Pest Introduction Walking Tour, Budapest

Pest Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Budapest

Separated from its western neighbor Buda by the magnificent river Danube, the eastern part of Budapest, 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 Hungarians habitually refer to their capital city as simply “Pest”.

This self-guided walking tour takes you to explore the key attractions of the Pest side of Budapest, from the beautiful Parliament building on the banks of the Danube all the way to the Great Market Hall. Straight ahead, from the Parliament, you’ll enjoy views of the Chain Bridge, with the 1896-era St. Stephens’s Basilica lined up just beyond it. Take advantage of St. Stephen’s observation deck with amazing panoramic views over the city, or just have a drink on the surrounding square and soak up the atmosphere.

The Jewish Quarter is another historic location worth visiting along the way, so spend some time at the famous Gozsdu Courtyard and the Great Synagogue – a splendid Byzantine-style building attached to which is the Jewish Museum (a Holocaust Memorial is found behind the synagogue’s courtyard).

The fully pedestrian Vaci Street is a great place to look and smell for where you might want to eat. As the main tourist and shopping street in Pest, it has some of the best restaurants in town, as well as plenty of souvenir shops and big chain shops. On its last stretch, browse amongst the colorful food stalls at the Great Market Hall and treat yourself to a few goodies before enjoying close-up views of the Danube with a walk across Liberty Bridge.

Surely an interesting part of the capital to wander around, so follow this self-guided walk to find our best suggestions for an appropriate exploration.
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Pest Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Pest Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Hungary » Budapest (See other walking tours in Budapest)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.3 Km or 2.7 Miles
Author: kane
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Hungarian Parliament Building
  • Shoes on the Danube Bank
  • Chain Bridge
  • St. Stephen's Basilica
  • Gozsdu Courtyard (Gozsdu-udvar)
  • Great Synagogue
  • Vaci Street
  • Great Market Hall (Nagyvasarcsarnok)
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!
Shoes on the Danube Bank

2) Shoes on the Danube Bank (must see)

The Shoes on the Danube Bank (Cipők a Duna-Parton) is a memorial that was established on April 16, 2005, in Budapest. It was created by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer to honor the Jewish victims who were tragically massacred by the fascist Hungarian militia associated with the Arrow Cross Party during the Second World War in Budapest.

During this dark period, the victims were forced to remove their shoes, which held value and could be stolen and sold by the militia after the massacre. They were then shot at the water's edge, causing their bodies to fall into the Danube River and be carried away. The memorial symbolizes the shoes left behind by these victims and serves as a poignant reminder of the tragedy they endured.

The memorial is situated on the Pest side of the Danube Promenade, aligning with the hypothetical intersection of Zoltan Street and the Danube if the street extended that far. It is approximately 300 meters (980 feet) south of the Hungarian Parliament, close to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and positioned between Roosevelt Square and Kossuth Square.

The composition of the memorial consists of sixty pairs of iron shoes that reflect the period in which the tragedy occurred. These shoes are affixed to the stone embankment, and behind them lies a 40-meter-long stone bench, 70 cm high. Three cast iron signs are placed at different points, displaying the text in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew. The inscription reads, "To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. Erected 16 April 2005."
Chain Bridge

3) Chain Bridge (must see)

The Chain Bridge was the first stone bridge that connected the regions of Buda and Pest. It is the second of two permanent bridges that cross the entire length of the Danube River. It is also architecturally beautiful and the city's most recognizable symbol.

The bridge officially carries the name of the person who first proposed the project, namely Count Istvan Szechenyi. The construction started in 1839, under the control of William Tierney Clark. Financing for the project was done by Baron Gyorgy Sina, of Vienna.

Eventually, the project came under the supervision of Adam Clark of Scotland. Clark went on to marry a Hungarian girl, while he was still working on the bridge. If you look at the Buda end, you will find a square named after him. The official inauguration took place on November 20, 1949.

From an architectural standpoint, this is a chain suspension bridge. On the Pest side, it adjoins Szechenyi Square, in the vicinity of Gresham Palace. On the Buda side, it is connected to Adam Clark Square. The bridge spans 202 meters, which made it one of the largest of its kind back in the 1840s. You will also want to check out the lions that adorn the abutments. They are a reproduction of the Trafalgar Square Lions.

Why You Should Visit:
A very pleasant and enjoyable walk between Buda and Pest on the Danube.

Abandon yourself in this marvelous body of water, lose your cares in its endless momentum...
The bridge offers stunning views in the evening and has a really nice walkway to gaze at the attractions on both sides of the river.
St. Stephen's Basilica

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

Overlooking the eponymous square in Budapest, the Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint 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.

The basilica's facade overlooks the grand Saint Stephen's Square, a great place to enjoy coffee at open-air cafes.
Gozsdu Courtyard (Gozsdu-udvar)

5) Gozsdu Courtyard (Gozsdu-udvar)

Dating to 1901, the beautifully redeveloped Gozsdu Courtyard, once the hive of activity before the Holocaust, has in recent years emerged as a top nightlife destination in the district. Lined with restaurants, cafes and bars, this passageway comes alive every evening, pulsing with music and merriments along its 200-meter length.

Favorite hangouts to check out include the trendy wine bar DIVINO with lots of great Hungarian wines by the glass, bottle, and for takeaway; CAFE VIAN, with its incredibly diverse and extensive food menu offerings; 2 SPAGHI – one of the best pasta places outside of Italy; the Jewish-Italian restaurant YIDDISHE MAMMA MIA; and the buzzing SPILER 'bistropub' which excels by its unique interior ambiance (for Asian-inspired food/drinks, hop across the road at sister branch SPILER SHANGHAI). All offer indoor and outdoor dining.

From March to October, the popular GOUBA (Gozsdu Bazaar), held here every Sunday, offers diverse arts and crafts, gastronomic delights and unique entertainment.
Great Synagogue

6) 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.

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.
Vaci Street

7) 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. 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.
Great Market Hall (Nagyvasarcsarnok)

8) 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.

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