The city is divided into two parts, the hilly side of Buda on the western bank and the flat plain of Pest on the eastern bank of the river Danube. These two parts of the city were once separate towns and were merged together with Ancient Buda (Óbuda) only in 1873.
The Pest side of the capital:
The city centre starts on Vörösmarty Square. Váci Street, the pedestrian main street of downtown Budapest, sets out from here and the square holds the two most popular cafés of the capital: old Gerbeaud and trendy Art Café. The square is always busy and full of life. Anyone in town will surely drop by, and if the weather is fine take a coffee on a terrace or rest on a bench, and when the weather turns cold sit behind a café window.
The Váci utca the first street in Budapest to be pedestrianized, but it was one of the best places for shopping long before this change. The street was formed in the 18th century but most houses date back to the 19th and early 20th century. It quickly became the shopping centre and later the esplanade of the Pest side. As the mid-day or evening promenade in Váci Street slowly became a fashionable leisure activity for the "well-to-do" in the last century, shops grew more and more expensive and later only the most exclusive merchants could afford to open an outlet on the street. The street has been marked by a certain exclusivity ever since. Recommended hotel in this street: Hotel Taverna - Mercure Budapest City Center, Promenade City Hotel Budapest and Boutique Hotel Zara Budapest .
The Inner City Parish Church, like a little museum, is a fine display of the different architectural styles of the ages, a true representation of Pest's stormy history. Check out the window frames of the old Gothic edifice, a late Gothic tabernacle and medieval sedilia - one of them a mihrab used for praying by the Turks over 150 years when the church was converted into a mosque. Recommended hotel in this area: City Hotel Matyas, Sofitel Budapest, Cosmo Fashion Hotel Budapest, Ibis Budapest Centrum and Leo Panzio .
The Hungarian National Museum is one of the finest examples of Hungarian Classicism. Hungarian history is presented from the foundation of the state up until 1990.
The Hungarian Holy Crown and the Crown Jewels was seen here, but on 1 of January 2000 were moved to the Parlament. Stonework remains from the Roman period, the Middle Ages and from early modern times.
The museum played a key role in the 1848-49 revolution and as such it became one of its symbols; for this reason the National Museum is to this day one of the focal points of celebrations marking the national holiday of March 15. Recommended hotel near the museum: Hotel Astoria
The world's second largest and Europe's largest Synagogue can be found in Dohány street, with seating for 3000. It was built in the middle of the 19th century in Romantic style for the around 30,000 Jewish community of Pest mainly living in this part of the town. Its gigantic hall rests on cast iron columns and arches - a real architectural novelty at that time. Recommended hotel in the neighbourhood: Soho Boutique Hotel, and budget accommodation in the area: Hostel Marco Polo .
Construction of the largest church of the capital; the Basilica (seating 8,500 persons) was beset by vicissitudes. No sooner did the groundwork begin when the War of Independence broke out in 1848, then construction was resumed in 1851, followed by the immediate death of the two architects, and even the dome collapsed during the works. The church with a Greek cross plan was finally consecrated in 1905. Excellent hotel in the neighbourhood: NH Hotel Budapest .
With the river Danube in the vicinity, huge foundations and three underground levels had to be laid under the church, resulting in an underground "house" almost as large as on the surface. It took 60 years and two architectural époques - Classicism and Eclecticism - to build the Basilica. Special works of art present the life of King St. Stephen - in whose name the basilica was dedicated - founder of the Hungarian State and Christian Church in Hungary. Recommended hotels in the area: K+K Hotel Opera and Hotel Pest
A grandiose cupola dominates the edifice offering visitors a good view of the city from its rim. From the unique 360-degree circular lookout you can admire Budapest from a height of 65 meters. A modern and secure elevator will take you most of the way up, from where you climb to the circular lookout on a spiral staircase.
Built at the turn of the century, the building of the Parliament quickly became a dominant sight and symbol of Budapest and the Danube panorama. A typically Eclectic edifice with a lot of small spikes and stone lace ornamentation, it is one of the most decorative structures of the capital. It also ranks as one of the biggest national assemblies in the world. Majestic stone lions flank the VIP entrance taking visitors to the magnificent staircase leading to the cupola room, home of the most elegant state receptions. Two symmetric wings open up from here, for what used to be the Lower and the Upper House of the pre-communist parliament. The rich interior and gorgeous decoration of the Parliament building are well worth seeing as part of a guided tour.
Budapest is proud of possessing one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. The opening performance of the Opera House was held in the neo-Renaissance building, the jewel of the avenue, in 1884 after nine years of construction. The staircase and the auditorium of the palace, designed by one of the best architects of those days Miklós Ybl, are decorated with frescos of eminent Hungarian painters such as Bertalan Székely, Mór Thán and Károly Lotz. The first director was Ferenc Erkel, Gustav Mahler held this post for several years, and Puccini directed the premiere of two of his operas here. Renowned guest conductors include Otto Klemperer, Sergio Failoni and Lamberto Gardelli. It is still one of the best opera houses in Europe. Well worth a visit, even for those who do not especially like operas. Recommended apartments next to the Opera House.
Tivoli Theatre, a cabaret stage known as Microscope and the Thália Theatre with no acting company of its own. Today's night programme venues have shifted more in the direction of the Academy of Music and Liszt Ferenc Square. Recommended budget hotel next to this square: Hotel Medosz , and two luxury hotels: Corinthia Hotel Budapest and Boscolo Hotel Budapest .
Mai Manó Studio was built by the famous photographer as his studio-apartment, the neo-Renaissance palace today hosts the legendary "Sun Shine Studio", three photograph exhibitions and a bookstore.
Budapest's grandest square; the Heroes' Square closes off Andrássy út, with City Park right behind. Marking the end of stylish Andrássy út, this monumental edifice is a majestic memorial of the thousand-year history of Hungarians in Europe. Each part of the monument represents an important section of Hungarian history. In the focus of the semicircular colonnade stands the bronze statue of Archangel Gabriel on a 36-meter-high column, which was awarded a Grand Prix at the Paris World Exposition in 1900. According to an old Hungarian legend, the angel appeared in the dreams of first Hungarian king Saint Stephen and gave him the holy crown. The equestrian statues of the seven legendary chieftains who lead migrating Hungarians to the Carpathian Basin stand on the pedestal of the obelisk. The two circular peristyles present statues of famous kings, emperors and personalities of Hungarian history. The solemnity and pomp of the statue park is further heightened by the two old museum buildings on either side: the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art.
The Széchenyi Thermal Bath is one of Europe`s largest bath complexes. The atmosphere of Roman bathing culture may be felt in its light, spacious pool halls, while Greek bathing culture is reflected in the tub baths, but traces of Nordic traditions may also be found in the heat chambers, saunas and dipping pools. This first spa of Pest owes its existence to the well dug by Vilmos Zsigmondy in 1879. The present bath building was constructed in 1913. The swimming pool was built in 1927, but it was only open from May till September until the 1960ies, when, in 1963, it was made suitable for winter swimming as well. Since then it has been open throughout the year. The two "public bath" units were established also in 1927, today housing the mixed baths and the complex physiotherapy units (day hospital). Recommended 4 star hotel in the area: Hotel Liget - Ibis Budapest Heroes Square and 5 star hotel: Andrassy Hotel.
The Buda side of the capital
The name Buda Castle covers more than a castle or the Royal Palace in the capital city; it extends to the historical quarter full of sites. On bright spring days people invite friends for a "walk in the Castle", i.e. to wander around the Castle Hill quarter. The most exiting way of getting to the Castle is by taking the Funicular, a little cable car up the Castle Hill. The Castle District is one of the most romantic pedestrian sections in Budapest. A medieval little town with atmospheric streets, picturesque houses, gas lamps and beautiful monuments. The main street of the district - Tárnok Street - ranges from Dísz Square to today's district centre, Matthias Church. Colourful little houses border the square and the neighbouring streets. The winding streets and narrow houses date back to the Middle Ages, occasionally decorated with valuable Gothic window and door frames. Elegant Baroque and Louis XVI-style palaces are relics of the restoration work after the Turkish occupation.
The Castle District houses are famous for their medieval doorway sedilia. During reconstruction work after the Turks were driven from Hungary these sedilia were walled up and quickly forgotten, only to be rediscovered during the bombing of the Second World War. Sedilia ornamented with Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance stone arches were probably used as a rest place for visitors' escorts. Today, they serve as a "speciality" of Buda that distinguish it from other cities of the world. As well as the major museums housed in the Royal Palace, there are numerous interesting collections: Museum of Military History, Golden Eagle Pharmacy Museum, Hungarian Museum of Commerce and Catering, Museum of Telephony, Museum of Music History.
The Budapest Hilton Hotel, probably the most beautiful member of the Hilton chain, is also here. In a side wing one can view the ruins of a medieval Dominican cloister. Recommended hotels in the area: Buda Castle Hotel, Novotel Budapest Danube and Lanchid 19 Design Hotel.
The Castle District is also renowned for the Ruszwurm confectionery founded in the year 1827, offering cakes made according to famous old recipes, as well as last century furniture and cosy little rooms.
The Royal Palace is situated on the southern part of Castle Hill. The medieval palace that stood here was destroyed during the battles against Turkish invaders, leaving only the fortified walls as a memento. The site was then filled in to lay the foundations of the new grandiose Baroque palace started by Maria-Theresa and expanded on Hungarian initiative in the 19th century. The Palace itself was gutted during the Second World War. Unfortunately there is no place in the Palace today that would allow the visitor a glimpse of the lavish suites and interiors of past royals. Today, it functions as home to important cultural institutions and museums: Hungarian National Gallery, the National Széchenyi Library, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Budapest History Museum.
The Trinity square is the current centrepiece of the Castle District featuring a monumental Holy Trinity statue, the discreetly reserved old Buda City Hall, and the world famous Matthias Church. The best restaurants and shops in the area are also nearby. The cellars of the Hungarian Culture Foundation accommodate the House of Hungarian Wines.
The Matthias Church bears the name of its biggest Maecenas, King Matthias, who married twice in this shrine. The cathedral is almost as old as the Royal Palace and has been the venue of several coronation ceremonies. Every king and époque left its mark on the building until the Turks occupied Buda in 1541 and converted the temple into a mosque, whitewashing - and thus preserving - its medieval frescos. Matthias Church gained its current form at the turn of the century when a lot of smaller buildings attached to it earlier were pulled down and the church was reconstructed in characteristic.
The Fishermen's Bastion, completed in 1905 on the site of a former fish market - this is where the name comes from. It has never served a defensive purpose: it is an excellent lookout place. The floodlit row of bastions offer a panoramic view onto the other bank of the Danube. The cityscape opening up from there, including the Fishermen's Bastion, has been part of UNESCO's World Heritage since 1988. The crypt of the ancient St. Michael Cemetery Chapel (the first written record dates from 1443) was opened to the public in 1997. Recommended, famous thermal and spa hotel in the Buda side: Hotel Gellert
Enjoy every minute in this beautiful, colourful city! It worths it.