Starting at Roosevelt ter and ending at Deak Ferenc ter, you can take in the Chain Bridge, an impressive stretch of the Danube, The Parliament and the Basilica, with plenty to absorb en route.
Right at the heart of Budapest, Szechenyi Lanchid, was the first bridge to link Buda to Pest. Originally built between 1839 and 1849, it was destroyed during the Nazi retreat across Europe and rebuilt in 1949. On the far bank, the road disappears into the rock beneath the Royal Palace. Roosevelt ter offers Gresham Palace, which stands directly opposite the bridge, and is one of the more voluptuous examples of secessionist architecture in Budapest. It’s now fully restored as a plush hotel and its worth a wander around the lobby. To the north, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences is distinguished by a line of statues representing each scientific discipline.
North, along the Danube
Heading north, walk alongside the river, for a pleasant view of Buda’s landmarks: the thin, white spire of Matyas church, surrounded by the Fisherman’s bastion atop Castle Hill. Further along, the red-brick Calvinist church sports a colourful roof of Zsolnay tiles, while the twin green, baroque spires belong to St Anne’s, on Batthyany ter. As you draw nearer to the Parliament building, be careful not to miss the cast iron shoes lined up along the bank: a poignant reminder of the fate of Hungarian Jews in the final days of the Second World War.
Parliament and Kossuth ter
Approaching the Parliament itself, it’s hard to be focussed on anything else. The building is undoubtedly the most memorable in the entire city and, if you get the chance to go inside, take it (it’s wise to get tickets in advance.) The surrounding square, Kossuth Lajos ter is also worth investigating, with several reminders of Hungary’s past struggles. Statues are dedicated to Rakosi Ferenc II and Kossuth Lajos, leaders of the revolutions in 1703 and 1848, while two memorials and a plethora of bullet-holes stand testament to the most recent, in 1956. TheEthnographical museum with its elaborate facade would dominate almost any other square in the city, while the Ministry of Agriculture also impresses.
An unusual monument in the form of a bridge (just off Kossuth ter, not far from the Metro stop), is dedicated to Imre Nagy, the prime minister who dared to join the uprising in 1956. Take Vecsey utca from here, which leads onto the vast Szabadsag ter. Directly ahead is the recently repaired Russian War Memorial, which was defaced during the protests of autumn 2006. The square is, historically, the place to protest: the imposing national TV headquarters, formerly the national radio station, was centre stage for the ’56 uprising. Take Aulich utca onto a small unnamed square, where an eternal flame, lit in 1926, is dedicated to Batthyany Lajos, the first prime minister of Hungary.
Here, there’s a small coffee shop (Java Caffe Co.) with a fair selection of coffees and cakes, to provide a much needed break. If you’re looking for something a little more substantial, turn right, down Hold utca and try the Csarnok Vendeglo, for pub-style food and drinks at a more-than-reasonable price. The market next-door is also worth a visit, for a more down-to-earth experience than you’ll find in the central market. Continuing along Hold utca, look up for the impressive, tiled roof of the former Post Office. There’s a further coffee shop, complete with sandwiches and cakes, just beyond the junction with Bank utca.
This is the banking district and the buildings reflect the investment. The pick of them is without doubt the Magyar Nemzeti Bank (National Hungarian Bank), which hosts some of the most detailed friezes in the city. Turning right provides a view back onto Szabadsag ter, while taking Sas utca will bring you onto Szent Istvan ter, in front of the Basilica.
Szent Istvan Basilica
Built between 1851 and 1905, the exterior of the basilica is littered with sculptures of saints, St. Istvan himself taking pride of place at the entrance. Inside, its worth exploring properly. The main part of the church, with its astounding architecture, Gyula Benczur’s painting of St Istvan and the Virgin Mary, and the main altar itself, is all free of charge. Two separate chambers are also free: the first (left; front) documents the construction of the building and the second (left; rear), houses the Holy Right Hand of St Stephen. For a small fee, the dome tower is accessible by lift or stairs. It provides a superb panorama of the city and a bird’s-eye-view of the route that brought you here.
For several food options, cross the main road at the rear of the Basilica and turn down Paulay Ede utca. We recommend Vista for excellent food and outstanding service. Alternatively, for further sights, turn right and take the 49 tram from Deak Ferenc ter, toward the Synagogue (at Astoria), the central market and Vaci utca (at Fovam ter), or cross over Szabadsag hid (Liberty Bridge), to make a start on Gellert Hill. (But if you get this far, you must have been cheating.)