Budapest: two cities in one, Buda and Pest. So far, nothing difficult, but these two cities joined by History both have their own soul. Pest is teeming with the life of a European capital, Buda invites to strolls in its charming little streets on which the centuries left their mark.
Discover a few ideas for itineraries through Pest thanks to this new section « 10 things to do in… »! Let yourself be introduced to Buda via the Chain Bridge…
1. The Grand Boulevards (Erzsébet körút & Andrássy út)
The baron Haussmann had hardly put an end to the great construction works which transformed Paris under the Second Empire when Budapest drilled these two big avenues of the Hungarian capital.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Elisabeth Boulevard (Erzsébet körút) draws together the cultural and social life of the pearl of the Danube: theaters, cinemas, famous coffeehouses and fashionable hotels. At No. 9 – 11, the famous New York Café, now made into a luxury hotel by the Italian group Boscolo, saw celebrities of that golden age: Thomas Mann, Joséphine Baker, Maurice Ravel, Johann Strauss… Just walk down the street and look up: the architecture of those buildings tells about the best years of the Belle Époque!
The Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy út) is often considered the Champs Élysées of Budapest. Art and music takes the lion share: National Hungarian Opera, Franz Liszt Museum, faculties of arts and music. The theater district is even nicknamed the « Hungarian Broadway ». The House of Terror is an unavoidable stop that reminds us the dark times the Hungarian capital has known during the 20th century.
2. The Jewish Quarter and the Great Synagogue of Budapest
Before the Holocaust, nearly 30 % of the population of Budapest was Jewish and 125 places of worship were active in the Hungarian capital. The district VII reminds us of this intercultural heritage and of the ravages of History. Discover the « Synagogue triangle »: the orthodoxe synagogue of the Kazinczy street, a beautiful 1912 building in Art Nouveau style; this building complex also hosts a kosher butcher’s shop and a restaurant. The famous Austrian architect Otto Wagner built the synagogue on Rumbach street in 1872.
But the most famous synagogue in Budapest is obviously the Great Synagogue on Dohány street, the biggest in the world (3 500 seats) after the Temple Emanu-El of New York. It’s one of the only synagogue in Europe that has an organ. Franz Liszt and Camille Saint-Saëns even played it. Theodor Herzl, founder of Zionism, is born in a house whose location is now occupied by the Jewish Museum. The garden hosts a memorial devoted to the martyr of 600 000 Hungarian Jews during the Second World War and the destiny of Righteous among the Nations, like Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews from Nazi cruelty.
3. Shopping in the Váci utca
The Váci utca is a long pedestrian artery along the Danube which ends on the Vörösmarty square, in the district of Belváros. It’s the heart of the commercial Budapest and hosts all the international brands shared by the great European capitals.
4. Lunch at Murci, district of Belváros
Not easy to find a trustworthy adress in this touristic district! However, in the tumult of Belváros, the little Murci Wine Bar is certainly one of the most interesting addresses around here. The decoration of the Murci Wine Bar is a mishmash but don’t care about the touristic menu and the sound effects a little bit agressive, the Murci Wine Bar offers you an alternative menu with typical Hungarian dishes and shares its kitchen with the chic Italian restaurant nearby, the Cyrano. As it happens, both restaurants belong to the same owner.
Just give up the pizzas and try revisited local flavors. For example, I tasted this dish – unfortunately I forgot its name: émincé of lamb with a paprika sauce, some kind of csabai kolbász (Csaba sausages), pasta galuska and mash potatoes « gipsy style » on large slices of sausages with a sour cream to counter the spiciness of the course. Try it!
5. Discover the Kürtőskalács
A pastry from Transylvania, sold on food stands in the street: all about the Kürtőskalács in this specific post!
6. Stroll along the Danube
Striding along river banks is often the best way to discover a city. The Danube’s surroundings have been turned into a nice promenade in Pest. From the Erzsébet híd (Erzsébet bridge) to the Margaret island, walk along this mythic river of Central Europe; the view on Buda is stunning.
You’ll see the sublime Gresham palace, now a luxury hotel, and most of all, one of the architectural symbol of the city, the Hungarian Parliament, transdanubian replica of the Londoner Palace of Westminster. You’ll also see sixty pairs of shoes on this quay, a poignant memorial built in 2005 in memory of the Jews shot by the Arrow Crosses in front of the river during the World War II. The victims had to remove their shoes before the execution, their bodies were then carried away by the river…
7. The Margaret Island
It’s one of the green lungs of the Hungarian capital. When the weather is good, people of Budapest go there for a walk, a jogging, a bike ride or to enjoy the aquatic complexes in family (the Margaret island hosts the biggest pool in Budapest). The Margaret island offers a lot of field sports for the nature lovers and allows to get away from the tumult of the city for a while. It’s time to discover the rose garden, the Japanese garden or medieval ruins. No traffic, but a bus line (No. 26) crosses the island. A bucolic break that takes on meaning on warm days!
8. Use the tram line No. 2
It’s one of the emblematic tramlines of the capital, famous because it follows the Danube; discover the finest curiosities of the town: all about the tram line No. 2 in this post!
9. Go to the baths
Balneology should be on your bucket list in Budapest! There’re a lot of baths on both banks of the Danube. On Pest side, the Széchenyi baths are famous worldwide because of their size (the biggest baths complex in Europe) and their chess players. The mixed Széchenyi baths are served by their own subway station and have extensive opening hours until night. Pools are supplied with thermal water from 16 to 40 degrees and the public is mainly family.
Set yourself to the Hungarian time and take the waters for a few hundreds of forints! The Baroque Revival architecture of the Széchenyi baths displays a magical extravaganza with the first snows…
10. The « Greater Hungary » of the Hősök tere
The Andrássy Avenue emerges from the Hősök tere to the heart of Pest. The Hősök tere is a monumental ode to the Greater Hungary. Its size is impressive and the communist regime made no mistake about it by organizing great parades there. At the center of the esplanade, the Millenium Monument rises since 1896, celebrating thousand years of Magyar presence in the Carpathian basin. The terrific statues of the Magyar chiefs deserve to be seen by night!
The two colonnades and their statues of national heroes explain why this square was named this way in 1932. You can also see the tomb of the Hungarian Unknown Soldier on the Hősök tere.
Take advantage of the opportunity to explore the huge park of the Városliget, 120 hectares of museums, zoos, botanical gardens, leisure areas and promenades around the castle of Vajdahunyad and its pond. The Széchenyi baths are nearby!
And you, what are your favorites places in Budapest?