To really appreciate the city and the layout, you will need a short history lesson. The city of Budapest came into being in 1873, making it relatively young in its present form. It is the result of a union of three separate cities: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda (literally meaning Old Buda) consisting of 23 self-governing municipal districts. Budapest is divided by the River Danube (Duna) with Pest, almost completely flat, on the eastern shore, making up almost two-thirds of the city. On the western bank is Buda and farther yet, Óbuda, which has the hilly areas, these areas being much older settlements. The entire Danube River flows eastward for a distance of some 2,850km (1,771 miles) making some strange twists and turns as it goes flowing through or forming part of a border of 10 European countries, making it the longest river in the European Union.
The stretch of the Danube flowing through the capital is fairly wide (the average width is 400m/1,312 ft), and most of the city's historic sites are on or near the river. Nine bridges connect the two banks, but two are for rail travel only, with five in the city center. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Lánchíd) built in 1873, was the first permanent bridge across the Danube uniting Óbuda, Buda, and Pest. Although it was blown up by the Nazis in 1945, it was rebuilt after the war, reopening in November 1949. If you look at a map of the city, you will see that the districts are numbered in a spiral pattern for the most part with districts I, II, and III on the Buda side and then IV starts the Pest side until XI, which again is the Buda side.
Main Streets & Squares
Pest -- Pest is as flat as a palacsinta (pancake), spread over a number of districts, taking in two-thirds of the city. Pest is the heartbeat with the commercial and administrative center of the capital and of all of Hungary. Central Pest, the term used in this guide, is that part of the city between the Danube and the semicircular Outer Ring Boulevard (Nagykörút), where stretches of it are named after former Austro-Hungarian monarchs: Ferenc körút, József körút, Erzsébet körút, Teréz körút, and Szent István körút, changing names as the district changes. The Outer Ring begins at the Pest side of the Petofi Bridge in the south and wraps itself around the center, ending at the Margit Bridge in the north. Several of Pest's busiest squares are found along the Outer Ring, and Pest's major east-west avenues bisect the ring at these squares.
Central Pest is further defined by the Inner Ring (Kiskörút), which lies within the Outer Ring. It starts at Szabadság híd (Freedom Bridge) in the south and is alternately named Vámház körút, Múzeum körút, Károly körút, Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út, and József Attila utca, depending on the district, before ending at the Chain Bridge. Inside this ring is the Belváros, the actual city center and the historic Inner City of Pest. For the traveler, the Pest side is our recommended side for accommodations since this is where the lion's share of the action is and it is easy to walk to where you want to go.
Váci utca (distinct from Váci út) is a popular pedestrian-only, touristy, shopping street between the Inner Ring and the Danube. It spills into Vörösmarty tér, one of the area's best-known squares. The Dunakorzó (Danube Promenade), a popular evening strolling spot, runs along the river in Pest between the Chain Bridge and the Erzsébet Bridge. The historic Jewish district of Pest is in the Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth Town), between the two ring boulevards.
Margaret Island (Margit-sziget) is in the middle of the Danube. Accessible via the Margaret Bridge or the Árpád Bridge, it's an enormously popular recreation park with restricted vehicular traffic. It is extremely popular in the summer for sunbathing, sports, jogging, and bike riding. It has a small petting zoo for children and the remnants of an old monastery.
Buda & Óbuda -- On the left bank of the Danube is Buda; to its north, beyond the city center, lies Óbuda. Buda is as hilly as Pest is flat and is a good place for hiking. The two most advantageous vista points in the city are in central Buda on Castle Hill and the even higher Gellért Hill. Streets in Buda, particularly in the hills, are not as logically arranged as those in Pest.
Castle Hill is one of the most beautiful parts of Budapest with its magnificent view of Pest. Castle Hill is accessed by steep steps, walking paths, and small roads that are not open to general traffic. There are three less aerobic ways to access Castle Hill for those who want to conserve their energy for other adventures. From Clark Ádám tér (at the head of the Chain Bridge) you can take the funicular; from Várfok utca (near Moszkva tér) you can take the no. 10 bus; or from Deák, take the no. 16 bus, all of which will take you to the top. Castle Hill consists of the royal palace itself, home to several museums. The previous castle was destroyed in World War II, but was rebuilt afterward and named the Royal Palace specifically to house museums. The Castle District has a long history going to pre-Celtic times, but what remains today are the medieval neighborhoods of small, winding streets, circling around Holy Trinity Square (Szentháromság tér), site of the Gothic Church of Our Lady or commonly referred to as St. Matthias Church. There's little traffic on Castle Hill, and the only industry is tourism. Souvenirs, food, and drink tend to be more expensive here than in Pest.
Gellért Hill, to the south of Castle Hill, is named after the martyred Italian bishop who aided King István I (Stephen I) in his conversion of the Hungarian nation to Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries. A giant statue of Gellért sits on the side of the hill, where legend has it that he was martyred by angry pagans for his efforts. On top of the hill is the Citadella, marked by a 14m (45ft) Liberation Statue of a woman holding a palm leaf to represent victory. It was erected in 1947 and visible from most points along the Danube on the Pest side.
Below Castle Hill, along the Danube, is a long, narrow neighborhood and district known as Watertown (Víziváros). The main street of Watertown is Fo utca (Main St.). One of the original market places is off of Batthyány tér in this district. The famous Király thermal bath from Turkish times is right down the street.
Central Buda, the term used in this guide, is a collection of mostly low-lying neighborhoods below Castle Hill. The main square of Central Buda is Moszkva tér, just north of Castle Hill, a hub for trams, buses, and the Red line metro, this area is in serious need of revitalizing. Beyond Central Buda, mainly to the east, are the Buda Hills.
Óbuda is on the left bank of the Danube, north of Buda. Although the greater part of Óbuda is lacking any architectural significance, reminding one of the Communist times, the area boasts both a beautiful old city center and the impressive Roman ruins of Aquincum. Unfortunately, the road coming off the Árpád Bridge slices the old city center in half, destroying its integrity. The historic center of the old city is Fo tér (Main Sq.), a charming square dotted with small, yet impressive museums. Óbuda Island (Óbudai-sziget) is home to an enormous park that swells in size every August when it hosts Hungary's own annual Woodstock music festival, called the Sziget (Island) Festival. This festival has developed an international following.
Finding an Address
Locating addresses in Budapest or anywhere in Hungary for that matter can be an exercise in frustration. Not only is strangeness of the Hungarian language confusing, the difference between an o, ö, ó, or o, can make all of the difference and with 14 vowels to choose from, it can be a real puzzle. However, with a bit of practice and a good map, you should be successful.
Budapest is divided into 23 districts, called kerülets (abbreviated as ker.). All addresses in Hungary start with a Roman numeral followed by a period signifying the kerület; for example, VII. Akácfa u. 18 is in the seventh kerület. Many street names are often used repeatedly in different districts, but are not all continuations of the same street. This makes it very important to know which kerület a certain address is in. You will also need to pay attention to the type of street. Is it utca, út, tér, or tere? For example, there are streets named Templom (church) in nine different districts with various utca, út, körönd, and so on added to them.
A common mistake made by visitors is to confuse Váci út, the heavily trafficked main road that goes from Nyugati Station toward the city of Vác, with Váci utca, the pedestrian-only street in the Inner City. Similarly, visitors sometimes mistake Vörösmarty utca, a station on the Yellow metro line, with Vörösmarty tér, the terminus of that same Yellow metro line.
If the address you are hunting for doesn't have a Roman numeral preceding it, look for the postal code for the kerület. Postal codes are four digits with the middle two digits representing the kerület; thus, Akácfa u.18, 1072 Budapest will be in district VII.
Street signs are posted high up on the corner buildings on a street and on two corners; one showing the even numbers and one with the odd numbers. The information given is the Roman numeral of the kerület followed by the name of the district, under this is the name of the street or square, and finally the building numbers found on that block. Look at the arrow on the sign; for example, 29-35 with an arrow pointing to the right tells you that if you walk to the right, the numbers will get higher. You may have to look at all four corners before you see the one you want. Even- and odd-numbered buildings are on opposite sides of the street; however, they do not follow any pattern otherwise. You may be in front of no. 98 on one side of the street and see no. 79 directly across from you. Depending on whether you are looking for an even or odd number on the street, orient yourself with the signs showing the even or odd numbering. Numbers are seldom skipped, but two or more places may share a number; often you'll end up walking longer than you expected to reach a given number. Adding to the "guess where it is" game, many businesses do not have a numeral posted on their doors, so look for other signs.
Many street names were changed following the systemic changes of 1989, reverting for the most part back to their pre-World War II names, aside from a handful of central streets with politically evocative former names, like Lenin körút (now Teréz körút) and Népköztársaság útja ("Road of the People's Republic," now Andrássy út). The one outstanding exception is Moszkva tér.
Floors in buildings are numbered European style, meaning that the floor you enter, is the ground floor (földszint), so for the first floor, you have to go up one flight (elso emelet), and so on. Addresses are usually written with the floor number in Roman numerals and the apartment number in Arabic numerals, following the street name. For example, a full address would be VII. Budapest Akácfa u. 18, IV/24. The district is the seventh in Budapest and the location is on Akácfa u. 18 on the fourth floor, apartment 24.
Read signs carefully and match all of the little marks above those vowels. The Hungarian alphabet has 44 letters, making it very detailed in writing and in speech. Refer to the "Hungarian Address Terms" box above.
Street Maps -- A good map can save you hours of frustration. You can get a decent free map at the Tourinform office. Public transportation lines are shown on the maps, but, in some places, the map is too crowded to make the lines out clearly. If you are really lucky, the BKV térkép (Budapest Transportation Authority map) will be available from metro ticket windows, but they seem to be scarce when needed. If you really want one, at the top of the Red metro escalator at the Deák station, you will find an unnamed bookshop. They seem to have an endless supply of transit maps on sale for 690 Ft. You will also find that Google Maps has done a fine job with Budapest (www.google.com/maps) if you have your laptop or GPRS/WAP-enabled (tri-or quad-band) phone with you.
Hungarian Address Terms -- Navigating in Budapest will be easier if you are familiar with the following words (none of which are capitalized in Hungarian):
utca (abbreviated as u.) street
útja road of
körút (abbreviated as krt.) boulevard
tere square of
köz alley or lane
pályaudvar (abbreviated as pu.) railway station
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.