Pest Introduction Walk (Self Guided), Budapest

Separated from its western neighbor Buda by the magnificent river Danube, the eastern part of Bupadest, formally known as Pest, takes up almost two thirds of the Hungarian capital. Unlike hilly Buda, Pest is predominantly a flat plain with a pretty buzzing and bourgeois setting. It houses some truly magnificent architectural sights, including the Hungarian Parliament itself. In part, this is probably the reason why the Hungarians habitually refer to their capital city as simply "Pest". This walk invites you to explore some of the key attractions of this part of Budapest.
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Pest Introduction Walk Map

Guide Name: Pest Introduction Walk
Guide Location: Hungary » Budapest (See other walking tours in Budapest)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.5 Km or 3.4 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Hungarian Parliament Building
  • Hungarian Academy of Sciences
  • Gresham Palace
  • St. Stephen's Basilica
  • Hungarian State Opera House
  • Pest Broadway
  • Rumbach Street Synagogue
  • Tree of Life / Raoul Wallenberg Park
  • Great Synagogue
  • Vidago Palace / Concert Hall
  • Vaci Street
  • Great Market Hall (Nagyvasarcsarnok)
1
Hungarian Parliament Building

1) Hungarian Parliament Building (must see)

The seat of the Hungarian Parliament is a massive Neo-Gothic edifice resting on the eastern bank of the river Danube. This stately piece of architecture is by far the most recognizable landmark of Budapest, being the largest building in Hungary and one of the oldest of its kind in Europe.

Symbolizing the country’s newly-found political unity, it was built in 1896, just in time for the celebration of Hungary's millennial anniversary. The construction involved around 100,000 people and took 40 million bricks, 40 kilos of gold, and half a million precious stones and jewels used for decoration. The enormous structure contains about 700 rooms and a staggering 19 km of stairs and corridors, with overall 242 sculptures, both inside and outside, and 27 entrance gates!!!

One of the most prominent parts of the building is, undoubtedly, the central hall featuring the Hungarian Coronation Regalia, the precious artifacts including the Holy Crown of Hungary, the orb, the scepter, and a Renaissance-style sword.

Visitors are free to explore the interior on the short (45-minute) tours passing through the impressive ornamental staircases, the dome cupola where the Holy Crown is kept, and the House of Representatives. These tours are well worth taking and get filled rather quickly, so those willing to take one are advised to book online, at least two days in advance, as well as to bring along a valid ID.

Apart from its architecture, the parliament building also attracts visitors with the change of the guards ceremony that takes place there every afternoon. Also, when the sun sets and the illumination gets on, it becomes the highlight of the Budapest nightscape, largely resembling a colossal Christmas tree!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am–6pm (Apr-Oct); 8am–4pm (Nov-Mar)
Visits to the House of Parliament are restricted during weeks in which the National Assembly holds its plenary sittings.
On the first day of the plenary, the building will be accessible to visitors from 8am to 10am and the ticket office will be open until 11am.
2
Hungarian Academy of Sciences

2) Hungarian Academy of Sciences

While not necessarily one of the top tourist sights in Budapest, the imposing, grand edifice of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences deserves attention, from an architectural standpoint, as the one replete with intricate details and set amid the area of outstanding beauty.

Inaugurated in 1865, the building features neo-Renaissance design, defiant to the Gothic style dominant in the European capitals of that period, which sparkled heated debate and asserted Hungary in the position of a rogue state reluctant to observe urban trends prevalent in the likes of Paris and St. Petersburg at that time.

Perhaps the most peculiar visual detail in this building is the carving on the side farthest from the Danube, lining Akadémia Street and depicting first members of the academy. The depiction itself doesn't look as scholarly as one might expect since all the first academy members there appear donning full military uniform with swords, including the forefather of the academy himself, Count István Széchenyi, who stood at its origins in 1825. Initially, the count subsidized the academy with proceeds from his own estate, and was later followed in that by other wealthy patrons seeking to promote arts and sciences in Hungary. The count's bronze statue now stands opposite the building on the stone base featuring four figures depicting the count's four main areas of interest, namely: Commerce (represented by Minerva, the deity of wisdom, civilization and war); Navigation (represented by Neptune, the god of sea and water); Industry (symbolized by Vulcan, the god of fire and volcanoes); and Agriculture (appearing in the form of Ceres, the goddess of fertility, crops and motherhood).

Over the course of nearly two centuries since, Hungary has benefited greatly from that effort producing a pleiad of inventors whose creations now are firmly imprinted in the engineering legacy of mankind, from ballpoint pen to holography to hydrogen bomb to the first automatic exposure camera to the noiseless match to the Rubik's cube.
3
Gresham Palace

3) Gresham Palace (must see)

If you seek modern architecture in Budapest, Gresham Palace – reputedly the best piece of Art Nouveau architecture in the Hungarian capital, if not the whole of Central Europe – is definitely the one not to be missed. Set in a privileged location, this palatial building, steeped in history, is now tastefully renovated and accommodates one of the top luxury hotels in the city.

Back in 1906, it served as foreign headquarters for the Gresham Insurance company and, for many years, remained a “home away from home” for the wealthy Brits visiting Hungary. After World War II, for several years under the Soviet occupation, the palace was used as barracks for soldiers and later on fell into disrepair. In 2001, after the fall of communism, the property was acquired by the Four Seasons Hotel group which undertook its thorough restoration and brought it back to the original splendor.

A real treat for seasoned travelers, this newly-emerged hotel boasts service and amenities befitting world-class luxury status and complemented by lavishly decorated interior, gourmet dining facilities and meticulous attention to detail. The hotel rooms are a perfect blend of comfort and elegance, some of which also indulge their inhabitants with a view of the magnificent river Danube down below and the presiding over it Buda Castle – enough to forego an excursion in the city and just stay in the room sitting by the window, comfortably wrapped up in a plush robe.

And if you can't yet afford to live like the rich and famous, you may simply resort to some drinks in the lobby bar for a taste of glamour, Budapest-style... or just snoop around the place and admire its decorations, gorgeous glass and metal designs. They won’t mind your even taking a few photos...
4
St. Stephen's Basilica

4) St. Stephen's Basilica (must see)

Overlooking the eponymous square in Budapest, the St. Stephen's Basilica is dedicated to King István, the first monarch of Hungary, who brought Christianity to the country. The mummified fist of the king, now aged over 1,000 years, is kept right here in the church, as a relic encased in a glass box, and is an object of regular pilgrimage from all over Hungary (although one can easily miss it, if not aware). Also interred in the church is Hungary's legendary soccer player, Ferenc Puskás, considered to be one of the best footballers of all time.

For many Hungarians this is the most important religious site, much as it is a key local attraction for tourists, not the least because of its size – the building can hold up to 8,500 people at a time and stands 96 meters high, being the 3rd tallest structure in the country, at par with the Hungarian Parliament, holding the legally allowed height record for Budapest.

To create this Neo-Classical basilica took three architects, including Hungary's finest, Miklós Ybl. Adorned with a bust of St István, right above the doorway, the facade of the building features a huge arched portal with Ionian columns, flanked on both sides with huge belfries. Topping the right tower is the heaviest and largest bell in the country, weighing nine tonnes!

Except for certain parts of the building, such as the treasury and the dome, the basilica is free to enter. Access to the dome, either by stairs or elevator, costs a small fee but allows visitors one of the best panoramas of Budapest. The interior of the church represents a mass of marble and gold plating with elaborately decorated chapels, mosaics, ceiling and wall frescoes, stained glass windows, plus a multitude of statues (including that of St. István himself adorning the ornate main altar) and paintings by renowned Hungarian artists.

Apart from the altar, another distinctive feature of the church is a massive pipe organ to hear which play is a truly awe-inspiring experience. So, if you're a music fan, whenever you get a chance, try to attend an organ concert here – highly recommended.

Tip:
The basilica's facade overlooks the grand St. Stephen's Square, a great place to enjoy coffee at open-air cafes.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm; Sat: 9am-1pm; Sun: 1pm-5pm
5
Hungarian State Opera House

5) Hungarian State Opera House (must see)

Set at the heart of Pest, on Andrassy Avenue, the Hungarian State Opera was officially opened to the public in 1884. Designed by Miklós Ybl, a key figure of 19th-century Hungarian architecture, this grand and elegant edifice represents a blend of Baroque, Renaissance and Revival styles and took nearly a decade to build, skillfully planted into the ensemble of affluent mansions nearby.

Although nowhere near the world's major concert halls in terms of size, the Hungarian Opera House is definitely one of the most beautiful. Flanking the building's main entrance, inside the niches, are the statues of Ferenc Erkel, author of the Hungarian National Anthem, and Ferenc Liszt, the most acclaimed Hungarian composer and reputedly one of the best pianists of his time. On the balustrade, surrounding the roof, are the 16 statues of Europe's greatest composers, such as Beethoven, Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, Puccini and Tchaikovsky. On the inside, the building is just as grand as it is on the outside, replete with marble columns and staircases, vaulted ceilings and lavish gold plating, complete with a rich chandelier weighing several tons(!), and ornate frescoes depicting scenes from the Greek mythology, not to mention the wealth of finest oil paintings and sculptures to be found in Budapest added to the decoration.

The acoustics here are said to be among the best in the world, ranked #3 in Europe after La Scala in Milan and Palais Garnier in Paris.

If you can't get a ticket or if opera isn't one of your things yet, consider taking a guided tour, run three times a day, to get a sense of what the high-society life in Budapest was like back in its heyday in the late 19th century. The tour will take you to the private balconies, smoking room, royal private staircase, and the bar area lavishly clad in crystal and Croatian marble.

Otherwise, if you're an opera fan, try to book yourself a ticket – if lucky, you just might succeed. The tickets are surprisingly not as pricey as you may think, but still, be prepared to dress up to the nines as it is a rather glamorous affair, after all.

Tip:
Combine with the nearby Mai Manó House of Photography, if only to have a look at the building from the outside.

Editor's note:
The building is being renovated until 2020, therefore Opera House performances temporarily take place at the Erkel Theatre. However, the Opera Shop and certain parts of the building can be visited even during renovation.
6
Pest Broadway

6) Pest Broadway

Often described as “Champs-Élysées and Broadway rolled into one”, the intersection of Nagymező Street and Andrassy Avenue in Budapest, commonly known as Pest Broadway, is historically renowned for its association with theaters and music. Situated close to the Budapest Opera House, the area is home to the Moulin Rouge nightclub, the Mai Manó House of Photography, the Ernst Gallery, and many other artistically influenced companies the presence of which makes it a cultural center of the city.

Among them are some traditional theaters, like the Thália and Radnóti and the Operetta Theatre, found at the nearby Nagymező Street. A place called Mikroszkóp is famous for its stand-up comedy, attesting to which is a statue of Hungary's most celebrated stand-up comedian, Géza Hofi, placed out front. The surrounding streets, leading toward the Ferenc Liszt Academy of Music, are quite big on the night entertainment. If you care to stroll down a bit in that direction, you will spot many cute sculptures and monuments along the way, as well.

There is a rich choice of fine dining on Pest Broadway too, including gourmet restaurants, quaint cafes and bars dotting the streets and largely contributing to the area's overall popularity with the locals and tourists alike.
7
Rumbach Street Synagogue

7) Rumbach Street Synagogue

Located in the heart of downtown Budapest, at the historic district of Belvaros, this synagogue has been the spiritual home for Neolog Hungarian Orthodox Jews since the late 19th century. Built to the design of Otto Wagner, the genius behind many Art Nouveau buildings in Vienna, this synagogue has an architectural style clearly reminiscent of the Northern African and Arabic themes, featuring octagonal, minaret-style columns similar to those of Jerusalem's Dome of the Rock.

The decorative brickwork on the outside of the building is quite remarkable, with carved stone and stucco complementing the wrought iron work. The multi-colored facade, along with the oriental style arches, make the perfect backdrop to the windows with the Star of David in them; at the center of the facade, one can also see the two stone tablets of Moses.

The interior of the synagogue is quite stunning too, with a soaring main nave, exquisitely decorated dome and ceilings, stained glass windows, and decorative arabesques on the walls. Suffered badly during World War II, the building has been out of service for almost 60 years now and its restoration is still underway.

The surrounding area is just as reflective of the Jewish culture and history with plenty to see. You can wander around and make a few interesting stops further afield to see the main Budapest synagogue, on Dohány Street, just a few blocks away.
8
Tree of Life / Raoul Wallenberg Park

8) Tree of Life / Raoul Wallenberg Park (must see)

Situated right behind the Great Synagogue of Budapest is the Holocaust memorial park set to commemorate those who risked their lives, during World War II, trying to save the Jews of Hungary from the Nazi extermination, and for which they are declared “Righteous Among the Nations”. Inside the park, there is a monument dedicated to these people. One such man is Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat and a key actor in the salvation effort who himself had disappeared mysteriously towards the end of the war. Among the others also honored by this monument is a little-known Spanish consular officer, named Ángel Sanz Briz, who virtually saved some 5,200 Jews by giving them Spanish passports and allowing to use the Spanish embassy as a safe house.

Also, in the middle of the park, there is another memorial called the Tree of Life – a commemorative sculpture paying tribute to some 5,000 Holocaust victims buried in the area. Designed in the form of a willow tree, symbol of mourning in the Hungarian Jewish tradition, it has the names of Holocaust victims inscribed on its leaves.

The park was established in the 1990s after Hungary regained a democratic rule. The memorial was completed in 1996, thanks to the generous donation from Estée Lauder, renowned international manufacturer of beauty and skincare products.

The Tree of Life monument is well visible from a distance, even outside the park. However, if you wish to see it up close, you'll have to pay an admission fee.
9
Great Synagogue

9) Great Synagogue (must see)

Built in the 1850s as a place of worship for the Neolog Jews, this is the second-largest synagogue in the world, running up in size only to the Temple Emanu-El in New York City. Just like its counterpart in Rumbach Street, the Dohány Street synagogue was also designed by Viennese architect, Ludwig Forster, in a similar Moorish Revival style. Set in the old Jewish quarter, the synagogue forms part of a larger complex that includes the Heroes' Temple, the graveyard, the Memorial, and the Jewish Museum. During WWII, Dohány Street marked the border of the Budapest Ghetto and today still carries strong Holocaust connotations.

The massive damage sustained by the Great Synagogue during the Second World War, followed by a long period of neglect under the communist rule, called for an extensive restoration work which finally took place in the 1990s.

The octagonal twin towers of the building, guarding the main entrance topped with a beautiful stained glass rosette, are crowned by onion domes that make it visible all over the city. Inside, the enormous nave rises almost 40 feet high revealing influence of the Gothic, Romantic, and Byzantine styles. Dominating the interior is a new mechanical organ replacing the original one created in the 19th century.

Just as in many other synagogues, the seats on the ground level are reserved for men, while the upper gallery is for women. In all, the place can seat up to 3,000 people.

Those interested in the Jewish history, can explore the Jewish Heroes’ mausoleum next door, or the museum and archives upstairs which are quite informative, thought-provoking and enlightening, if you like... Buried in the local graveyard are the Jews died during the Holocaust, as well as the non-Jews who helped saving Jewish lives. The adjacent park holds a memorial to these people.

Tip:
The Great Synagogue offers group tours in a variety of languages. Visitors must observe a strict dress code, though. If need be, there's a special “overall” type of clothing provided at the entrance.

Opening Hours:
https://www.greatsynagogue.hu/gallery_syn.html#4
10
Vidago Palace / Concert Hall

10) Vidago Palace / Concert Hall

Set in the historic Vigadó Square and fronted by a well-manicured park, the Vigadó Concert Hall is a mid-19th-century building that is actually replacing the original one destroyed by fire during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49.

Reputedly one of the finest architectural creations in all Hungary, it features Romantic style with the classic outward projections joined by arcades and the main facade overlooking the River Danube.

Just like its predecessor, the new Vigadó palace was also damaged, and quite severely so, during the Second World War. Its post-war reconstruction took 36 years and remained faithful to the original design, owing to which this musical facility still continues to attract leading conductors and performers from all over the world. Perhaps the most notable regular at the Vigadó Concert Hall is the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, established in 1951, with a mission to preserve the Hungarian music tradition.

The vicinity of the palace abounds in pretty buildings and cute statues, among which are those of the Girl With Her Dog, William Shakespeare, and the famous Hungarian painter Ignác Roskovics. But the main draw here, undoubtedly, are the views opening out and across the magnificent Danube River towards the Buda Castle and the Chain Bridge, all of which are equally splendid in daylight, twilight or midnight, rendering the square most picturesque and photographically appealing.

The nearby little park, although fenced off, is free to walk in. There are some seats there to be found, so you can take a pleasant break prior to or after completing your evening promenade.
11
Vaci Street

11) Vaci Street

Extending for more than 15 blocks, from Vörösmarty square to Fővám square, passing through the very heart of Pest, the pedestrian Váci street takes about half an hour walk its entire length. For more than a century, this street has been the place for the locals to come to and see things and be seen. Lined with numerous lovely spots, each door on the side of Váci Street is either a shop, a restaurant, a cafe, a bar or a store worth popping in and checking out. If time is in shortage, feel free to ignore the more generic ones and look out for those gems of Art Nouveau facades presented here in abundance. Behind some of them, you will find antiques stores, art galleries, souvenir shops, and lots of foreign exchange offices, mind you, in case you need any Hungarian Forints. The prices here a bit steeper than, say, just a few blocks away, but so is the rent. On a sunny day, strolling down Váci Street is an experience well worth having, especially if coupled with a cup of coffee, a glass of wine or a full meal enjoyed along the way.
12
Great Market Hall (Nagyvasarcsarnok)

12) Great Market Hall (Nagyvasarcsarnok) (must see)

Budapest's central market is one of the mandatory places to visit for those newcomers to the Hungarian capital. The largest and oldest marketplace in the city, it was built in the late 19th century courtesy of the first mayor, Karl Kamermayer, who subsidized its construction out of his own pocket and under whose tenure Budapest turned into the country's political, economic and commercial hub, much as one of Europe's cultural centers.

Clad in steel, with an elegant entrance gate featuring neo-Gothic design, the market is spread over three floors, covering the total area of 10,000 square meters. A particularly distinctive feature of this building is the roof recently restored and adorned with colorful tiling. Badly damaged during two world wars in the 20th century, the market remained closed for several years. The restoration works undertaken in the 1990s brought it back to the original splendor.

If you're a foodie with the taste for regional specialties, the stalls of Hungarian goodies such as lángos (deep-fried discs of dough smothered in sour cream and cheese), paprika, Tokaji wines, túró rudi curd snack, and caviar, as well farm-made sausages, sauerkraut, stuffed peppers and other delights sold at very reasonable prices, are not likely to leave anyone indifferent. Most stalls on the ground floor offer meats, pastries, candies, spices, and spirits, while the floor above accommodates eateries and souvenir stands. The lángos stand, widely regarded to be the best one on this market, sits here serving this delicious snack with regional beer. At the basement there's a supermarket, a fish market, and pickle stalls offering traditional cucumber, cauliflower, cabbage, beet, tomato, and garlic pickles, to mention but a few.

Other than quality food, the market offers a wide choice of moderately priced non-edible items as well, such as handicrafts, folk art, porcelain, crystal and souvenirs of various sort. Take your time to search for the best value for money, since many vendors here sell identical items. So if you're looking for handcrafts, be sure to get all the way around the back. Note that the market is largely a cash-only operation, except for the souvenir section. But the good news is that some businesses equally accept both the European Euro and the Hungarian Forint.

Opening Hours:
Mon: 6am-5pm; Tue-Fri: 6am-6pm; Sat: 6am-3pm; closed on Sundays

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