Budapest is a sprawling and eclectic city that is divided into two sides—Buda and Pest—by the glittering Danube River, and never has the phrase ‘A tale of two cities’ been more apt. A common question most visitors ask before visiting this vibrant city is: should I stay in Buda or Pest?
Although Buda and Pest merged in 1873 to form the city as we know it today, the shimmering Danube is a physical reminder of the once divided city and acts as a metaphor for the city’s seemingly split personality. Depending on which side of the river you are on, you’ll have two different experiences, which is further influenced by the district that you choose to stay in—there are 23! Each side has its own charms and idiosyncrasies and deciding whether to stay in Buda or Pest is dependent on the kind of experience that you are seeking.
On the west bank, Buda emanates an old-world charm and gentle sophistication in that way that Eastern European cities do best. It is blessed with the beautiful and historic Castle District, a World Heritage Site, perched over the Danube River and offering stunning panoramic views. Here you’ll find quaint cobblestone streets, undulating hills, and you’ll be able to get a glimpse into Budapest’s vast and varied history. More reserved than Pest, Buda is a place to be explored in a leisurely manner: somewhere to stop and smell and proverbial roses, if you will.
THINGS TO DO IN BUDA
- Széchenyi Chain Bridge
- Budapest Castle Hill Funicular
- Buda Castle—home of the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum
- Fisherman’s Bastion
- Matthias Church
- Gellért Hill and the Citadella
- Gellért Baths (said to be the most photographed baths in Budapest), Rudas Baths and Király Baths
- Szemlőhegyi and Pálvölgyi caves
- Memento Park
Over on the east bank, Pest is edgier, grittier, and a bit more alternative than its elegant counterpart across the river. While Buda’s beauty is plain for all to see, Pest’s charm lies hidden around dark corners and in the labyrinth of side streets. Although Pest does possess beautiful architecture and buildings, the key area where Pest clearly surpasses Buda is in its pulsating nightlife. In Pest, you’ll find an eclectic mix of trendy restaurants, hip bars and ruin pubs, which are drinking holes born out of abandoned buildings, scattered mostly around the über cool Jewish Quarter (District VII). Don’t forget to take a ride on Tram no. 2, reputed to be one of the most scenic tram rides in the world.
THINGS TO DO IN PEST
- Danube Promenade—Shoes on the Danube memorial
- Budapest Parliament
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
- Heroes’ Square
- Széchenyi Baths
- Andrássy Avenue
- Hungarian State Opera House
- Great Synagogue in Dohány Street (Tree of Life monument)
- Kazinczy Street Orthodox Synagogue
- Szimpla Kert Ruin Pub
- Central Market Hall
- Váci Street
- Tram line no. 2
Verdict: Buda or Pest?
Pest had an energy that I found intoxicating. It may have been the time of year that I was there, but it seemed like there was something going on around every corner that I ventured: street festivals, impromptu gigs, pop-ups—the whole gamut. I was completely smitten. I stayed in the lively Jewish Quarter (District VII), and I’m pretty sure my heart was sold when I stumbled upon a cute coffee shop called My Little Melbourne just around the corner from where I was staying.
I can see the appeal of Buda in that it is more relaxed and low-key, perfect if you’re after a quiet retreat or travelling with family; however, Pest is definitely where you want to stay if you’re keen to get in on the action, particularly at night-time.
Whether you decide to stay in Buda or Pest, make sure to wander around both sides as they offer contrasting yet complementary experiences—in the sense that you won’t be able to get a full picture of Budapest until you’ve explored both the west and east bank. It also gives you an excuse to walk over the stunning Széchenyi Chain Bridge!