For hundreds of years, Buda and Pest were two separate cities. Finally, in 1873 they merged—the union also included Óbuda, a small town just north of Buda—to form Budapest. Split by the Danube River, Buda sits atop rolling hills that are home to the medieval Buda Castle and also well-heeled neighborhoods. Pest is known for its flat terrain, gritty-but-grand architecture, and vibrant nightlife. The majority of Budapest's residents live on the Pest side.
In fact, most restaurants, bars, stores, museums, and tourist sites are in Pest—as a visitor, it’s a good strategy to make Pest your home base and then selectively venture out to pockets of Buda. Budapest is divided into 23 districts. Rather than indicating strikingly different neighborhoods, districts are simply administrative units. Nonetheless, they each have their own unique characters, and our district-level neighborhood guides feature the most interesting ones.
Note that Budapest is a safe city, so you don't need to worry about looking over your shoulder in any part of town. The best way to discover the central parts—most of Districts 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13—is by foot. For some of the more far-flung locations, use the BuBi city bikes on the flat Pest side, or take public transportation, which in Budapest is better than in most cities. We've summarized in this article the best ways to get around, including options to and from the airport.
In Pest, most points of interest are within the Grand Boulevard ("Nagykörút"), but it's also worth exploring the wider city to see where most locals live. Thanks to the rising number of visitors, downtown Pest (District 5) is beginning to show the trappings of typical tourist-heavy city centers, with a diverse set of hotels and restaurants catering to all types of travelers.
For splurgers, there is a Four Seasons and a Ritz-Carlton, and most of Budapest's Michelin-starred restaurants are also in District 5. Váci utca is downtown's main pedestrian street—think of it as Budapest's La Rambla—meaning that overpriced "tourist-menu restaurants" and souvenir shops abound. Nonetheless, downtown is where the most well-known sites are—including the Parliament building, the St. Stephen's Basilica, and the Shoes on the Danube Bank—and still, there are cute, uncrowded side streets to get lost in. The shopping scene isn't limited to downtown, instead being spread out across different neighborhoods.
The highlight of District 6 is Andrássy Avenue, the grand boulevard also known as "the Champs-Élysées of Budapest." It connects the city center with the City Park and Heroes' Square. The old Jewish Quarter (the inner part of District 7) today is home to Budapest's famed ruin bars and is the center of the city's nighlife. This neighborhood has preserved some signs of its Jewish past: the Dohány Street Synagoguge, Europe's largest, is also here. The neighboring Palace Quarter (inner part of District 8) has a few shockingly ornate buildings, and mom-and-pop cafés and restaurants line its charming, quiet streets. The up-and-coming Ferencváros (District 9) sets off by the Great Market Hall, and features several notable museums apart from its Danube promenade. Újlipótváros (inner part of District 13) is a lively, but under-the-radar pocket of Pest, where many middle-class residents live. It boasts a modernist housing stock, and a host of trendy cafés and restaurants.
In Buda, the medieval Castle Hill (District 1) with the Buda Castle and the Matthias Church is a must-see. Try to go early in the morning or in the late afternoon to avoid the throngs and have these charmingly winding historic streets to yourself. Perched atop the neighboring Gellért Hill is the Liberty Statue. If you don't mind a steep hike, climb up here for sweeping, 360-degree views of Budapest.
Most of the city's thermal baths, like Rudas, Gellért, and Király, are also in Buda. For a more offbeat experience, head to Újbuda (District 11), a revitalized neighborhood featuring art galleries, cafés, and bars without throngs of tourists.
There isn’t any one neighborhood in Budapest that's categorically fancy or elite. Instead, most areas include both lower and middle-income residents. This is largely an incidental legacy of communism, when large-scale, forced evictions of people into, out of, and within Budapest reshuffled the local population. Nonetheless, leafy Buda, especially parts of District 2 and District 12, is considered most upscale in addition to sections of downtown Pest and the homes along Andrássy Avenue.
Finally, be sure to take a look at our overall "Best things to do in Budapest" guide, which features places across many different neighborhoods.
One final piece of advice that may be handy: you can tell which district someplace falls simply by taking the two middle-digits of an address' zip code—for example, a zip code of 1146 denotes District 14.
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