Central Pest Free Walking Tour:
Location: Pest (East Side of Danube River)
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Museum and sight costs below)
Style: Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour (Self Guided)
Start: Holocaust Shoe Memorial
Stop: Grand Market Hall
Walking Distance: 1.9 Miles
Time: 1 hour of walking (4-5 hours with sights)
Fun Scale: 9 out of 10
Sitting of the Eastern bank of the Danube River is Budapest’s lively and history Pest neighborhood. Pest was founded in was an economic powerhouse in the 11th-13th Centuries until it was sacked by the Mongols in 1241. The city made a comeback through the Middle Ages which later lead to grand buildings and cathedrals. After severe flooding spread 8 feet of water through Pest, it merged with Buda and Óbuda on the Western bank in 1873. Even through all of the changes and wars, Pest has retained many historic monuments like Saint Stephen’s Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament to remain the heart of Budapest. Our self-guided walking tour through central Pest is the perfect way to get a feel for the Budapest’s history. Different sights will highlight Pest’s war torn past, the days of power grandeur, plus an easy to love culture and flair.
The Central Budapest Walking Tour:
1. Holocaust Shoe Memorial: On first glance, the Holocaust Shoe Memorial looks like just a collection of bronzed shoes by the waterside, but knowing the history of this spot makes a visit truly moving. During WWII, the Nazi’s secret police group Arrow Cross often executed Jews and other citizens here by shooting them then pushing them into the Danube River. All of the victims were required to line up and take their shoes off not knowing which of them would be shot. When the Nazis wanted to save bullets they would tie a few people together, shoot one, push the group into the freezing river, and watch the dead bodies drag the entire group down. The Memorial’s 60, 1940’s era shoes represent the shoes left behind by the fallen Arrow Cross victims and you really should not missed it.
As you walk North along the river the big white mansion on your right is the Office of the Prime Minister. The building once was a mansion for Hungarian aristocrats, and the the grandmother of US Sectary of State and former Presidential candidate John Kerry’s grandmother was born here as a daughter of the chambermaid.
2. Hungarian Parliament: The huge Gothic-style Hungarian Parliament, or House of the Nation, is the formal seat of government for Hungary and one of the most photographed buildings in Budapest. It is impossible to not be impressed by the grandeur of the Parliament with its exterior spires and interior filled with carved wood work, stained glass windows, Gothic arches. To see all of the sights you are going to need to join one of the many guided tours. The tours are really informative and they make plenty of stops to take photos.
We love the corridors of statues represents the different old school professions from horse herder to stone cutter, but love the Grand Hall and staircase the most. The combination of arches, ceiling murals and lighting make the Grand Hall feel like the inside of a castle. The round Domed Hall will overwhelm your senses by its vastness and the endless amounts of corridors circling you. Sitting front and center in the Domed Hall is the Hungarian Holy Crown always protected by two royal guards. The Crown dates back to 1256 and was used to crown over 50 Hungarian Kings. To get a peak into the modern Democrat legislature of Hungary, step into the large Upper Chamber and take in the Speaker’s rostrum with its medieval beer hall style backdrop. The large wrap around murals in both the Nándorfehérvár and Munkácsy Halls are also very impressive with their depictions of religious and battle scenes.
On the North side of Parliament is a small park with a memorial statue for controversial former president Károlyi Mihály. Early in his political career, Mihály was credited with greatly helping to give women, veterans, and other citizens the right to vote. He became Prime minister after apposing a the prior leader who got them into WWI and quickly turned the country into a democracy. Following his anti-war mindset Mihály signed the Peace Treaty of Trianon which stripped lands from the prior Kingdom of Hungary in exchange for peace which made many people made. With lots of people grabbing for power and the country being over whelmed by refugees from neighboring countries, the economy took a nose dive and unemployment went through the roof. With these negative circumstances combined, some modern Hungarians look past the good things Mihály for the country his good intentions.
Another larger statue around the Parliament ground is of former president Lajos Kossuth on a red stone pedestal directing both the people and the army. Kossuth was the president through the Revolution of 1848-49 and was considered a strong advocate for minority rights in Hungary. The inscription at the memorial calls him “Father of Hungarian Democracy, Hungarian Statesman, Freedom Fighter”.
General Hours: Monday-Friday 8am-6pm: Saturday 8am-4pm; Sunday 8am-2pm. Guided Tours: 50 minute tours leave from the underground entrance on the park side of the building (East). Tours in English at 10am, Noon, 1pm, 1:45pm & 3pm; many other languages available throughout the day. Tour Cost: 3500 HUF for Adults; 1750 HUF for EU Citizens. Buying Tickets: Tickets can be purchased in advance HERE to save yourself waiting in line. Tickets can sell out if you don’t buy in advance. Parliament Website: (HERE).
3. Museum of Ethnography (Neprajzi Muzeum): The Museum of Ethnography is a great way to get an eclectic mix of cultures throughout the World all in one building. They have a diverse collection of more than 200,000 ethnographic artifacts, as well as historical photographs, manuscripts, folk music recordings, and videos of everything you can think of. Its European collection covers every ethnic group on the continent, its Oceania and Africa Collections are assembled by famous Hungarian world travelers and ethnologists, and its collections of authentic artifacts from America, Asia, and Indonesia, are also pretty awesome.
The palace-like building housing the Museum of Ethnography was actually first built for the Department of Justice in the 1800’s as a Supreme Court, and supreme it is. Its grand style and richly ornamented interior reflect the powerful place Hungary’s government occupied in Europe in the 1800’s. The museum was moved here in 1973 and it just seems like a perfect fit. You’ll be wowed from the second you step into the dimly lit grand hall and entertained through the last exhibit. Adults seem to appreciate the collects more than kids do. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm; Closed Mondays. Cost: 1000 HUF, 500 HUF for EU Citizens; special exhibit combo tickets are usually 200 HUF more. Guided Tours: Available in numerous languages and 8,000 HUF covers a group up to 25 people. Museum Website: (HERE).
4. Imre Nagy Memorial: Located in the middle of the small leafy Martyrs Square (Vértanúk Tere) is the Imre Nagy Memorial. Nagy was Prime Minister of Hungary during the anti-Soviet Revolution of 1956 when many Hungarian Citizens fought to get rid of Soviet Influence. The Revolution was quelled but Nagy shared their views and took action to make his Communist government neutral from both the Soviets and Stalin. The biggest step he took was when he withdrew from the Warsaw Pact and asked the United Nations to recognize Hungary and a neutral 3rd party. He also took steps to open the Hungarian Government up to a multi-party system although he remained himself a Marxist.
The steps Nagy took faced a lot of hostility as the Soviets had helped liberate Hungary from the Nazis at the end of WWII and many Government officials were still loyal to the USSR. Because of these strong loyalties, Nagy was put on a arrested for treason in 1958, tried secretly, executed by hanging, and was buried in an unmarked grave. Many viewed this as a message from the USSR to other Communist leaders of what would happen if they started growing away from them. The corruption involved was obvious since the same man who had Nagy tried, János Kádár, became the next Prime Minister. Over the next 30 years of Communist rule it became illegal to utter Nagy’s name as he was viewed as a Martyr and symbol of freedom. When Communism fell in 1989, Nagy was reburied an a crowd of over 200,000 people gathered in Heroes’ Square near City Park for his funeral. As a symbol of freedom, his statue which stands on a cozy footbridge, symbolically looks out over Parliament.
5. Freedom Square (Szabadság Tér): Named after the freedom fighters who were executed here in the 1840’s, Freedom Square is actually the former site of a military barracks. The main highlight of the square is the Soviet Monument dedicated to the Soviet’s Red Army troops who liberated Hungary from the Nazis at the end of WWII. A standing Soviet Monument is really quite rare in Budapest as most Communist statues were moved to Memento Park outside of town when Hungary became a true Democracy in 1989. While most modern day Hungarians seem to want the Soviet Monument removed, try to view the monument as more of a celebration for the Nazis being kicked out than as an honor for Soviets coming in.
6. St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Bazilika): The two towers and large dome of the huge, 315 foot tall Saint Stephen’s Basilica towers of the large open square around it. This powerful church is named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary (975–1038), whose mummified fist is still housed in the reliquary. His first is known locally as the Holy Right and can be seen in the back of the church mummified and holding jewels. The display is dark and they make you pay 100 HUF to light it up which is pretty weird, but worth it. If you are looking to see it for free you have to be in town on August 20th known as St Stephen Day when they have the hand attend services and also lead the parade in his honor.
As you can imagine with a church this big the construction, which started in 1851, didn’t go as smooth as they wanted. The first dome collapsed 17 years after the ground breaking and then second architect Miklos Ybl, who also built the Opera House, died. It seemed like the church was doomed, but finally they got it all together 50 years after the ground breaking. The a sound Church finally standing strong, the best painters and sculptures in Hungary came in to finish off the master piece.
The interior today is a great mix of light and dark, stone and wood, marble and gilding to combine into a very impressive church. We highly suggest swinging by the treasury, twin bell towers, and Szent Jobb Chapel. Among the two bell towers, the left tower has the one of the better panoramic views of Budapest and the right tower houses a giant 9 ton church bell. Which one you choose depends on what you want to see. Services: Daily 8am, 530pm, & 6pm; Sunday Mass is at 8am, 9am,10am, Noon, 6pm, & 7pm. Visitor Hours: Church is Daily 7am-7pm; Treasury is 9am-5pm (10am-4pm in winter); Szent Jobb Chapel 9am-5pm , Sun 1pm-5pm; Tower April-Oct Mon-Sat 10am-6pm. Cost: Church Free; Treasury 400 Ft; Tower 500 Ft. Church Website: (HERE).
7. Elizabeth Park (Erzsébet Tér): Elizabeth Park is a great park to visit any day of the week and is extra busy on the weekends. The area is busy not just because it is a large beautiful and hip park, but also because it is a cross roads for three different Metro Lines which leads to a very eclectic crowd. The West side of the Square is more of a laid back standard park area with trees and fountains while the East side is definitely the bustling, young, hip area. Adding to the hipness of the East side are a large look-like pond and multi-level terraces filled with outdoor furniture. This area is surrounded by numerous cafes where you can grab a bit to eat or a drink. Many locals bring their own wine in the evening and drink around the pond. Also on the East side, there are the two popular bars/nightclubs Gödör Klub and Akvárium Klub. We love both of them, but end up spending more time in Akvárium as we really like their outdoor fit pits in the Winter. The funky band memorabilia and Volt signage in the lobby of Akvárium comes from the annual Volt Musical Festival they help promote in Western Hungary which 80,000 people go to.
Just off of the Southeast corner of the Park is the giant yellow Anker Mansion House which was built as the first apartment building in Budapest in 1907. The two towered building, with its pyramid roof, gets its name from the Anker Life and Pension Insurance Company which first built it.
8. Gresham Palace Four Seasons Hotel: Over looking Roosevelt Park at the foot of the famous Chain Bridge, is the architectural treat called Gresham Palace. The Palace was built in 1906 as the grand headquarters for the foreign Gresham Life Insurance Company and they spared no expense. The headquarters were built so fancy that tons of wealthy British aristocrats all spent time living in the upper floors.
During WWII the Soviets used Gresham Palace to house troops and after the war the damaged building served as a rundown apartment complex. Finally after over 50 years of falling apart, the Four Season’s Hotel chain bought the property and quickly restored to its original grandeur. Today the Palace serves as a great back drop to Roosevelt square and offers great views of Castle Hill which is directly across the Danube. Even if you can’t afford its $400+ a night rooms, a brief stroll through the magnificent lobby will leave you in awe.
Sitting in front Gresham Palace is a long park called Roosevelt Square. On the North side of the Park statue of Count István Széchenyi (1791-1860) who founded the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and also originally thought up nearby Chain Bridge. The South side has its own statue of Ferenc Deák (1803-1876), who advanced relations between Austria and Hungary and had the nickname “Wise Man”. Hotel Website: (HERE).
9. Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lanchid): The historic quarter mile long Chain Bridge was completed in 1849 as the first permanent bridge connecting Buda and Pest. The bridge was needed to help Pest escape flooding and lead the merging with Buda and Óbuda in 1873. With large lion statues guarding all four corners of the Bridge, its easy to feel its power. Great photo opportunities come not only from the statues but also from the Chain Bridge itself with the breath-taking Buda Hills & Royal Palace in the background. The Bridge is absolutely gorgeous when lit up at night. If you only have a short amount of time in Budapest we suggest that your break the Pest Monument Walking Tour off here and follow the bridge across the river to pick up on our Castle Hill Walking Tour. If you have a few days, however, continue on and by all means take your time.
10. The Spoon Restaurant: The Spoon is an amazing restaurant right on the water, especially at night. Whether you are looking for a romantic dinner or just beautiful place to get a drink we highly suggest the Spoon. The 250 foot long 3-Decker river boat has two restaurants, five bars, a panoramic open terrace, convertible winter garden, and an underwater Oriental bar. It remains docked the entire so it’s always there and has a lot of outdoor seating and posh inside seating. It’s worth buying a drink or food just to be able to check Spoon out and take some photos especially if you go down into the re velvet oriental bar on the bottom level. Cost: High end drinks average $6-15; Meals are $10-20. Hours: Daily Noon-Midnight. Restaurant Website: (HERE).
If you are looking for either a little cheaper drinks or a party atmosphere, check out the Blue River Pub Boat a little ways to the South. The Blue River Pub Boat is open from 11am-until dawn with live music and partying going on all night. It is a lot more laid back than Spoon.
11. Royal Princess Statue (Kis Királylány): Often referred to as the Jester, the Royal Princess Statue is one of the top photo opportunities in Budapest with the Danube River and Royal Palace in the background. You can find her and her jester hat sitting on the railing in front of Vigado Square next to the tram track. On a trip to Budapest, Prince Charles of England liked the statue so much he had a replica made for his residence in London.
12. Vörösmarty Square: As you enter the large Vörösmarty Square you will find a huge limestone statue of writer Mihály Vörösmarty, who the Square is named after. Vörösmarty gained his fame not just from his romanticized poems and plays, but also for his patriotic lyrics making him a national treasure. The statue was built in 1908 on a pedestal of limestone blocks and is surrounded by tons of figures representing different classes of Hungarian society. These figures include a farmer, students, peasants among many others. Vörösmarty’s writings were both appealing to and made up of a very wide range of people as you can tell by the diversity of the figures who surround him.
The Square is also home to the Vörösmarty tér Metro Stop, but it is the beautiful Gerbeaud Café (website)opened in 1858 that you will remember the most. Gerbeaud Café is a delightful pastry shop with a lavish marble and ornate interior whose white facade dominated the Square. If pastries are not your thing, Gerbeaud also has a nice authentic pub and a great high-end restaurant that will make you feel like a Hungarian aristocrat. Gerbeaud can hold up to 300 guests inside and also has great outdoor seating, so don’t worry about getting served if you see a crowd, there is plenty of room for everyone. You can always get something to go and do a make shift picnic. Our favorite time of year to visit Vörösmarty Square is in December when you’ll be treated to a number of great outdoor stands that make up Budapest’s Christmas Fair and Market. The Market is has the perfect look and feels just like the large Christmas markets of Austria and Germany.
13. Váci Utca: The pedestrian only Váci Utca is the best shopping area in all of Budapest and stretches all the way from Vörösmarty tér to the Great Market Hall. The architecture along the street is some of the best from the 1700’s, the atmosphere is always upbeat, and there is a great mix of both affordable souvenir shops and high-end fashion boutiques. If you wander slightly off Váci Utca, in almost any direction, you can find a great number of mom-n-pop style eateries that have great deals and even better food.
Speaking of food, notice the Historic McDonald’s on your right as you begin down Váci, it is a big deal. This McDonald’s was the first Western fast food restaurant built in the Communist East Block when is came here in 1988. The people of Budapest were so excited for McDonald’s to be here that the line to get food typically ran outside the restaurant and down the road a few blocks. McDonald’s went on to build what we feels is their fanciest restaurant in the World to the Northeast of here near the train station, which is also marked on the map above. While the McDonald’s and the shopping on Váci Utca are special, the most unique thing is definitely the statue of the Peeing Boy. It is quite literally is a statue of a peeing boy and serves as a gathering spot for travelers looking to rest their feet. As you continue down the street make sure to investigate numerous statues you come across.
14. Inner City Parish (Belvárosi): The this Franciscan (Catholic) Church was first built in the 1046 on the next to the site of an ancient Roman fortress and over the tomb of Monk Saint Gellért. Directly across the river from the Inner City Parish is Gellért Hill where Saint Gellért (San Gerardo) was put in a barrel and rolled to his death by citizens resisting his attempts to convert them to Christianity. Gellért is now considered a martyr and his hill and monument are both highlights on our Gellért Hill Walking Tour.
The first Church lasted about 300 years before being destroyed by the Mongols, and the second Gothic-style Church made it through being convert into a Mosque during Ottoman and back again before being burn down in a fire in the 1700’s. You can really see the German and Austrian influence on the third and current Baroque-style Church as it looks just like many of the small parishes in Salzburg and Munich. The arches inside the Church are pretty cool and especially on the back of the exterior you can see where they used parts of the previous Churches to build the current one. Before you more on, make sure to investigate the ruins of the ancient Roman Contra-Aquincum Fortress just to the North of the Parish itself.
15. University Library & Ybl Palace: A series of great mosaic title roofs all right next to each other leads to one of the more icon photos opportunities in Budapest. The blue and grey Ybl Palace was designed as an upscale apartment building in 1869 by famous Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl. Ybl’s best known work is the Hungarian Opera House, but is influence in the buildings of Budapest seems to pop up all over. The bright yellow University Library houses many priceless works of literature and art including works from the days of King Matthias and Hungary’s founding.
16. University Church (Egyetemi Templom): Built in 1742 on the site of a Turkish Mosque, the University Church is by far the biggest and best baroque-style church in Budapest. It is tucked tightly into an alley on Egyetem Tér but is easily viewed and photographed at the nearby Károly Garden to the Northeast. The exterior dominated by two green-cap towers, which were added in 1771 and statues of the hermits Paul and Anthony in the middle. Can you spot the palm between two lions with a raven? This is the traditional emblem of the Pauline Order of priests and it sits directly above the image of Madonna on a globe. The theme of the Madonna carries inside as the interiors frescoes are widely of scenes depicted in the life of the Virgin.
17. Hungarian National Museum: Housed in a building that looks like the U.S. Supreme Court, the Hungarian National Museum has been an icon of Budapest ever since it was built in 1807. The museums main claim to fame was when a reading on the front steps of Sándor Petőfi’s 12 Points and famous poem Nemzeti Dal partially helped inspire citizens to begin the Revolution of 1848. Today there are two statues at the museum commemorating this Revolution. The most fascinating exhibits are the preserved art treasures, and Princes from Afar, but whatever the Exhibit of the Month happens to be is usually worth the stop in itself. Cost: Adults 1100 HUF; Discounts for students and families. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm; closed Mondays. Museum Website: (HERE).
18. Kálvin Square: On the South end of Kálvin Square lies a simple Protestant Church with a green topped steeple and golden stucco. The church opened in 1830 and is one of the homes of the Reformed Protestants or Calvinists. Keep an eye out for the Kálvin Metro stop located in the square if you looking to take the subway back to your hotel after the tour.
19. Grand Market Hall (Nagycsarnok); Also known as Central Market Hall, this three story tall, bustling food epicenter is grand indeed. The basement has a large grocery area, the second floor has lot of meat and vegetable sellers, and the second floor has a bunch of clothing knickknack sellers. The Grand Market is the most touristy yet the most beautiful of the five major market halls in Budapest.
You can go to the strudel stall on the first floor and taste the typical Hungarian poppy-seed and cabbage strudels. You can also go to the Langos stall (fried salty dough topped by cheese, sour cream ham etc) on the second floor where you can also sample wine and spirits for a reasonable price. You will also find strings of red paprika and garlic, the famous Hungarian salami, sausage, ham and other meat product along with fresh pastry, frisbee-sized salty doughnut, cheap and delicious Hungarian wine and fruit brandies is sold. Definitely a must stop while in Budapest and this is the best of the five big markets in town. Hours: Mondays 6am-5pm; Tuesday-Friday 6am-6pm; Saturdays 6am-2pm; Closed Sundays. Market Website: (HERE).
Hope you enjoyed your time on the Pest Monument Walking Tour, from here you have a couple different options for where to go next. You can either take the short walk across the bridge which leads you to our Gellért Hill Walking Tour, you can head straight north on Vaci Utca to catch up on any shops you miss, or you can head back up to Kalvin Square to jump on the Metro – the choice is yours.