entrance, Heroes’ Sq, is ringed by important museums and significant monuments. The streets on the fringes of the park are paradise for fans of Art Nouveau and Secessionist architecture.
In the Soak
The city is blessed with an abundance of hot springs. As a result, ‘taking the waters’ has been a Budapest experience since the time of the Romans. The choice of bathhouses is generous – you can choose among Turkish-era, Art Nouveau and modern establishments. Some people come seeking a cure for whatever ails them, but the majority are there for fun and relaxation – though we still maintain it’s the world’s best cure for what Hungarians call a macskajaj (cat’s wail) – hangover.
Eat, Drink & Be Magyar
There’s a lot more to Hungarian food than goulash, and it remains one of the most sophisticated styles of cooking in Europe. Magyars may exaggerate when they say that there are three essential world cuisines: French, Chinese and their own. But Budapest’s reputation as a food capital dates largely from the late 19th and the first half of the 20th century and, despite a fallow period under communism, the city is once again commanding attention. So, too, are its excellent wines – from Villány’s big-bodied reds and Somló’s flinty whites to honey-gold sweet Tokaj.
2 Gellért Hill & Tabán
Standing atop Gellért Hill and proclaiming freedom throughout the city is the lovely Liberty Monument, Budapest’s most visible statue. She looks down on the Tabán, a leafy neighbourhood originally settled by the Serbs, and a great many students; the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) is here.
The ‘Inner Town’ is just that – the centre of Pest’s universe, especially when it comes to tourism. This is where you’ll find Váci utca, with its luxury shops, restaurants and bars, and Vörösmarty tér, home to the city’s most celebrated cukrászda (cake shop) and one of its two Michelin-starred restaurants. The centre is Deák Ferenc tér, where metro lines M1, M2 and M3 (but not M4) converge.
6 Margaret Island & Northern Pest
Lovely Margaret Island is neither Buda nor Pest, but its shaded walkways, large swimming complexes, thermal spa and gardens offer refuge to the denizens of both sides of the river. Northern Pest in this section means Újlipótváros (New Leopold Town). Vaguely reminiscent of New York’s Upper West Side, it has tree-lined streets, antique shops, boutiques and lovely cafes.
The Past at Hand
They say the past is another country, but it’s always been just around the corner in Budapest. Witness the bullet holes and shrapnel pockmarks on buildings from WWII and the 1956 Uprising. There are sad reminders like the poignant Shoes on the Danube memorial, but ones, too, of hope and reconciliation – like the sword of the former secret-police building on Andrássy út now beaten into the ploughshare that is the Terror House, with both sides of the story told. And there’s joy as much-loved concert halls and theatres are built and renovated, metro lines extended and busy streets repaved and pedestrianised.
8 Southern Pest
The colourful districts of Józsefváros (Joseph Town) and Ferencváros (Francis, or Franz, Town) – no prizes for guessing which Habsburg emperors these were named after – are traditionally working class and full of students. It’s a lot of fun wandering the backstreets, peeping into courtyards and small, often traditional, shops.
3 Óbuda & Buda Hills
Óbuda is the oldest part of Buda and retains a lost-in-the-past, village feel; here you’ll find excellent museums, the remains of the Roman settlement of Aquincum and some legendary eateries. The Buda Hills are a breath of fresh air and offer forms of transport that will delight kids of all ages.
Budapest’s beauty is not all God given; humankind has played a role in shaping this pretty face too. Architecturally, the city is a treasure trove, with enough baroque, neoclassical, Eclectic and Art Nouveau (or Secessionist) buildings to satisfy everyone. Overall, though, Budapest has a fin-de-siècle feel to it, for it was then, during the capital’s ‘golden age’ in the late 19th century, that most of what you see today was built.
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