BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Since the fall of communism in 1990, Budapest's central districts, mainly those straddling the Danube River, have undergone several stages of renewal — raging from simple cosmetic improvements to full reconstructions. Development funds from the European Union over the past 10 years have helped accelerate the process, and Hungary's capital city is now stunning from many angles.
Budapest was formally unified in 1873, but the city's two big parts, Buda on the Danube's right bank and Pest on the left, have maintained their unique identities. An expanding network of public transportation — including a new, oversized subway line — and relatively short distances downtown make it easy to get around.
Here are five free things to do in the city — two in Pest, two in Buda and one right in the middle of the river.
This Pest park near Parliament is home to debated symbols of Hungary's recent history, from a monument under construction to mark the 1944 Nazi occupation of the country to an obelisk topped off with a five-pointed communist star commemorating the Soviet troops who drove out the Nazis one year later.
Nearby, you can shake the hand of a larger-than-life Ronald Reagan statute depicting him mid-stride or let the kids play in playgrounds at the park's southern end. Surrounding the park, among others, are the National Bank of Hungary, the U.S. Embassy and the former Stock Exchange, which until recently was the headquarters of Hungarian state television.
At the southern end of Szabadsag ter, its Hungarian name, is an interactive water fountain. Stepping on tiles at the edge of the rectangular area will stop the jets of water shooting up in front of you for a few seconds, letting you in. You can exit by stepping on tiles inside. It's free, fun and children never seem to get bored with it.
THE JEWISH QUARTER
Though numerous historic buildings in the old Jewish Quarter have been demolished and replaced by new apartments, there is still plenty to see in this part of Erzsebetvaros (Elizabethtown), as the 7th district is known. Near the end of World War II, its streets were walled off and turned into a ghetto and many thousands of Jews perished.
Today, there are a handful of synagogues, including Europe's largest on Dohany utca (street), old stores and workshops with the fading names of the original Jewish merchants and craftsmen and new generations of designers and restaurateurs helping to make the area popular among tourists and young locals alike.
Greatly enhancing the neighborhood's hip factor are the romkocsmak (ruin pubs). They sprung up about a decade ago, occupying abandoned buildings. Though some retain their allure of decay and quirky interiors, many of the newer bars and cafes in the vicinity offer all modern conveniences.