The great city of Budapest (Buda-Pest) straddles a bend in the Danube river where Transdanubia meets the Great Plain of the central Hungary. Budapest was formally created in 1873 when the two cities of Pest and Buda married together to create what was first called Pest-Buda. Pest was the side of the Danube that was flat and industrial, whereas Buda was a more hilly and residential enclave on the opposite west bank of the river - both compliment and contrast each other nicely.

Travel around the city is serviced by three underground metro lines, which meet at the meet in the city at Deák Tér (metro closes after 11pm), there's a suburban railway line, and there are numerous trams, trolleybuses and regular bus services to all corners of the city. Intercity travel is serviced by the three main railway stations of the city, Budapest is a vital link of the inter-Europe network, being the place you must change if travelling from Western (e.g. Paris) to Eastern (e.g. Istanbul) European cities (although the Oriental Express isn't running any more) so in this way Budapest truly is where East meets West. Of course the Danube River can also be used for travel, Hydrofoils depart from the International Pier towards Vienna via Bratislava. Eurolines operates Budapest's international coach travel. The airport is 30 minutes away from the city center by bus.

Budapest was left unmarked by World War II in comparison to other East European cities. Budapest's imperial era is well reflected in the glorious architecture: the neo-renaissance dome of St Stephen's Basilica (96 m high), the Great Synagogue built in 1859 and is still the largest functioning synagogue in all Europe, the State Opera House (where you can still catch performances for very reasonable prices) and the absolutely incredible (on a par with Westminster Palace) neo-Gothic Parliament building; all must been seen (you will find them hard to avoid).

Pubs, Restaurants and Bars are scattered around the city, and are varied enough to provide good choice of atmosphere at good prices, the local brands (Dreyher or Köbanyai) of beer are as good as the Czech's so try to taste as many as possible. You won't be forced to try it but traditional Hungarian fare can consists of fruit or vegetable soups, goulash, fried cheese, goose legs and livers, and fish dishes. ATMs can be found in the city center all over the place. Credit Cards are generally only accepted in the higher scale establishments or the Pizza Hut or MacDonalds.

Accomdation can be private rooms, hostels, and hotels, as usual prices will rise in summer and it will be harder to find a place. In theory it should always be possible to find a reasonably priced bed whatever time of year it is.
Useful Budapest (even Hungarian) Phone Numbers
Hungary's International calling code is 36
UK Embassy : 1 266 2888
US Embassy : 1 475 4400
Canadian Embassy : 1 275 1200
Tourist Information : Tourinform : 1 317 9800 ( or pre-recorded info : 6 8066 0044
Last Minute Room Bookings : Most useful place is Tribus Hotel Service (1 318 4848/318 5776). Ibusz Office changes money, books rooms, and accepts credit card payments (1 317 1806)

Straddling the wide Danube, one of Europe's great rivers; Budapest is really two cities merged into one. Rising on wooded hilly ground above the western bank of the river, Buda is where the medieval kings of Hungary established their capital. At the end of the second world war most of the area had been destroyed and major reconstruction had to made to make the old town the same as it was once in its former glory.
On the flatter eastern bank of the river, Pest was very much Buda's poor relation - that was until the two cities merged and unified in 1873 creating Budapest, as it is known today. Since then, the two cities have become rich or better off than they were before. Jobs have increased and so have income making the merging of the two cities very successful for the people. Pest has actually been urbanised and now has some of the most important buildings in the country, including the national Parliament.

Hungary's long and troubled history of occupation by invading powers is reflected in many of Budapest's sites. The Romans, the Tartars, the Turks, the Hapsburgs and, most recently, the Soviet Union, have all made their mark. In 1989, with the collapse of communism, Budapest was opened up to Western influence. Now, like many before, you'll not only find the golden arches of McDonald's, but Burger King, Marks and Spencer and a wide variety of consumer goods. Budapest is one of Europe's great spa cities, the bathing culture survived even the Spartan communist regime, and no visit to the city would be complete without taking to the waters. And, there is no excuse not to either; Budapest has 31 spa-water pools and thermal baths, including four original 16th-century Turkish baths, which are still very much in operation.

Population Over The Years

In 1996 the population of the 79 communities that make up Budapest's metropolitan area was 2,494,000, one-fourth of Hungary's entire population. From 1970 to 1993 the population of the city proper was consistently a little more than 2 million, but it gradually declined during the rest of the 1990s. The population of Budapest in 1999 was 1,838,753. The reason for the decline in population was mainly due to the fact that there had been a major improvement in water, sewage and other services in rural areas. This meant that Hungarians felt less compelled to move into the capital and this also meant they escaped the smog and congestion within the capital, a relief to some. However, the improvement in facilities was not the only reason why people where not moving into towns, the government were cracking down on the amount of immigrants that entered the city meaning that many had to stay in the suburbs. The population of Budapest, in 2004, is said to be at 1.82 million.

Currency, Language and Religion

The unit of currency used in Budapest is the Hungarian Forint, in Hungary they tend to abbreviate the Forint to just 'Ft' as this shorter to write down. Forint's can be bought in coins or bank notes. The coins come in seven different sizes (1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100). The bank notes also come in seven different prices (200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000). One US Dollar is said to be equivalent to 230ft and one English Pound is said to be the same as 385ft. Many people that when visiting Budapest they will not be able to understand the language but they are mistaken, although Hungarian is spoken in most parts German and English are widely understood to most of the locals as Budapest is somewhat of a tourist spot. There is a slight divide in the religion of Budapest with 25% being protestant, 65% being Roman Catholic and the other 10% not really having a religion of any sort.

Food and Drink

When visiting Budapest you will see many bars, restaurants and places to eat. If you don't fancy trying something new then you can always opt for Burger King or McDonalds but for you more adventurous folk you might like to try some of Budapest's delicacies. Many bars offer food or just snacks and a popular one is zsiros kenyer which is bread and dripping with raw onion sprinkled with paprika. Another popular served snack is pogacsa - pan bread with crackling, cheese, caraway seeds or paprika. When visiting Budapest you must be willing to try everything. A typical meal served in a restaurant would be bean soup followed by beef or pork goulash both flavoured with paprika, a typical trait of Budapest food. Other foods that are linked with Budapest are: hideg libamaj (goose liver fried in its own fat) and lecso (peppers braised in fat with onion and tomato).

Desserts and alcohol are a main part of socialising. Popular desserts include gundel palacsinta (nut and raisin pancakes with chocolate sauce), dobos torta (sponge cake with a chocolate cream filling) and retes (a pastry with fruit or cheese filling). Two famous Hungarian wines are Egri Bikaver (Bull's blood), a full-bodied dry red, and Tokaji, a dessert wine that can be dry or sweet depending on which brand you buy and what you prefer. Palinka, which is made from distilled fruit - the best is made from plums and is the most famous native spirit. Hungarian beer is technically what the English name lager and is generally quite weak compared to this, the best to try is said to be called Dreher.

Nightlife and Shopping

Before the Second World War Budapest was one of Europe's most successful entertainment high spots. Forty years of communism changed all of that though but then in 1990 things changed and the nightlife increased and lives on today. There are several casinos - the Las Vegas Casino in the Hyatt Regency Hotel, in Roosevelt is the only American-style establishment, which means you do not need to dress up in formal wear for the occasion. The clubbing scene is very well established now. The Made Inn, in Andrassy utca, has two dance floors, while Dokk is a hi-tech club set in a converted dry dock. The nightlife seems sparse and that maybe so but it is said to be the quality that counts.

With the communist era over there is a wide range of consumer good available to purchase. At West end City Centre you will find over 350 stores to browse in selling clothes, shoes, furniture, bags, plants, rugs and the list goes on. The main shopping street is Vaci utca in the central area of Pest and there you will find department stores and shopping arcades galore. In the Great Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnoki), an enormous 19th century indoor market on Fovan Ter, just north of Liberty Bridge, in Pest, there are many stalls selling a huge variety of meat, fruit, vegetables, cheese, wines and spirits. People say it is worth a visit for the displays alone.

Parliament and The Old Town.

On the east of the Danube close to the centre of Pest, this magnificent building, the largest in Hungary, was built between 1884 and 1902. It has 691 rooms and is often compared to the houses of Parliament in London as they show similar features. The Old Town was rebuilt after the Second World War, the historic heart of Buda is dominated by Matthias Church. Like much of the Old Town, the church has suffered ages of destruction, and the present day neo-gothic edifice dates from the second half of the 19th century. Just in front of the church is Fisherman's Bastion, a fairy-tale style construction dating from the early 20th century that serves as a viewing terrace looking across the river Pest. Uri utca, which runs the length of the Old Town, was where Buda's aristocrats once lived, and its magnificent houses have now been restored.

With thanks and information from:

  • My geography teacher.
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