Budapest is the capital of Hungary and the center of its economic and cultural life. It lies on both banks of the Danube River, about 135 miles (217 km) southeast of Vienna. Its older part, Buda, is situated on the hilly west bank of the river; Pest is on the flat east bank. The two parts of the city are joined by eight imposing bridges. Budapest is often called one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
The layout of Buda is determined by its hills and valleys, while Pest's is determined by its semicircular boulevards and its avenues, which extend radially from the Inner City. The heart of modern Budapest's life is the Inner City, the nucleus of Old Pest. Situated on the Danube, it is encircled by the Little Boulevard, which runs from the Margaret Bridge to the Szabadság Bridge.
On the Danube embankment, near the Margaret Bridge, lies the most prominent landmark in the Inner City, the monumental, neo-Gothic House of Parliament, which was completed in 1904. It houses the highest organs of the Hungarian government. Most of the ministries and supreme courts are to be found nearby. Opposite the Parliament is the National Gallery, containing the treasures of Hungarian fine arts. A line of palatial buildings along the embankment to the south of the Parliament, near the Chain Bridge, includes the Academy of Sciences, with its library of a million volumes and a valuable collection of codices. Close to the academy stands the impressive St. Stephen's Cathedral, which was completed in 1899. The section of the Danube embankment lying between the Chain Bridge and the Elizabeth Bridge, popularly known as the Corso, forms a romantic promenade. Near the southern end of the Corso, close to the Elizabeth Bridge, is the Hotel Duna, favored by visiting businessmen. Váci Útca, Budapest's most elegant shopping street, parallels the Corso.
In the area of the Elizabeth Bridge are the Faculty of Arts and Sciences of the Loránd Eötvös (formerly Pázmány) University and, east of that, Felszabadúlas Square with its fine restaurants. The Hotel Astoria is nearby. Many Hungarians as well as foreign visitors come to the Astoria for coffee and dancing after the theater. The central building of Loránd Eötvös University, the law school, and the beautiful 18th century baroque university chapel are in the same area. Near Felszabadulás Square is Calvin Square, the Inner City's busiest intersection. The University of Economic Sciences stands on the riverbank to the west of Calvin Square. Just above the square, on the Little Boulevard, is the huge National Museum. It houses the National Széchenyi Library, which comprises about 4 million items, including a collection of historical documents.
Swinging in an arc east and south of the Little Boulevard, is the Grand Boulevard, the city's main artery. It runs in a semicircle from the Margaret Bridge to the Petőfi Bridge, and it is intersected by two of the city's other major arteries, Népköztársaság Avenue and Rákóczi Avenue.
Népköztársaság Avenue is Budapest's handsomest street. Beginning at the Little Boulevard, it stretches for a mile and a half (more than 2 km) to Heroes' Square. The avenue's outstanding monument is the Opera House, completed in 1884 and designed by the Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl. Heroes' Square has an imposing monument to Hungary's conquest by the Magyars. The square is bordered by the Museum of Fine Arts, housing valuable works by European masters, and another museum, the Art Gallery, housing exhibits of works by contemporary Hungarian artists. Behind the square is the city park with a zoo, a circus, and an amusement park. South of Heroes' Square is the People's Stadium, a giant sports arena seating 100,000 spectators.
Rákóczi Avenue, the second most important avenue in Pest intersects the Grand Boulevard to the south of Népköztársaság Avenue. This avenue has large stores and first-class hotels.