Budapest is not just split into Buda and Pest by the Danube River. In fact, there are 23 numbered municipal districts (kerület in Hungarian), that spiral out in a more or less in a clockwise trajectory from Buda Castle. To help you get your bearings and make it easier to narrow down where you want to go, we’ve compiled a list of the best districts to check out on your next visit to the Hungarian capital.
The Castle District (I Kerület)
The Royal Palace of Buda Castle is the city’s number one landmark. The palace is situated on Castle Hill, which is the where the area got its name from. Any first-time traveler to Budapest should spend an afternoon exploring this historic part of town with its winding cobbled streets and pastel-hued baroque houses. You could easily spend a day in the palace alone, which is home to the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. However, make sure you also head northwards to Fisherman’s Bastion, a 19th-century neo-Gothic lookout with the most photogenic views over the city, and the colorful Matthias Church.
The Inner City (V Kerület)
The downtown area on the Pest side is another popular area, with sights the Hungarian Parliament Building and St. Stephen’s Basilica taking center stage. The famous Chain Bridge connects the Inner City and the Castle District, and you'll be able to take great photos on either side of the river. If you love shopping and fine dining, then the Inner City can keep you busy for days. You'll find fashion boutiques on Deák Ferenc Street or souvenir shops on Váci Street. Food lovers can try the district's culinary delights at Michelin-starred Onyx and Borkonyha, or at elegant cafes like Gerbeaud or Central Kávéház.
The Jewish District (VII Kerület)
The Jewish District also earned the nickname “Bulinegyed,” or party district, thanks to its density of bars, nightlife spots, and party hostels. Many flock to the Jewish District for its ruin bars, pubs set up in crumbling apartment blocks decked out with graffiti, upcycled furniture, and local art. The most famous being Szimpla Kert. You can still see elements of the neighborhood's Jewish heritage in the stunning Dohány Street Synagogue—the second largest in the world—along with the Kazinczy Street and Rumbach Sebestyén Street synagogues.
Andrássy Avenue and City Park (VI and XIV Kerület)
Andrássy Avenue is an elegant boulevard stretching from the Inner City to Heroes’ Square and City Park. Designer boutiques, theaters, and the Hungarian State Opera cluster around the boulevard until Oktogon, after which the tree-lined avenue stretches out to grand apartment blocks, embassies, and museums. Continental Europe’s oldest subway runs below Andrássy Avenue and is a UNESCO Heritage site in and of itself. Heroes’ Square is the location of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Kunsthalle, while City Park draws visitors in for its green spaces, zoo, the Széchenyi Baths, and Vajdahunyad Castle.
The Palace District (VIII Kerület)
One street along from the Jewish Quarter westwards within the Grand Boulevard, the Palace District is the city’s most underrated neighborhood. It gets its name from the abundance of palatial buildings and apartment blocks built by the Hungarian aristocracy in the 19th century when the city expanded. The main landmark is the neo-Classical Hungarian National Museum, a large archaeological museum covering Hungary and the surrounding regions. However, the museum also played a crucial role in the 1848 Revolution against the Habsburgs when protestors gathered on its steps. Today, the Palace District is a creative district with cafes, artist ateliers, galleries, cultural centers, and design shops.
South Pest and the Millennium Quarter (IX Kerület)
Most will visit the IX District for Central Market Hall, but there is more to this former industrial area. Take the number 2 tram south along the Danube, passing Bálna—a large glass complex filled with restaurants, galleries, and antique shops—and the Zwack Unicum Museum and Visitors’ Center. Finally, you’ll reach the Millennium Quarter, a cultural complex home to the Palace of Arts, the National Theater, and the Ludwig Museum. Head back towards the Grand Boulevard to Trafó, an alternative cultural center set in an old electric transformer, and to Élesztő, a ruin bar dedicated to Hungarian craft beers in a former glassworks studio.
Bartók Béla Boulevard (XI Kerület)
Most visitors stick to the Pest side of the river unless they are going to the Castle District. But they'd be missing out as Bartók Béla Boulevard is one of the hottest, up-and-coming neighborhoods in the city. Some tourists will come for the art nouveau Gellért Thermal Baths and to hike to the top of Gellért Hill. Most locals come to this part of town for its trendy cafes and bars like Hadik, Szatyor, Kelet, and Béla, to name a few. If you want to explore an interesting part of town without too many tourists, this is the district for you.
Óbuda (III Kerület)
Budapest is a blend of three cities: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda. This neighborhood is the oldest part of the city, peppered with Roman ruins and baroque houses amidst the communist-era high-rises. Although Óbuda is mostly residential, there’s still plenty to explore here, like the Roman city of Aquincum and the Kiscelli Museum, a former 18th-century monastery that’s now a museum of city life. Óbuda Island comes to life when the Sziget Festival is in full swing in August. Travel further north, and you’ll come to Római Part, a riverside area with Danube beaches and trendy bars that buzz in the summer.
Buda Hills (II and XII Kerület)
If you love nature and the outdoors, head up into the Buda Hills for hikes around Normafa or János Hegy. You can ride the Children’s Railway through the hilly woodlands on a nostalgic train run by school-children or take the chair lift to the highest point of the city before climbing the Elizabeth Lookout Tower. If you want something more underground, pay a visit to the Pálvölgy or Szemlőhegy caves or go spelunking under Mátyáshegy for an adrenaline rush.