УДК: 351/354
DOI: 10.22412/1993-7768-11-4-12

Urban planning and tourism development in Budapest

Csilla Jandala*, associate professor, jandala.csilla@uni-sopron.hu
Tibor Sándor**, professor, dr.sandor.ta@gmail.com

* University of Sopron, Sopron, Hungary
** Edutus College, Budapest, Hungary

*Dr. Csilla Jandala is  associate professor of the Tourism Research Group of the A. L. Faculty of Economics at the University of Sopron. She started tourism programs in state-owned and in private universities during the last 35 years. These programs fitted to the international trends, as she founded new curriculum with rural tourism, sustainability, eco- and heritage tourism. She is a member of AIEST, member of the Experts’ Panel of UNWTO and previous president of the Association of Hungarian Tourism Consultants, vice-president of the Hungarian Educational Tourism Association.   Due to her activities Dr. Jandala had got the award “Tourism Professor of the Year 2008” given by the Hungarian Scientifique Management Society and she was nominated  for UNWTO’s Ulysses Prize for Excellence and Dissemination of Knowledge (in 2012 and 2014).

**Dr Tibor Sándor is professor of Edutus College.  As a historian, during his 15-year research fellowship he worked in the Hungarian National Digital Archive and Film Institute. He focused primarily on Hungarian feature films between the world wars and German film history. Additionally, he also worked as an external lecturer at the Department of Film Studies at ELTE and at the University of Theatre and Film Arts. His research interests include the history of travel and tourism, the relationship between arts (literature and film) and tourism and heritage tourism in Budapest. He published two books about the dejewification of Hungarian film industry during the 1930s and 40s and a book about the  history of tourism (Ancient travels – ancient travelers (Corvina Publishing House, Budapest, 2012).

Abstract. Budapest was born in 1873, in the period of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, when the three towns –Pest, Buda, Óbuda – were united. This development encouraged new constructions representing the role, the weight and the growing prestige of Budapest in the Monarchy.

The constructions made Budapest one of the biggest, most systematic and modern cities in Europe. In this process the Millennium Exhibition (1896) played a key-role while creating the image of the present Budapest. According to our hypotheses we analyze  the impacts of the Millennium Exhibition and of the main boulevards -Andrássy út, Kiskörút, Nagykörút (Ringstrasse / Grand Boulevard)- in the structure of the city development, parallel phenomenon that of Vienna.

This period also had great impacts on the development of Budapest’s tourism. Not only the infrastructural facilities were created, but also the organizational framework of tourism was established. The number of foreign visitors was 130.000 (1895), by 1912 it almost doubled (250.000 visitors): Budapest became a cosmopolite European town.

In our days the most visited tourism centers in Budapest are the same as they were in the last decades. According to the initiatives of the government there will be important changes in the urban development in the near future which might have impacts on tourism, as well.

Keywords: Birth of Budapest, Millennium Exhibition (1896), Nagykörút-Ringstrasse, tourism development

History of Budapest – Birth of the Modern Capital

At the end of the 18th century the Baroque Pest with its one-storey houses was rebuilt: two- and three-storey palaces were built within the city walls. As the mediaevel city walls were demolished, the territory between the Small Boulevard and the Grand Boulevard was developed until the middle of the 19th century.

The city development of Buda and Pest accelerated when the first permanent bridge, the Chain Bridge was opened in 1849, and Pest–Buda became a center of the railway development (the first line was opened in 1848).

After 1867, the Prime Minister Count Gyula Andrássy was an emblematic figure of city planning of Pest-Buda. He was thinking of an integrated planning –in a very modern meaning- and managed to pass a law about the most important tasks in the National Assembly in 1870.

According to the law the following buildings / facilities had to be established:

  • two new bridges on the Danube
  • Small Boulevard and Grand Boulevard
  • the Avenue to the City Park
  • reconstruction of Matthias Church
  • central railway station
  • warehouses
  • regulation of Danube banks
  • basic public facilities

The works started in 1871 and by 1900 Budapest became the 8th biggest modern city of Europe, where there was public lightening (from 1878), telephone center (from 1881), where the first tram was set off (in 1887), where the first underground line was opened (in 1896).

120 years of Nagykörút – Grand Boulevard  (1896-2016)

The once-separate settlements, the three individual cities, Buda, Pest and Óbuda, were united in 1873. This modern Budapest gained its cosmopolis-like image with the construction of Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard), which is a colloquial name of its five parts, and Andrássy út (Andrássy Avenue).The length of Budapest’s Grand Boulevard from Margithíd (Margaret Bridge) to Petőfi Bridge is 4,141 meters, and it is 45-meter wide.  It used to be a watercourse, one of the Danube’s branches’, and the main sewer of Budapest stretches underneath. The surface level slopes a few meters which human eyes cannot detect. It forms a semicircle. If we extended it with the main thoroughfares in Buda on the other side of the Danube, it would form a full circle. Grand Boulevard can be divided into five sections, from Margithíd (Margaret Bridge) these are the followings: Szt. István körút (Saint Stephen Boulevard), 553 meters, Teréz körút (Teresa Boulevard), 1,054 meters,  Erzsébet körút (Elizabeth Boulevard), 764 meters, József körút (Joseph Boulevard), 1,223 meters, Ferenc körút (Franz Boulevard), 556 meters. Each section was named after a Habsburg monarch with the exception of Szt. István körút, as Stephen I was the founder of the Hungarian state. The construction of Grand Boulevard can be divided into four periods, or actually two, because 80% of the work was completed during the first two periods, namely, from 1884 to 1890 and from 1891 to 1896. The actual length of construction was 13 years.

However, it took 34 years to fully complete and the reason for this was the lack of support from banks with solid capital. In today’s sense of the word it did not have an architect either, it was just an idea that came from Ferenc Reitter.

In fact, his suggestion was a navigable canal where now Grand Boulevard runs. The reasons why it would have been different from Venice or Amsterdam were the 19th-century industrialism that pervaded the plan and the unique location of the capital city. As it is known the Banks of the Danube, with the Buda Castle have been put on the World Heritage List since 1987. The plan of the canal was soon rejected due to the lack of funds. Both the planning and constructing of Grand Boulevard were in the hands of the Board of Public Works of the Capital City which existed from 1870 to 1918. It did not cease to exist, but later it continued operating with less influence until 1948. Moreover, it completed its major projects (such as the regulation of the River Danube, the construction of bridges and opening the main roads) by 1918. As for the political background, the major supporter of the construction was the liberal Kálmán Tisza, who served as the Prime Minister at that time. Despite the fact that the members of political opposition (primarily those petty conservative parties with rural base that rejected the modernization in Hungary) were obviously against the plan, sweeping majority of the ruling party voted in favor of the ratification (Act XLII of 1872). Another act of great significance was the Act of XVIII of 1884 which set out the future of Grand Boulevard.  Providing full tax relief and other incentives encouraged investment several times.

The construction of Grand Boulevard fundamentally contributed to the city’s development. Between the avenues you could only pass along neglected side streets which were less suited to transport. Grand Boulevard solved this problem as well. Furthermore, it contributed to significant population growth both in a direct and indirect way. The final year of the second main period, Hungary’s Millenium gave an additional impetus to the construction. 1896 was the thousandth anniversary of the foundation of the Hungarian state and at the same time the symbolic and not symbolic birthdate of the modern Budapest. It was not symbolic in the sense that the current tourist sites were completed by this date.

Comparing with Ringstrasse: Similarities and Differences

The social message of Grand Boulevard was different from the one of Vienna’s Ringstrasse. Originally, the function of Ringstrasse and Gürtel was distinctive. Ringstrasse was built at the site of the old Glacis, Gürtel follows the route of the former Linienwall. It was Péter Hanák, an outstanding Hungarian historian, who concluded that Ringstrasse rather separates than connects. Ringstasse, with all of its nine sections, was a frontier zone. The shock caused by the Vienna Uprising in 1848 could have still affected the construction in the 1850s and 60s. Taking a look at the social composition of the Ring zone’s inhabitants and the agencies concentrated in the city, it can be stated: ‘the Ring belonged, functionally and socially, to the Baroque imperial capital, as its modernized shell. Instead of linking the old city with the mass bases embourgeoisement in the former outer districts, it shielded it from them.’ [1]

In some ways traffic is halted at the Ring. Having their own regional shopping centers, suburban districts are connected to the city by Gürtel and not by Ringstrasse. It was in the neo-Renaissance museums opposite the Hofburg, in the Parliament and the neo-Gothic city hall where the self-aware, bourgeois spirit manifested: Recht gegen Macht! that is law, knowledge and civil representation be against power! But if we take a closer look at all the attractions….there stands the colossal Maria Theresa Monument, the empress is surrounded by some of her generals, horse guards and military stables are behind her. Furthermore, the Wiener Börse AG (the Vienna Stock Exchange) stands facing a military barrack that is reminiscent of a fortress. What else could that be if not the representation of Recht and Macht, the Austrian compromise between law and power.

Neither Grand Boulevard nor Kiskörút (Small Boulevard) -which encircles the innermost district- do not have such connotation. Still the current government aspires to relocate its residence to the Buda Castle on the tip of Castle Hill. From up there, entire Pest, as flat as a prairie, on the other side of the Danube is clearly visible, or could easily be “governed”, so to speak. Buda with its peaceful atmosphere and the Castle Hill has always been Hungary’s administrative center. In contrast, Pest has had the vitality and been a rather busy industrial and commercial area. This is how the whole Budapest could convey a non-modern or non-postmodern meaning like a 21st-century metropolis. This is the process of refeudalization[2]. In any case, Grand Boulevard has joined the entire city. It has never divided the capital, but rather connects its areas. The network of avenues runs from the inner Small Boulevard as far as the central spot in Pest (which is to be found in Deák Square). If we look at the whole Budapest lying on the banks of the Danube, this design can be applied to the entire city.

Margithíd (Margaret Bridge) is one end of Grand Boulevard. The reconstructed bridge now recalls Parisian bridges, but in greater size. At the central pillar a new side bridge was added leading up to Margaret Island and it enhances the spectacle of the bridge which axis makes a 30-degree-turn. Then as we are heading towards Pest, so-called Újlipótváros is on the left. Better-off Jewish bourgeoisie preferred this neighborhood in the last century, between the world wars. Its 5-6-storey residential blocks with garden-like small yards were built in historicist, art deco and Bauhaus style.

In Budapest the late 19-century bourgeoisie expressed the contemporary demands for the historical past through the historicist, the so-called “neo” styles like Neo-gothic, Neo-renaissance, Neo-classicism. One of the most important symbolic social messages of secession was the rebellion of the turn-of-the-century young generation’s rebellion against their fathers’ historicist attitude.  Of course, the same is true for architecture. Later Art Deco was given its way to follow the forerunner’s concept and its connection with the avant-garde made the turn away from historicism even more radical.  The style of Bauhaus architecture is also based on the above-mentioned rebellion. Functionality was the most important innovative element. The mixture of these architectural styles can be found in the interior decorations and on the façade of Corvin Cinema in Grand Boulevard. Grand Boulevard has “made a copy of the past” in many cases. The respect for Renaissance is expressed in the exact, but smaller replica of Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi in Teréz körút (Teresa Bulevard).

During the years of Shoah the blocks of apartment houses near the boulevard were the protected houses. The Swedish diplomat’s, Raoul Wallenberg, the Swiss consul’s, Carl Lutz, names are connected to these apartments just as the Italian businessman Giorgio Perlasca’s name, who risked his life by posing as a Spanish diplomat to save Jews’ lives. Lipótváros is bounded by Szt. István Boulevard. This is another district (the 5th) which functions as the political, administrative and financial center of Hungary with the Parliament, several ministries and banks. Since the banks cannot be relocated to the Buda Castle, the 5th District will remain the financial center of the country.

Andrássy Avenue[3]

The Andrássy Avenue was the first (and most successful) planned city development construction. It is a straight avenue with palaces, and the original aim of its construction was to connect the inner city with the City Park. At the same time it had also a real-estate aim: the plots of lands were sold at very high prices and the income covered the expenses of the road construction.

It consists of three sections separated by squares from each other.

From Small Boulvard to Oktogon

Three or four-storey buildings were built here close to each other. The rich owners (mainly bankers) wanted to let them out. The Old Parisi Department Store was opened her  in 1911 which was very unique with its glass-walled lifts and the terrace on the roof where an ice-rink was working in winter. The State Opera House was opened in 1884, it became one of the most important institutions of Europe: Gustave Mahler, Otto Klemperer were directors, Puccini directed here personally his operas.

Nowadays this section is the so-called Theater-Quarter and at the same time most of the luxurious fashion shops can be found here (Armani, Gucci, Louis Vuitton).

From Oktogon to Kodály- Round Square

In this section you can find two- or three-storey lodging houses and important cultural institutions. Here were built the Old Music Academy, the first Exhibition Hall which was the biggest until 1896 (nowadays University of Fine Arts).

At present you can find here also museums – among them the most visited is the House of Terror which was opened in 2002. The two cruelest political regimes of the 20th century are shown in the museum: the Arrow-Cross dictatorship and the communism of the 1950s. The address of the museum is especially important: in 1937 the Hungarian Fascists, the Arrow-Cross Party rented it, and in 1940 it became its headquarter. During the Second World War it was used as a prison. This function was kept also after the War when the communist-based political police created a prison labyrinth. The House of Terror is a monument to memory of people who were prisoned, tortured or killed here.

From Kodály- Round Square to the City Park

The third section is the widest part of the avenue. This part of the avenue is full of villas, palaces which were originally built for the aristocracy. According to the strict regulations the villas had to be built at least 5 meters from the street and 3 meters from the neighbors, all of them have a front-garden.

Nowadays the biggest diplomatic area can be found here and in the surrounding streets: e.g. embassy of France, Austria, Republic of China, South Korea, Turkey, Russian Federation, Poland, Serbia and Bulgaria.

The last two sections of the Andrássy Avenue are lined with a double alee and a bridle-path.

Millennium Underground[4]

The first underground in Europe was opened in London in 1863, it was operated by gas. The second underground –the first on the continent- was built in Budapest within 21 months in 1894-95 and was operated by electricity.[5]

When it was opened, it was 3689 meters long (now it is 4400 meters) and had 9 stations under the Andrássy Avenue. It is a so-called subsurface railway, because it was built from the surface not by tunneling. Most of the exits of the stations originally were covered with ornate station halls (very similar to the underground in Paris), but which were unfortunately later demolished.  Only the beautifully decorated iron stairs remind us to that era.

Nowadays the inhabitants of Budapest normally call this underground “small” or “yellow” underground, or “M1 metro”, but officially its name is Millennium Underground.

City Park / Heroes’ Square

Hungary celebrated the millennium of the Magyar conquest of Hungary in 1896. It was the 1000 year anniversary of the arrivals of the first Magyar settles in the Carpathian Basin. A lot of programs, events were organized on this occasion – the most well – known of them was the Millennium Exhibition in the City Park which had been opened for six months.

It is interesting, that even the exact date of the Magyar conquest was hardly determined. Finally historians agreed that it took place in 895, and that is why the government originally planned the millennium celebration for 1895. As in 1893 it was clear that the constructions couldn’t have been finished within 2 years, the event was postponed to 1896.

The location – the City Park – is the largest public park of Budapest[6], most of its buildings were built on the occasion of the Millennium.

Originally this area was a marshy land and was used for hunting in the Middle Ages. The planned reshaping of the Park was started in the 1750s to the order of Maria Theresa: the marshy land got drained and filled, trees were planted and walking routes were created.

Nowadays the Heroes’ Square is an emblematic building complex of Budapest. With its Millennium Monument it closes the Andrássy Avenue. The construction of the Millennium Monument started after closing of the Millennium Exhibition, and it took decades to finish. The Monument consists of two parts: the Millennium Column in the middle and a semi-colonnade behind it. At the time of the Millennium Exhibition the main entrance – a huge gate – was built here.

Among the permanent buildings the most important is the Exhibition Hall[7] – which is nowadays the largest building for contemporary art exhibitions. At that time it was the second hall for exhibitions, as the first – the Old Exhibition Hall on the Andrássy Avenue – was too small and even more there was no lightening in it.

The other permanent buildings of the City Park from that time are the famous Gundel Restaurant (opened in 1894), the Zoo (opened in 1866), the Széchenyi Bath and Spa, the first curative bath in Budapest (opened in 1881),the City Lake with the Ice Rink (finished in 1896) – all of them are important touristic attractions in our days.

Besides the permanent buildings a lot of temporary buildings were opened in the City Park for the Exhibition. According to the history the Vajdahunyad Castle originally was built as a temporary wooden building for the Millennium Exhibition in order to show all the major architectural styles used in Hungary: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo. The Castle got its name from the Vajdahunyad Castle (Transylvania, today Romania), the Gothic elements of which were built in the Castle in Budapest. The building was so popular among the visitors of the Millennium Exhibition, that it was rebuilt from durable materials by 1905.

According to the statistics more than 5 million people (mainly Hungarians) visited the Millennium Exhibition however the expected number was higher. The most important impact of the Millennium event is the fact that the buildings and other facilities which were built on the occasion of the Millennium Exhibition are still famous and most-visited sites in Budapest.

Urban development and tourism in the 21st century

Ruin Pubs

Nowadays the ruin pubs are very popular attractions of Budapest.[8]  These were originally launched in temporarily unused inner city blocks. Young business people rented them and shortly these pubs became very popular even among the foreigners. They are located in the Jewish District (7th District) where we can recognize a negative tendency of Budapest: the decay and the lack of funds in the public sphere.

Millennium Quarter

In the Southern part of Budapest, on the Pest side a new construction was decided when Hungary planned a World Expo together with Vienna in the 1990s. After the inhabitants of Vienna said NO to this plan, Budapest continued alone the planning, but the newly elected government in 1994 cancelled it because there was only minimal foreign interest.

Anyway the place which was chosen for the construction needed development as it was previously an industrial area. Finally a new cultural center was born here with the Palace of Arts (MÜPA) –with concert halls and Ludwig Museum inside- and the National Theatre. This complex has been fully integrated in the tourism supply of Budapest.

Budapest 2024

The Hungarian government plans to organize Olympic Games in 2024 in Budapest. The center of the Games is planned to be developed in Csepel Island which originally was an industrial area. This „mini-Manhattan” will change the view of the Southern part of Budapest, but will create a new quarter decentralizing the tourism flow and giving new functions to the area.

Conclusion – Tourism development in Budapest

The second half of the 19th century had great impacts on the development of Budapest’s tourism. Not only the infrastructural facilities were created, but also the organizational framework of tourism was established. The number of foreign visitors was 130.000 (1895), by 1912 it almost doubled (250.000 visitors): Budapest became a cosmopolite European town.  In 2015 according to the statistics Budapest’s tourism has a great importance. The capital received 36,6% of the arrivals (3 805 000) and 33,9% of guest nights (8 768 000) at public accommodation. The international tourism of Budapest is much more important: Budapest has a share of 66,3% of international guests (3 269 000) and 59,7% of international guest nights (7 751 000). As the UNWTO[9] says Budapest is a worldwide competitive “tourism product” with its cultural and natural attractions. Among them the cultural heritage becomes more and more important.

It has been observed for some time how the peculiar Hungarian mentality, more precisely Budapestian , likewise the characteristic cityscape have charmed visitors coming from regions outside Central and Eastern Europe. The mentality is not only ironic, but it attracts foreigners into intimate proximity with its opening up.

It aims at reducing or even eliminating distance among individuals. Paradoxically, the enchanting features of the city are to be found in its run-down character:   they see exactly this run-down character as “the patina of history”. The reason lies obviously in the fact that the metropolises of more developed regions offer neater cityscape, namely they do not create such an exciting and quasi-intimate atmosphere. Additionally, in Prague and particularly in Vienna the buildings, which are the reminiscent of the past, are in better condition, thus create a more sterile and less adequate atmosphere. The above mentioned specialties of Budapest should be preserved even for tourism purposes.

As John Lukacs wrote – “In 1900 the Budapestians were proud of their city which was the newest metropolis in Europe. Nowadays they have learnt how to appreciate and preserve the monuments of the past.” [7]


  1. Lukacs, John (1988) Budapest 1900 – A Historical Portrait of a City and its Culture, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, New York
  2. Hanák, Péter (1988) Civilization and urbanization – Urban Development of Vienna and Budapest in the 19th Century, Gondolat, Budapest
  3. Török, András (2014) Budapest – a Critical Guide, Park Publishing, Budapest
  4. Katus, László ( ed) (1979) History of Hungary 1848-1890. I-II. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, (Magyarország története)
  5. Mucsi, Ferenc ( ed) (1978) History of Hungary 1890-1918. I-II. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, (Magyarország története)
  6. Jandala-Sándor: Role of Events in Tourism in the Past and Present, Polgári Szemle,Budapest, 12.Vol. 1-3.sz. (291-304.p.)
  7. John LUKÁCS: Budapest 1900 – A Historical Portrait of a City and its Culture, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, New York, 1988, p.238

[1] Hanák, Péter. “Urbanization and Civilization:Vienna and Budapest in the nineteenth century.” In: Hanák, Péter. The Garden and the Workshop. (1988). Budapest: Gondolat.

[2] Refeudalization was originally one of the key notions in the last third of the 19th century. It meant that during the process of embourgeoisement the major contributors, the middle class, mainly of Jewish and German origins identified with the contemporary ‘noble ethos’. Mutatis mutandis this problem still exists. The difference between the transitions is the following: today the 19th-century neoconservative gentry ethos has been replaced by the somewhat coded (on racial grounds) radical right-wing ethos of the gentleman middle class of the first half of the 20th century.

[3] Originally the avenue was called Radial Avenue, later it has got the name of Andrássy (after the main supporter) from 1885. After the Second World War it was called Stalin Avenue, from 1956 The Avenue of the Hungarian Youth, from 1959 People’s Republic Avenue. In 1990 it has got back the original name: Andrássy Avenue.

[4] The original name of the Millennium Underground was Budapest Public Electricity Railway, but after Franz Joseph’s visit in 1986 it was renamed as Franz Joseph’s Electric Underground Railway.

[5] Franz Joseph and German Emperor William visited the underground together during the Millennium Celebration in 1896.

[6] Many people say that the City Park is one of the ”super” parks of the world besides the Bois de Boulogne in Paris, the Hyde Park in London and the Central Park in New York.

[7] The building was inaugurated in 1896 by Franz Joseph.

[8] András Török: Budapest, A Critical Guide, Park Könyvkiadó, 2014,p.22

[9] UNWTO: United Nations World Tourism Organization