Once we crossed over the Szabadság Híd or Liberty Bridge into Central Pest, the energy of the city grabbed us. This is where everyday life is carried out – cars hustling to and fro, pedestrians shopping and running errands, business owners plying their wares and services.
We stumbled upon the Central Market Hall, which was buzzing with activity. Inside, hundreds of stalls offer meats, seafood, cheeses, spices, fruits and vegetables, flowers, prepared food, trinkets and assorted household items. We saw an entire pig’s head in a meat case near the back that sent us scurrying in a different direction. Climb up the intricate wrought iron staircases to get a bird’s-eye view of the melee.
A Cafe Break
The Calvinist Church is just down the street (undergoing renovations during our visit) as well as the Hungarian National Museum. Aside from a few artifacts – the campaign chest, funeral crown and some leather cloaks – the museum is fairly non-descript.
Closer to the Danube and part of the more pedestrian-friendly area of Central Pest are the Klotild Palaces, Váci Street (promenade with lots of shops and cafes), the Inner City Parish Church (check out the Turkish prayer niche, the pulpit and the Gothic Chapel), the Turkish Bank and Vigadó Square.
There are plenty of restaurants along the water that cater to the weary along the embankment walk. Notice the statue, Little Princess by Lázló Marton, along this route. A friendly violist will play you a song while you admire the nymph. For a nicer dinner, we enjoyed the Rézkakas Restaurant on Veres Pálné Utca. We listened to a musical trio that even played a saw.
Just east of this area is the Jewish Quarter with the imposing Great Synagogue and a weeping willow Holocaust Memorial sculpture. On the edge of the Jewish Quarter is the New York Palace, which used to house an American insurance firm. Now they will serve you lunch on the ground floor while you admire the craftsmanship.
North of Central Pest is the Parliament area. The Parliament building itself cannot be missed – it’s the largest building in Hungary and is based on the Houses of Parliament in London.
The Neo-Gothic façade is filled with quatrefoils, trefoils, gables and arches and the dome looms 315 feet high. We didn’t venture inside, but hear that it is impressive.
Behind Parliament is the Ministry of Agriculture on Kossuth Square and farther south, Liberty Square. The square used to house barracks for Austrian troops. Now, an eternal flames burns to commemorate the execution of Hungary’s first prime minister.
Also of note in this area is the State Opera House, the utilitarian Hungarian Academy of Sciences with renowned thinkers adorning each corner of the building, Roosevelt Square, the Secession-style Gresham Palace (the Four Seasons is renovating the building to make way for one of its high-end hotels), and St. Stephen’s Basilica.
The church’s dome is as high as the Parliament dome and the bell tower is equally imposing. Visitor’s can ascend the stairs to the top of the dome for terrific views of the city.
Once inside, be sure to seek out the weirdest relic we have ever seen, the Holy Right Hand. It truly is the mummified forearm of King István…his rings are still hanging off his shriveled fingers. Foreign countries have such great stuff.
Millennium Monument and I A Bath House Hanging Around the Art Museum
East of Central Pest is the Városliget or City Park area of town. Walk up Andrássy Utca past the embassies and stalls selling flowers and newspapers to the Millennium Monument in Heroes Square. The monument is flanked by the Museum of Fine Arts (check out the eight-pillared portico) to the north and the Palace of Art (only a six-pillared portico) to the south. The park is just beyond the monument.
Within the park visitors can enjoy the zoo, the Szécheny Baths (largest complex of spa baths in Europe) and our favorite, Vajdahunyad Castle complex on the island within the lake.
The complex houses the Baroque castle, the Ják Chapel reproduced after a Benedictine chapel from the 13th century and the Statue of Anonymous.
Unfortunately, we missed Margaret Island, but it looks like it is well worth the stop.