three sightseeing strategies

 
 
 

An Anti-Sightseeing Sightseeing Strategy

        We are not much by way of sight-seers.  My own preference is to come up with errands I have to run or tasks that need accomplishing, or goal-directed pretexts for getting out of bed and into the street (often, my favorite thing to do is simply to tag along with a local acquaintance as they take care of business; breakfast isn’t a bad goal either) at a leisurely enough pace that I can avoid subways (which tunnel under the often-surprising adjacencies that thwart even the most careful urban planning and which render invisible the ways that wildly disparate neighborhoods butt up against and insert tendrils into each other), and take detours into places I stumble across on my way.


That can make for a pretty warped image of a city, so the other thing I tend to do is hop on the kitschiest sightseeing bus I can find that runs through as much of the city as can be traversed in three-four hours (and that stops as little as possible) to try to get the lay of the land (and the sense of folk history that guided tours inevitably provide).  In Budapest, we’ve taken and are sort of partial to the tours run by Barbiebus/Greenbus, mostly because their website is so amateurish and their operation so mom-and-pop. http://www.barbiebus.hu/  The guides are pleasant and intelligent and professional, and they speak English and German.  On a pleasant day they use open air buses; on rainy days they use regular tour buses.  But there are several other similar tours available, and you can get brochures at the concierge desk of any nearby hotel, or can view webpages at:


Bus tours: Eurama: http://www.eurama.hu/

Bus tours: FlyandBus: https://www.flyandbus.com/program_list.php

Bus tours: Cityrama: http://www.cityrama.hu/level2.php?pg_id=1&ma_id=1

City Segway Tours (and for something a bit different, Segways rather than buses):

http://www.citysegwaytours.com/budapest/


Individual guides who have been recommended by our friends:


Gabriella Török: http://www.privatetoursbudapest.com, terapet@t-online.hu

Beyond Budapest tours of the VIIIth District: http://www.beyondbudapest.hu/, beyondbudapest@gmail.com


A Buda Strategy

Well, to be honest, our strategy for seeing Buda has been simply to avoid it.  There’s lots of quaint stuff there, but you can see it most dramatically from the Pest side of the river, and the most interesting thing about the Castle is not its history but its insight into the megalomaniacal charm of the Hungarian mindset.  My father used to recount the story of a maid in his grandfather’s (Jewish) household in Csurgo, who said: “I don’t understand why people don’t like the Jews.  Wasn’t Our Lord Jesus Christ himself a Jew before he became a Hungarian?” 


The Castle (which is not terribly old in its current form) is far too large for a country as small as Hungary, especially a country that has spent virtually every moment of the past 1000 years being ruled by outside conquerors.  So, Buda is made up of exclusively tourist venues (which have their charm nonetheless; the Citadella, for example, really does provide an extraordinary view of the city and the river), tourist restaurants and cafes, and quaintly suburban streets and schools and neighborhoods that are lushly green in summertime and nestle into hills filled with parkland and hiking paths.


Because public transit is not great into Buda unless you really master the bus system, my suggestion is simply to do this sightseeing loop with a tour bus and a guide.  Some strategy, huh?



A Pest Strategy

Pest is a different story entirely.  I’d get to know this part of the city, which is the part where business gets done and where life gets lived, on foot and by public transit.  Follow the Török walks, or alternatively:


Buy a transit pass of suitable duration for your stay, and then take the #2 tram along the Danube from one end to the other (during the reconstruction of the Szabadsag Bridge and the excavation of Metro4, this requires switching to a shuttle bus to get across Vamhaz körút and then popping back onto the tram).  Actually, at the south end get off at the next to last stop (the National Theater/Palace of the Arts) and walk around the new and opulent public spaces inside and outside the halls.  Walk over to the river, look around inside MUPA (the Palace of the Arts; Muvesz = Arts, Palota = Palace) at the gift shop and museum (not a bad restaurant either, and a pleasant café on the terrace), a wonderful view from the rooftop balcony of the building, especially at night.


Get back on the tram to the last exit at the north and walk to the main street just a few meters further on.  That will be the ring road, called Szent Istvan körut in this section of town, and there’s a tramline there as well, running to the left over the river (with a stop at Margaret Island) into Buda and to the right along the ring road.  Take it to the end of the line in Buda to get a feel for why there’s no particular point to spend a lot of time in Buda; take it back and get off at Margaret Island and wander around; get back on and take it to Oktogon and walk to your right (if your nose is facing in the direction the tram is headed) down Andrassy ut until you get to the Opera (with side trips if you like off a block or so right and left to see the Operetta theater and the Liszt Music Academy), then back to Oktogon and out Andrassy in the opposite direction a couple of blocks to get a feel for the scale and scope of the once and future grand boulevard.  Get back on the tram and take it all the way to the other end (it crosses back into Buda), or get off just before it crosses the river (there’s really not much reason to head to Buda) at Boraros ter…down by the riverside you can pick up the #2 tram again along the Danube, heading back north.  Get off at Vigado and walk in from the river one block to the entrance to the Yellow Metro in front of Gerbeaud coffeehouse.  Take the Yellow Metro out to Heroes’ Square (Hosok tere) and walk around a bit, continuing on on foot into the big public park, wandering about until you get to the Szechenyi Baths.  Then you can either go into the spa for a dip, or get back on the Yellow Metro headed for Vorosmarty ter and get out in front of Gerbeaud.  Get a pastry or a Gerbeaud Salad or an ice cream at Gerbeaud and then walk directly through the square to the pedestrian street Vaci utca on the other side and walk the length of Vaci utca to the Central Markethall.  Wander through the market, then as you come out get on a tram in the middle of the street (headed away from the river) and go three stops on the inner ring road to the end of the line at Deak ter.  Along the way you will have passed the Great Synagogue.  If you’d like, you can walk a couple of blocks north from Deak ter to the Basilica, or a block or two  toward the river and you are at Szervita ter.


Congratulations, you have now done a pretty comprehensive tour of Pest.


You can push the envelope a bit by taking a non-traditional tour of the Eighth District.


You’ll have to rely on guidebooks and the thoughts of others for views about particular sights and destinations.



 

By indirection find direction out: Walk, wander, and peer down corridors and into courtyards.  Budapest is best experienced on foot.  Let yourself stumble across the gems.  Break frequently for a coffee, a beer, an ice cream, or a piece of pastry.  Embrace getting lost and then ease your way back to familiar terrain (bring along a good map).  Keep a sense of where the river is, but don't expect rectlinear patterns -- all the streets arc.