From the stately monuments of Castle Hill to a revitalised industrial quarter on the banks of the Danube, here are our top picks for exploring the multifaceted Hungarian capital.
District I: Castle Hill
With cobbled streets, Ottoman echoes and grand Habsburg palaces, there’s history in layers on Castle Hill. Alongside its medieval relics you’ll find the Hospital in the Rock, a subterranean hospital used in WWII and the 1956 Revolution.
Take a morning plunge into the thermal pools set under the Ottoman domes of the Rudas Baths (note that some days are single-sex only). Then get your body moving with a walk through the Tabán area to Krisztina tér for a decadent brunch at Deryné.
Afterwards, hike up the hill to Buda Castle for a visit to the Hungarian National Gallery or the Castle Museum. Curb the hunger pangs with a velvety cream cake at Ruszwurm Cukrászda, the city’s oldest patisserie, before popping by the turrets of the Fisherman’s Bastion for views over the Danube.
In the evening, wander through the quaint streets and keep an eye out for a 14th-century synagogue, the ruins around Magdalene Tower and the grave of the last Pasha of Buda. Salute the day with a glass of wine over dinner at Baltazár Grill & Wine Bar.
District V: Belváros & Lipótváros
You can still see the stones from Pest’s old city wall surrounding District V, but today elegant residences and monuments like the Parliament and St Stephen’s Basilica populate the inner city. Bullet holes from the 20th century still scar some facades, but modernity molds itself into the cracks with trendy design hubs and new-wave cafes.
To fuel up, go to Szimply Food (szimply.com) for brunch and grab a coffee at Kontakt next door. Instead of the paprika-laden tourist shops on Váci utca, discover Hungarian design at MONO Art & Design (monoartanddesign.tumblr.com) and Paloma (facebook.com/PalomaBudapest) on Kossúth Lajos utca, or peruse some handmade vintage stationery at Bomo Art.
Later, head northwards along the Danube banks to the poignant Shoes on the Danube memorial and turn up towards the Hungarian Parliament. Break for a bite at the market on Hold utca but before you go in, turn around to admire Ödön Lechner’s art nouveau Postal Savings Bank.
Treat yourself for a dinner at the Michelin-starred Costes Downtown or Onyx, or try the Gastronomic Quarter in the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus. Wrap things up with cocktails at the gritty, industrial Impostor bar on Szabadság tér in the former Hungarian TV building.
District VII: Erzsébetváros & the Jewish Quarter
Juxtaposing its synagogues and echoes of its ghetto past against crumbling ruin bars, hedonistic party hostels and unique design shops, the Jewish Quarter perfectly blends Budapest’s complex history with its eclectic contemporary life.
Go for breakfast at Stika (facebook.com/StikaBP) on Klauzál tér before exploring the neighbourhood. Discover its Jewish heritage in the Great Synagogue in Dohány utca and the other neo-Moorish synagogue on Rumbach Sebestyén utca, before stepping into Printa for silkscreen prints, design and upcycled fashion.
Grab lunch at Konyha followed by a coffee around the trendy Gozsdú Udvar. Fashionistas can peruse The Velvet Chemistry (thevelvetchemistry.com) on Király utca for shoes, clothes and accessories by Hungarian designers, but be sure to stop at number 15 to see the ghetto wall memorial through the gate.
Before hitting the ruin bars to get a taste of Budapest’s nightlife, get a quick bite from Bors Gasztro Bár or opt for elegant dining with an Israeli twist under the lit-up trees in shabby-chic Mazel Tov. Sip a few drinks at Szimpla Kert, the city’s first and most famous ruin bar set in a dilapidated apartment complex and decked out with quirky items and mismatched furniture, then continue your night out with stops at Fogas and Ellátó Kert.
District VIII: Józsefváros
Until recently, District VIII was an area many avoided, and its gritty feel can still be felt in the outer corners. At its heart lies the Palace District, named for the palatial apartments once belonging to Budapest’s 19th-century aristocratic elite. It was also the backdrop of the 1956 Revolution, with the first shots fired in the Former Hungarian Radio Headquarters on Bródy Sándor utca.
If you feel disoriented by the Italian-influenced architecture in Mikszáth Kálmán tér, drink a coffee at Lumen, a local roastery and cafe. As you explore the Palace District make sure you stop to look up, especially at the intricate Ervin Szabó Library. Meet some of the district’s young creatives by ringing the doorbell at FlatLab (flatlab.hu), a hidden atelier and showroom run by a collective of local designers.
In the afternoon, grab a bagel on the go from Budapest Bagel (facebook.com/budapestbagel) before heading over to the neoclassical Hungarian National Museum. Pay a visit to the beautiful Venetian-Moorish-style Uránia Cinema for a cup of tea in the cafe or an arthouse film.
For good food and a creative buzz, Café Csiga is a great place to start before drinking with the local artsy crowd in one of the neighbourhood bars. Just pop into the alternative cultural centres of Müszi (muszi.org) or Aurora (auroraonline.hu), or hit a party on the rooftop of the socialist-era shopping centre at Corvin Club.
District IX: Ferencváros
This former industrial area was never really popular with tourists, but it’s gaining traction thanks to its cultural complex around the National Theatre, the Palace of Arts and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art. It has earned the nickname ‘Craft Beer District’ for its density of bars with local beers on tap.
Kick-start your senses under the wrought-iron pillars of the Central Market Hall. You can pick up some paprika, Hungarian souvenirs or stop for a bite. Take a Danube-side stroll over to the Bálna, a giant undulating complex of glass grafted onto exposed-brick buildings housing cafes, restaurants, galleries and shops.
Stop by Ferenc tér for a French-Hungarian fusion lunch at Petrus before sampling a digestive on a tour at nearby Zwack Unicum Factory, where you can learn all about Hungary’s most famous bitter liqueur in an interactive way.
Round off the day with a few Hungarian craft beers at Élesztő, a converted glass factory with more than 25 beers on tap. If you feel peckish, visit the Food Truck Udvar (facebook.com/foodtruckudvar) on Üllői útca before continuing on your craft-beer tour.
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