While the "Buda" side of the city hosts Budapest's major tourist attractions, the "Pest" side is where the locals hang out. It hosts the majority of the shopping, many of the restaurants, and most of Hungary's great municipal buildings and temples. You may stand in awe of the sights on the West Side, but in all likelihood you'll spend most of your money in the East.
A fantastic place to start your tour of Pest is the Hungarian National Museum, pictured at left. This is one of the best national museums I have seen -- it is a beautiful building (though it was still under renovation when I visited) with very well organized and educational exhibits detailing Hungary's history from the times of the Roman occupation (the ruins of which can still be seen at the town of Aquincum just ten minutes to the north). After visiting this museum, you will understand why Budapest came to be such a prominent city.
Pest is very easy to navigate. The shopping district is located in the south-central part of the bank, within a semi-circular road loop consisting of the Vamhaz krt, the Muzeum krt, and the Karoly krt to Josef Attila krt. The common tourist map shows these main roads in yellow, and staying inside these roads, you will find all the classic European shopping you can stand!
Meanwhile, the museums, conference centers, and other sights are further east -- mostly along the main artery called Andrassy utca, which parallels the city's yellow-line subway. On this street is the Opera House, several embassies, the Oktogon traffic circle (surrounded with specialty shops), and the Kodaly Koroad, a large square of four monuments. The architecture along the way is fascinating to look at.
At the end of Andrassy (about a 1-1/2 kilometer walk), you will come upon the plaza of heroes, the Hősök Tere (pictured above). Surrounding the base of the tower are statues of famous Hungarian kings and warriors dated back to Roman times. Statues of more recent statemen, artists, and kings stand in between the columns. This monument will certainly account for a few pictures in your camera.
Surrounding the tere are several museums and convention centers, which always have exhibitions going. Meanwhile, just beyond the tere is a large city garden, graced by the Vájdahunyád Castle that now serves primarily as the National Agricultural Museum. On the day I visited, an artificial skating rink had been constructed in front of the castle, producing the below picture that I used for some of my Christmas Cards in 2001!
Many Americans may not know this, but Budapest is known as the City of Baths. (In fact, there was a worldwide Bath convention held in Budapest whose prime order of business was to bestow that designation.) Budapest boasts several amazing and beautiful bathhouses, known as fürdő (foower-DOEH). Among them is the Széchényi fürdő, pictured below.
Back towards the river, you will find a host of interesting buildings. For instance, there is a fantastic Jewish Museum and Synagogue near the Astoria station on the red line, St. Stephens' Basilica (a huge Catholic church) further to the north, and then ultimately the Hungarian Parliament building on the river in the north-central part of the city. The Parliament, seen below, is surrounded by a number of national buildings that are worth a look, and the best (and most elaborate) part of the building faces the river. Visitors are permitted when parliament is not in session.
If visiting in the summertime, then you will want to venture further to the north to the island of Margaret. Margaret cuts in the middle of the Danube and is a bustling City park with amusements, swimming pools, and food stands.
So, while you may be tempted to spend all your time in the classic Old Buda Castle, be sure to allocate plenty of time to explore the East Bank, too!
Trip taken 22-23 November 2001 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin