Useful tips for your trip to Budapest 2: How to get around in Pest?

Budapest is a really big city with millions of people living in it. You can drive for an hour and not get from one end to another, but frankly, much of this expanse towards the edges is made up of the ‘burbs with giant 24-hour Tescos and industrial areas. If you spend a couple of days in town, however, chances are that you will be loitering in the more ‘happening’ places: around downtown Pest and the Buda castle, in which case you will be able to enjoy the truly extensive and reliable public transport system – or the freedom of getting from A to B on your own two feet.

Budapest is made up of the hilly and leafy Buda on the western banks of the Danube and the flat and urban Pest on the east, also known as the right hand side, should you be swimming against current in the Danube. The Danube is bang in the middle, obediently running in a straight line from north to south, like a knife in butter.

budapest-birds-eye1The purpose of this post is to explain the basic layout of the Pest side. First of all, because it’s so beautifully messy, and logical and mnemonic at the same time, that it is nothing short of sheer bloody poetry in the form on nineteenth-century urban planning. Secondly, because it’s kinda useful when you want to get back to your digs after a long day (or night) and need something to orient yourself by.

Although the city, as any city of medieval origins, is a far cry from the orderliness of a US-style grid oriented to cardinal directions, once you get a knack of the layout, you’re pretty much sorted. It is a wheel of three concentric half-circles (boulevard – körút) connected by spokes of straight roads (út), which are wonderfully overlaid by an efficient system of bus and underground lines, including night services on major roads. The three half circles more or less begin with one bridge on the Danube and end in another. Legend holds that the whole system was invented because the boulevards of Pest are basically necessary to keep Buda stapled to the rest of the meaningful universe. Have a look at the right side of the map below and observe the sweeping yellow curves:

Budapest downtown map






1. Kiskörút – ‘Small Boulevard’, the innermost half-circle (N to S)

In reality it begins at downtown Deák tér, the single biggest hub of Budapest public transport where all Metro (underground) lines meet. However, with a bit of help of József Attila utca, which connects it with the Danube, it actually begins with the lovely Chain Bridge, also known as Széchenyi Lánchíd. This is the picture perfect one with the stone lions. (You may have gathered that híd means ‘bridge’ by now.)

Turn your back to the lions (they don’t bite) and walk away from the Danube towards downtown on József Attila utca, across Erzsébet tér and the aforementioned Deák tér and you’ll get onto Kiskörút for real. Kiskörút is made up of segments called Károly körút, Múzeum körút and Vámház körút, and Tram 47 runs along it nicely, in case you want to save yourself some walking. If you did everything right, you’ll soon reach Szabadság híd (ta-da!), the green metal bridge connecting tourist attractions like the Great Covered Market on the Pest side and the Gellért Baths in Buda. But let’s get back to Pest now.

2. Nagykörút – ‘Grand Boulevard’, the middle half-circle (N to S)

If we start our journey at the Nagykörút’s northern end like in the case of its little brother above, it begins with Margit híd in the north and ends with Petőfi híd in the south. It’s consecutive segments are called Szent István, Teréz, Erzsébet, József, and Ferenc körút, and Trams 4 and 6 run along it 24 hours a day.  Very importantly, the future Street & River pad is located a couple of minutes away from the northern end, in close proximity of Margaret Island (Margitsziget) and the Parliament!

3. Róbert Károly /Hungária/Könyves Kálmán körút – the outer half-circle (N to S)

More adventurous (and less time-poor) visitors may be travelling as far as the longest and busiest boulevard stretching from Árpád híd in the north to Rákóczi híd in the south. Tram 1 runs along it, and then some.

This should be enough of curves, let’s see the straight lines now. I have mentioned that these half circles are connected by busy ‘spokes’ or straight arterial roads. The intersections where these roads meet the boulevards are typically bustling hubs with many places of interest and shopping venues nearby. The two most important are:

4. Andrássy út

Running from downtown Deák tér to must-see-tourist-sight Hősök tere this avenue, originally fashioned after Paris’s Champs Elysée  is part of the UNESCO World Heritage and home to luxury brands and stunning architecture. The pretty little Millenium underground (also known as Line 1 or yellow line) runs underneath the road, but it’s really worth the walk if you feel sporty. It meets Kiskörút at Deák tér, cuts across Nagykörút at the Octogon and if you sit on the underground beyond Hősök tere until you get kicked out two stops later, you can surface at the outermost boulevard, called Hungária.

5. Kossuth Lajos utca / Rákóczi út

Starting at the serenely elegant white Erzsébet híd, this long stretch of road connects all three half circles with the busiest underground line (Line 2, red line) and bus route (7, 5 and many others) including the frequent and safe night bus service (907). Moving away from the bridge, this road meets Kiskörút at Astoria, then cuts across Nagykörút at Blaha Lujza tér, reaching the outer half circle of Hungária körút at the exotically named Zugló Vasútállomás. Then it goes on and reaches infinity where parallels meet, solids turn into plasma and yellow wax peppers cost 150 forints for a pound.

Here is a map of the underground system:


Obviously between these major hubs there is a dense network of city streets with more trams, trolley buses and buses, but you can always make your life easier if your remember how these five major roads intersect and connect. It’s like a simple spiderweb that catches you when you feel entirely and irrevocably lost. You can’t really do that in downtown Pest. If getting lost is what rocks your boat, walk over a bridge and try Buda.

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