Strolling Andrassy Boulevard

Hungary, Budapest Guide (A): Strolling Andrassy Boulevard

In this tour you will visit one of Budapest's most iconic and historically significant boulevards, and provided with some fascinating background information about its most important sights. Since its construction in the late 19th century, Andrassy ut has afforded the city some of its best shopping, its most luxurious residences, its popular entertainment as well at its highbrow culture, its historical monuments and its best strolling.
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Walk Route

Guide Name: Strolling Andrassy Boulevard
Guide Location: Hungary » Budapest
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 3.0 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.9 km
Sight(s) featured in this guide: The beginning of Andrassy ut   The Hungarian State Opera House   The Book Cafe and Wine Bar   Liszt Ferenc ter (Square)   House of Terror   Franz Liszt Museum   Hero's Square   The Palace of Art   The Museum of Fine Art  
Author: Matthew Treadwell
Author Bio: Matthew Treadwell is a freelance writer and editor based in Budapest, Hungary. He has been traveling and living abroad for the past 15 years, seven of which in Budapest. Matthew lives with his wife and two young sons.
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The beginning of Andrassy ut

1) The beginning of Andrassy ut

It is here at the seemingly unpronounceable Bajcszy Zsilinszky ut that Andrassy ut, designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, begins. The original idea was to link the City Park (Varosliget) with the city center with a broad, sweeping boulevard, along the lines of Haussman’s grand avenues in Paris. Work began in 1872 and the street was officially inaugurated on August 20th, 1876, taking its name from prime minister Gyula Andrassy, one of the main supporters of the plan. Although the street itself has remained relatively unchanged, it has gone through several name changes. In 1950, during the Soviet occupation, it was renamed Sztalin ut. In 1956, when Hungary staged an unsuccessful uprising against the Soviets, it was briefly called “ Hungarian Youth” Street. After the uprising was brutally crushed, the street was reincarnated in 1957 as the again unpronounceable Népköztársaság út (People's Republic boulevard). Finally, in 1990 with the collapse of the communist regime, the original name was reinstated. Here at the lower end of the avenue, Andrassy is lined with a large number of fashionable boutiques and chic cafes, so window shop to your heart’s content.
Image by Jcornelius under Creative Commons License.
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The Hungarian State Opera House

2) The Hungarian State Opera House

Work began on the Hungarian State Opera House in 1874, and was designed by one of Hungary’s greatest architects, Miklos Ybl, who had a hand in many of the country’s most notable buildings, including here in Budapest St. Stephen’s Basilica as well as the throne room and one wing of the Royal Palace. Work ground to a near halt in the late 1870s due to financial concerns, but the building was finally completed in 1884. Neo-renaissance in style, the auditorium, which seats about 1,250, has excellent acoustics rivaled only by La Scala in Milan and Paris’ Palais Garnier. As you approach the façade you will see statues of the world’s greatest composers, while the seated statues flanking the entrance are of Ferenc Erkel, who composed the Hungarian National Anthem, and Franz Liszt, who needs no introduction. The interior is sumptuously decorated with frescoes, including those of Olympus and the Greek gods by Karoly Lotz, one of Hungary’s greatest painters. The building underwent complete renovation in the early 1980s and was reopened in 1984, on its 100th anniversary. If you have a chance you must attend a performance here, as tickets are an absolute steal compared to other international venues. As you exit the building take a look across the street at Drechsler Palace, home to the Hungarian ballet institute and now slated to become a luxury hotel.
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The Book Cafe and Wine Bar

3) The Book Cafe and Wine Bar

Built in 1885, what is now the Alexandra Bookshop was once a casino, the center of bourgeois life in this part of the city. Card-playing, dinners, dance evenings and balls all served to keep the locals entertained, and the focus of all this social activity was the upstairs ballroom, adorned with frescoes by, once again, Karoly Lotz. Between 1910 and 1911 most of the building was completely altered to make way for the upscale Paris Department Store, and the Art Nouveau façade you now see dates from that time. Fortunately, the Lotz ballroom remained untouched, and has been renovated and reopened as a café. Grab a book from the shop downstairs and head up to the Book Café and Wine Bar to read, gawk at the gorgeous interior, and have a drink or a snack. Wines by the glass are very reasonably priced, so don’t be afraid to sample some of the local tipple.

If you’ve worked up a hunger wandering up Andrassy, two excellent restaurant options are on Nagymezo utca, which runs perpendicular to the street. If you turn left off of Andrassy, Eklektika Restaurant, at Nagymezo 30, is about 50 meters down the street on your left. Another good option is Ket Szerecsen, a right turn off Andrassy at Nagymezo 14. Check out the daily seasonal specials, which are generally outstanding.
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Liszt Ferenc ter (Square)

4) Liszt Ferenc ter (Square)

Restaurants and cafes abound on leafy Liszt Ferenc ter. The city has done a lot of work here in the last few years, and it shows. This is a great spot to grab a coffee or a glass of wine and people-watch. After you've relaxed for a bit, head to the opposite end to the square to check out the Franz Liszt Academy of music, Hungary's most prestigious music university. Liszt believed that it was the duty of the artist to use his gifts to benefit humanity as well as to nurture new and budding talent. This Art-Neuveau building was erected in 1907, and its facade is dominated by a statue of Franz Liszt. You would do well to find the time to take in a performance here, as once again, prices here can't be beat and the concert hall itself is absolutely magnificent. Note that the building will be temporarily closed as of August 2010 for renovations.

As you continue up Andrassy ut you will cross the Korut, the main ring road around the city center. Once a wide stream, there was at one time talk of building a canal rather than a road here, and the Korut actually connects the Danube at Margaret Island to the north to the Danube at Petofi Bridge in the south. The large square you are crossing is called Oktogon, for obvious reasons.
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House of Terror

5) House of Terror

Our next stop is at the House of Terror, which contains exhibits related to the fascist and communist dictatorships in Hungary. The building itself is striking, with its dark facade and overhanging signs projecting from the roof. Opened in 2002, the museum is, in its own words, "a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured and killed in this building." Exhibits outline Hungary's relationship with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and has a significant amount of material pertaining to Hungary's fascist Arrow Cross Party which, in 1944, in a span of less than three months, murdered over 38,000 Hungarians, about 25,000 of them Jews. One method of execution consisted of taking prisoners to the banks and bridges of the Danube, making them remove their valuable shoes, then gunning them down so they toppled into the river. There are also displays relating to Hungary's communist secret police, and the museum's basement has cells in which prisoners were tortured. Even if you don't make it inside, the plaques on the exterior of the building, showing photographs of those killed by these regimes, are both moving and disturbing.
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Franz Liszt Museum

6) Franz Liszt Museum

This modest little musuem contains a faithful reconstruction of Franz Liszt last home, where he lived from 1881 - 1886. The collection of the museum contains his original instruments, including the pianos where he composed and practised his works, furniture, his books, scores and some personal objects and memorabilia. If you're in the neighborhood on a Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday morning and want a truly Hungarian experience, pop down Vorosmarty utca just past the museum to the Square, where you'll find an outdoor produce market. Here most of the vendors are Hungarian pensioners from the countryside, who bring their fruits and vegetables in to the city to sell. A few years ago a developer wanted to replace this market with trendy restaurants, shops and a multi-story parking garage,sending the vendors packing in the process, but concerned citizens successfully blocked the project. What was saved is certainly nothing fancy - or trendy - but very, very authentic.

From here until Hero's Square the street is largly residential, lined with old mansions, many of which now house foreign embassies. Take a few moments to examine the four monumental buildings at Kodaly Korond, two of which are currently undergoing restoration. Take special note of the intricately painted murals on the buiding in the lefthand corner of the square. Statues of four of Hungary's most outstanding historical figures adorn the area. An excellent upscale restaurant and art gallery, called Kogart, is located at Andrassy ut number 112. In summer it has very pleasant outdoor seating in the garden.
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Hero's Square

7) Hero's Square

The monuments here were built for Hungary's millenium celebration in 1886, although work continued until 1900. The center of the square is dominated by the nearly 120-foot column topped with the archangel Gabriel holding the crown of St. Stephen, the Hungarian king who converted the country to Christianity around 1000 AD. The equestrian statues at the base of the column represent Arpad and the seven Magyar (Hungarian) tribes which first settled the country around 896 AD. The semicircular collonade you see behind the column contains statues of Hungarian kings and heroes, with a small relief at the base of each depicting the most important moment in each one's life. When the monument was constructed Hungary was part of the Austrian empire, so the last five statues on the lefthand collonade were of members of the ruling Hapsburg dynasty. The monument was damaged during WWII, and these figures were replaced with Hungarians. The four figures on the corner pillars symbolize War, Peace, Work and Welfare, and Knowledge and Glory.
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The Palace of Art

8) The Palace of Art

As you face Hero's Square, the museum on your right is the Palace of Art. The Neo-Classical building was completed in 1896, in time for the Millenium celebrations, and houses exhibitions of mostly contemporary painting and sculpture. The tympanum above the portico depicts St. Stephen, or Istvan in Hungarian, as the patron saint of art. Behind the portico you'll find a fresco in three parts, showing The Beginning of Sculpture, The Source of Arts, and The Origins of Painting. The museum has no permanent collection; instead it's an institution run by artists to showcase modern artistic tendencies. As the musuem states in its mission statement: "we seek to find open-minded, receptive individuals across all generations who are interested in new occurrences in culture and the visual arts." The museum also operates a cafe, which in the summer has outdoor seating on the terrace - a nice place to sit and take in the sights on Hero's Square.
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The Museum of Fine Art

9) The Museum of Fine Art

If your interests lie in more traditional works of art, the Museum of Fine Arts on the opposite side of the square is for you. Completed in 1906 and also Neo-Classical in style, its tympanum depicts the Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths, copied from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. The museum has a wide-ranging and eclectic collection, from ancient Egyptian art to works from the 19th and 20th centuries. Most great names associated with the old masters can be found here, and the museum has one of the largest collections of Spanish art outside of Spain. Many works here come from the collections of the Eszterhazy family, one of Hungary's most powerful and important families. Absolutely worth a visit for its permanent collections, the museum hosts world-class temporary exhibitions as well, so check the website for current events.

You’ve now toured the length of Andrassy ut, but perhaps one of the most interesting sights has been running under your feet this entire time. The Budapest Metro, dating from 1896, the year of Hungary’s millenium, was the first in Continental Europe and the second in the world, London’s being the only older system. It took over 2000 workers over two years to complete it, and it could originally carry up to 35,000 passengers a day. On the average weekday, it now carries well over 100,000. In 2002, the line was designated a World Heritage site. You can catch the metro at the Hosok Tere, (Hero’s Square) stop, and take it all the way back to Deak ter, the city’s main metro hub, or one stop further, to Vorosmarty ter. I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour of Andrassy ut, and will spend a bit more time exploring its sights. Enjoy!

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