Walking Tour 3: Leopold Town & Theresa Town
Start: Kossuth tér, site of Parliament.
Finish: Muvész Coffeehouse, near the Opera House.
Time: About 2 hours (excluding museum visits and the Opera House tour).
Best Times: Tuesday through Sunday. Note that if you want to visit the Parliament building, you should secure your ticket in advance in person. Tickets are not available online.
Worst Time: Monday, when museums are closed.
In 1790, the new region developing just to the north of the medieval town walls of Pest was dubbed Leopold Town (Lipótváros) in honor of the emperor, Leopold II. Over the next 100 years or so, the neighborhood developed into an integral part of Pest, housing numerous governmental and commercial buildings: Parliament, government ministries, courthouses, the Stock Exchange, and the National Bank were all built here. This tour will take you through the main squares of Leopold Town. You'll also walk briefly along the Danube and visit a historic market hall. Along the way, you can stop to admire some of Pest's most fabulous examples of Art Nouveau architecture, as well as the city's largest church.
Exiting the Kossuth tér metro (Red line), turn to the left at the top of the escalator and you'll find yourself on the southern end of:
1. Kossuth tér
Walk toward Parliament where you will see the equestrian statue of Ferenc Rákóczi II the Transylvanian prince who led the revolt against the Habsburgs that turned into the War of Independence. At one time loyal to the Habsburgs, he grew disenchanted with their lack of interest in the Hungarian nobility. He was imprisoned for conspiring against them, but escaped and sought refuge in Poland. On the northern lawn, you will find a statue of Lajos Kossuth for whom the square is named. He was the political leader of the 1848 Hungarian War of Independence from the Habsburgs. Both men fought for the independence of Hungary and both were defeated in their efforts.
Sitting gloriously on your left is one of the most important symbols of Budapest, the neo-Gothic:
2. House of Parliament
Work on the Parliament building began in 1884, but was not completed until 16 years later. The similarities to Westminster in London are due to them both having the same architect, Imre Steindl. Since 2000, besides its government functions, the Parliament building has also been home to the fabled Hungarian crown jewels. Many protests have been held in front of the building including the uprising in October 2006, when tapes were leaked that the prime minister had lied to the public about the state of the economy. Unfortunately, you can enter only on guided tours (the 3/4-hour tour is worthwhile for the chance to go inside). It is a magnificent building inside as well as outside, being one of the largest Parliament buildings in the world. Minor protests still occur in front sometimes disrupting the tour schedule.
Here, you have an option. If you are feeling fearless and are without children, go down the stairs behind the back of Parliament, and dodge the traffic on the busy two-lane road to the river embankment. Walk to your left toward the Chain Bridge. You will see dark bronzed shoes of various sizes and styles lined up along the river. This is a respectful remembrance of the Jews who were lined up along the river and shot by the Germans, during the last days of the Holocaust. The Germans knew they did not have time or access to continue sending train cars to detention camps.
When you return to Parliament and ascend the stairs again, head across the street to the eclectic-style building that now houses the:
3. Ethnographical Museum
This museum boasts more than 150,000 objects in its collection. The From Ancient Times to Civilization exhibition contains many fascinating relics of Hungarian life.
Continue walking past the front of Parliament, and past the statue of 1848 revolutionary hero, Lajos Kossuth, mentioned earlier.
As you get to the corner with the Parliament Café turn left and continue through Vértanúk tere (Square of Martyrs). Here stands:
4. Imre Varga's statue of Imre Nagy
The Nagy statue Witnesses to Blood was erected in 1996 portraying the former prime minister in a realistic manner of dress, but slimmer than he was in life crossing a symbolic bridge. Although he was a reformist Communist who was made prime minister with the backing of the Soviets, he attempted to create a solution for Hungarian independence. It was he who led the failed 1956 Hungarian Uprising. He was executed in 1958, 2 years after the Soviet-led invasion.
Now walk a few blocks down Nádor utca and turn left onto Zoltán utca. The massive yellow building on the right side of Zoltán utca is the former Stock Exchange, now headquarters of:
5. Hungarian Television
There have been plans to move the television headquarters to a new building, but these plans constantly fail due to financial reasons. The significance of this building now is that this is where the riots of September 2006 started. Angry demonstrators bombarded the stations' doors, destroyed equipment, and set fires inside, while setting cars on fire in front of the building.
The front of the television building is on:
6. Freedom Square (Szabadság tér)
Directly in front of you and barricaded is the Soviet Army Memorial, built in 1945 to honor the Soviet-led liberation of Budapest and topped by the last Soviet Star remaining in post-Communist Budapest. The monument has been vandalized several times, but after the riots occurred, the barriers were fortified. The American Embassy is at Szabadság tér 12, also surrounded by gates, barriers, and guards. The embassy is famous, but not for its architecture. During World War II, the Swiss governed over U.S. interests in Budapest. This was the official base of operations for Carl Lutz, the diplomat who saved thousands of Jews. Lutz later moved his safe house to 29 Vadász utca, the Glass House as it was called. On the wall of the embassy, if you can get close enough to see it, there is a plaque for Cardinal Mindszenty, who spent 15 years in internal exile within the embassy after being badly mistreated following the 1956 uprising.
Walk to the left of the U.S. Embassy to Hold utca and turn right onto Hold utca (Moon St.), formerly known as Rosenberg házaspár utca, for Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Here you will find the spectacular and restored:
7. Former Post Office Savings Bank (Posta Takarékpénztár)
Stand across the street and look up for the best view, but if the trees are in bloom, you may have to risk standing in the street. One of the most unusual and one of my favorite buildings, it was designed by Ödön Lechner, the architect who in 1900, attempted to fuse Hungarian folk elements with the Art Nouveau style, which was popular at this time. I love the bees crawling up to the beehive as a metaphor for saving your money. At the top are winged dragons and serpents, but you need binoculars to best view them.
8. Inner City Market Hall (Belvárosi Vásárcsarnok)
Built at the end of the 1800s, this is one of the five cavernous market halls around the city that all opened on the same day. It has been newly restored, but with limited light during parts of the day, so it seems cavelike at times. In this market, you will find fresh fruits, vegetables, and an assortment of spices. The bakery has some excellent selections of unusual and delicious varieties of bread.
Take a Break -- When in the market, there is a lángos stand in the side corner. Treat yourself to a Hungarian favorite snack, but don't be tempted to spoil it by getting the tourist variety like Mexican or Italian. Get the real thing with cheese, sour cream, and garlic juice.
Emerge from the Market Hall onto Vadász utca and turn right. Passing Nagysándor József utca, look right for a view of the colorful tiled roof of the former Post Office Savings Bank you recently passed. Turn right on Bank utca (the metro station you see on your left is Arany János utca; Blue line) and left on Hercegprímás utca. After a few blocks, you'll find yourself in:
9. Szent István tér
It would be impossible to miss the most famous church in Budapest, St. Stephen's Basilica. It is the largest church in the city and second largest in the country, after Esztergom's cathedral. With seating for 8,500 people, it can really pack them in. The first architect József Hild designed the neoclassical church, and construction started in 1851. However, he died before it was completed and Miklós Ybl reworked the plans creating a neo-Renaissance style, but he also died before it was completed. The third architect was József Krauser, who completed it in 1906. In the Szent Jobb Kápolna, behind the main altar to the left of the church, you can see an extraordinary and gruesome holy relic: Stephen's preserved right hand, but it will cost you 100 Ft to light up the box to get a good look. It is paraded around the city annually on St. Stephen's Day, August 20. Monday-night organ concerts are held in the church courtyard in summer. The square in front of the church has been completely refurbished and is now a restful place to spend some time.
Walk down Zrínyi utca, straight across the square from the church entrance. You may want to stop at the corner of Zrínyi utca and Nádor utca and walk into the building of the Central European University. The university is accredited in the U.S. through a N.Y. university. Returning now to the Danube, you'll find yourself emerging into:
10. Roosevelt tér
This square is pleasant and lies at the beginning of the famous Chain Bridge. Crossing the street to get to the grassy area can be dangerous to your health. When plans were made to destroy this park and cut the trees down to create a parking garage, a group of environmental activists chained themselves to the 100-year-old trees, defeating the plan to cut them down and transform the graceful park.
Surrounding the square are several important and attractive buildings, including:
11. The Gresham Palace
This Art Nouveau building was built in 1907 and is one of Budapest's best-known and most exclusive hotels: the Hotel Four Seasons Gresham Palace. During tediously detailed renovations, the hotel chain spared no expense to make sure every detail was as close to the original work as possible. It is absolutely magnificent inside. The staff is used to having travelers venture in to have a look around and they are proud of their hotel.
To your right, as you face the river, is the statue of the Greatest Hungarian:
12. Count István Széchenyi
Accompanying the statue of Széchenyi are four secondary figures representing the Great Hungarian's four areas of interest: Minerva (trade); Neptune (navigation); Vulcan (industry); and Ceres (agriculture).
Sitting behind the statue is the neo-Renaissance facade of the:
13. Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Széchenyi, being a patriot through and through, funded the Academy of Sciences just as he did with the Chain Bridge. After offering a tender for the design, the committee responsible rejected those of some of Hungary's most-famous architects of the day. The tender was re-opened and finally awarded to Freidrich August Stüler, the architect who designed the Stockholm National Museum and the Berlin National Gallery. Some Hungarians were upset that a foreigner was chosen to design a national building, but Stüler won out and the building was inaugurated in 1865. Guards prevent access beyond the academy's lobby, but it's worth sneaking a peek over their shoulder.
Turn left away from the river onto bustling:
14. József Attila utca
This street was named for the poet whose statue embellishes Kossuth tér. You're now walking along a portion of the Inner Ring (Kiskörüt), which separates the Inner City (Belváros), on your right, from Leopold Town (Lipótváros), on your left.
At József nádor tér, you may want to stop in at the:
15. Herend Shop
Herend china is perhaps Hungary's most famous product, and this museum-like shop is definitely worth a look. If you miss out here, don't fret, there are others in the city.
If you pass this, you will arrive at Erzsébet tér and Deák to the right of it.
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.