Which Side to Pick and Why
by Lucas Aresin
You might have landed on this page because you're trying to figure which side to visit first or whether to stay on the Buda or the Pest side. We have an article dedicated to the best areas to stay in Budapest. In this one we'll write about the basics, why Buda? Why Pest? Which one is the best? If you're looking for a Budapest FAQ, site we've got you covered as well! To really get to know the city, check out one of our tours.
Outsiders may not know this, but Budapest was not always Budapest. Before 1873, the city was, in fact, two cities: Buda and Pest. That sounds like an urban legend, but it is true. Separated by the wide river Danube, there was less contact between the two cities than you might imagine. In fact, the first bridge to ever connect the two was only built in 1849!
When you look at a map, it's easy to know which part is which. Facing north, Buda is on your left, and Pest, is on your right, so reading from left to right we get Budapest.
Know, there has to be some rivalry. Of course, there is. Disputes about which part of the city is the 'better' one, the more 'attractive' one, simply: Which part of Buda is for you? In an effort to put this issue to rest, we're looking at some basic elements of Budapest, trying to figure out which one's are superior.
The Lay Of The Land
Nothing makes these two parts of the city more different than the terrain. While Buda is mostly hills and cliffs, tunnels and stairs, Pest is flat as a pancake.
This makes for two very different cities. When you're crossing over from Pest to Buda, you're facing green hills, embellished stairs, and monumental, historical buildings towering on top. It's truly inspiring and invites to climb the hills, mingle in the woods, and relax.
Pest, on the other hand, feels like entering a metropolis. As you traverse the bridge, various buildings of all types, church steeples, apartment complexes, and roads of endless architecture welcome you into this vast net of streets. You won't climb any stairs here.
Both parts of the city have their fair share of stunningly designed and preserved historically significant buildings. Buda has the castle hill, easy to spot from afar, and housing Buda Royal Palace, an enormous structure and home (today) of the Hungarian National Gallery and the National Széchenyi Library, after being the trusty fortress for the royals for centuries. High on top of the Gellért Hill stands the Citadella, originally a military fortification. Close to it, the impressive Liberty Statue, which can be seen even from the Pest side, as long as you find yourself on a rooftop. But Pest is not meager, either. It can claim the Parliament for itself, which is the perfect building for postcard imagery – big, with neo-gothic spires, reflecting on the river's surface. In fact, it is Europe's second biggest parliament building. Then, there's the St. Stephen's Basilica, which is 96 meters tall and yes, you can go up there and view the city from above. Pest also houses Europe's largest still functioning synagogue, the Dohány Street Synagogue, which holds up to 3,000 people, was a shelter for Jews in World War 2 and is 1200 square meters big. Read about some historic buildings in Budapest here.
Big City Life
But let's not focus just on things to look at – what is there to do?
Well, Pest is clearly the livelier part of town, with Andrássy avenue and Király street, two of the largest boulevards in the city, which invite you to shop, eat, drink, and all around dive into the buzzing life of Budapest. Then, there's an untold amount of bars, pubs, restaurants, cinemas, shops, and more. Everything you need to live in Budapest can be found here, in a fairly narrow space, compared to the rest of the city. That is not to say that there are not restaurants or bars in Buda, but Pest is the obvious city center. It depends on what you're looking for. Party-person? Pest. Can't you stand the noise and all these people and prefer to soak in a hot thermal bath instead? Buda. Buda has a lot of thermal baths: Gellért bath, Rudas bath, Lukács bath – all older, beautifully crafted bath houses. On the other side, Pest has Széchenyi for example, which is one of Europe's largest spa complexes.
Buda is clearly closer to nature than Pest. The hills alone with their lush, green forest make for a great retreat from all the noise of the city. Take, for example, a stroll along the National Blue Trail around Buda, the Roman banks in Óbuda or Kopaszi dam in Újbuda. Apart from an amazing view over the city in the Buda hills, you'll find peace and quietness by the river. If that's too local for you, try the Japanese Garden on Margaret Island, which technically belongs to Buda, too. Pest might have less green areas to unwind, but the ones it has are worth a visit as well. Its oldest park is Károlyi kert close to Astoria. Easily the most popular one is the national zoo, housing over 1,000 different species, which is located in the City Park. Budapest's biggest park is called Népliget.
Common Ground: Bridges
Finally, let's find some common ground as well. Buda and Pest are connected by 14 major bridges today: There's Margaret Bridge, which connects both sides with Margaret Island, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, which was the first bridge to ever connect the two cities, there's Elisabeth Bridge, which was blown up in World War 2, Liberty Bridge, which is decorated with bronze statues of the Turul, which is a famous Hungarian mythological creature, and more. Visiting these bridges is interesting by itself, since each of them has a different style, its own, unique, history, and every time you are standing on one of them, you are bound to enjoy a great view over the calm waters of the Danube, with Buda on your left, and Pest on your right. Which way to turn? Well, that brings us back to our original question:
Who wins? Which part of the city is the better, the most enjoyable, the clear favourite of us all?
We're not going to tell you, obviously. Come on, did you think we'd pick a side? In fact, we don't even know if there is an answer at all. While we love the buzzing nightlife of Pest, we cannot shy away from the beautiful trips through Buda's hills. While we love strolling down Andrássy avenue, we cannot miss out on Buda's many thermal baths and spas, Buda castle, or the Liberty statue.
In the end, it's up to you. Love one over the other, or stick with both; in fact, why not both? After all, Buda and Pest merged in 1873 – maybe it was in part because they couldn't decide either.
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