Budapest, Hungary is where we start our introduction to the V4 (Visegrád Four, an alliance of four Central European countries: Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland). We’re told that “Buda is the more hilly and suburban part of the city, while Pest is the urban centre” the minute we meet our guide, Andrea. Formerly two cities on opposite sides of the Danube River, they were united as one in 1873. This makes Budapest one of the best places to visit for a weekend break.
Stay in Pest for a range of Hungarian entertainment, shopping and dining options but then cross over to Buda to visit prominent landmarks that helped shape Hungary’s history.
We start our tour in Pest at Andrássy Street, one of Budapest’s main shopping streets that is lined with luxury boutiques housed in restored neo-renaissance mansions and townhouses. Shopping at international brand names like Gucci and Armani, stop by the numerous cafes and restaurants for a proper cup of coffee or taste traditional Hungarian food.
One of the more iconic buildings on Andrássy Street is the Hungarian State Opera House, a neo-renaissance building with baroque ornamentations. Hungarian opera took shape around the late 18th century and first began with interpolations of German operas. It was not until mid-19th century that the first fully Hungarian opera was written by Ferenc Erkel, the grandfather of Hungarian opera. We had the privilege of watching one of Ferenc Erkel’s epics, Bánk bán, which is considered to be the national opera of Hungary. Although sung in Hungarian, English subtitles were displayed next to the stage for tourists to understand.
With Andrássy Street as our starting point, we make our way through a series of side streets to reach the Jewish Quarters that are still inhabited largely by Budapest’s Jewish community. The derelict neighbourhood reads of abandonment. “The Jews were forced to move during World War II,” was the explanation Andrea gave us but it wasn’t just WWII that forced the Jews out of Hungary. Prosecution of Hungarian Jews dates back as far as 1349, when Jews were expelled from the country dining the Black Death. Throughout history, the Jewish community would be readmitted and re-persecuted again and again when the country was under Habsburg rule and other foreign kings in the country.