Lonely Planet Local Jennifer Walker moved to Budapest four years ago to reconnect with her Hungarian roots. She still loves uncovering the city’s secrets, from hidden courtyards and quirky cafes to the Jewish Quarter’s grittiest bars. Jennifer remains as dazzled as ever by Budapest’s beautiful art nouveau architecture, which she admires during her favourite long weekend walks.
My favourite places in the city… are quite offbeat. The Kelenföld Power Station is simply exquisite with its art deco glass ceiling and copper-green control panels, but the fairytale-like water towers at the former Óbuda Gas Works are also beautiful. I love industrial architecture, which is why the converted spaces in the IX District, like the Bálna mall, also appeal to me. While I do geek out over industrial buildings, I’m also a huge fan of art nouveau, especially anything by Ödön Lechner. I think my favourite Lechner building is the Institute of Geology up in Zugló, just outside City Park.
On a typical weekend… I like to go for a walk in the morning, usually up Gellért Hill, but first I’ll grab a coffee in my neighbourhood. I’ll go on a walking tour to somewhere unusual, like the villas in the XVI District – one of my favourites is the stunning Dozzi Villa which was once owned by an Italian who allegedly introduced salami to Hungary. The evening is all about meeting friends for drinks or taking in some culture, like seeing a play or a film. Sunday afternoons are best when spent outdoors in the hills or soaking in one of the city’s famous thermal baths.
When I have friends in town… I love taking them around the city and sharing my favourite spots. Markets are always fun to visit, like the Sunday morning farmers’ market at the Szimpla Kert ruin pub, or checking out antique curiosities at the Ecseri Piac flea market. I like to take friends around the Palace District, one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Budapest. You’ll find incredible, underrated architecture here, like the Ervin Szabó Central Library or the Italian-looking palatial apartments on Mikszáth Kálmán Square.
When I meet friends for a drink… I generally avoid places like Szimpla Kert unless I’m with someone who has never been there. I prefer some of the grittier places in the Jewish Quarter like Kisüzem or Vittula, or I go further afield to the craft beer joints in the IX District, like Élesztő. I also have my own local favourites over in my neighbourhood in Buda, like Gdansk, a tiny Polish bookstore-cafe which has just four tables, or Kelet, a cafe and bar filled with old books you can exchange with the ones you don’t want to read anymore.
When I need to relax… the thermal baths are ideal. My favourite is the Veli Bej Baths, hidden inside a hospital close to the Danube. It’s an old Ottoman bath that has since been renovated. It may not have the dilapidated charm of the other Turkish baths, but it’s a great spot to unwind from the stress of the week.
On a sunny day… I’ll try to get outdoors, maybe go for a hike around Buda Hills, have a barbecue near the Danube beach on Római Part, or chill out with a fröccs (spritzer) on Kopaszi Gát peninsula in south Buda. But usually I’ll stay closer to home and hike up Gellért Hill to the Philosopher’s Garden with a book and just relax on the grass with views over the castle.
To splash out… you can’t go wrong with Kollázs Bistro, a fine-dining restaurant in the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel. Their French brioche dessert is simply spectacular. Nano Bar & Restaurant, the new molecular gastronomy place, is also a lot of fun, especially since I’ve been fascinated with this style of cooking for a long time.
For cheap eats… I always go for street food. My vice is a local place called Paneer, the world’s first cheese bar, which specialises in fried cheeseburgers and other cheesy bites. They have a shop on Király utca, but also a few street food trucks. Another favourite is a sandwich-and-soup place called Crust that opened recently on Kolosy tér – in my opinion it makes the best baguette sandwiches in town.
What I love most about Budapest… is that you can find something new even after years of living here. Compared with other European capitals, it’s quite a small city, but I’m still discovering hidden courtyards, new secrets and stories every day. You may spot a synagogue, like the Újlak Synagogue, or a church enclosed in an apartment block, or realise that the lake you walk past every day actually leads into a 7km-long cavern filled with thermal water.
You know you’ve been in Budapest too long… when you recognise the ticket inspectors on the tram before they put the armband on, you start liking the fact you live in Buda rather than Pest, and you don’t get flustered giving your fröccs order (usually this comes with a million questions on your wine-to-soda-water ratio etc) – not to mention you’ll drink Unicum liqueur willingly.
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