Budapest is the capital of Hungary; it is also the country’s political, cultural, commercial, industrial and transportation center. The city Budapest amalgamated in 1873, when Buda on the right bank, and Pest on the left bank joined. Pest lies on a flat plateau and is the commercial center of the metropolis, where many fashionable shopping centers are located. Buda is older and more picturesque and has cobbled streets, colorful houses and gentle hills.
Architecturally, the city is an amalgamation of styles due to its turbulent history: it was often destroyed and rebuilt. Today, it boasts magnificent tree-lined boulevards, cobbled streets, and medieval neighborhoods, gothic palaces, neo-Classical buildings as well as Roman ruins, Turkish, neo-gothic and Art Nouveau buildings, and socialist bloc house units. The city is famous for its Castle Hill where the Royal palace is located, along with numerous museums, galleries, St. Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion. The city is also well known for its health and thermal spas, a tradition handed over from the Romans and later the Turks. Although a member of the EU from 2004, the country, as well as its capital, still retains its original eastern charm and mystique. The nightlife is buzzing as is the classical music scene.
Budapest has a temperate transitional climate. Summers are warm but winters are harsh and cold due to the city’s geographical position between the Alps on the west and the open Great Plain on the east. Rainfall is plentiful all year round. Spring begins in early April. Summers are hot and humid and bring lots of warm sunny days. Winter usually comes late – around mid December and is quite short. It is damp and cold, although sunny days are also common. Snow is scarce and usually lasts only a few days. The warmest month is July, the coldest is December. Most rainfall occurs in June.
January average temperature -1 deg Celsius, 32 mm rainfall February average temperature 0.5 deg Celsius, 31 mm rainfall March average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 28 mm rainfall April average temperature 10.5 deg Celsius, 38 mm rainfall May average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 53 mm rainfall June average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 65 mm rainfall July average temperature 20.5 deg Celsius, 59 mm rainfall August average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 49 mm rainfall September average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 37 mm rainfall October average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 35 mm rainfall November average temperature 4 deg Celsius, 51 mm rainfall December average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 40 mm rainfall
Ferihegy International Airport is the largest Hungarian hub, located 24 km to the south-east of the city center. It has two terminals and is served by numerous international airlines. Further information: www.bud.hu/english
Airport Minibuses depart every 30 minutes and take you to the city near the main bus station.Shuttle Busses: Shuttle buses are operated by Budapest Airport Minibusz Kft. The service may be ordered by dialling (+36 1) 296-8555, or (+36 1) 296-8555, at least 24 hours prior to scheduled departure. Passengers are taken to their pre-defined addresses in 8 to 11-seat microbuses. bud.hu/kozlekedes/minibuszTaxi Zóna Taxi, is the official partner of Budapest Airport and carries the passengers at fixed fares, defined by zones. Trabnsfer can be ordered at the following phone numbers: +36 1 365 55 55 or +36 1 365 55 55 or at email@example.com. Further information: www.zonataxi.eu. Car: Take Ulloi Street to reach downtown. Bus and Metro: Bus line 200E of the Budapest mass transit system connects both terminals 2 and 1 with the Kőbánya-Kispest terminus of metro line 3. http://www.bkv.hu/english/home/index.html
Budapest has three main bus stations, but all international busses arrive and depart to and from Népliget station.
Budapest is easily reached by train and there are good connections to other European countries, as well as other Hungarian cities.
The BKV (Budapest unified public transport) homepage: http://www.bkv.hu/english/home/index.html
There are 3 main lines and the Metro is an efficient and inexpensive way of getting around, although mainly on the Pest side of the city.
Trams are a great way for the tourist to get around. It is slower and more scenic than the metro. It comes in handy on the Buda side of the city, where there are practically no metro connections.
There is a dense network of buses, covering the areas the trams don’t. Night services are frequent.
Budapest is home to some of the world’s finest Turkish baths. Many are located in original Ottoman palaces, with octagonal pools, domes, and stained glass windows where bathing is a unique hedonistic experience. The baths usually feature several pools, with water of various temperatures, some even feature saunas and steam rooms. Others offer medical treatments or a relaxing massage. The best loved baths are the Gellért, Rudas, Széchenyi and Lukács Baths. Szechenyi Spa (Állatkerti körút 11; phone: +36-1/363-3210), situated in the middle of the City Park, is the largest thermal spa in Budapest with the deepest and warmest wells. Gellért Baths (XI Kelenhegyi út; phone: 1 466 6166) are located in a magnificent Art Nouveau palace. The water has a constant temperature of 44°C.
Unique features of Budapest are the two beautiful caves open to public, located in the Buda hills. The Pálvölgy Cave (Szépvölgyi út 162) is 12 km long, of which 400 meters can be explored on foot. Access is available only via guided tours. Szemlőhegy Cave (Pusztaszeri út 35) is 2.2 km long but only 300 meters can be explored on foot. Guided tours are available every day from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, except Tuesday.
Lake Balaton is a huge lake 100 km from Budapest where visitors can choose from a variety of pastimes including swimming, sailing, surfing, sunbathing, as well as biking and hiking in the surrounding area.
Address: Clark Ádám square Access: Bus (4, 16, 105); tram (2, 19)
One of Budapest’s most famous landmarks, the Chain Bridge was the first stone bridge to span the Danube River and is guarded by its famous lion statues. The bridge is 375 m long and 16 m wide and was, at the time of its opening in 1849 an amazing engineering achievement.
THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
Address: Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3 Phone: (01) 441 4904 Web: www.parlament.hu Open: workdays: 8:00 am – 6:00 pm; Saturday: 8:00 am - 4:00 pm; Sunday: 8:00 am – 2:00 pm; guided tours every hour/half hour during peak seasons Access: Metro: 2 (Kossuth tér); bus 15; tram 2
The parliament buildings are located by the Danube River and are a prominent feature in the panorama of the city. Spanning 250 m it is one of the world’s longest parliaments. The building is decorated with a red dome, pretty spires and white stone lace. The guided tour features magnificent treasures, marble, gold, statues and columns. The artifacts on display also feature the crown of the first Hungarian King, 1,000 years old and priceless.
Address: I Szent György tér Phone: 1 375 7533 Access: Tram 18 (Dózsa tér); bus 5, 16, 78; funincular
The Royal Palace is located atop the Castle Hill, in the Buda part of the city, within the Castle District. The palace was often burned, bombed and reconstructed, which is now evident in the amalgamation of architectural styles, dating mainly from the 18th to early 20th century. The palace complex today features prominent cultural institutions including the Budapest History Museum, Hungarian National Gallery, the National Library and the Ludwig Museum.
Address: Szentháromság tér Access: Tram 18 (Dózsa tér); bus 5; funicular
Built in 1905 by the architect Frigyes Schulek, the Fisherman’s bastion is a white-stone composition of turrets, projections, parapets and stairways designed in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles. There are 7 towers symbolizing the 7 Magyar tribes. The fairy tale structure, located on the Castle Hill, offers one of the best views of the city.
Address: V. Szent István tér 33 Phone: 317 2859 Web: www.basilica.hu Open: daily (mass times): 7:00 am – 9:00 am; 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm Access: Metro 3 (Arany János utca / Bajcsy-Zsilinszky u)
The church is Hungary’s largest and second highest religious building. The construction began in 1851 and was designed in the neo-Classical style. Later it was modified to suit the models of Italian Renaissance. The basilica was consecrated in 1905. The dome is 96 m high and the basilica itself can take up to 8,500 people. Its interior is richly decorated. Many of Hungary’s top sculptors and painters were enlisted for this marvel. There are as many as 50 different kinds of marble used in the interior decoration. From the left tower (which can be accessed by an elevator) a beautiful panorama of the city can be enjoyed.
Hungarian cuisine is rich in meat and sweets. Local specialties include paprikás (chicken paprika), gulás (chunky beef goulash) usually served with galuska (small dumplings), pörkölt (goulash stew with lots of onions), halászlé (fisherman soup with lots of hot paprika), and stuffed cabbage. Dishes are quite spicy; the use of paprika seems unlimited. There are also many sweets; many are similar to those in Vienna.
Recently the traditional Hungarian cuisine has been largely modernized, blending foreign influences. The restaurant scene is vibrant; many Hungarian and Asian restaurants offer good food and affordable prices. Lunch is eaten early, usually from noon until 2:00 pm. The best price for a lunch is prix-fixe lunch called menü.
The annual spring festival covers a broad spectrum of arts. The program features ballet performances, classical music, opera and jazz. The city is also host to chamber music recitals and church concerts. In addition, several art exhibitions open for the occasion. This is the largest cultural event in Hungary, taking place at top art venues. It attracts numerous world renowned artists and performers.
The island lying in the Danube River just north of the city hosts one of the largest open air concerts in Europe. Thousands of people gather to listen to pop and rock bands. The week-long event features over 1,000 performances in 60 venues. Camping is organized. In addition numerous restaurants and bars are provided, as well as the accompanying program featuring literature, classical music, theatre and art exhibitions.
DANUBE WATER CARNIVAL
Date: June 8-17
The festival takes place between Margaret Bridge and the Chain Bridge. It attracts over 200,000 visitors, and is a beautiful show of color and light. The culmination of the festival is the flotilla of boats down the river, alongside numerous candles. There is also a fireworks display on the 17th.
HUNGARIAN F1 GRAND PRIX
Date: August 5 Location: Hungaroring Circuit Web: http://www.hungaroring.hu/
The Formula 1 motor-racing circuit, located some 20 km from Budapest, hosts the Hungarian Grand Prix which attracts world renowned drivers.
Date: June 23- 24 Location: Felvonulási Square, Heroes’ Square, City Park Web: firstname.lastname@example.org
Originally celebrating the departure of Soviet troops from Hungary, the festival has nowadays become one of the most popular events in the city, offering numerous free events. The program features classical music, children’s entertainment, jazz concerts, and a costume contest.
Budapest is a large city, offering a huge number of entertainment possibilities.
CLUBS AND BARS
The dance scene is becoming more and more sophisticated. There are numerous clubs with superb DJs starting very late, usually well after midnight. It is easy to get from one place to another, owing to a good transportation system. Local jazz musicians are good but clubs are scarce.
Zeneakadémia is the most important Hungarian musical venue, housing also the Ferenc (Franz) Liszt Music Academy. Tickets are difficult to obtain as many performances are sold out early. Make sure you buy tickets well in advance.
The Opera uses two locations: Magyar Állami Operaház (address: VI Andrássy út 22) is a prestigious location where popular pieces are usually performed; and Erkel Színház (Address: VIII Köztársaság tér 30) a socialist style building where less popular productions are held.
Budapest has over 30 theatres but the language barrier is great; Magyar language is incomprehensible to most visitors.
There are over 10 casinos in Budapest. Most are open daily from 2:00 pm to around 5:00 am.
The area of Budapest was settled in the 1st century A.D. by the Romans. Even though the Romans were only there for a few hundred years, they introduced many architectural and novel improvements including columns, plaster and arches. They also discovered the wealth of thermal springs under the city and the first public baths were created. In 896 new tribes emerged in the area called Magyars, who founded the Hungarian nation. Buda and Pest emerged among other small villages. In the 13th century King Bela established a fortress in Buda, and later, King Charles Robert moved the capital from Visegrad to Buda and the construction of the Royal Palace began.
The city enjoyed new proliferation only to be destroyed by the invading Mongol tribes who reduced the city to rubble. Soon the attackers departed and the town, as well as the country reemerged. Another setback came in 1526 when the Hungarian army was defeated by the Turks led by Suleyman the First. Two decades later the Turks held complete control over the city. Under the Turkish rule many more baths were constructed. It is believed that the spicy paprika, as well as coffee was introduced by the Turks.
Budapest was liberated in 1686 by the Poles, who forced the Turks to retreat fully. Hungary however was not yet independent. It became a part of the Habsburg Empire. The city nevertheless prospered and grew. During that period the city was not yet known as Budapest; not even a bridge connected Buda and Pest. This all changed in 1849 when the Chain Bridge was built, connecting the two cities. This finally led to merging of Buda, Pest, Margaret Island and Obuda in 1873. The newly enlarged city experienced a building boom. Many magnificent buildings date from this era. The metro was built, the first on the continent at that time.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
During WW I Austria - Hungary entered the war as a German ally. After the war the union collapsed and Hungary declared its independence. Allies demanded a portion of Hungary’s territory; then Communists took over the political power in Hungary and fought for the original borders. The Communist government fled the country when Romanian troops invaded. In the 1920 Treaty the country was left with only one third of its former territory. The government led by Miklos Horthy from 1920 to 1944 fought constantly to win back the lost territory. To this end they asked Nazi Germany for help. Between 1938 and 1944 a portion of the lost territory was recovered. Hungary joined Germany in the attack on the Soviet Union, but the Hungarian army was later completely annihilated by the Soviet counterattack. In 1944 Germany invaded Hungary in order to prevent it from pulling out of the war.
By the end of the fighting the city was in ruins. Not a single bridge was standing, the Royal Palace was demolished and the Castle District was destroyed. After the war ended in 1945, Hungary was in Soviet hands. Mass deportation to Siberia began and over 200,000 Hungarians died in labor camps. In 1949 Hungary was declared a communist People’s Republic but the terror of the secret police, forced loyalty and ever worsening living standards brought about massive dissatisfaction. In 1956 the anti-Soviet revolution in Budapest erupted into riots and mass demonstrations but Soviet tanks entered the city to crush the revolt. During the fighting around 3,000 people were killed and many buildings around the town were disfigured by the shooting. Thousands more were arrested and many, especially well educated people fled to the West. 1989 saw the collapse of Communism, the fence dividing Hungary and Austria was being dismantled, and Lenin’s statue was removed. By 1991 Soviet troops were gone entirely from the country.
In 1992 Hungary secured associate membership in the European Community. In 1998 the European Union began negotiations for Hungary’s full membership and in 1999 the country joined NATO. Hungary joined the EU in 2004. Today Budapest shines in all its glory, and is one of the most beautiful and scenic capitals in Eastern Europe.
Both men and women greet by shaking hands. If invited to for a meal at home, bring a box of good chocolates, flowers or Western liquor. Punctuality is important in social situations, and especially in business. Hungarian dining etiquette is pretty formal. Clean plate is a signal you are still hungry. Leave you drinks half full when you are finished drinking. Otherwise they will be refilled.
Budapest is a relatively safe city, the same as any western European metropolis. Sensible precautions against petty crime should be taken. Bag snatching and pick pocketing are common. Take the usual precautions: do not show off your money in public and avoid wearing flashy jewelry. Most pick pocketing occurs on crowded public transport, in crowded bars, clubs and pubs, fast food eateries, and other areas frequented by tourists. There are no off-limit areas in the tourist zone and nearby but do avoid dark alleys, major train stations, such as Keleti Pályaudvar, at night, and lonely underpasses in the suburban area. Night time in Budapest should be no cause for concern especially in the central part of the city. However, avoid larger parks at night, such as the Városliget. Beware of common tourist traps. Taxi drivers to and from the airport sometimes demand extortionate amounts of money. Only use the pre-ordered cars or one of the reliable companies such as Zóna Taxi. Do not accept a ride from one of the taxi drivers waiting outside the terminal. Another common tourist trap is the bars and restaurants on Váci utca. These serve poor food at ridiculously high prices. If you get approached by a girl on Váci utca, inviting you into a topless bar, do not accept the invitation unless you are prepared to pay hundreds of euros for a drink.
The best time to visit Budapest is in late spring and early autumn when the weather is nice and warm, and the cultural agenda is filled with festivals. In the peak season (July and August) Budapest is crowded with tourists and the air is hot and humid. The locals take their vacations during this period so you might also want to avoid the crowds and not travel in Budapest during the high season. Winters are cold, wet and grey.