Undoubtedly the brightest jewel on the Danube, present-day Budapest was created in 1873 from the separate towns of Buda, Pest and Obuda. Its population of two million resides in 23 districts—the central ones will be covered here.
The definitive view of Budapest is that of the
District II, the Rozsadomb, or “Rose Hill,” is where Budapest's elite live. Dotted thickly with old villas and embassy residences, it got its name from the Turk Gul Baba, whose
Pop across the river again to Obuda (“Old Buda”), which makes up District III. It was the site of the Roman encampment
The city center (Belvaros) is
District VI is the city's mainstream cultural wedge and features
District VII is Budapest's historic
The eighth could also be known as the “District of Ill Repute.” Rakoczi ter has long since entered the lexicon as more than just a place name, but other areas have outshone it in its brand of commerce. There have been many attempts to establish Red Light Districts for legal prostitution here in Jozsefvaros, and just as many attempts to discourage them. However, visitors won't run into any brazen tawdriness unless they venture outside the
District IX, Ferencvaros, is similar in character to the working-class if not downright impoverished eighth, except that it is now an up-and-coming area. Trendy bars and cafes are springing up on Raday utca and in the section bounded by the Nagykorut. Gentrification will continue due to the potential for development alongside the Danube. It is definitely still worth a visit for tourists as the marvelous
District XI is where the bourgeois of Buda lived before they took to the hills, but the area remains quite affluent. It curves around
District XII is the gateway to the
Picking a place to stay in Budapest is a pleasure, there is something for everyone. The hardest part is deciding what you want as with so many tempting options. Even in the middle of summer and the height of tourist season, you should still be able to get a room somewhere. The notable exception is Formula 1 (Grand Prix) weekend in August when hundreds of thousands of fans descend on the city, and hotels, panzios and hostels are booked up for the event up to a year in advance. Still another option is to stay in a private room; these are usually rented out by ordinary people trying to supplement their income. It's a great way to meet the locals (even though you may not have any language in common!) and the service is regulated. Breakfast is almost always included in the quoted hotel prices, and many places - including panzios, offer wonderful food in their own restaurants.
You need to decide what you want before you start making calls. Would you prefer being right downtown? Do you want incredible views? Maybe you want a spa hotel, or a quiet, peaceful sojourn in the fresh air of the Buda Hills?
District II & District III
One of the best things about being in Budapest is the proximity of the Buda Hills. These are wonderfully green and in many places provide spectacular panoramas over the city and the Danube. If you want to enjoy the hectic pace of the city by day, but feel like you are in the countryside at night, then you will want to stay in the hills. The air is clean, the birds sing to wake you up in the morning and there are dozens of possibilities for hiking, biking etc., all over the area. For all this and more at extremely affordable prices, the Grand Hostel Budapest is an ideal place in which to stay. The Europa is an apartment-style hotel for those planning long-term stays in the city. Other elegant options include the Victoria Hotel, the Kristaly Panzio and the Panda Hotel, all of which offer excellent customer service and comfortable rooms.
District III also offers many wonderful accommodation options. A hotel that offers thermal waters is the Ramada Plaza Budapest. The Monte Christo Hotel has a private beach and swimming pool, ideally located near Roman Beach. The Dunapart Hotel is set within the cabins of a real ship, and offers stunning views of the Danube. Close to the Szentendrei Island is Duna-Party Panzio, which is convenient to many public transportation options.
If you want to be right downtown, then you have a choice of everything from backpackers' hostels to luxurious world-class hotels. Among the latter, the Marriott Hotel, InterContinental and Sofitel Atrium have fantastic views over the River Danube, while the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus offers some of the most luxurious accommodations in the city. To get the best of both worlds, try the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, where you'll be treated like royalty while you look out over the river. Other good choices in the center include the Yellow Submarine Youth Hostel or the Diaksport.
Many people come to Budapest to take advantage of the healing thermal waters that spill out of the ground in various locations. Several hotels have incorporated this into their actual buildings; the most famous example being the Gellert Hotel. The Gellert Baths are justifiably famous and can be used by anyone (they are usually considered a must-see on a trip to Budapest).
If you're in the budget category, you can still have a great view of the city; some of the panzios in the Buda Hills are very reasonably priced. There is also the one-star Hotel Citadella, which sits atop Gellert Hill. The views from up here are so stunning that the tour buses drive by from morning until night. So what will it be? Five stars and a balcony on the Danube, or a quiet panzio in the Buda Hills? Or maybe a happening downtown hostel with an all night bar and disco...the choice is yours.
The Buda Hills are where you will find many of Budapest's panzios. These are usually family-run guest houses. The standards can, and do, range from being almost hostel-like to very luxurious indeed. Staying at a panzio is a great way to meet the locals. One of the best, with stunning views of the twinkling city below, is the Molnar Panzio. The Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget and the Grand Hotel on Margaret Island.
Budapest is an easy city to navigate; as long as you remember where the River Danube is, you will not get lost. Having taken that into consideration, it is best to begin viewing the city from the banks of the river.
This tour is an orientation to the city and its sights; you will start and end in the same spot, making a circular tour of the downtown area. A good place to start is the Duna Korzo on the Pest side. This long, pedestrian-only stretch passes in front of the Marriott Hotel, and continues along to the InterContinental, where it ends at the foot of the Chain Bridge. From anywhere on the Duna Korzo you will be able to enjoy spectacular views of the city: you will be able to see Buda, with its impressive Royal Palace, Gellert Hill and much more. It never fails to take the breath away on first viewing. For a pick me up after your tour, try Karolyi Etterem.
Stroll along the Duna Korzo, maybe stopping at a cafe or two. If you want, take one of the green staircases down and hop on any passing No. 2 tram for a faster moving view. Continue by walking across the city's most famous bridge, the Chain Bridge. It was the capital's first, and it affords wonderful views: north to the Parliament, Margaret Island and the distant hills, south to Gellert Hill and the buildings of Pest. The river runs almost directly north-south through the city center, with Pest on the East side and Buda on the West. Stay for a few moments, taking in the scenery and acquainting yourself. At the Buda end of the Chain Bridge you will see the tunnel under Castle Hill, Clark Adam Square, the 0 Kilometer Stone and the station where you can catch the Funicular up to the top of Castle Hill. The ride to the top is short, but during it you will get a sweeping and panoramic view of Pest (from where you have just walked). For a nearby bite to eat, try Aranyi Szarvas.
At the top of the funicular you will see the massive Royal Palace to your left (south), while the Old Town attractions begin off to the right (north). You might want to visit one of the museums in the castle, such as the National Library, the Ludwig Museum- Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hungarian National Gallery, and the Budapest History Museum. Not far from here, as you walk north into the Old Town, you will get some of the finest views of the city in the historic Jewish quarters. Further along lies the plague column, a memorial to the countless plague victims who were too numerous to be buried in standard graves. Here you will also find the most photographed church in the city, Matthias Church, backed on the riverside by the fairy tale-like Fisherman's Bastion. Take time to admire the views from the top, once again they are stunning. The Hilton Hotel is worth a look: inside are the remains of an ancient church. You can now catch the Castle Bus from in front of the Hilton down to the last stop, Moszkva ter (Moscow Square). Very near, stop in to Ezustfenyo Etterem for traditional Eastern European fare.
On Margaret Island there are baths to relax you, grassy fields to nap in and flower-filled sections to enjoy. When you're refreshed, get back on the next tram No. 4 and take it all the way back to the Pest side, getting off at Oktogon. You should remember this place for your next tour. After a quick look around, start walking down Andrassy ut towards the river (about 15 minutes). If you're tired, catch the oldest Metro on the continent and get off at the last stop—Vorosmarty. You will now find yourself in the main cafe square near the river, and at the start of Vaci utca, the famous shopping street. You may want to leave the shopping for another day, and just relax in Gerbeaud, sipping coffee and enjoying one of their world famous cakes or pastries. Walk another 100 meters west (towards the river) and you will be right back where you started; having completed a circle of the main sights, you are now well oriented and ready for more touring; but leave that until tomorrow!
Now that you have your bearings and understand the layout of Budapest, it's time to visit some of the more famous sights. This second tour begins right where you started and ended your first tour; along the Duna Korzo, or Embankment. From the Duna Korzo, walk back to Vorosmarty ter going away from the river. To the right is Vaci Utca, the city's most famous shopping street. Walk along Vaci Utca, at your leisure - you will see some wonderful architecture as well as have a wide choice of interesting shops to peruse. You may also want to explore some of the streets that lead off to the East and West; like Vaci Utca, they are also pedestrian only. Eventually you will come to what appears to be the end of the street, where the cars whizz by to get onto the white Erzsebet Bridge. Take the pedestrian underpass and you will come up on the other side of the street (while underground, take time out to look at the photos of Budapest over the years which can be seen behind glass on the underground passage walls). On this side of Vaci Utca, (technically the southern side), keep your eyes raised upwards, especially when you come to the intersections, where you will see the bullet and shrapnel holes in the building façades, painful testament to the grim events of 1956. When you get to the end of this section of the street, you will be facing one of the city's many interesting Covered Markets. This one is especially popular with tourists, as much of the upper floor is devoted to Hungarian handicrafts and souvenirs. Take the time to find the langos (fried dough) booth, or have a glass of wine with the many locals who do their shopping at the food stalls on the ground floor.
Exit the market hall from the same doors you entered, and walk towards the river. Ahead, you will see the beautiful green Iron Bridge. This leads to Gellert Hill, and the famous Gellert Hotel. As you walk across it, you will be able to enjoy stunning views of the city. If you're trying to conserve energy, tram No. 47 or 49 will also get you across. At this point, standing in front of the famous hotel, you'll have to make a tough choice: whether to explore the world famous Gellert Baths, or to take a panoramic hike up to the top of Gellert Hill. The walk up to the top of the hill takes around 20 minutes. The park on the way up is beautiful and usually full of walkers, dogs and children, but the main reason for the climb is the spectacular panoramic views. This is definitely a place where you will want to take photos. Take a break at the top of the hill and enjoy the views: you deserve it! From the bottom of Gellert Hill, beside the river, continue by taking tram No. 19 all the way to Batthyany ter (no more walking!). Take a few minutes to look around; Batthyany ter offers the very best views in the city of the beautiful neo-Gothic Parliament building. You may want to take a break at one of the cafes here, like the Pierrot Cafe
Underground Railway Museum
When you're ready, take the metro to Deak Ter. While changing lines, stop in at the Underground Railway Museum and learn a little about the history of the continent's oldest metro line. Continue along on line 1, and take it all the way to Heroes' Square (Hosok tere). This picturesque and ceremonial square has been built on a grand scale. The monuments here are impressive (there used to be a statue of Stalin here in 1956), and behind the square lies City Park, the Zoo, the Amusement Park and the world famous Gundel restaurant. On both sides of the square are huge museums. All in all it would not be difficult to spend several days just exploring the nearby attractions.
When you're finished with the square, take the time to walk down Andrassy Ut, admiring the many fine houses and buildings. Along the way you will come across the Opera House, Liszt Square and many other interesting sights. If you're tired, stop in for a bite to eat at Demmer’s Teahaz, or take the metro back to Vorosmarty square: you will be right back where you started, and ready for a stop at a cafe or a rest by the river.
Anyway you see the Danube and its surroundings will leave you with scenic views and pleasant memories of Budapest.
Tour From Above:
Helicopter Sightseeing Tours ( http://www.budapest.com/budapest_from_the_air/helicopter_sightseeing_tour_(hp1).en.html/ )
Danube Cruise ( +36 1 212 3131/ http://www.budapestcitytour.com/)
Eurama Sightseeing City Tours (+36 1 327 6690/ http://www.eurama.hu)
CityRama ( +36 1 302 4382/ http://cityrama.hu/)
From eating and drinking well (and inexpensively) to classical music and opera to rock concerts and discos, Budapest offers pretty much as wide a choice of things to do as you'll find in any city of a comparable size.
There are about 24 cinemas in the city ranging from the 14-screen multiplex in West End City Center down to small art movie houses.
At any one time, there are usually around 40 movies playing in English (original soundtrack with Hungarian subtitles); check the weekly English paper The Budapest Sun for a full listing. Films arrive here relatively early (often before a London release). Dubbing of movies is a big business, and some (usually those appealing to children) are shown only in a dubbed version. The paper can sometimes get it wrong, so if it's not obvious from the cinema's listings, check by asking felirat? ("is it subtitled?") at the cash desk. Be sure to save some cash to load up on coke and popcorn as many Hungarians love to do.
You'll pay very little money to hear the Budapest Philharmonic at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. Concerts are often held at the Vigado Concert Hall, though the acoustics could be better. Concerts are occasionally held in the domed hall of parliament, and Bach organ music is a delight to hear either in the castle's Matthias Church or the Basilica on the Pest side.
Opera is performed at the state Opera House on Andrassy ut (mainly in Italian with Hungarian sub-titles), or at the 3000-seat Erkel Theatre on Koztarsasag ter, near Keleti station. The Erkel tends to concentrate on Hungarian operas. During its season, the Operetta theater on Nagymezo utca generally tends to stage Hungarian operettas.
Performances are regularly held in the Duna Palota or the Budai Vigado. Many restaurants think that a gypsy band is an expected accompaniment to a meal, so you can get your fill at no extra cost (other than the obligatory tip to the violinist!).
Hungarians love their theater and their performances are usually well-attended. Of course, these tend to be predominantly in Hungarian. The Merlin International, sponsored by the city council, puts on performances in English; these are either by visiting troupes or local ex-pat residents.
Petofi Csarnok occupies a cavernous hall at the rear of Varosliget or City Park. This is a stage and disco complex that serves as a venue for local and international rock bands where you can find people dancing the night away every night of the week. E-Klub is next to the Planetarium. It is open on Fridays and Saturdays and is always packed with Technical University students. The ex-pats make for Made Inn which has a nice patio and garden and where summer brings out large crowds. When groups like the Rolling Stones or U2 come to town, they play the Nepstadion, which has the largest seating capacity of any venue in the area.
Children obviously deserve to be entertained as much as anyone. A good area for them is around the Varosliget. Here you will find the Zoo and the Amusement Park (Vidam Park). In the park itself is a lake used for boating in the summer and ice-skating in the winter.
Many of the museums would be of interest to children including the Postal Museum and the War History Museum. Another interesting spot for children is the Buda Castle Labyrinth, an underground exhibition of the city's early history. Alternatively, the Gellert Hotel and Baths has artificial waves in the large pool and the paddling pool is full of very warm water.
Further afield, you could take them up the Cogwheel Railway to the top of the hills, then on to the Children's Railway, where all the signal-men and conductors are children.