Váci utca became a fashionable shopping street at the end of the 18th century. In the Middle Ages, the length of this street (1300 metres, just under a mile) equalled the length of the city of Pest. The two separate parts of Váci utca, to the north and the south of Elizabeth Bridge, are totally different.
The northern part is overcrowded with tourists and shop windows in every building, while the southern part, which is also pedestrianised, has a quieter and more historical atmosphere. Throughout history, the shops have changed hands constantly, as landlords always kept increasing the rent. Today, the city council does the same: claiming that "low quality" shops do not fit into the image of Váci utca anymore, they keep increasing the rent, so that new tenants keep moving in and some others out.
Váci utca is bordered by Vörösmarty tér from the North. The square is dominated by a new, all-glass office building which is in harmony with the historical buildings in the square. It's worth trying a cake at the Gerbeaud, Budapest's most famous confectioner before we walk to the south, towards Elizabeth Bridge. Neither Váci utca, nor most of the side streets that lead to it have any motorized traffic.
The northern part of the street has about 10 restaurants, most of them offering a "tourist menu" as well as á la carte food. Major retailers, including Benetton, C&A and H&M all have shops here. Bigger folk art and food shops can be found both in the adjacent side streets, as well as the main street.
One of the most important contemporary art galleries, the Csók István Gallery is under Váci utca 25, on the corner next to the Eötvös Loránd University of Sciences, just across from the wine shop, where you can have your own text printed on fine Tokaji wine.
Walking on to the south, we reach the underpass linking the two parts of the street. There is a large photo exhibition on the walls, showing historical and modern images of Budapest. In the middle of the underpass there is an old Gipsy man with his violin, playing Hungarian melodies, accepting change from passers-by.
Emerging on the other side, we arrive to Március 15-e tér (March 15 Square), from where the southern part of the shopping street continues. The street seems wider, but it's an illusion: it's simply not as crowded as the northern part.
There are almost as many shops here, but the selection is less naff and glitzy. Moreover, famous Hungarian designers and artists have their workshops here, and the beautifully ornamented Budapest Council building too. On the corner of Pintér utca and Váci utca, the famous Fatál restaurant offers delicious Hungarian fare, served on wooden plates and sometimes in the pots they were brewed in.
Take a quick look into Szerb utca - here is Budapest's biggest Serbian Orthodox church, surrounded by a low wall. This is where the Serbian community in Budapest holds its religious ceremonies.
The southern end of the street is bordered by Fővám tér, where the largest market hall of city, the Central Market Hall stands. Beside fruits and other fresh produce, it has a fine Hungarian restaurant on the 1st floor, where Hungarian cooking lessons are available in the mornings.
Fashion Street was created very recently, in 2007, from the total reconstruction of Deák Ferenc utca, which links Vörösmarty tér with Deák tér. The 150-meter long street has been inlaid with fine ornamental cobblestones. It profits greatly from being an actual modern-time extension of the main pedestrian street Váci utca.
The concept is to meet the expectations of high-end retailers by massive development. The first retailers to rent space here were Hugo Boss and Max Mara, followed by Benetton, Sisley, s. Oliver, Tommy Hilfiger, Lacoste, Mexx, Cream, Lloyd and Byblos. The latest addition is the Valpiano restaurant, a German caterer offering very fine Italian cuisine, and Longbar, a trendy bar and restaurant.
The Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút) is a giant circular road - the longest road in Budapest, with its length of 4,114 metres, and constant width of 45 metres. Running through five districts of the city, it bears five different names (Margit, Szt. István, Teréz, Erzsébet, and József), named after Habsburg queens and kings, with the exception of Szt. István.
The boulevard, at its time of construction in the 1870-s, helped connect districts of the city that were separate and socially distinct. Today, the most important tram line of Budapest (4/6) runs in the middle of the road on its entire length.
Two of Budapest's deluxe hotels are located along the road, the Corinthia Royal and the Boscolo New York Palace, both on Erzsébet körút. Most shops on the Grand Boulevard are individual units, with small to mid-sized floor space, but in the neighbourhood of the two luxury hotels, new vendors have opened shop, catering to the higher quality needs of tourists.