Since we’ve heard that Budapest is among the best cities in the world to visit, let’s explore the Hungarian capital a bit more on the second day of So, What’s There to do in Budapest? In our three-part series, we will introduce you to the magnificent city and recommend the best sights, restaurants and cafés for a relaxing holiday. Whether you are on a tight budget or you would like to try everything Budapest has to offer, we have you covered.
According to popular beliefs – and nutritionists –, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Budapest is full of specialty cafés that are sure to help you start your morning right. Pozsonyi utca has some of the best places; it’s located just off the Grand Boulevard, in the artists’ and intellectuals’ district, the fancy Újlipótváros. Sarki Fűszeres is a good example: a tiny deli and eatery, where you are sure to bump into a celebrity or two. If you are after a romantic morning getaway from the noise of the city, go to the elegant Villa Bagatelle in Buda – its terrace is an idyllic spot to enjoy the morning sunshine and a cup of coffee. If you prefer croissants and croque madame, you should try the lovely French boulangerie, Á table on Wesselényi utca, in the heart of the party district, while Szimply near Deák tér offers beautiful and healthy breakfast creations.
Heroes square is just a 15-minute walk from the city center on Budapest’s iconic avenue, Andrássy street. It was named after Count Gyula Andrássy, one of the most respected statesmen in 19th century Hungarian history, and is popularly referred to as the ‘Hungarian Champs Elysee.” Despite the tumults of the 20th century, the original form of the avenue has been preserved remarkably well, especially at a circle-shaped intersection called Kodály körönd. Andrássy street is lined with a series of beautiful eclectic and neo-renaissance palaces and residential houses, many of which currently serve as museums, embassies, offices or luxury stores. Alongside the Buda Castle Quarter and the spectacular banks of the Danube River, the avenue is one of the Hungarian capital’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Those who prefer to spare some energy for the afternoon should travel four stops on the 120-year old Millennium Underground Railway, the oldest and probably the loveliest of its kind in continental Europe.
Heroes Square is probably the most-visited square in Budapest. The Millennial Monument was built in 1896 to commemorate the arrival of the Magyars in the country. Since then, the fourteen statues of emblematic historical figures, as well as the 36-metre tall column topped by Archangel Gabriel and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, have become well-known symbols of both Budapest and Hungary. On the two sides of the square, you can find two important buildings: the Museum of Fine Arts and the Kunsthalle. While the Museum of Fine Arts is unfortunately closed for reconstruction until Autumn 2018, a selection of its priceless 100,000-piece collection is currently housed in the Hungarian National Gallery, located in the Buda Castle.
Much like the neighboring capital, Vienna, Budapest is also known for its coffee culture. Budapest is full of small specialty cafés, such as My Little Melbourne, a cozy micro-café in the heart of downtown with top-range coffees, excellent cakes and attentive service. On the Kiskörút, there’s the recently expanded Fekete and Budapest Baristas, which are said to have some of the best coffee in town. If you rather spend an afternoon in one of the grand cafés from the turn of the century, where famous poets were regulars, then Centrál on the Pest side and Hadik on the Buda side of the river are what you’re looking for. Both look back upon a legacy as the one-time centers of cultural and literary life in the “Pearl of the Danube”.
After a good coffee, we can now head to the center of downtown Budapest: Deák tér and Elizabeth Park (Erzsébet tér). There are several eye-catching sites within walking distance of the square. On the way to the country’s most well-known building, the Hungarian Parliament, those who are interested in the history of art and architecture should visit St. Stephen’s Basilica. The neo-classicist building, named after the first Christian king of the country, is Budapest’s tallest church, with a 96-meter-high dome. The spacious square front of the Basilica is home to a lovely Advent festival every year.
Five minutes from the Basilica, you will find Szabadság tér, with controversial monuments embodying totalitarian regimes. Kossuth tér, home of the Hungarian Parliament, is just a short walk from there. Constructed between 1885 and 1902, Hungary’s neo-gothic Parliament building is among the world’s biggest, with a size of 268 meters in length and 118 meters in width. The country’s most important relic, the Holy Crown of St. Stephen, is exhibited in the building.
We recommend to finish the afternoon with a boat trip on the Danube. Regular boat services are offered by BKK, the capital’s public transportation provider. It has become a real curiosity of Budapest, as the boats pass by the capital’s iconic tourist attractions – Margaret Island, Parliament, the Castle District and the famous Hotel Gellért. These trips offer an unforgettable experience and spectacular views of Budapest, all for less than the price of a cup of coffee. The most popular routes are D11, D12 and D13, all of which run from the capital’s northern suburbs to the Haller utca ship terminal near the National Theatre. Passengers can use standard services in exchange for a single ticket (costing no more than HUF 350) or by presenting a pass. Children under 6 and seniors above 65 years of age travel free of charge.
Budapest is famous for its ruin bars and party scene, but when it comes to a memorable evening in the capital, it has much more to offer: it is also famous for its venues of high culture, theatres and concert halls. The Opera House is located on the well-known Andrássy Street. The neo-renaissance building was constructed according to the plans of architectural genius Miklós Ybl between 1875 and 1884. Rumor has it that the Opera has the third best acoustics of any concert hall in Europe, after Milan’s La Scala and Paris’ Palais Garnier. If you prefer a more entertaining music experience you should visit the Operetta Theatre in Nagymező utca, only a 3-minute walk from the Opera House. This theatre stages hundreds of operettas and musicals every year, most of them with German or English subtitles.
Although Hungary has had a national theatre in one form or another since 1837, the current building at the foot of the Rákóczi Bridge was opened in 2002 as part of the newly-established Millennium Culture Centre. The theatre stands in a huge park in which one can find a sculpture garden designed to evoke the history of Hungarian theatre. With its open-air stage that hosts a wide range of events in summertime, the National Theatre’s total size exceeds 21 000 square meters, making the complex the largest theatre in the country.
Next to the National Theatre, on the shore of the Danube , the cutting-edge Palace of Arts is home to a concert hall, booked years ahead by top international orchestras and music stars. If you are looking for more contemporary music, this is one of the most popular venues – of course, there are a lot more. Nearby, Budapest Park – a self-styled all-summer festival venue – entertains music and party fans from May to September with a high quality, diverse lineup of acts. Akvárium, located right in the heart of Budapest at Erzsébet tér, has three different halls, each with their own musical styles and performers. Formerly known as Gödör (“Pit”) the park above is the definite downtown meeting-point for the capital’s younger generations. Jazz fans will love sipping wine to their favorite music in Budapest Jazz Club, while those looking for the biggest international names should be on the lookout for gigs in the Papp László Budapest Sportaréna.
In the last couple of years, the culinary scene of the capital has experienced a “gastro revolution”, ever since Costes, the slick Ráday utca eatery, described as one of the country’s best restaurants, bagged a Michelin star in 2010. As of 2017, Budapest has four Michelin star restaurants: Borkonyha (Wine Kitchen), Costes, Costes Downtown, and Onyx. For top-notch international cuisine and an ideal combination of cosmopolitanism and the more informal atmosphere of gastro pubs, head for ZONA near the Chain Bridge. If you’re looking for more homely dishes in a trendy environment, Baltazar Grill & Wine Bar is a great bet. Slightly off the beaten track, Laci! Konyha! is a sophisticated establishment serving traditional Hungarian fare in a contemporary context.
Tomorrow, in the final part of our series, we will explore sightseeing and sport opportunities, as well as the famous night life of the capital.
Source: Budapest Festival&Tourism Centre
Featured photo: wikimedia.org