Budapest is a city split down the middle by the Danube river. It was two separate cities until 1873. The Buda side of Budapest, with its Castle District, is hilly and green. It has more open space and forested land. The Pest side is a bustling urban center. Even though Budapest is now united, you’ll notice that the two have a different feel, a different vibe. If you have two days in Budapest, you may want to devote a day to each side of the river. We walked back and forth over the Chain Bridge many times in our two days here, but we basically spent the first day in Buda and the second in Pest. Here are some of the most memorable sights I found in Pest.
Tram No. 2
The cheery yellow Tram No. 2 plies its way back and forth along the Danube. I read before our trip that some people like to hop on the tram and simply ride along the river bank, seeing the sights from the comfort of a soft seat. You can ride as long as you like, though you will get off at the end of the line and get back on a tram going the other way to carry on. The tram winds behind the massive Parliament building and otherwise follows the river. It’s fun, cheap, and a way to sit with locals and “pretend” to be one.
Shoes on the Danube
This moving memorial on the Pest side of the river is one you will never forget. What you see is 60 pairs of rusted shoes in the styles of the 1940s, cast out of iron. These represent the Jewish people of Budapest who were killed here during World War II. The shoes are different sizes and styles because no Jews were spared, no matter their age, profession, or status. The baby shoes are particularly poignant.
People leave flowers here, and ribbons, memorial stones, and candles. You’ll find locks of love on the shoes, too. A woman behind me sobbed helplessly. May we never forget.
The Museum of Terror
This museum is in the building that housed the political prison of the fascists during World War II and then the Soviets during the Cold War. One of the most chilling aspects of this “Memorial to Political Terror” is that it looks like any other residence along the main street in Pest. It’s on the lovely, tree-lined Andrassy Street. Right in the middle of cafes, hotels, apartments, and schools, the oppressors imprisoned, tortured, and killed their victims. This is another place in Budapest that stands as a memorial to innocents killed here.
Inside, photos of hundreds of victims line the walls in the shadow of a tank. Your audio tour informs you of the atrocities of the rulers as you move from room to room. You end up in the basement in the cells where victims were hanged. It’s difficult to take in the immensity of the suffering that took place here. But I think it’s also important to try.
Outside the museum stands a representation of the Iron Curtain. This wall of chains symbolizes the terrorist grip of the Soviets on Hungary for so many years. Nearby is a section of the Berlin Wall, representing the breakup of that reign of terror.
After a morning focusing on the dark side of history here, we were ready to let our minds “float” for a while.
Budapest is renowned for its natural mineral water springs. The country has more than 1,000 natural springs, and several of those are in Budapest. Everyone we talked to who had been here told us we must go to the baths. So we did!
We headed for the Szechenyi Baths in Pest, one of the largest medicinal baths in Europe. Imagine 21 pools in and around a Neo-Classical sunny yellow building with an ornate dome. Two thermal wells supply the warm water. Your entrance ticket entitles you to move from pool to pool and test out the different temps of the water and enjoy the decor in the different rooms. Some of the pools are cooled, and you’ll also find saunas. You can relax in soothing warm water to your heart’s content. We splashed in several pools, then came back to the large outdoor pool. This is my favorite because in the middle is a spiral pool with water pressure that pushes you around. I swear everyone going in circles here laughed and screamed with delight. This makes for good, healthy fun in the sun.
Go on an Evening Cruise
If you want a breathtaking view of the Pest side (or the Buda side), book a cruise on the Danube after dark. Seeing the Parliament lit up with a thousand points of light in the water below is a bucket list item for sure.
As you can see, there’s so much in Pest — and all of Budapest — that will interest you.
How about you? Have you been to Budapest? What are your favorite sights? What would you most like to see on a future trip?