When the city of Budapest was formed in 1873 it was already a significant commercial center and omnibuses and horse pulled trams had been in use for decades transporting passengers around Buda and Pest. In the 1880's, when electricity became an everyday item and something practical that could light cities and move vehicles, it brought about the idea to build an electric railway in Budapest. The first, experimental tramway line opened 125 years ago in 1887. It operated between Nyugati Pályaudvar (Western Railway Station) and Király utca along a 1 km (0.6 mile) stretch of road. As the city grew more and more tracks were built. By 1900 an entire network was created and electric streetcars became part of everyday life in Budapest. Today, the city has a vast system of yellow streetcars with 40 different lines covering a total of 155 kilometers (96 miles) of tracks.
The success of the first streetcar service 125 years ago also demonstrated to city council the viability of public transit. Soon after, in 1891, the predecessor of today's Budapest Transit Company (BKV) was formed. Only 5 years later the first subway line of the city (the second in Europe) was opened. The line is still in use today as the M1 subway line that runs beneath the famous Andrássy Avenue.
Budapest's streetcar routes remain a convenient way to explore the city. The Nyugati Pályaudvar - Király utca route is now part of lines No. 4 and No. 6 that run along the Grand Boulevard. The famous No. 2 line, known for its scenic route along the Danube Promenade, was established after WWII. In 2010, this route was ranked #7 on National Geographic's 'Top 10 Trolley Rides', so be sure to try it. Another noteworthy sightseeing ride is aboard streetcar No. 19, between Gellért tér and Batthyány tér along the Buda riverfront with panoramic views of the Parliament Building.
In celebration of 125 years of Budapest streetcars, BKV operates some vintage trams on the most popular routes through the months of October and November. The biggest 'show' is scheduled for the weekend of November 24 and 25, when vintage streetcars will run along the Grand Boulevard and several old trams will be on display at the Széll Kálmán tér station. In December, look out for Santa's tram and the Christmas tram, both will be running along the No. 2 line.
Photos by visitbudapest.travel and Márk Mervai