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Friday, August 31, 2012

Budapest. So many thoughts rush through your mind when Hungary’s capital is mentioned that it would take a lifetime to enlist them all. Although this fact alone proves the eclectic diversity of Budapest, thoughts and theories will only get you so far without practice and first-hand experience. Regardless, as for us and as for now, we’ll neglect this attitude and talk all the talk about the city we love. Walking the walk is up to you!

Being Janus-faced might sound like a despicable attribute, but judging a wine by its bottle is seldom a good idea. In the case of Budapest, Janus-faced connotes the two extremities embodied by the city’s two parts, Buda and Pest. Cojoined by nine bridges, they resemble a pair of distinctively differing twins with a handful of common features. Before carrying on with the familiarization of calm, cool, and collected Buda, let us sing a song about the most beautiful bridge in Budapest.

Recently renovated Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) might get upset about our decision, but Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) takes the cake in this race. A spectacle in itself, Chain Bridge is surrounded by picturesque sights on both sides of the Danube. On the Pest side, neighbouring Art Nouveau-masterpiece Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, it is anchored to Széchenyi Square, granting an instant access to the city centre. On the Buda side, providing a fabulous alfa and omega for both the tree-sheltered, shadowy staircases swirling up to Buda Castle, and the vintage Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló), it is anchored to Clark Ádám Square.

Apropos Buda: despite its lively-green hills, historic spas, aristocratic atmosphere, and narrow, silent streets, this seemingly low-key twin member also has buzzing urban junctions such as Széll Kálmán Square, and renowned, unique clubs like A38, a venue for arts, parties, and first-class meals, hosted by a reincarnated Ukranian stone-carrier ship anchored adjacent to Petőfi Bridge.

To make things even more sweeter, Buda harbors cozy restaurants, bluesy pubs, and hidden treasures  – e.g. Mansfeld Péter Park or Gül Baba’s Tomb – providing a breathtaking panorama on Budapest and a perfect destination for a romantic stroll.

Buda’s main attraction, and also one of the city’s most widely-known symbols, is Buda Castle. Although Castle Hill’s altitude is hardly dizzying, wandering around the eye-pleasing, monument-filled streets of Buda Castle will definitely feel like heaven.

Speaking of altitude, the highest point you can reach in Budapest can be found on the top floor of Elisabeth Lookout Tower. Situated atop 527-metre-high János Hill, Elisabeth Lookout Tower – named after Empress Elisabeth of Austria – guarantees an all-year-long free entry, fresh air, beautiful scenery, and the queen of panoramas.

Óbuda’s name – meaning “Old Buda” – tells the whole story, since this is the most ancient area of Budapest. Before the capital’s three parts were unificated into one major metropolis, Óbuda used to be a pleasant little town with a rich historical background, where even stone age settlements were found. Apropos history. Óbuda’s main attractions are undoubtedly the ruins of Aquincum, the capital of the Roman Empire’s Pannonia province, although the cobblestone streets and the renovated baroque buildings are also must-sees. To put the icing on the cake, you shouldn’t miss out on neither the Vasarely Museum, nor the minor folklore exhibitions.

Now it is high time we returned from such great heights and got to know the more impulsive and less balanced twin member, Pest. A patchwork of moods, architectural styles, monuments, cultural venues, clubs, boutiques, bars, cinemas, and restaurants, Pest is like a restless artist incapable of resisting the many temptations of the good life.

The indisputable heart of Pest’s nightlife – and, moreover, the soul of Jewish culture – is the gracefully battered 7th district. The grace of Erzsébetváros – also named after Empress Elisabeth – can mostly be attributed to dazzling spectacles such as Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest of its kind in Europe, and a complex that will leave you in nothing but awe.

As for the battered part of the story, Erzsébetváros hosts a heap of ruin pubs, including pioneering Szimpla Kert, the mother of all ruin pubs. Szimpla, characterized by pieces of secondhand furniture and a psychedelic interior, is a cultural melting pot and a frequented spot for hippies, yuppies, and puppies.

Szimpla’s neighborhood gives home to several other venues suited both for chilling and partying, so exploring Gozsdu Courtyard (Gozsdu Udvar), Király Street, or Kazinczy Street is always a good idea. With an invaluable contribution from late-night eateries, you can easily exorcise the demons of the drunk munchies.

The sister districts of Erzsébetváros, namely the 5th and the 6th, can easily be regarded as sophisticated ladies with a tendency to get tipsy and kinky every once in a while, and this is exactly what makes them so attractive.

Although exclusivity oozes from the stylish boutiques, classy restaurants, and cultural venues – the Hungarian State Opera and Ernst Museum are prime examples – of Andrássy Avenue, Nagymező Street, often labeled as the Broadway of Budapest, is just around the corner.

The past is also present in the area: on one end of Andrássy Avenue, there is Heroes’ Square, surrounded by a pair of frequented museums – the Art Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts – and the green grass of Városliget.

Adjacent to the other end of Hungary’s most famous avenue, there is St. Stephen’s Basilica, the largest church in the country, and a haven for the undecaying right hand of Saint Stephen I.

Within walking distance, sitting on the mesmerizing bank of the Danube, there is the richly ornamented Parliament, a sight you can’t and shouldn’t miss, and a haven for another sacred relic, The Holy Crown of Hungary.

Perhaps the busiest streets of downtown Budapest, Deák Ferenc Street and Váci Street, coming to a junction at Vörösmarty Square, are both crowded with shops that will surely urge you to go on a shopping spree.

Váci Street, joining Fővám Square – the home of three-storied Great Market Hall – and formerly mentioned Vörösmarty Square, is an excellent starting point for a city-exploring excursion due to the many means of transportation, the closeness of must-see spectacles, and an unprecedented cosmopolitan atmosphere.

The same attributes characterize Ráday Street, a never-resting street slashing through the Danube-neighbouring area of the 9th disctrict. In Ráday Street, buffets, bars, and restaurants – ranging from student-friendly to Michelin-starred - are aplenty, so your hunger, indifferent of the available budget, will definitely be satisfied with various delicacies.

To get away from the bustling and hustling of the city centre, take a stroll along Danube Promenade, find yourself a sympathetic bench, open a bottle of wine, and talk the talk about the walk you’ve just walked.

Photos: Balázs Glódi

If you want to see more stunnig pictures of the city, in our new series we have shoot some panoramas from hardly accessible luxory hotel rooftops. The result is magnificent.

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