Pest side is the more modern part of Budapest. For many centuries and since Roman times, Pest was an independent city with prosperous merchants, craftsman and traders. While the royal town of Buda served as the residence of the Hungarian rulers, Pest operated as a commercial center. Close ties between the two cities existed long before the unification of Buda, Pest and Óbuda in 1873. After the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 that re-established the sovereignty of Hungary as a separate kingdom from the Austrian Empire, Pest was extensively rebuilt based on the model of Paris. The unification of the three independent cities was possible only by the construction of the permanent bridges over the Danube. The only permanent bridge at the time was the Chain Bridge (Lánchid), completed in 1849.
Until 1873 the two banks of the river had been connected only by the ferries and some temporary wooden bridges. After the formal merging, Budapest started its development as a metropole, with new bridges, parks, drains, public lighting, and paved roads being built.
Pest is home to the political and cultural life of Budapest today. Most of the beautiful buildings and landmarks on this side of the Danube survived the tremendous damage suffered during the World War II and the Soviet invasion of 1956. Although traces of the gunfire can still be seen on the façades of several buildings, Budapest has been completely rebuilt. Despite the spectacular development, Budapest has preserved its old charm and magic. If you happen to be in Budapest, here are some Pest side attractions you shouldn’t miss:
The Parliament building is Budapest’s most beloved landmark. Built in Neo-Gothic style with Baroque and Renaissance elements, it is currently the largest and tallest building in Budapest and the third largest Parliament building in the world. The construction took 17 years and was completed in 1902. The main façade majestically faces the Danube River, while the main entrance in from the Kossuth Lajos square. Along with Lánchid (Chain Bridge), the Parliament building became the city’s symbol.
The interior of the building is as impressive as the exterior: filled with carved wood work, stained glass, and grandiose marble staircases. The Parliament is home to the crown jewels and the Holy Crown of Hungary, which is on display in the central domed hall since January, 2000. Guided tours in several languages and lasting about 45 minutes are offered several times a day, when the National Assembly is not in session. Lately lines are very long, especially during the summer months, so reserving a tour on-line is probably your best bet.
Szent István Bazilika was erected in 1905 and was named in honor of King Saint Stephen I, the first king of Hungary. It is the city’s most impressive and largest church (it can hold 8,500 people). The basilica is a perfect example of neoclassical style. The grand interior literally takes your breath away as you pass through its magnificent gates. Below the cupola there is a rich collection of late-19th-century Hungarian art: mosaics, altarpieces, and statues. 150 kinds of marble have been used in the construction. The marble is all from Hungary, except for the sanctuary’s centerpiece which is Carerra marble: a white statue of King (St.) Stephen I. Stephen’s mummified right hand is preserved as a relic in the Holy Right Chapel. The bell tower that offers a panoramic view of Budapest can be visited for a fee from April to October.
Guided tours of the chapel and treasury are also offered, but during the worship services the entrance is free. The basilica is also very famous for its wonderful choral music and classical music concerts. The head organists of the church have always been very highly regarded musicians. I have attended several outstanding performances over the years in this church. If you are a classical music lover you should make it a point to go to one of these concerts.
The square in front of the basilica is equally beautiful, displaying a beautifully shaped stone pavement. There are several elegant restaurants and cafés where you can sip a good cup of coffee while admiring the basilica. During the month of December the square hosts a Christmas Market that is really heart warming.
The Jewish Synagogue is the largest and most famous synagogue in all of Europe, built between 1854-1859 in a Moorish style. It stands majestically on Dohany Street, within the Jewish quarter, and it’s an absolute must-see. On top of the synagogues you can see the stone tablets with the ten commandments and above the main entrance gate the inscription in Hebrew: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25,8).
The Jewish Museum, adjacent to the synagogue, features Jewish traditions, costumes, as well a detailed history of Hungarian Jews. Guided tours of the synagogue, Jewish quarter and Jewish Museum are available. Inside the synagogue you have to wear a small skullcap called kipah or yarmulke (you will receive one at the entrance).
Szechenyi Bath is not the only thermal bath that Budapest can brag about, but is the oldest and most popular of all the others. Its 18 pools are open every single day throughout the year. The Bath features both outdoor and indoor geothermal pools, saunas, a gym and massage therapy. The admission fee as well as the treatment fees are very affordable.
The thermal waters were discovered in 1881, but the Bath was opened only in 1913. In 2013 the Bath celebrated its 100th anniversary. Even if you don’t want to get your feet wet, the ornate architecture and interiors of Szecheni Bath is worth a visit
Vajdahunyad Castle. If you are seeking a romantic place in Budapest, then you should go to Vajdahunyad Castle. Located just steps away from the Heroes’ Square, in the City Park, the castle was built in 1896. Despite its appearance, Vajdahunyad is as a collection of replicas of the most famous medieval buildings in Hungary and Transylvania. The castle has a fantastic architecture and is the home of several festivals, concerts and the Hungarian Agricultural Museum.
Heroes’ Square was created at the end of the 19th century to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of the Magyar Conquest of Hungary in 895. Situated between the Museum of Art, City Park and the Hall of Art, the Heroes’ Square is dominated by the Millennium Monument which features statues of the seven tribal leaders who founded Hungary in the 9th century. The focal point of the Millennium Monument is the column featuring a statue of the Archangel Gabriel.
Not more than two miles long and less than half-a-mile wide, Margaret Island (Margitsziget) is Budapest’s recreational park, a lovely oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Here you can enjoy a picnic on the beautiful lawns trimmed with flowers, or cool off in one of the 11 outdoor pools, or even jog on the excellent rubber-coated jogging track around the island (3.3 miles long).
All motorized traffic is banned on the island, but bicycles are available for rent so you can explore the entire area. The island received its name after Saint Margaret, the daughter of King Béla IV, who lived in the Dominican convent on the island.King Béla vowed to raise his daughter as a nun if Hungary survived the Mongol invasion. The ruins of the church and convent are still visible today. There are two hotels on the island, Grand Hotel Margitsziget and Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget, who share natural thermal baths. But if you are looking for some beautiful hotels to stay in Budapest, you may want to check out this post. There are some pretty good deals in it.