The first district is the oldest part of our city and home of the iconic Buda Castle. It is the most historic and most elegant of all the districts, with arguably the most tourist attractions in Budapest. It also has the most spas in Budapest, a wide range of tourist activities and, with the Castle and the Gellért Hill, some the best sightseeing locations in Budapest. In this article we will explore what there is to see, what there is to do, where to eat and where to go. Join us and let’s explore the First District!
What’s so special about the 1st District?
Most major European city has an Old Town, and Budapest is no exception. Our Old Town is the 1st district. With the Buda Castle, beautiful Turkish architecture, a stunning waterfront, some of the best places to eat in Budapest, a ton of interesting museums, many iconic baths of Budapest, and an aura of faded elegance the district evokes the atmosphere of Budapest’s golden age. It is one of the places in Budapest that you simply cannot miss out on, as no trip is complete without a visit to the Castle District. But it is so much more than just another Old Town, as it is also a residential area, with its own unique feel and mood. The Danube on this side is perhaps the most inviting and beautiful, with its sublime promenade and a great infrastructure that allows you to bike, run, hike, or just sit down and enjoy the view. The Castle Hill is one of the most iconic areas of the city with serious religious significance as some of the biggest active Catholic churches can be found here. This area is also home to one of the largest parks of Budapest, the Tabán, and parts of Gellért Hill, as well as the Naphegy, another amazing Buda Hill that seem to be made for hiking.
How to Get There
The biggest public transportation hubs of the 1st district are Széll Kálmán Square and Batthyány Square, and Déli pályaudvar, one of the 3 main railroad terminals of Budapest. These are the first three stops of metro line M2. There are several bus lines going from Széll Kálmán Square that will take you all around the district. There is also the 16 bus that goes from Deák Square on the Pest side, and goes up into the Castle, with its finals top being in Széll Kálmán Square. It’s a great bus line that goes straight into the castle, and doesn’t just drop you off near it. The 1st district also has several tram lines, the 56, 17, 61, 41 and 47 lines all go through it, but pretty far from the Castle proper. The 150 year-old Castle Funicular goes straight to the Castle from the bottom of the hill. A ride on this is an iconic Budapest experience, we can recommend it especially to folks who want pictures for later- some of the best panoramic views of the Pest side can be shot from this vehicle.
The Buda Castle: It is hard to list the Buda Castle as just one attraction. On the Castle Hill you will find several very important and iconic sites that are fun to visit. The Castle itself, with its great view, tall walls, awesome restaurants and endless shops of knick knacks, artisan delights and hand-made quality gifts can be enough for an entire day’s worth of adventuring. But once inside the walls, you will see a number of things that must be listed separately. Our very own sightseeing app, Have Fun Travel offers a Buda Castle Tour showing you all of the hidden treasures and wonderful sites that one of the main tourist attractions in Budapest has to offer.
The Hungarian National Gallery: The Royal Palace of Budapest is the home of the Hungarian National Gallery, which has the biggest and most definitive collection of Hungarian art. Every era and every form of art that has been definitive in Hungary can be seen here, from medieval artifacts to Modern works, from sculpture to tapestry, with an emphasis on paintings. It is perhaps best known for the collection of 19th and 20th century Hungarian art, with a huge collection of Hungarian greats Csontváry, Munkácsy, Rippl-Rónai and László Paál.
The Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion: The most ornate and perhaps the most beautiful Church is the Matthias Church. It is an active Catholic church dedicated to Hungary’s favorite king, Matthias Corvinus. The original Romanesque Church was built in 1051. It has been rebuilt several times, and now has an amazing interior that must be seen to be believed. Right in front of the Matthias Church is the Fisherman’s Bastion, the turret seen on all the postcards of Budapest. It is a turret and terrace that gives the best view, perfect place for a selfie!
Tabán: The Tabán is a large, green area of Buda, situated on the banks of the Danube. This enormous park used to be a residential area, and had an ill reputation for the many bars and brothels that lined it. The houses were demolished bit by bit, and by the 1930s only a few were left, which were bombed in World War 2. Now it is one of the best places for hiking and sightseeing in Budapest. There are many bars and cafés on the banks, and the old Tabán has become a place of relaxation and leisure.
Rudas bath: Rudas is one of the oldest spas in Budapest, and is historic in a number of ways. It feeds off of the rich mineral waters underneath the Buda hills, and is pampering, fun and clinically proven to be effective. If you are looking for balneology or just a relaxing day at the Budapest baths, this is probably your best bet. The Rudas is a genuine Ottoman bath, built in 1550, with six therapeutic pools and one swimming pool.
Gellért Hill: Are you up for a hike but don’t want to leave the city? Gellért Hill is your best bet. An urban hike up a largish hill that will give you a light cardio workout, and ending with one of the best views of Pest, for free? Throw in a bunch of stunning statues, a church inside of a cave, beautiful monuments and the fanciest spa in Budapest, and you got yourselves a trek! Definitely put it on your to do list if you are the outdoorsy type. And while you are there don’t miss a visit to the stunning Gellért Bath, arguably the most famous and most spectacular bath in Budapest!
Our Have Fun Travel app offers a Gellért Hill Tour through the area which brings you up to the summit and then back down again, touching on all of the most important sites as you go and finishing at the Gellért Bath.
The 1st district is historic, elegant, and unsurprisingly, quite pricey…for Budapest standards. For those on an international salary, it is still extremely affordable, and very comfortable. If you are on budget, or looking to pinch a penny on accommodations, it might be more advisable to stay in the Pest side.
AirBnB: The available apartments are usually huge, spacious, and a bit on the expensive side, but AirBnB is still the most affordable option. The apartments in this district are much bigger than in Pest, and are your typical old school Budapest townhouses, for the most part. You can find luxury rentals for a bargain though, and this is definitely the district to look around in if you are interested in high end housing.
Hostels: There are not many hostels in the area, and offer the same thing as other such accommodations but for more. While living in the 1st district definitely has its perks, I will leave it up to your discretion if it’s worth shelling out the extra dough for.
Hotels: Some of the best hotels can be found in this area. The Buda Castle has a number of really fine hotels around it, such as the Budapest Hilton, but if you would like to book one, you should do so ahead of time, as they fill up pretty quickly.
Off the beaten track
The first district is so full of things to see that a lot of tourist destinations get pushed to the back. It’s no wonder, considering that a huge park, a medieval castle that has a labyrinth with a wine fountain, and the most famous hill of Buda are all located here. But if you want to skip the crowds, here are a few things worth seeing that usually don’t make it to the front page of brochures and sightseeing tours.
Naphegy: Located in the Tabán, this is the less often talked about Buda hill. It has a lot of residential houses, and a huge wellness center on top of it, but there are still some awesome trails if you are up for a light hike. Not as glorious as Gellért hill, but containing some endearing little neighborhoods and some of the last houses of the old Tabán neighborhood.
3 museums: The Castle district has a LOT of museums. Three that are great but less often talked about: The Budapest History Museum (which deals with the urban history of the Hungarian capital), The Semmelweiss Museum (a great medical museum), and the best one for children, the Mesemúzeum, or Fairy tale museum!
Vérmező: This is a park that was named after the execution of the Hungarian Jacobins in 1795. It lies between Déli pályaudvar and Széll Kálmán tér, and is just perfect for a picnic, a little walk, or a quiet moment of reflection. One of the best parks, not often talked of, but definitely worth a gander.
A bite to eat
One of the best things in the first district is the food. There are great places to eat in the Castle District, some of them being in the Castle proper. Great restaurants, endearing cafés, wonderful confectioneries, and a wide range of international cuisine is represented in the Castle district. The Castle is best known for traditional Hungarian food, and some of the best can really be found here. There is a wonderful Belgian ale house on the embankment that serves some of the best roast duck, and of course the finest beer. There is a chain of crepes restaurants where you can get pretty much anything served on a crepe!
With all of these great options, we can truly recommend the First District, even to visitors who aren’t into the usual touristy stuff. Don’t write it off as just another Old Town, it is so much more than that, and you must see (and taste) it to believe it. Safe journeys, pleasant stays!