The different splendorous faces of Buda and Pest
The roots of what is now Budapest can be traced back to the Roman age, while the districts that comprise the modern city were united from three settlements (Buda, Old Buda and Pest) in 1873. The two halves of the Hungarian capital are now generally called Buda and Pest and are characteristically separated by the Danube flowing between them. This is a working river; it not only plays a major role in allowing visitors to appreciate the city’s beauty on a boat ride through the middle, but is also important in terms of commerce.
The two sides have very different characteristics, both showing the marks history has left on them. Buda is commonly considered the more upmarket region; it boasts the wealthiest areas, with the homes of the rich often found among its lavish hillside residences. Buda will be your likely destination if you’re after some hiking, forest exploration or even thinking of indulging your passion for paragliding.
This side of the river is also home to the Castle District and within it, among many other treasures, the Széchenyi Library, which essentially functions as the country’s national archives, and the National Gallery, displaying some of the masterpieces of the greatest Hungarian artists.
The Buda side has remarkable connections to the Roman age. Aquincum was a Roman military camp and settlement, the ruins of which are still visible. “Roman”, or in Hungarian “Római”, is the common shorthand for the stretch along the Danube on the Buda side of the city; several of the public beaches here are well-liked weekend hangouts for Budapestians. It is common to relax here with a cold drink and maybe have a meal of hake, a sea fish that has, over the years, become a staple of Hungarian waterside light cuisine. Even though it’s obviously not caught in any of the country’s rivers or lakes, there is sometimes still the misconception that what is served on the beach is a local breed because of the setting.
The Pest side is considered the flatter, more urban part of the capital; it is accordingly more densely populated and is more vibrant in terms of its nightlife. This side of the river is the location for some of Budapest’s best hotels which offer a view of the magnificent cityscape, along with spa services and great brunch options.
Pest is also where Hungary’s most innovative chefs and entrepreneurs started the gastro revolution that is going strong to this day. Budapest customers, not to mention the many visitors in the city, have the opportunity to try out ingredients that were unknown to previous generations, blending in with the rich tapestry of the country’s traditional cuisine in both fine dining and more relaxed eating.
A main driver of this trend is Budapest’s world-famous ruin bar scene; this is still a destination for many tourists looking for a party, but has now also become a setting for wine bars that offer the best the country has to offer, along with a rich selection of dining options and the chance to get acquainted with the work of up-and-coming artists.
Pest, and more particularly the Downtown region, is home to a vast array of cultural establishments, such as the Opera, the Music Academy and the Vigadó, not to mention a number of theaters. It is also here that the city’s most notable religious buildings can be seen: the Great Synagogue and Saint Stephen’s Basilica. Visitors to Pest also shouldn’t miss out on Heroes’ Square or Parliament, both of which are on any checklist of the most important sights in the city.