There’s always something happening around Nyugati Pályaudvar, a railway station that sits at the confluence of several bus routes, the tram lines 4 and 6, the M3 underground as well as regional trains. Several major thoroughfares ― Teréz körút, Szent István körút, Váci út and Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út ― also intersect here.
This past New Year’s Eve, the five of us set out to walk the city and look for noisemakers for the boys. The city teems with street vendors during major holidays; in this case, they were all selling party hats, horns, costumes and various other items to help wish others “boldog új évet,” or “happy new year.” At Nyugati, while buying large paper horns for the boys*, we stopped for 20 minutes or so to listen to a Jewish music concert happening across the boulevard from the train station. Hundreds of people had gathered to sing, dance and eat, and we stood for a while to take in the fun.
* I think New Year’s Eve has become our boys’ favorite holiday. All day long, kids ― and even some adults ― are out in force on the sidewalk, using their newly purchased noisemakers to add to the holiday din. For an hour that evening, we walked up and down the sidewalks in the cold, making a terrible racket.
Nyugati Pályaudvar, or Western Railway Station, is one of three main train stations in Budapest, the others being Keleti Pályaudvar (Eastern Railway Station) and Déli Pályaudvar (Southern Railway Station). There is no északi, or northern, station.
Nyugati is more than just a train station, though. It’s a hub of city life, a bustling center brimming with people that changes with the time of day. We travel through Nyugati often at various times of day, and it always seems to have a slightly different flavor.
In the morning, passengers clad in business attire hop on and off the tram. At midday, you’re more likely to see tourists huddled on the sidewalks investigating fold-out maps of the city. The doubledecker Hop On-Hop Off buses also stop here, contributing to the ebb and flow of tourists. Throughout the day, thousands of rail passengers traipse in and out of the main station, coming or going from the more rural parts of Hungary or elsewhere in Europe. The locals come here quite often, too, picking up packages at the post office or doing their daily shopping.
The station itself lies on the eastern side of the körút, the large boulevard that rings the city center, in district VI. The busy 4-6 tram, which runs up and down the körút, makes a stop at Nyugati and spills out dozens of passengers with each opening of its eight double doors.
A sprawling amalgam of bricks and cast iron, Nyugati station is gorgeous. It was designed by August de Serres and built by Gustave Eiffel’s Eiffel Company, which also built ― you’ve probably guessed this by now ― the Eiffel Tower.
Eiffel’s style is unique and noticeable. The massive cast-iron structure of the Eiffel Tower is probably the most notable of Eiffel’s structures, but his other buildings also are notable for their cast-iron elements. At Nyugati, what’s particularly interesting is the cohesive combination of brickwork and ironwork.
On a recent trip to Madrid, we noticed that the Puerto Atocha railway station has a similar brick-and-iron feel; that station was designed by Alberto de Palacio Elissagne, who collaborated with Eiffel on the project.
Nyugati opened in 1877, 12 years before the Eiffel Tower. Before that, the site was home to the terminal station of Hungary’s first rail line, which began operation in 1846. That station was torn down so the körút could be constructed.
The present-day Nyugati station houses, of all things, a McDonald’s restaurant that I’d wager is among the most beautiful in the world, by virtue of its occupation of a large section of the ornate station.
Just behind the railway station is the West End shopping mall, a four-story behemoth with a large fountain on one end and a movie theater on the other.
And under Nyugati, in the labyrinth of passages that connect all sides of this busy intersection underground, is a large vendor’s row, a hodge-podge of people selling everything from backpacks and purses to clothing, shoes and food.
The vendors down here also sell stuffed animals, which we found out while trying to atone for one of our many parenting sins.
Somewhere along the series of flights we took to reach Budapest for the first time, we lost Oliver’s “teddy,” a small blue horse/blanket combo we bought him shortly after he came to live with us. (Of course we lost Oliver’s teddy on the trip. I mean, isn’t losing a child’s prized possession while on vacation one of a parent’s primary responsibilities?)
Anyway, in the warren of hallways under Nyugati, we found him a great replacement: a long-limbed monkey with a voicebox that screeches jungle sounds. Oliver has taken to playing the monkey sounds whenever he’s in a bad mood, so the animal also serves as a parent warning system.
Another cool thing about Nyugati is that there’s a connection from here to the Budapest Airport. All you have to do is take a train ― one of 100 per day ―from Nyugati to Ferihegy, a stop right near the airport, and then hopping on the 200E bus, which goes to Terminal 2. This same path also works in reverse for those coming to the city from the airport. (Another easy route to the airport is via the M3 metro, as detailed here.)