While we’ve had fun over the last month showing our readers how best to “Explore Budapest by Metro”, the city has even more to offer and even more ways to get there! In a special, four-part supplementary series, The Budapest Times looks at how best to “Explore Budapest by Public Transport”.
Suggested Route: Széll Kálmán tér-Margit körút-Margit hid-Jászai Mari tér-Nyugati pályaudvar-Oktogon-Blaha Lujza tér-Rákóczi tér-Corvin-negyed-Boráros tér-Újbuda-Központ or Móricz Zsigmond körtér
Sites to See: Buda Castle District, Sziget Music Festival, Outdoor Ethnographic Museum, Margaret Island, Hungarian Parliament Building, Nyugati Railway Station, Andrássy Avenue, House of Terror, Corinthia Hotel Budapest (formerly Hotel Royal), Boscolo Budapest Hotel (formerly New York Palace), Madách Theatre, Museum of Applied Arts, the Gomba.
Dating to 1877, Budapest’s Grand Boulevard is not just one of the most important transportation arteries in the Hungarian capital but in all of Europe. It encircles central Pest, linking the city centre to all four metro lines.
The route serves 200,000 people daily, and 10,000 an hour each direction during rush-hour, which means it is the single busiest tram line in Europe. As a consequence, Tram Lines #4/#6 along the boulevard also feature the Combina Plus carriages – the largest tram carriages in the world.
With dedicated tracks that serve the city 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the Grand Boulevard route is quite possibly the easiest way to get your bearings in the city. While the route will link you to every travel route we’ve already highlighted in the series (Metro Lines One to Four and Tram Line #2), there is plenty to be seen on this route on its own. So join us as we take a look at “How to See Budapest by Tram Lines #4/#6”.
The route, known as Nagykörút in Hungarian, was originally designed to link five sections of the city together (Szent István körút, Teréz körút, Erzsébet körút, József körút and Ferenc körút) and now links Margit körút as well. The first route, from Nugati pályaudvar to Király utca, featured Budapest’s first electric tram.
The line continues to showcase Budapest’s most modern tram features, including its most high-tech trams, raised platforms and a dedicated track. The Grand Boulevard line connects you to nearly all of Budapest’s major transport hubs, so whether you alight at Oktogon from Metro Line One, Blaha Lujza tér or Széll Kálmán tér from Metro Line Two, Nyugati pályaudvar or Corvin-negyed from Metro Line Three, Rákoczi tér, Újbuda-Központ (Tram #4 only) or Móricz Zsigmond körtér (Tram #6 only) from Metro Line Four, or Boráros tér or Jászai Mari tér from Budapest’s wonderful Tram Line #2, it’s all aboard Tram Lines #4 or #6 to Széll Kálmán tér to begin our journey from the route’s northern terminus in Buda.
Venice of the east? When Budapest’s Grand Boulevard was designed in 1877, some called for the route to be converted to a Venice-style canal. Due in part to the city’s sewer system, that didn’t happen.
Europe’s busiest tram line
If convenient, we recommend heading to Széll Kálmán tér via Metro Line Two where the first thing you will notice upon embarking on Trams #4 or #6 are the modern Combina Plus carriages. The largest passenger trams in the world, these modern vehicles have been nicknamed “giant caterpillars” by locals due to their size, speed and yellow colour.
This under-renovation square, a major transport hub that links Metro Line Two and Trams #4 and #6 with several other tram and bus lines, is an excellent place from which to head over to the Castle District (see Metro Line Two article). Just hop on bus #16, #16a or #116, or take the pleasant, 15-minute uphill walk. You’ll be able to check out Fisherman’s Bastion and the splendid Matthias Church, which is well worth the HUF 700-1000 entrance fee – especially since the HUF 9.4 billion renovation was completed in 2013.
After your tour head back to Széll Kálmán tér and then towards the river. Your first stop will be at the foot of Margit híd (Margaret Bridge). From here you can change to the HÉV suburban railway which will take you to both Filatorigát for the Sziget Music Festival every August (see Metro Line Three) or 20 kilometres further to Szentendre and its wonderful Outdoor Ethnographic Museum (Skanzen) that showcases traditional buildings from Hungary’s seven main regions (Great Plains, Upper-Tisza, Western-Transdanubia, Southern-Transdanubia, Upland Market Town, Bakony and Balaton-Uplands).
The tram will continue across the bridge but not before stopping at Margit sziget, the unique, 30-degree bend in the middle that links the bridge with Margaret Island, a beautiful island park that features two public baths, a small zoo and its UNESCO-recognised water tower and musical fountain (see Metro Line Two).
The stop at the end of the bridge is Jászai Mari tér, which will link you with Tram #2 (see Tram #2 tour). Antique hunters will also like this area as there are several shops between the stop and the Hungarian Parliament Building (see Metro Line Two), only a 10-minute walk to the south. You can also find the 100-plus-year-old Comedy Theatre of Budapest, one of the oldest still in operation in the city, near this stop.
Don’t stop! The world’s busiest tram line never gets a break – route #4, #6 runs 24/7 with night service offering carriages at 15-minute intervals.
If you’ve already checked out these sites, then hop back on the tram toward Nyugati pályaudvar (train station – see Metro Line Three). This section of track is especially quaint because it still resembles how the Grand Boulevard was planned to look in the 1870s.
The first Nyugati train station – which was home to Budapest’s very first railway line (Pest -Vác) – was actually removed to make room for the Grand Boulevard. The new building is still worth a visit, however, as its distinctive iron-frame roof and sun-soaked tracks are reminiscent of another iconic Orient Express stop – Istanbul’s Sirkeci Terminal. Shoppers will find the modern WestEnd City Centre shopping plaza located near the junction.
Paris of the east?: Budapest’s Nyugati railway station – the city’s first – was originally designed in 1877 by the Eiffel Bureau – the same that designed La Ville Lumière’s iconic Tower.
The Grand Budapest hotels
As the tram continues to loop around Central Pest, you’ll wind up at one of the major intersections in the city – Oktogon. This stop links the Grand Boulevard with the UNESCO-recognised Andrássy út, the iconic Millennium Metro and several of Budapest’s most popular tourist venues, including Heroes’ Square, Széchenyi Thermal Bath, City Park, Budapest Zoo, Vidám Amusement Park and the Museum of Fine Arts (currently closed for renovations).
While we highly recommend trying the Millennium Line (see Metro Line One) and visiting all of the aforementioned sites, if you’ve already seen them why not stop by the House of Terror – just a five-minute walk from the tram stop. This unique museum (HUF 1000-2000) highlights the horrors that Hungarians were subjected to at the hands of fascist and communist leaders in the 20th century.
Busy, busy: The Blaha Lujza stop is the busiest in the city and at peak times, despite trams that ferry 1000 passengers/minute, you might still need to wait a few trams before
finding a place.
Once you’ve completed your Andrássy út adventures, you’ll enjoy the beautiful Grand Boulevard and its mansions, hotels and cafés as you head toward Blaha Lujza tér. You might want to check out the luxurious Corinthia Hotel Budapest (formerly Hotel Royal), the opulent Boscolo Budapest Hotel (formerly New York Palace), or the marvelous Madách Theatre for an idea of the grandeur the Grand Boulevard at one time embodied.
From here, you can transfer to the metro’s Red Line (see Metro Line Two) or head by tram toward Rákoczi tér to transfer to the Green Line (see Metro Line Four). Unless you are looking to complete one of those tours, instead head to Corvin-negyed. This serves as a transfer to the Blue Line (see Metro Line Three), but just a few metres from the stop is the wonderful Art Nouveau Museum of Applied Arts – the third-oldest of such museums in the world.
After the museum, head back on the metro to Boráros tér, where the Grand Boulevard meets the Danube Wharf at the foot of Petőfi Bridge. Here you can hop on to Tram #2 and complete what National Geographic calls the most scenic tram ride in Europe.
Both lines #4 and #6 cross the bridge but part ways on the Buda side, with #4 headed to Újbuda-Központ and #6 toward Móricz Zsigmond körtér – both stops on the Green Line (see Metro Line Four). We recommend heading to the latter, where you can jump out and grab a coffee at one of Budapest’s most interesting architectural buildings – the Gomba (mushroom). Recently renovated, this former home of an electrical transformer now hosts a small café and BKV offices.
As trams #4 and #6 link you to every public transportation article we’ve featured, head back along the route and continue with any tours that you’ve missed so far. Join us next week as we highlight Tram #60 – better known as Budapest’s Cog-Wheel Railway.