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The history of Buda and Pest: The Buda and Pest side, the attractions of each, the differences and my recommendation depending on your interests. Who do I recommend each side to?
In this article, you will get answers to the following:
The History of Budapest
From the Celts to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy
Budapest is the capital city of Hungary, the seat of Pest county, and also the tenth most populated city in Europe. What is more, it is one of the most visited tourist cities.
The history of the area of Budapest goes all the way back to Prehistoric and Ancient Times as it has been inhabited for several thousand years. Surviving documents prove that the area was originally a Celtic settlement.
Later, the Romans created the province of Pannonia-Inferior with both Buda (Aquincum) and Pest (Contra-Aquincum) as its seats. The conquering Hungarians also settled in Aquincum located in Óbuda in the 9th century. The grave of our conqueror, Prince Árpád can also be found there.
The original Budapest, founded by the Hungarians, was almost completely destroyed by the Mongols during the infamous Tatar invasion. The city was rebuilt with difficulty just to fall under 150 years of Turkish occupation hindering its development. So, the real development – the rebuilding and renovation – of the city only started during the 18th and the 19th centuries.
The fact that Buda and Pest became the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy – beside Vienna of course – after the Compromise, greatly facilitated its development.
Which one is more ancient – Buda or Pest?
It’s hard to say which part is older as both sides were inhabited in prehistoric times already. According to the excavated archaeological findings, however, Buda is most probably the older side with Óbuda (Aquincum) being the oldest.
Not only the Celts, but also the Romans and the Hungarian conquering tribes chose Buda, and after the conversion to Christianity, Óbuda became the residence of kings.
The Buda Castle was built in the 13th century, surrounded by manors, church estates and the villages of servants. The population living here was mainly engaged in viniculture and wine production.
In the meantime, Pest developed as well – in the 10th century, several peoples settled in Pest – mostly Slavic-Bulgar and Muslim traders. By the 12th century, Pest had become a prosperous, German merchant city surrounded by walls.
The unification of Pest, Buda, and Óbuda was already a topic under the Árpád dynasty, mainly under Béla IV. In the 14th century, Buda went under a more significant development – churches and houses of rich aristocratic nobles were built.
The streets of Buda were named after crafts – indicating that Buda was truly home to craftsmen, tradesmen, and artisans who made their wares for the royal court and wealthier nobles.
Pest, on the other hand, only slowly recovered from the damage caused by the Tatar invasion and was slightly behind Buda. During the reign of King Matthias, the two parts of the city reached their highlight, but the development came to a halt because of the 150-year-old Turkish occupation.
The unification of Buda and Pest
The real development of Pest started in the 18th century and by the beginning of the 19th century, it had become the commercial center of Hungary. At the time the inhabitants of Buda and Pest traveled and traded over the bridge, which has been standing on the Danube since 1769.
The inhabitants of Buda and Óbuda continued to work in viniculture and wine production, while the inhabitants of Pest made their living from commerce and industry. Due to the dynamic development of the two parts of the city, there was a need for a better bridge in addition to the existing boat bridges, so in November 1849, the Chain Bridge designed by Count István Széchenyi was finally delivered. This was the beginning of the unification of Buda and Pest.
Bridges of Budapest: The history is still haunting today
In 1849, Prime Minister Bertalan Szemere issued a decree on the unification of Buda, Óbuda, and Pest, but the plans were overshadowed by the Revolution and War of Independence.
The unification finally took place in 1873, when Buda, Pest, Óbuda, and the Margaret Island were merged under the name Budapest – supposedly the name Pestbuda was also considered, but it was rejected.
Which side is Pest and which one is Buda?
Tourists often get mixed up deciding which side they are on. I was asked for the way several times by tourists as they felt so lost. But it isn’t that difficult to decide which side you are on. OK, I’m from Budapest, so it’s much easier for me.
But here are a few tips that might help you with orientation.
You are on the Pest side if:
– You wake up drunk round one of the ruin pubs.
– You see hills on the other side.
– You see the Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion or the Statue of Liberty.
– There’s too much traffic and buzzing around you.
– You are wandering around ruined dingy houses. You probably got to the “ghetto” part of district 8.
– You see the sign of the metro line M1.
– You are at the Liszt Ferenc airport.
– You are near one of the following traffic junctions: Deák Square, Kossuth Square, Blaha Lujza Square, Keleti Railway Station, Nyugati Railway Station, Kálvin Square, Astoria or Oktogon.
You are on the Buda side if:
– You can hardly breathe from the number of uphill walks.
– You see the whole city.
– There is a flat terrain on the other side.
– You see the Parliament, the Budapest Eye or St Stephen’s Basilica.
– There isn’t too much traffic and buzzing around you.
– The air seems cleaner.
– You are traveling by cogwheel train, funicular or chairlift.
– You are near one of the following traffic junctions: Gellért Square, Batthyány Square, Móricz Zsigmond Square, Déli Railway Station or Kelenföldi Railway Station.
If you are still in trouble, look in the flow direction of the Danube. Buda will be on the right, while Pest on the left.
Differences between Buda and Pest
There are several differences between Buda and Pest, but both parts of the city have a variety of valuable and amazing sights.
While Buda is mainly located in a woody area with mountains and hills (Buda Hills), Pest is mostly a flat area (Pest Plain).
The royal seat was established in the Buda Castle District with several major city defense lines, such as the Citadel on Gellért Hill and the Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill. These are all World Heritage sites.
Several well-known churches were built on Buda, like Matthias Church or Christina Church. Buda is predominantly a residential and recreational area, while Pest is an administrative, commercial and industrial center with large residential areas and entertainment facilities.
At the time of the unification of Budapest, the city had 10 districts altogether: 3 in Buda and 7 in Pest – so the Pest area was always greater. There are altogether 23 districts in Budapest today, 6 of which are in Buda, 16 in Pest and 1 on Csepel Island.
Both sides have their advantages and disadvantages. Buda may be more beautiful to the eye, but Pest has such beautiful and unique buildings that it’s impossible to say that Buda or Pest is nicer or better. It is absolutely a matter of opinion.
The fact is that in the elite districts of Buda – especially in districts 1, 2 and 12 – real estate is much more expensive than in the most part of Pest. However, there are elite districts in Pest as well, like districts 5 or 7, where real estate is also very expensive.
I strongly recommend Buda if you are interested in the natural wonders of Budapest, especially if you like hiking and walking in the forest in good air.
Most of the forest hiking trails and mountain lookouts can be found in the Buda Hills.
Sights on the Buda side:
If we are talking about lookout points… One of the most beautiful lookouts is the Elizabeth Lookout Tower.
In addition, there are countless sights in Buda, such as the famous Buda Castle funicular, the Cogwheel train, the Buda Forest Railway, the Chairlift, the Normafa and the most beautiful caves, such as the Pálvölgyi Stalactite Cave or the Szemlő-hegyi Cave.
Let’s not forget about the must-see sights of the Buda Castle District, as it is at the center of the history of Buda. Walking down the streets of the Castle District you feel as if you were in the Middle Ages.
Take a stroll to the Fisherman’s Bastion and the newly renovated Castle Garden Bazaar. If you are in the Buda Castle, visit Matthias Church, the most beautiful church in Hungary.
Visit Gellért Hill as well, since the main defense unit of Buda – the Citadel and of course the Statue of Liberty – can be found here.
You must have heard that Budapest is famous for its unique thermal baths all around the world. Well, the beautiful baths of Gellért, Rudas, Lukács, and Király are located in Buda. I would definitely recommend Gellért Bath.
If you want to go back to ancient times, you have the opportunity to do so in Buda – the famous Roman ruin town Aquincum is located here.
If these are not enough, read my article describing more than 100 sights in Budapest. Some of them are hardly known even to locals.
What does it offer?
Most of the elite – and of course more expensive – restaurants and clubs can be found on the Buda side, primarily in districts 1, 2 and 12. Altogether, Buda is quieter than Pest and awaits you with more natural sights, like forests, parks, and caves.
Due to the many green areas and the less traffic, the air is also cleaner. Public security is better than in Pest.
If you are interested in public security in Budapest, read my article on this topic.
Public transport in Buda is superb. There are several metro lines, trams, and buses, which can take you anywhere in the city in no time. Several trains and long-distance buses leave from Buda taking you to attractions in the western part of the country. You can reach Lake Balaton, Pécs, Sopron and Lake Velence from Déli Railway Station.
I definitely recommend Pest since it lies in a much larger area than Buda. Thus, there are many city attractions that are definitely worth a visit.
Sights on the Pest side:
First of all, there is the most well-known building and also the symbol of Hungary, located in Kossuth Square: the Hungarian Parliament Building. The building is the second largest Parliament of the world and has been part of the World Cultural Heritage since 1987.
Széchényi Thermal Bath, the largest thermal bath of Budapest can also be found on the Pest side. It is definitely a must. Right next to the bath there is the Budapest Zoo, one of the first zoos in the world.
And if you are already in this famous part of Pest, travel by the first electrically driven underground in the world! Pest is the proud owner of this attraction as well. It is now known as M1 or the Underground, and you can hop on it at the Széchényi Thermal Bath stop.
It is worth rowing on the Városliget Lake from spring to autumn. The water is actually thermal water – the same water seethes in the Széchényi Thermal Bath as well. No other city in Europe has such a lake!
Pest has innumerable sights. I can’t even list all of them – I will only name some that I would definitely recommend visiting, among them are The House of Terror Museum, Heroes’ Square, Shoes on the Danube bank, the Great Market Hall, the Synagogue and St. Stephen’s Basilica.
What does it offer?
I also recommend Pest when it comes to entertainment. This is the place to have great fun with millions of bars, pubs and other kinds of clubs and events waiting for you.
Public transport in Pest is excellent – just like that of Buda – you can get from one end of the city to the other within minutes using the connecting lines. There are several lines connecting Buda and Pest – metros, trams, buses and even boats.
Everything you need to know about the metro in Budapest.
If you are only here to see Budapest, I wouldn’t recommend renting a car. Rather, buy a weekly or monthly Budapest pass as public transport is much faster – especially in the early morning and afternoon rush hours – and cheaper.
Although Buda is said to be the more elite and expensive of the two sides, most of the luxury hotels (Gresham Palace, Hyatt, Intercontinental, Kempinski, Marriott) are located in Pest. It is true that all of them are located at the bank of the Danube so that guests can enjoy the perfect view of the Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Citadel, and of course the Chain Bridge.
The wonderful Andrássy Avenue – the longest avenue in Budapest – is located in Pest with all the luxury brand shops. When it comes to shopping, this is a perfect choice.
Altogether, Pest is a constantly buzzing, pulsating area offering everything you might need – seriously! It is noisier than Buda, but it has its own beauty.
Public security is a bit worse here than in Buda, but this might be due to the fact that it is simply much larger than Buda with much more entertainment facilities and traffic.
Who do I recommend each side to?
We are not the same. Everyone has their own priorities when on holiday. Young singles are mainly interested in good restaurants and entertainment facilities. Families would rather spend their holidays engaging their children in meaningful programs for kids, while the elderly prefer some peaceful time.
I wrote a comprehensive article on the best programs for kids in Budapest.
Pest for the culture- and museum-oriented
I definitely recommend Pest for culture-lovers as all the major museums, theatres and exhibitions are situated in Pest.
Some of the outstanding ones are the Palace of Arts (Műcsarnok), the Academy of Music (Zeneakadémia), the House of Terror, the Museum of Fine Arts and the many theatres.
The City Park (Városliget), the biggest and most beautiful park in the city is also located in Pest. It offers a myriad of events and activities, and a medieval castle and museum – the Vajdahunyad Castle – is located here as well.
Buda for those looking for a quiet time
Pest is often too crowded and sometimes it is good to get out of the noisy buzzing. Just cross one of the bridges and you are already in Buda with birds singing and a beautiful panorama.
Buda for nature lovers
If you love nature and quieter places, then Buda is the place for you. I recommend the following hiking trails: Sas Hill, János Hill, Nagy Kopasz or the Budaörs Mountains near Budapest.
Partying till dawn? – Pest
I also recommend Pest when it comes to entertainment, as districts 6 and 7 are the so-called Bulinegyed (Party quarter). This is the place to have great fun with millions of pubs, bars and other kinds of clubs and events waiting for you.
Buda for those of you looking for romance
There is no better place for a little romantic stroll than the cobblestone streets of the Buda Castle. Or there is also the Gül Baba’s Tomb or Normafa, also located in Buda. The window of opportunities is almost unlimited.
I collected the most romantic places in Budapest.
Cheap accommodation? – Pest
There is a bit of a contradiction saying that accommodation in Pest is cheaper as the most expensive hotels in Budapest are located on the Pest side of the Danube bank. Still, you can find affordable accommodation in districts 7, 8, 9 and 13 for sure, especially apartments and hostels. In contrast, accommodation in Buda, especially around the Castle, costs more.
Pest for those who intend to go on a shopping spree
Pest is the perfect place for shopping. I primarily recommend Andrássy Avenue, Váci Street, Westend Shopping Centre, and Arena Plaza.
For further information on recommended shopping centers in Budapest, click here.
Pest for luxury restaurant lovers
There are several restaurants in Budapest satisfying all culinary experiences. In addition to the local specialties, we can taste the masterpieces of Italian, French, Russian and Asian cuisine. Real luxury and fine dining are represented by the Michelin-starred restaurants, most of which are located in Pest. I recommend Nobu and Bock Bistro Pest.
My favorite places on each side of the Danube
I have already mentioned a few outstanding tourist attractions that are worth visiting, but there are several other places I recommend to you as a local. These are places that we, Budapest citizens, prefer over tourist destinations.
One of my favorite places is the Roman Coast (Római-part) on the Buda side of the Danube, where there are a number of cozy local diners and buffets waiting for you to spend a peaceful yet active day from spring to autumn.
You can go for a walk – or even a romantic stroll –, go biking or sunbathe at one of the deck chairs. You can taste the delicacies offered by local vendors (fried scone, hake, doughnut, pancake, chimney cake, meat, ice cream and all that lures the taste and sight).
The Palace of Wonders
The Palace of Wonders located on the Buda side is quite popular, but there are times when it is less crowded. As its name implies, you can experience all kinds of wonders here – there are 5D and 9D cinemas as well.
As a local, I usually avoid busy places like the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and instead go to the completely renovated Csillaghegyi Baths in Óbuda. There are peace and tranquillity with crystal-clear water and perfectly clean baths. In winter there is an indoor bath, and from spring to autumn there is an indoor bath and an outdoor beach with great sauna programs and several pools.
I recommend the Campona Shopping Center on the Buda side, as apart from shopping you can spend a whole day in the Tropicarium.
Tropicarium is an indoor zoo and is one of my favorite places in Buda. Here you can pet rays and watch the sharks swimming above your head while walking through the underwater tunnel. I, personally, always go there on weekdays as it is less crowded then.
I never miss my favorite confectionery, Ruszwurm Confectionery when walking in the Castle District. It has been my favorite place for a very long time. They know something for sure as they have been around for more than 130 years! All the cakes are delicious here, but my favorite one is named Ruszwurm Cream Cake.
If you are already there and would like some quality cocktails and a fine dinner, I suggest you visit Oscar Bar located in Ostrom Street. You might not notice it walking down the street, but the insignificant door offers some very serious quality and clientele.
Oscar Bar has had its regular clientele for decades – most of the elite dine here on a regular basis. They still work at fair prices and there is a party with a DJ every weekend.
Gül Baba’s Tomb and Rosegarden
If I feel like enjoying the unique panorama of the Danube and the view of Budapest, I usually walk up to Gül Baba’s Tomb and Rosegarden.
The view of the Danube and Pest is just amazing from the Rosegarden and Lavender garden and it isn’t as crowded as the Fisherman’s Bastion or the Citadel.
Elisabeth Lookout Tower
I visit the Elizabeth Lookout Tower on the János Hill for the same reason – but strictly on weekday mornings when the site is almost deserted. Sometimes I go up by the Chairlift and then walk down, depending on my mood.
I always take some bread and salty snacks for my walks – and for home as well – from the best bakeries. After several years of tasting and testing, I prefer three bakeries. One of them is Jókenyér Bakery, the other one is Lipóti Bakery and the third one is Artizan Bakery.
The first two have several shops and showrooms, while Artizan is located in Hold Street in District 5. I usually sit in here for a pastry and coffee before my wanderings in Pest. Now let me take the opportunity to describe my favorite places in Pest.
Great Market Hall
I really love the Great Market Hall on Vámház Boulevard in Pest. It is one of my favorites as there are millions of primary farmers selling fresh fruit and vegetables and of course fresh meat and sausages, and it is very cozy. You can taste local specialties such as goulash soup, pancakes, fried scones and fish soup for a reasonable price.
But there are all kinds of other products as well – even some really cool souvenirs – but I love it for its market-feeling and the wonderful smells. I love wandering and looking around and tasting.
I also enjoy strolling on the Pest Promenade (pesti korzó) located between Elizabeth Bridge and Chain Bridge. A good ice-cream or a take-away coffee is great while walking past the line of hotels. I sit down at the bank of the Danube and enjoy the views of the rolling river, the Buda Castle, the Citadel and the Fisherman’s Bastion.
If you are not a fan of walking, get on tram no. 2 and enjoy the wonderful view of the Buda side from there. You should definitely try it once.
Get on a ship on the Danube
If I feel like moving around a bit more, I usually get on a ship on the Danube. At times I only go to Szentendre, sometimes I come back as well, but occasionally I sailed to Visegrád or Esztergom with my partner or friends.
Margaret Island and Hajógyári Island
My other two favorites are Margaret Island and Hajógyári Island. Both places are special in their own way. On Margaret Island, I like to sit in the Japanese garden or go on a Bringohinto ride with friends, but when I’m alone, I like visiting the Wildlife Park and petting horses – they are awesome.
I often go cycling or running on Hajógyári Island, but I always take my kids as well because there is an amazing playground. You must have heard of this island as Sziget Festival – the largest festival in Europe – is organized here every year. It usually takes place at the end of July or the beginning of August. It is worth a visit once as there are also great programs.
WestEnd City Center
If I feel like shopping, I go to WestEnd City Center located near Nyugati Square, or perhaps Arena Plaza.
All in all, Budapest is a wonderful metropolis, which you must visit! Both sides offer some super sights and programs. It is really up to you what you prefer to see.
If it is silence and nature, Buda is your side. If you love spinning, partying, shopping and culture, Pest is the place to see. But basically, whichever side you prefer, you can easily travel from one side to the other by public transport (especially by metro) in no time.
If you are done with the sites in Budapest, you might want to go a bit further away. Visit the unique town of Szentendre, or the beautiful Queen Elizabeth’s (Sissy) favorite Hungarian palace, Royal Palace of Gödöllő.
I do hope that I have helped you navigate your way in Budapest with my article.