Spice of Europe
Meet the 365 faces of BudapestPlay
Spice of Europe
Explore the glamorous side of the city!Play
Spice of Europe
Explore the city’s cultural vibePlay
Meet the faces of Budapest
Barbjerik Ferenc, 1962
Saly Noémi, 1943
Martin Kornél, 1937
Zsivkov Anita, Koós Árpád, Kocsis András, 1980
Szalay Béla, 1980
Sattler Katalin, 1936
Lugosi Szilvia, 1962
Kecskés András, 1966
Somla Tibor, 1940
Gellért Thermal Bath
László Ördögh, Dávid Drozsnyik
Széll Kálmán Square
Castle Garden Bazaar
Castle Garden Bazaar
Bálint & Bence Bársony
Yurts in Buda
András & Péter Dani
Léna and Borisz
Mimi and Kata
Jászai Mari Square
Bartók Béla Boulevard
István Pál “Szalonna”
Hungarian Heritage House
Szabi the baker
Budapest Zoo and
Róka Hill Quarry,
Gábor Miklós Szőke
Ziggurat Gallery, Müpa
Hungarian Parliament Building
Gergő Péri is a film student who always enjoys a good cycle: "Budapest is an awesome city for bike lovers like myself, in fact, one of my favorite things to do here is cycling around the Vizafogó and Moszkva Square front with my brother. It’s pure freedom, as I feel the wind on my face while watching all these different people pass by. There’s something about this part of the city, something about its calmness, its quietness, its closeness to nature. Anyone can (and should) experience it on two wheels. The great bike-sharing system is a given, so you don’t have an excuse: find a docking station and let the good times roll!”
The promenade was renewed in 2017 due to the FINA World Aquatics Championship held in Budapest. It runs on the Pest side between 2 bridges, Margaret and Árpád-bridge, giving people the most beautiful scenery as they pass by or ride along the Danube River. Speaking of bike rides, did you know that there are at least 190 kilometers of cycle routes in Budapest altogether? Some of the routes are officially part of the EuroVelo (European cycle route network), therefore plenty of cyclists cross them from all over the world each year.
Hungary has a 200-year-old history of cycling. The first Hungarian ever who had a picture posing with his bike was Laszló Kosztovits in 1880. He also organized the first cycling competitions and translated the word ’bicycle’ from English to Hungarian. The most popular bike trip destination was Gödöllő, as it was considered to be the best route to cycle at the time. Sounds like a nice new-old road to explore, right Gergő?
Franciska is a Hungarian actress, who has lived in Budapest since her childhood: "Gellért Thermal Bath’s spectacular building is among the most beautiful ones in the whole country; it’s such an amazing snapshot of an era. Everyone has to see this architecture, which hasn’t changed over the years, so try the thermal baths or grab a table in some of the smaller pools that now function as a restaurant. My grandad used to work here as an inventor and a doctor, so we often visited. There wasn’t anything better than the wave pool! I can still hear the sound of the bell that marks the beginning of the waves, and it still makes my heart race. For me, being around this area is like putting on an old record; it brings back all the feelings, the memories, everything I experienced while growing up here.”
The Gellért Thermal Bath and Hotel, built in the secession style, opened its gates in 1918 and was expanded in 1927 with the wave-bath and in 1934 by the effervescent bath. At present, nearly all therapeutic facilities may be used in the Gellért Thermal Bath. And that atmosphere, just sitting there in the hot water brings us a new perspective with a perfectly calm feeling. That’s why many celebrities, leaders, artists fall in love with this place.
What do Franciska Törőcsik, Otto von Habsburg, Richard Nixon, Yehudi Menuhin, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Vilmos Zsigmond and Maximillian Shell have in common? They all enjoyed the Gellért Thermal Bath, and all of these men have a suite named after them in the Danubius Hotel Gellért – sorry Franciska, but all is not lost, just delayed!
Dani Králik is a photographer, so he knows the spots where to take cool shots: “Madách Square is basically the center, the very heart of Budapest, where some of the realest faces, interesting locals come together every day to socialize. I was here when Telep opened and it changed everything for the local community, as we have become one with the area. It might be surrounded by tons of tourists, but this spot is where you can meet and have a drink with the ones that make the city what it is, mostly artsy, urban, true “Pesti” faces, often on motorbikes, skateboards, or anything that has wheels.”
It’s quite easy to notice the massive buildings around Madách Square covered with red brick walls. They are called Madách Houses. They are based on Gyula Wälder’s blueprints, which were initially designed to be the entrance of a boulevard that leads all the way from the city center to City Park. Unfortunately, World War II had just started when the initial constructions had finished, so the whole boulevard project had to be put on hold. For good. Luckily, Andrássy Avenue, which is also in the neighborhood, serves the exact same purpose well enough.
Prior to the construction of the Madách Houses, another illustrious building stood in the area, known as the Orczy House. Its history is connected Budapest’s Jewish community, since they started to rent the huge building after 1796, as the synagogue was nearby.
Basically, the Orczy House marked the very beginning of the Jewish quarter.
“I grew up in the city; this is where I went to school and this is where my studio is. I love how close the Danube is. Tram 2 that goes along the Pest side is one of my favorites, as it takes you all the way from Ludwig Museum to Cirko Gejzír cinema. My grandad taught me the multiplication table on this route. This area has attractive architecture, as you can see some incredibly exciting, continuously changing facades from the 18th century, just like Párisi Passage’s building, the Rózsavölgyi House, or the Art Nouveau-styled building right next to it whose mosaics were designed by Kőrösfői Kriesch Aladár. Kamermayer Square also has a magical atmosphere, which I pass through every day on my way to work. “
Zsófi Barabás is a painter who gives us the definition of picture-perfect: “What I love most about Gerlóczy Street and the surrounding area is how so many different buildings from different eras can be found here, with some dating all the way back to the 1700s. It’s so worth wandering around to explore and discover the unique, different styles of architecture and facades. I grew up near here, in Párisi Passage, and today this street is home to my gallery. Párisi Passage and its surrounding area, including Kamermayer Square, is like a little Paris in the heart of Budapest. It’s full of awesome cafés, cinemas, great places to hang out at. You simply have to see it for yourself, come and take a walk around here!”
At first look, Gerlóczy utca comes off as another narrow, quiet street with carefully designed buildings right in the heart of Budapest, close to Deák Square. Sure, the street can hold its own, but really, if we take a closer look, it turns out that it has way more to offer. One of the most important buildings here is the Town Hall, which had served various functions throughout the years. Originally, the building was meant to be an Invalidus House for the old and sick soldiers who fought in the wars against the Turks. They were moved into this place with their families and received support from the State. It had many different facilities inside, like stores, restaurants, a hospital and even a school. This service was stopped by Joseph II, who turned the place into an army base for grenadiers. It lasted until 1894, when the building was transformed into the Town Hall according to the plans of Ármin Hegedűs.
The BKV-tenement house (BKV is the abbreviation for Budapest Transport Privately Held Corporation) is also located on Gerlóczy Street and has historical importance as the Historical Justice Committee (TIB) NGO, was founded here in the spring of 1988 for people who have suffered under communist regime persecution, including the 1956 Revolution. The basic objective of the organization was to wipe out the falsifications of the communist dictatorship from the public consciousness of Hungary and to bring to light the events and persons who were brought to the head and persecuted by the nature and origin of the communist system under the name of János Kádár.
Dávid Bíró is a digital artist, but he sure agrees that sometimes you just gotta go analog: “For the best view of the Buda side, you’ll need to go to the spot next to the Chain Bridge on the Pest side. This is a local hub where everyone gathers on summer nights to chill out, have a drink, dance to some nice tunes, and watch the sunset while gazing upon some of the most beautiful sights in Budapest, like the Buda Castle, the Castle Garden, Matthias Church, or Gellért Hill. When I say that this part of the Danube’s riverside is a local hub, it means that it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll bump into friends here. In fact, there’s a game we like to play with 2 of my friends: We set a meeting time but not a meeting place to see if we end up in the same spot. Once we did, right here at Pontoon, the most popular bar in this urban area. “
You can probably recognize the huge lion statues placed on either side of the Chain Bridge even when they’re shown in pictures. But did you know that the lions missing their tongues? Yes, the sculptor János Marschalkó simply forgot about them. But there is even more history behind our oldest and most popular suspension bridge. Before the Chain Bridge was built, the typical bridge over the river Danube connecting Buda and Pest was a so-called ‘ship bridge’ held by flat bottomed keels. These were made of wood and had to be rebuilt from time to time. Each year, when the icy weather came, the pontoon bridge had to be taken apart. During the winter months, it was only possible to cross the Danube from one side to another with ships. The idea of building a permanent bridge was initiated by Count Istvan Széchenyi in 1820 when he had to go to Vienna for his father’s funeral, but due to the ice breakup, he couldn’t cross the river. This was when he decided that no matter how much money or time he needed to invest in the cause, he would not stop until there was a bridge connecting Pest and Buda.
The construction started in 1840 and was based on the plans of a British architect, William Tierney Clark, while Adam Clark, a Scottish engineer, was appointed to be the construction manager. The bridge was officially inaugurated in November 1849, even though Széchenyi’s dream came true, he never had the chance to walk across the bridge, as by then, he had already admitted himself into an Austrian psychiatric hospital, where he remained until his death in 1860. At the end of World War II, all the bridges in Budapest were blown up by the Germans, so the Chain Bridge had to be rebuilt completely. The reparations were finished in 1949, exactly 100 years after the original one was opened. The Chain Bridge is an emblematic symbol of Budapest, where the image of it can be found on the 200 Forint coin and it was the subject of one of the most expensive films made in Hungarian film history called The Bridgeman.
Gergely Böszörményi-Nagy, the founder of Brain Bar, proves that the past can be just as exciting as the future: “Népsziget (also known as Mosquito-Island) is Budapest’s last undiscovered gem. Some cool places have been opened up on the northern side of the islet, but most of it is still full of abandoned gardens, camping sites and buildings. It has this wild, authentic vibe that makes you want to explore it. As kids, we used to sneak into the abandoned ship factory here. You actually can still see a few beautiful ships that were left behind in the building! Also, one of my good friends opened an awesome bar in this area, called Filip – they have markets, outdoor cinemas, parties, exhibitions. It’s such a great place to bring your friends to. I highly recommend exploring Népsziget (Mosquito-Island) to taste a different, genuine, wild side of Budapest.”
Getting lost between the remains of a once-blooming industry that was operating on Népsziget (Mosquito-Island) feels like being in a post-apocalyptic movie where you should always watch your back in case zombies or other supernatural creatures would appear. Despite its name, Népsziget (Mosquito-Island) not an island anymore. It used to be one until the 1830s, when it was connected to Újpest with a narrow strip of land, thus becoming a peninsula. The aim was to create a wintertime harbor in the creek, alongside the Pesti and Fiumei Váci Road Shipyard, as well as establishing the Ganz Danubius Ship-and Crane Factory here. Occasionally, it is also known as Újpesti-Island, while historical names of it include Saban-Island (by which was first attested in the early 17th Century), Szunyog-Island, and Csigás-Island.
Népsziget (Mosquito-Island) had a key role in the Hungarian shipbuilding industry. The Ganz ship and crane factory was founded in 1907 by József Laczkovits and János Mencsik. In the beginning, the main products were steam-boilers. In 1944, Gyula Scharbert, the director of the factory, recognized that ship cranes would be indispensable necessities in post-war renovations. This is how Hungary got to its leading position in building ship cranes. Hungary not only got to become the biggest supplier, but Hungarian ship cranes became a much sought-after product across the world. The factory was nationalized into the GANZ Ship Factory in 1949. Their most famous product was the 5-tons ship-crane but this is where Europe’s biggest ship crane has ever built, which even reached 200-tons. After World War II, GANZ Danubius made the most ship-cranes in the world until the 1990s, when the production stopped.
Bubi is a hairdresser who cares about the whole package: "As a family man, I love those places where every member of my little squad can find something they love to do. Népsziget (also known as Mosquito-Island) is one of our favorite spots – it’s a hidden gem surrounded by nature, but it’s surprisingly close to the city. This is where the kids can run around and skip stones while my wife and I can just talk while drinking a heavenly iced coffee. This is where all of us can let off steam.”
Népsziget (Mosquito-Island) is a peninsula on the Danube River that’s just been rediscovered by the public and has become a popular chill out spot, especially in the warm summer days. And nights. After World War I, the Hungarian sports diplomacy left no stones unturned to get the chance to organize the 1928 Olympic games on Népsziget (Mosquito-Island) with the purpose of strengthening the island’s connection to the city center. Even though this plan failed, the buildings constructed for the occasion were transformed into boathouses, and the place suddenly turned into a haven for water sports. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long, as Népsziget (Mosquito-Island) became totally abandoned by the 1990s. Up until its recent revival!
It may sound surprising, but an actual animal farm and riding hall can also be found on the southern part of Népsziget (Mosquito-Island), with at least a thousand inhabitants, mostly goats. According to the owner of the farm, leftover food is always highly appreciated by the animals, especially when you are about to pet them.
Kinga Cakó is a fashion designer whose surroundings are a big influence on her work: “I used to play around Margit Street as a child and now it’s home to my showroom. I fell in love with the little, hidden streets, the serpentine lanes, and the view of the area. You can see the city from such a unique angle, especially early in the morning or at the Golden Hour. I wouldn’t trade my daily routine for anything: walking down this pretty, steep, magical street with my dog, Prézli, while grabbing a delicious coffee, and taking the beautiful, pinkish view in.”
Not to mention the fact that there is no better view over Gül Baba’s Tomb than from Margit Street. This monument is the perfect proof of Budapest’s rich multicultural past. The 16th-century Islamic turbe (a type of mausoleum architecture translated as "tomb tower") on the Buda side of the city is the resting place of the Ottoman dervish, poet, mystic, and theologian Gül Baba. According to legend, his name came from the rose he wore on his turban, but others believe that his name originated from the piece of textile he wore on his dervish hat, which symbolizes mystic knowledge. This explains why a beautiful rose garden now surrounds the Tomb, which is not only a pilgrimage site but also has important historical value as well.
It should not be forgotten that there is another nice park located very close to Gül Baba’s Tomb, which is also an ideal place for early morning walks. The park is named after Peter Mansfeld, who was the youngest martyr of the Hungarian Revolution.
However, in order to get up here, there is a really long and steep staircase to climb, but the spectacular view is definitely worth the effort.
Balázs Csízik is a lecturer, so let’s hear him out: “Mikszáth Square is surrounded by different university buildings, so it makes sense that it’s an exciting hub for many different people – students, lecturers like me, teenagers on dates, and artists. It’s basically the gateway to the Palace District. I love how the square itself is a closed space, but it still has this freedom because of its buzz, the surrounding cafés, the fresh and chill vibe and because it takes you to streets full of amazing galleries. I have to mention Lumen, which is a cafe, a gallery, a store and an event space at the same time. But the National Gallery and Ervin Szabó Library are around here too, connecting the modern arts with the classics. This area and its people are like an awesome artsy community that tourists don’t really know yet.”
Nothing compares to the chill atmosphere lingering around Mikszáth Square. This is why it’s such a popular place for so many different kinds of people who often spend their nights here sipping some kind of alcoholic beverage. According to books written on city planning, the architects constructed two types of green areas in Budapest in the 19th century. There were the bigger parks, outside the center, where people would ride out for a hike on a Sunday, like City Park, and the second category was consisted of mostly attractive squares and little green areas that were rather designed to add more to the cityscape without any recreational functions. Mikszáth Square is considered to be in this group.
The square got its first name in 1900 after Gyula Reviczky, a poet who first translated Baudelaire’s work into Hungarian and died at a tragically young age. At that time, the most famous building on the square was János Irinyi’s match factory. Yes, he was the guy who invented silent matches. We should not forget about the unique palace made of clinker brick, which has a castle-like look and ‘Juliet’s-balcony’ on the third floor that makes the building stand out. The square changed its name to its current form in 1911 after the death of Kálmán Mikszáth, a famous Hungarian novelist who spent his final years living on the square. The symbol of the square is the Mikszáth statue made by sculptor András Kocsis in 1961.
László Ördögh and Dávid Drozsnyik are graphic designers who know how to think big: “Puskás Arena is a must-see and experience in Budapest, not only when it’s filled with thousands of people during a game but also when it’s empty. That’s when you can really appreciate the architecture and take a look behind the design on a guided walking tour. It has won several international and local awards, so it’s definitely worth checking out! We also love that there’s a community experience both in and outside the stadium. The surrounding area is great for running, picnicking, and exploring the renovated sports statues. We are super proud to have taken part in designing the arena, to have left our mark on something that will stand here for many generations.”
When you are around the “Stadionok” metro station when the night falls, you probably notice an eye-catching building made extra attention-grabbing with very bright LED lights. That’s the Puskás Arena: A football stadium with the largest capacity of any sporting venue in Hungary. It’s also the official home stadium for the Hungary national football team. The first version of the stadium was called Népstadion and built between 1948 and 1953 using a large number of volunteers, including soldiers. There were plans to build a stadium like this ever since 1896 due to a desire to organize the Olympic games in Hungary. The original form of the stadium had seen many memorable events, such as the famous Hungary 7-1 England football match in 1954. Apart from football matches, the stadium hosted various cultural events, such as concerts with world-famous bands performing like Queen, AC/DC or Guns N’ Roses. In 2002, it was renamed in honor of the legendary former national team captain, Ferenc Puskás.
In 2016 the stadium was demolished, and the Arena was built in its place. They really paid attention to the details as the center circle on the new field was placed exactly on the same spot as it was before. On 15 November 2019, the arena was opened by the match Hungary-Uruguay. All the tickets for the match were sold in only 2 hours, and according to the website “stadiumdb.com” it was voted the best stadium of 2019.
Zoli Balla is a DJ, and this is the place to spot him: “What fascinates me about Budapest is that cycling around here feels like I’m still in the countryside because I’m bumping into familiar faces, friends everywhere, especially around here. Having this small-town-experience on a daily basis is an incredible feeling. Also, here’s Széll Kálmán Square, the legendary, most iconic meeting point, or Nemdebár, one of the few underground bars on the Buda side. I absolutely adore this part of the city.”
Széll Kálmán Square is indeed one of the most iconic squares in Budapest. Even a movie was made with the title ‘Moszkva Square,’ which is also how this area once was named. Okay, so what’s with all these names? Let’s see... Before 1929, people used to call the area “Gödör” (“Hole”). Then it was officially named after Kálmán Széll, a Hungarian prime minister, but then changed its name to Moszkva Square in 1951 until 2011 when the place got its original name, Széll Kálmán Square, back.
Looking at this crowded junction as it is now, it’s hard to imagine that a clay mine once operated here during the Turkish era, which in the second half of the 19th century turned into a quarry pond that was used as an ice-skating rink in winters. Later on, it became a huge sports ground, with tennis and athletic courts. The most emblematic spot of the square is the clock in the middle that’s being a popular meeting point for decades.
Vera Jónás is a singer-songwriter who has her own definition of exciting: “Teleki Square was designed by the community. Before construction, they asked locals what kind of square they’d like to have and this is the result: a unique, bohemian park in the middle of a multicultural area. I always bring my visiting friends to hidden places in Budapest and this is one of them. I think it’s one of the most exciting spots; it has been dynamically changing a lot over the years. It’s also known for a small apartment-synagogue that was the only functioning synagogue during WWII. I love that it’s not only filled with diverse cultures, communities and faces but also contemporary artists, local creatives who live around here.”
Teleki Square was constructed during the 1850s city planning, designed to be a marketplace from the very beginning. Initially, it was called the poultry market square due to its main function. Not much later in 1874, it got named after László Teleki, a Hungarian writer and statesman, the dedicatee of Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. The square was always surrounded by poverty, as workers gathered here looking for a job between the two World Wars. The Jewish presence was defined on Teleki Square in the 20th century, as the train station was nearby, so poor immigrant Jews arriving from Russia and Galicia settled here mostly because of the marketplace. Their customers were peasants arriving from the neighboring villages. Romani from prestigious musician families performed in the local bars and cafes, so this cultural mix gave a unique atmosphere to the square. An interesting fact is that back then the most popular café shop in the square was owned by the mother of the famous photographer André Kertész.
The place has always been romanticized in film and literature. Teleki Square was referred to as Atlantis in a Hungarian movie called Eldorado that takes place on the square. The film was directed by Géza Bereményi, who grew up on the square and even wrote an autobiographical novel in which the events are revolving around Teleki Square. Other writers who played an important part in Hungarian literature also lived nearby, such as Endre Fejes or Iván Mándy.
Kitti Laposa is a fashion designer, so it’s no wonder she appreciates an artistic atmosphere: “I love how refreshing, how chilled the area around Munkácsy Street is. Everything is green; I can walk my dog without a leash, the surrounding buildings are breathtaking. It’s surprisingly quiet even though it’s right next to the city center, just off Andrássy Avenue and the City Park. Not to mention that I literally wake up every morning to the sounds of birds chirping! I moved to this area a few months ago and I immediately fell in love with it.”
A fairytale-like garden with weird, abandoned-looking statues laying all around, right in Munkácsy Street? Yes, it’s real and it’s called Epreskert (“Strawberry Garden”), which took its name from the strawberry plants inside. The art estate started to receive more attention at the beginning of the 1880s, and several additional pavilions followed the first studio building – most of these are still there today, though in slightly modified forms. The Strawberry Garden had a very high social status in that era, and often hosted artistic events. Even Franz Joseph, the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire, paid several visits.
Alajos Stróbl, one of the most recognized sculptors in Hungary at the turn of the 20th century, designed the garden. He organized masquerades in the garden, frequently departing on horseback in the mornings to reach his studio, where he built a fountain with a pool filled with goldfish, while monkeys, peacocks, deer, and other animals walked around there freely. The Strawberry Garden is part of the Budapest’s Art University campus, where the young artists organize exhibitions quite often.
Miki Mendrei is a filmmaker who has a priority pass for the island of peace: "I started hanging out in Tabán when I moved from Pest to Buda, first with only a few, then slowly with more and more friends. It’s central and chill at the same time, it’s like a secluded, romantic island in the middle of the city. It’s the perfect area for sports, to work out or simply to get away from the noise and take a nice, peaceful walk.”
It’s hard to imagine that Tabán was once Budapest’s bohemian quarter. Apparently, in the 19th century, it was filled with restaurants, bars, and bordellos. In the 1930s, Tabán was completely demolished in order to facilitate urban planning in Budapest, which never happened because Word War II started. This is how Tabán had the chance to turn into the huge green area as it is today.
Legend has it that the infamous womanizer Casanova lived in a rococo style building in Tabán, which is now called Casanova House. According to the myth, he seduced the owner’s daughter, but the romance ended quite badly for Casanova, who left Buda severely wounded after the incident.
Péter Puklus is an artist who appreciates a little countryside feel: “The Wekerle Estate (Wekerletelep) is like a jewelry box, like a small village in the city. Before the pandemic, I traveled a lot, but since I’ve spent a lot of time here where I live, I really started to appreciate the area. I fell in love with its tranquility, how everything’s at hand, and how we can ride our bikes in the middle of the street. Its calmness gives my family and me a strong, stress-free foundation that helps me flourish in what I do, and it helps me unfold inspirations to create. ‘The other shop’ is a favorite, in fact, I think it’s the best place in town. I’m not exaggerating when I say that you can find better croissants and baguettes in this cafe and grocery store than in Paris, not to mention their amazing wine, sausage, and home-made bread selections. It’s great to call this area home and I highly recommend it to everyone who wants to explore a quiet, special place that’s only a 10-minute drive from the airport. “
Nowadays, the Wekerle Estate is famous for the apartment house standing in the middle of the main square, known as the filming location of a very popular Hungarian soap opera called Barátok közt (“Among friends”). It’s the country’s only example of the garden city movement. It’s a method of urban planning that aims to capture only the benefits of a countryside environment and a city environment. At the end of the 19th century, the population of Budapest doubled up and workers started moving up from the countryside led to Wekerle Estate’s construction beginning in 1908. The concept was to build garden-city-like houses instead of blocks of flats with many floors to help people to adapt to the big city after being used are to the non-city environment.
The estate has 48 different types of houses in various styles from art nouveau to neo-gothic but one of the most emblematic buildings is definitely the west-gate constructed by Dezső Zrumeczky, which reflects the traditions of vernacular architecture the most. The other one is the Saint Joseph Roman Catholic church that was built tall to stand out, so the center of the estate could be spotted from afar. It was built in the neo-roman style and its altar was made out of marble.
Marci Rátkai is a musician who enjoys the sound of water: “The water reservoir on Gellért Hill is a special hidden spot. Most people head right to the Szabadság Statue and have no idea that this side of the hill also has incredible views, but with fewer people around. Many of my precious memories connect to this place. As a child, my family brought me here to play, during my teenage years, I came here with friends, and now it has become my favorite spot for dates and to be alone, find a little peace, and enjoy the view. It has a magical atmosphere.”
The largest drinking water reservoir of the country, with a capacity of 110,000 m³, is where the 2 million inhabitants of Budapest get most of their drinking water from. The reservoir was built in 1904 and it reached its current size following the expansion works started in 1974 and lasting till 1980. No wonder it’s a good place for musicians since the basins are piano shaped.
Apart from the reservoir named after József Gruber, Gellert Hill has other secret hideouts to discover. There is a cave with a constant 21-degree temperature due to the thick rock walls and the warm-water spring close by. According to the legend, it was home to St. Ivan, a monk who healed people living nearby. Inside the cave, there is a chapel built in 1926 that was inspired by the Lourdes cave in France.
Ricsi Fazekas is a makeup artist, so he has an eye for beauty: “Castle Garden Bazaar is one of my favorite spots. It was in an awful state for decades and was fully renovated in 2016. For me, it feels like it’s a mixture of different countries; it’s a unique, dreamy world with a hidden wonderland, a neo-renaissance garden. I love it for many reasons: because of the awesome view from it, its closeness to the Danube, the new restaurants around here, its location and how it has become a cultural art hub again. It’s a must-see in Budapest, as the buildings, the garden speak for themselves.”
You cannot just pass by the garden and its buildings without taking a quick look at it. Just take your time and take a little tour around to see its extraordinary architecture built in neo-renaissance style between 1875 and 1883, based on the plans of one of Hungary’s most acclaimed architects Miklos Ybl. Ybl also designed other attractions like the Classicist St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Hungarian Opera House on Andrassy Avenue, just to mention a few of his buildings.
Between World War II and the 1980s, the Buda Castle Garden Bazaar was turned into a youth center called the Youth Park to offer youngsters a venue for entertainment. Until it was closed in 1984, the Buda Castle Garden Bazaar functioned as an open-air disco and concert hall, a hallmark of the communist era.
Ákos Takács is a marketing manager who knows how to unwind: "I always bring my friends visiting Budapest to Roman Beach. It’s 15 minutes away from the city center but covered with greenery. This is where you can get the closest to the Danube, as you can literally walk barefoot into the river. It’s also an incredible area for sports – SUP, kayak, running, tennis, beach volleyball, cycling, any sport, to be honest, it just becomes a part of your life here. With its awesome vibe, with all the great bars and places around like Fellini or ROM BUS, and with its closeness to nature and all the sports opportunities, it’s hands down my favorite place. This is where I grew up. I never left and I stayed here with my own family.”
What could be better than sitting in the sand and having a cozy drink on the riverside? Roman Beach has always been a beloved place for those who wanted to get away from the city center to enjoy the sun and the water. When rowing became a popular watersport in Hungary, Roman Beach got filled with boathouses and it turned out to be the number one spot to visit for a little rowing practice due to its perfect location. The first rowing competition was held here in 1842.
Even though rowing has already existed in Ancient Greece as a competitive sport, somehow, it only reached Hungary in the 19th century thanks to István Széchenyi. He first encountered rowing when traveling abroad and has done a lot to introduce the sport to the Hungarian public. He started popularizing it by rowing straight from Vienna to Bratislava.
Zsolna Ugron is a writer who apparently a keen reader as well: "Even in the busiest summer season, you can find hidden streets, stairs, corners behind the Castle where you feel like you are in a unique bubble or a tiny village. The streets and the buildings are full of exciting symbols. They are full of old and new stories – there’s always something to explore. My life revolves around this area. This is where I walk around with my children, hang out with friends, run, go out to eat, plus I do lots of research work in the National Archives of Hungary Building. It’s in the middle of the city, so I can reach everything in 5 minutes with a bike or roller, yet it’s quiet and peaceful.”
What is spoken flies, what is written never dies. This proverb describes the importance of having our national archives collected in one place. The National Archives of Hungary preserves our written cultural heritage by storing records related to the last 1000 years of Hungarian history. The National Archives was created and established in 1756 in Bratislava to classify and catalog records, publish and transfer information, publish books and other materials. The Archives was moved to Buda 28 years later.
The building has a collection of more than 80,000 historically significant documents from our beginnings to the recent days and 70 million microfilm records. The National Archives of Hungary can be a huge help in family research. Zsolna must be aware of this as she has a very peculiar ancestry to study.
Norbi Zsólyomi is a photographer, who doesn’t need to go far to find a perfectly composed set of buildings: “Anker Alley and its area is hands down my favorite place in Budapest, along with Madách Square, Király Street and Gozsdu Court. I love all the surrounding streets; this is where my all-time favorite vintage shop, bookstore, and café are. Anker Alley’s buildings are absolutely mind blowing, I think they are architectural masterpieces. Make sure to look up when you are walking along it! This alley has this unique charm because it’s a little bit off the main streets and the always busy Deák Square. It’s an awesome area to hang out at any time of the day but especially at night.”
Anker Alley is a hidden little alley in the heart of Budapest. It’s busier at night since it’s a frequently used as a shortcut by partygoers going between Király Street and Deák Square. It used to be called Anker Court as it was the shopping arcade of the life insurance company’s palace, which was built in 1910. The palace is often criticized for its grandiose domes and eclectic style. Even the designer’s Ignác Alpár’s wife was surprised first seeing it and called her husband out, saying that he should be ashamed of his work.
Originally Anker Alley was meant to be covered with a glass roof, like the Italian galleries that inspired, but Alpár preferred the space open, so it remained like that. Many stairways open up from the alley, and one of them has the sign ‘The Anker’ on the front. Its design was based on Alpár’s prior work, the Wechselmann mausoleum. Its interior is just as monumental as the outside and is considered to be one of Budapest’s nicest stairways in Budapest. Carefully built passages leading us towards the patio while the enormous windows let the sunshine through to lit up the building.
Laci Bagi is a journalist who proves that the best cardio is sightseeing: “There’s this hidden route right in the heart of Budapest that might not be filled with famous sights and museums but is so worth taking a walk on. I think it’s the most intact area in the city, a completely different world right next to buzzing Astoria, beginning with Unger's House and its beautiful passage, designed by Miklós Ybl in the 1850s, before heading over to Károlyi Garden, which is surrounded by Parisian-like buildings. Then, the walk continues over to Egyetem Square, Szerb and Veres Pálné Streets lined with cobblestones, churches, quality design shops, bars, cafés, and tea rooms. Even though this route couldn’t be more central, it’s very calm and quiet, and is pretty unknown by tourists, probably because it’s not featured in many guidebooks. The route is only a short walk, but you can easily spend half a day exploring everything it has to offer.
It’s hard to imagine that once, in the Middle Ages, Pest and Buda were separate settlements, right? But they were, and at that time, Pest (today’s Inner City part of District V) functioned as the outskirts of Buda and eventually became a thriving craft and trade city. The city wall was built during the reign of King Matthias (1443-1490), which follows the line of today’s Deák Ferenc Street-Károly Boulevard-Múzeum Boulevard-Kálvin Square-Vámház Boulevard. Pest could only be entered via gates in the wall. One of the gates out the six were located at what is today’s Astoria Hotel. In the 18th century, when major construction began on the Pest side, the walls were pulled down or were incorporated into the buildings.
Astoria’s surroundings are full of pleasant surprises, not that beautiful architecture should come as a surprise when we’re talking about Budapest. Let’s start with Unger’s House, which is guarded by statues of griffins that support the street-facing balconies. Before the house was built, a smithery stood in its place, once owned by Benedek Unger. Since it was really close to the city gate, many people who were passing by with a cart stopped for repairs in his shop, which helped him earn fame and a substantial fortune. In 1852, his son decided to demolish the shop and build a house instead. Miklós Ybl was put in charge of designing the building. When he designed the house, he used the characteristic elements of different styles like gothic, romantic, or renaissance, whose mixture gives the building a unique look. If we cross the passage in Unger’s House, we are only a few steps away from Károlyi Garden, which has been a little oasis in the city center since 1919. Fountains, flower beds interlaced with walkways, and benches invite visitors for respite. As we walk through it, we get closer and closer to Egyetem Square (“University Square”), which has become a part of the “New Main Street of Budapest” project.
What you’ll probably notice first is the lovely twin-towered church located adjacent to the University building at the corner. It is one of the most beautiful Baroque churches of Hungary, dating back to the 18th century.
The church was built on the site of a former Turkish mosque by the Pauline order, the only order of monks of Hungarian origin.”
Bálint Bársony (a musician) and Bence Bársony (a photographer) found peace in the sound of singing bowls: “In the outskirts of Buda, you’ll find our heritage-preserving yurt hideout that we were inspired to create after a three-month-long sound bowl expedition in Nepal. I felt like I needed to detach from the busy-ness of the city and reconnect with nature. This has become a place of sacred tranquility, where we can be in sync with the animals, sounds, and surroundings. We can also connect with our Hungarian heritage here through meditative sound therapy, traditional Hungarian meals made from fresh ingredients, horse riding, and simple daily tasks, like collecting wood to light the fire, gardening, composting, or feeding the animals. Visitors (who come from all parts of the world) need to turn off their phones when they come here, plus there isn’t any electricity, running water, or a modern bathroom. Well, they tend to find it hard to adapt on the first day - but everyone finds it even harder to leave! We all need to experience this harmony that has a cleansing, healing effect. This haven has become my world while my younger brother, Bence, helps translate all of this visually for everyone else to understand. He is the bridge between me, this sacred place, and everyone else.”
Have you ever felt the need to escape from the noisy and crowded city, to find some peace in nature surrounded by animals? So, why not just simply leave everything behind for a couple of days and visit the yurts in Buda to learn more about the lifestyle during the Hungarian conquest?
You have probably seen a yurt before, but there is a lot more to discover about this portable, round tent covered with skins or felt that has been used as a dwelling by several distinct nomadic groups in the steppes of Central Asia. The structure consists of an angled assembly or latticework of wood or bamboo for walls, a door frame, ribs (poles, rafters), and a wheel (crown, compression ring), possibly even a steam-bent. The entrance is often covered with a carpet door made out of felt. According to the nomadic faith, it was forbidden to step on the threshold not to wake up the gods sleeping below it, as they believed it caused bad luck. In a traditional yurt, an altar is placed right opposite the entrance; the stove in the middle, the right side was the place for men and the family’s property, while the left side belonged to the women and their food supplies.
But what else can you do here apart from sleeping in yurts? How about trying sound therapy? Sound therapy is an ancient Nepalese method of healing, which is done with singing bowls and gongs. The vibration of the singing bowls can release physical and mental tension, dislodge emotions trapped in cellular memory, and restore the flow of energy to the chakras and meridian systems in the body. It is an energetic tool that can bring body, mind, and heart back into balance and harmony.
András and Péter Dani, a cook and a civil engineering student, are ready to recommend the perfect place for a first date: “Walking along these romantic stairs and under these lamps will take you back to the 1920s. We know it’s hard to believe, but it’s even more beautiful when the sun goes down and the lights turn on! The view is incredible, and you can easily walk from Buda Castle to Batthyány Square for the most beautiful view of the Parliament Building and the Danube. Or you can switch it around and visit the Parliament Building first, then choose this hidden route up to the Castle! Either way, it’s something you’ve gotta see and experience. It’s such a unique walk - not to mention that it’s super accessible with public transport!”
Batthyány Square has been making eyes at the Parliament ever since it was finished in 1885, even though there’s the Danube between them. Kossuth Bridge connected the two sides for 10 years, but it was demolished in 1960. No matter what though, you’ll have to admit that the square has quite a view over to Pest.
After the Turkish reign, this area became the center of the Víziváros (“Center of Water”) neighborhood and got its first name Felsővásártér (“Upper marketplace”) after the national markets that were held there. In the 19th century, the square changed its name to Bomba Square (“Bomb Square”) due to the large number of cannonballs piled up in the military guardhouse standing located here. It’s only been called Batthyány Square since 1905, as a homage to the prime minister of the first Hungarian responsible government, Count Lajos Batthyány.
One of the most emblematic buildings of the square is the Market Hall, which opened in 1902 and was known as a major market hall in Budapest during the dual monarchy. By 1936, it became unpopular and unused, so to change this, there were intentions to transform it into an indoor tennis court. This idea never came to life. Luckily, the place didn’t go to waste as it housed a large flower market until the 1970s. Nowadays, it’s more like a shopping mall, so it remained faithful to its original purpose.
When you are on Batthyány Square and hear church bells chiming, this is no accident. If you look around, you’ll notice a significant establishment grab your attention: The Saint Anna Parish Church. The parish was founded in 1390, but the Turks destroyed it in 1540. It was re-established in 1687, but it took almost 200 years to reach its present state and finally became sanctified in 1805. In the 1950s, when the construction of the M2 started, plans were being made to demolish it, but fortunately, the church lived to see another day in the end.
Regina Parti is a marketing specialist who likes to experience hospitality at its best: “Pozsonyi Street is like a mixture of a huge metropolis and a little village. There are retro cobblers, third-wave coffee shops, hipster hairdresser studios, children’s stores, Bauhaus buildings, and so on. You’ll find everything you need in one place. It’s like a tiny New York in the heart of Budapest with a warm, community-first vibe. I started my tour guide studies here and I love that I always bump into friends in the area, whenever we go for breakfast, for a good cup of coffee, or to hang out in the park nearby. I also have to emphasize the Pozsonyi 38 building, as it was one of the stops on the Budapest 100 design event’s Bauhaus walking tour where you can get to know a completely different face of Budapest with its fascinating, unique architecture.”
When we get tired of walking by the Danube on the stretch between Margaret and Árpád bridge, we head over to the neat-looking street running parallel to the river called Pozsonyi Avenue for some rest. This street is just as lively as it was in the past, when actors and writers settled here between the wars. The whole street is filled with modernist houses with a touch of Art Deco, all built in the early 20th century.
As Regina mentioned, there is no doubt that the most popular building of the street is the one located at number 38. It was designed by a pair of brilliant architects Béla Hofstätter and Ferenc Dolmány in 1935. But what makes this building so special? First of all, it appears to be built in Bauhaus style, yet the stairways show typical Art Deco characteristics. Originally it was built to be a luxury residence, which is still visible from its interior design, not to mention an early form of door phone system that was installed in the building, which was quite a rarity back then. Moreover, the stairs are covered with marble and lively blue colored rubber carpet, which makes the whole staircase a photographers’ favorite.
Anna Juhász is a cultural manager who knows where to go for some fresh air: “Imagine feeling freedom and space in the middle of the city with a view of a big lake, where you are surrounded by nature, interesting people and fascinating stories. This is Lake Feneketlen (it means bottomless). Some of the most famous Hungarian writers and poets visited it regularly, and they even mention it in their books – and now it’s all ours to enjoy if we need a quiet, calm place to sit on a bench, go for a run, or simply have a fun day out with the family. This park and the 11th district are home to me. This is where my literary work originated ten years ago. This is my cultural community and this is where different parts of my life meet.”
Lake Feneketlen is one of Budapest’s most mysterious natural formations, so of course, it’s surrounded by numerous urban legends. One of them is that in the 18th century, the whole place was a muddy, abandoned area until a clay factory was built nearby, so the clay was mined out from there. The workers dug so deep into the pit that they found water beneath the ground. According to the myth, everyone had to escape from the hole when the water appeared, however people believe that the bodies of drowned factory workers are still in the bottom of the lake.
It was once thought to be a cursed place, since even more dead bodies have been found in the lake since 1919. The area only started to revive when Cistercian monks came to live on the Buda side as well.
Dr. Gyula Walder designed a church by the side of the lake for the monks in neo-baroque style, which is still a popular landmark in the neighborhood. The name of the lake also comes from this era. According to the story, when the workers spilled sand into the lake it remained on the surface, which made them think that the lake is simply bottomless.
Kama is a musician who has the map to alternative Budapest: “Some of us call Józsefváros the ‘Brooklyn of Budapest’ because it’s like an underground hub. It has a raw but honest and intimate vibe that’s rarely found elsewhere. It’s full of hidden treasures, street art, parks, cafés, restaurants, botanical gardens. Everything is a little bit DIY around here – it’s very artsy, crafty, up and coming, but still hidden enough to have this unique atmosphere. Many artists have chosen it as their home or the home of their galleries, our rehearsal room is here too, plus all my favorite places, like Orczy Garden, II. János Pál Pápa Square, and the local cafés and restaurants I love.”
Józsefváros is definitely one of the most colorful districts in Budapest. It’s so huge that it’s divided into 11 different quartiers. You probably won’t believe that you are still in the same district when you are passing through each part. From the beautiful palaces to shabby houses on the verge of falling apart, you’ll find there’s a diverse scenery to discover. The VIII District has gone through a wave of modernization and gentrification. After Metro line 4 opened in 2014, the District has become more and more attractive to young people because of cheaper rents and now it’s an area full of creativity and local initiatives.
The greenest spot of Józsefváros is undoubtedly Orczy Garden. From 1794, 300 000 trees were planted there thanks to László Orczy, who wanted to establish the country’s largest and nicest English garden. It soon became a popular place for excursions, even the biggest greenhouse of the era was built in there. By 1830, it stopped functioning as a park and was used as a military school and base for a while. The park became home to various past institutes for nearly 200 years until it reached the state it is in now, completely renewed.
Recently, Józsefváros gained international fame thanks to Kate McKinnon, who learned Hungarian while on a shooting session in Budapest. On Saturday Night Live, she rapped a hit song called Yozsefvaros by Hungarian hip-hop band Animal Cannibals.
Léna and Borisz are bag designers and are absolutely no strangers to vintage aesthetics: “Hajós Street is our forever-route. This used to be our all-time favorite destination while we were dating. This is where we usually met and cycled home from. We fell in love with its cobblestones, its small coffee shops, its tranquility, and harmony, how it’s like a small village in the heart of Budapest. Right next to it, there’s the buzzing downtown that everyone knows with all the sights, museums, main meeting points, plus the Danube is fairly close too! This street, this area is super authentic: You feel like you traveled back in time. The Opera and the surrounding old but renovated buildings are breath-taking. We actually dreamed about having our first photoshoot here if we started a brand together - a few years later, it all happened just the way we imagined.”
One of Budapest’s nicest and most peaceful pedestrian zones runs along Hajós Street, which is just the perfect place to enjoy the capital’s rich past and vibrant present at the same time. Due to the closeness of the Danube, a beerhouse stood on the street called “A hajóshoz” (“To the seamen”) which was frequented by sailors whom the street was named after. Later on, as the city became more developed, Hajós Street turned out to be a central point, so wealthy people and artists took over and started to own the place. Due to this change in the street’s population, bars, cafes, and theatres were opened to serve and entertain the people. To crown this, the street is home to the Hungarian State Opera House that has opened its doors in 1884 based on the designs of Miklós Ybl.
Right behind the Opera House, there is a lesser-known but eye-catching building called “Napoleon-court.” It officially became a national monument in 1997. The building got its name after a place called Café Napoleon that was located just on the corner. When we hear Napoleon’s name, the first person that pops up in our minds is Bonaparte, the French Emperor and military leader. However, these buildings have nothing to do with Bonaparte, but Napoleon III, who was quite popular in Hungary in the 1870s. Too bad that the builder of Napoleon-court had no idea about this and wrongly put a statue of Napoleon I over the entrance. At least it wasn’t completely in vain, because it turned out to be Budapest’s only statue of him.
Max is a coffee shop owner, so for him, good vibes are essential: "Walking around Egyetem Square with a cup of coffee is a must. This area has an ‘old town feeling’ like Buda, but the vibes are absolutely Pest’s – that’s why I opened up my specialty coffee bar near this unique spot. I love the buildings and the cobbles on Nyáry Pál Street. It feels like you are in a film noir scene.”
Egyetem Square takes its name from the branch of the prestigious Loránd Eötvös Science University located here. The square is filled with spectacular statues and fountains, not to mention the recently restored baroque University Church built in 1742.
Just a few-minutes’ walk away, we can spot Károlyi Garden, the oldest garden in Budapest, which is known for its beautiful flowers and relaxing atmosphere. It’s a less common fact, that in the 1800s this area wasn’t as fabulous as nowadays, furthermore it was considered a bad neighborhood where all the lowlifes gathered.
If Max’s coffee shop, Forest, had already been here 80 years ago, Katalin Karády, a legendary Hungarian actress, would have been a regular there, since she lived in Nyáry Pál Street between 1942 and 1944.
Mimi and Kata are shop owners who can never get enough of plants and nature: “Normafa is a part of Budapest, yet it feels like a completely different world: Nature surrounds you, and you can literally smell the forest. The views and the air are great, so it’s perfect for long walks with the family or with a date, not to mention trying the famous strudel, the Hungarian chimney cake, or mulled wine here. We both spend quite a lot of time in the city, but we also love nature, plants and our dogs, so we always seek out places that we can explore, hiding away from the continuously buzzing downtown. We rarely have the time to travel to the countryside, so we are always looking for places in the surrounding areas that are easily accessible on foot, by car or by public transport. Normafa is one of our first choices when it comes to dog walking.”
Normafa, a 477-meter tall hill, is a popular destination in the Buda Hills. It’s perfect for taking excursions, skiing in the winter, or just having a nice picnic in a clearing surrounded by trees. Normafa is the name of a tree that used to stand here, and the area has many stories to tell. According to the legend, even King Matthias rested in the shade beneath the tree. Some say that the tree sprouted when the king was born. In 1850, a great performance of Bellini’s opera Norma was held around the tree. From that time on, the area previously called Viharbükk (‘Storm Beech’) was renamed Normafa (‘Norma Tree’). Unfortunately, the tree was struck by lightning several times throughout its lifetime and was destroyed in 1927.
Normafa was also a sports paradise in the first half of the 20th century with ski and sleigh slopes, a ski-jump and a ski-lift and the Normafa Ski-house, which is a restaurant today. Back then, many sports teams had their training here and own ski-houses as well, even Budapest waterworks has based several wells next to the sleigh slopes to maintain the proper ice quality at all times.
Artists were attracted by Normafa too. These hills have inspired many famous Hungarian poets, writers, and painters like Sándor Petőfi, Mór Jókai, Mihály Vörösmarty.
Sarolta Nagy is a jewelry designer who found a jewel of her very own on Jászai Mari Square: "The Grand Boulevard was the first place I lived when I moved to Budapest. I love the route of tram 2. I love how close the Parliament Building is; I love the buzz of the boulevard. But there’s Pozsonyi street that shows an entirely different world full of tiny cafés, crafty shops, quiet, cute spots. I also have to mention Margaret Island, which is a must-see during the summer. It’s such a beautiful area with gorgeous views.”
When you are around Jászai Mari Square, part of you still feels the big city vibe, but the other half is already sensing the closeness of nature while the mild wind coming from the Danube caresses your face.
The Grand Boulevard is only an informal name, and not its official, but it’s one of Budapest’s most important routes, as it passes through all the inner districts. Parts of the boulevard got their name after these districts, which are also the names of Habsburg-family members. Its total length is 4141m and goes from the Pest side of Petőfi Bridge to the Pest side of Margaret Bridge.
Mari Jászai, whom the square is named after, was a celebrated actress of the early 1900s who had a very miserable childhood. She was orphaned early and grew up as a servant away from home. Her talent was discovered at a young age and, when she was 16 years old, she joined a theater group. She soon became a star and played all the great roles in the history of theater.
Many shady things have happened around the boulevard in the past decades. It’s been said that during World War II, the Germans built a whole bunker system underneath the square, and some of its passages are still in great shape. We cannot dismiss the fact that the State Protection Authority base was located nearby, which was the central building of the communist regime.
A somewhat out of place statue is also standing here serves as a number one selfie spot of the square. It’s Peter Falk’s statue dressed up in his most famous role: the detective, Colombo. The reason behind placing the memorial here is Peter Falk’s alleged ancestry to a Hungarian writer and politician, which proved to be an urban legend only until this point.
László Brunszkó is an illustrator, who found his own private exotic getaway on Margaret Island: “When I was a child, my grandma took me to the Japanese Garden often, where I used to run around among the ivy-covered rocks. It was such an exciting place for me. Since I started working as an illustrator, I’ve been all about retro travel posters, you know, the ones promoting Atlantic cruises taking you to Brazil or Tahiti. Those are what Margaret Island’s Japanese Garden reminds me of. It’s a piece of tranquility, a peaceful, romantic jungle.”
Have you ever thought of finding a little piece of Japan in the middle of Margaret Island? Well, a Japanese Garden, to be precise, which is a minimalistic natural setting designed to inspire reflection and meditation. The idea of these unique gardens began when Japanese merchants witnessed the gardens built in China and brought many of these gardening techniques and styles back to Japan.
Japanese Gardens first appeared on a large central island of Japan called Honshu to pleasure Japanese Emperors and nobles. Their aesthetic was influenced by the characteristics of the island’s landscape: volcanic peaks, narrow valleys, mountain streams with waterfalls, lakes, and beaches of small stones. A rich variety of flowers and different species of trees, particularly evergreens, are also typical components of a Japanese garden.
Anna Ott is a cultural event manager who loves showing people where you can find the best culture: “I love the two faces of the area, like how Bartók Béla Boulevard’s function as a cultural hub, with a historical, buzzing artistic community, hasn’t changed but is being kept alive in a renewed environment. I love how the memories and the legacies of the most famous Hungarian poets, writers, and artists are still powerfully alive but in a modern, 2020-like way thanks to the amazing galleries, literary cafes or cultural events - like Eleven Fall, Bartók Béla Boulevard’s festival that revolves around a chosen country’s culture and gastronomy each year. This street and Hadik café, basically this whole area, is my second home. I’ve been working for this cozy, friendly, and exciting cultural hub for seven years now.”
Are you looking for the hippest area of Budapest that is not flooded with tourists? Yet. According to the British 'TimeOut' magazine, Bartók Béla Boulevard has recently been taking its place on the list of the world’s 50 best neighborhoods. Now is the time to stroll the boulevard, pick a cafe or bar, and dive into this exciting cultural landscape. The boulevard got its name in 1945, after Béla Bartók, one of the most prominent composers of the 20th century. In his will, which he wrote five years earlier, he clearly stated that no buildings or public places could be named after him while there are streets named after Hitler or Mussolini in Hungary.
Without a single doubt, the most emblematic building around is Hadik-house, which earned its fame due to the coffee-house located downstairs. It was named after the army base nearby, but the officers weren’t the right crowd for a café, as they barely visited. Then, after a change in ownership, the café began to flourish and well-known Hungarian poets and writers, like Dezső Kosztolányi, Jenő Rejtő, Tibor Déry or Árpád Tóth, began to frequent the café. After 1945, the place began to decay and only regained its full health in the past decade.
Do you know who else lived in Bartók Béla Boulevard? László Almásy, the Hungarian desert explorer who served as the basis for the protagonist in the Oscar-winning movie The English Patient. During World War II, when the Arrow Cross Party occupied the country, he often helped Jews by hiding them in his apartment. One time, soldiers came knocking on his door looking for Jews, so to save them, he put on his German uniform and firmly sent the intruders away. He was so convincing they left immediately.
István Pál “Szalonna” is a folk musician and great admirer of the Hungarian cultural legacy: “The Hungarian Heritage Building is the acropolis of folk art. Here, you can experience living and breathing heritage through all kinds of folk art: dance, music, archives, handicraft. It’s also a spectacular building in a gorgeous surrounding, located right at the foot of the Buda Castle! Its gates are usually open for everyone to come in and join workshops, go to concerts, or see the archives. I remember when I walked in for the first time and told the director that I’m willing to work for free for 1 year and they only need to hire me if they are happy with me during this time. I’ve been working here for 21 years in all kinds of positions: as a violinist in the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, as an art director, as a bandleader, just to mention a few, and now I’m the deputy director of the Heritage Building.”
Are you interested in folklore? Would you like to know more about Hungarian traditions, folk dance, or applied folk art? Then the Hungarian Heritage House is just the right place for you, situated in the historic building of the former "Vigadó" (Entertainment Hall) of Buda. The rich Are Nouveau ornamentation of the interior contrasts against the relative simplicity of the façade. The most impressive parts of the interior are the hall with its columns and wide marble staircase, the ornamented lounge, and the auditorium.
For a long time, the city of Buda had been culturally and economically more developed than Pest. After the end of the 17th century, though, when Buda was re-conquered from the Ottoman Turks after 150 years, the city's progress took a slower pace. On the present site on the "Vigadó," the Turks built a large storeroom that was converted into an armory and later into a military cart-storage building.
By the end of the 19th century, Pest has finally pulled itself together, which resulted in building the Pest "Redout", a cultural center on the Pest bank of the Danube. As a response to this, the citizens of Buda expressed their need for a similar building that could host their cultural events. The request was heard, and by 1900 a whole new building had been constructed in an eclectic style designed by Aladár Árkay and Mór Kallina. Unfortunately, World War II did serious damage to the building, and during restoration, the main goal was to go with a simpler design than the original was. Since 2011, the building has been declared a historical monument.
Pál Rókusfalvy is a communication expert, so he knows where you can have a good conversation: “Gellért Hill is such a unique place for tourists with all of its statues, the Citadel, the view of the Buda Castle, with all the hundreds of years old sights and memorials, with marks from different ages lined up next to each other. Not to mention the cave system under the city that’s definitely one of a kind. This should be the first place that visitors see because from the hill you have a spectacular view of the city from the Parliament building to the Lágymányosi Bridge. You can truly appreciate Budapest with this mind-blowing sight. It’s a wonder-park in the heart of the city. As a child, I loved going up to the hill’s slide park; as a teenager, I took my dates on romantic walks to Lake Feneketlen nearby, now I come here to visit my parents and walk down memory lane by walking up Gellért Hill. After growing up around here, I moved to the countryside, but any time I talk about Budapest, this area is what I still think about. This is my Budapest.”
To find the perfect view over the whole city is not that hard to find. In fact, it’s in quite a central location, just overlooking the Danube. You only need to climb a few stairs to the very top of the 235m-tall Gellért Hill. The hill was named after Saint Gerard, who was thrown to his death from the hill. According to legend, the bishop was assassinated by pagans in 1046 during the Great Pagan Rebellion. He was put in a barrel and rolled down from the top of the hill.
The hill is mainly based on dolomite from the Late Triassic era, although the hills themselves arose later in the Pleistocene along a tectonic break line. This also explains the origin of the hot springs all around the area.
It may sound surprising, but many mysterious and supernatural events have taken place on Gellért Hill in the past. Until the end of the 18th century, it was known as a secret meeting point of witches. The rumor has it that the witches have gathered on the hill a couple of times a year to practice witchcraft and rites by holding crazy parties and danced all night long to worship the devil. Some of the defendants of the infamous Szeged Witch Trials have confessed after a forced interrogation to attending the orgies held there. Even though Maria Theresa banned the witch hunt in 1755, the memories of the Witches’ Sabbaths on Gellért Hill have remained a hot topic long after.
Márton Simon is a poet who thinks even a square could be poetic, too: "I remember looking out of the building across the square as a child, thinking that I would like to live here when I grow up even though it looked nothing like it does now. Then, I lived here and unintentionally saw all the different stages and faces of Deák Ferenc and Erzsébet Squares. I saw how the area changed over the years and how it organically became this wonderfully hectic, iconic place where everyone hangs out, sitting on the lawn or benches. This area is now an essential part of the city for the people of Budapest. Things happen here – that’s why it’s exciting. I think everyone has to experience it for themselves at least once in their lifetime.”
As you pass by the square on a sunny afternoon, you must wonder what all these people are doing. Is there an event taking place to explain why so many of them are gathered around? Well, for these youngsters, nothing has to be going on just for them to show up and have a few drinks on the grass. It serves as an ultimate hangout spot for the locals in the center of Budapest.
Erzsébet Square, named after the Habsburg Empress Elizabeth, has the biggest green area in Budapest's inner city. Its history dates back to the 17th century, when it was a cemetery, then later transformed into a marketplace. The preparations to turn the area into a park began in 1854 when thousands of saplings were planted. Between 1949 and 2001, this was the largest bus terminal in the country, but as more and more stations appeared elsewhere in town, it lost its function. The station building, however, remained, as it had been designated as a protected historical monument.
The main attraction of Erzsébet Square is the Danubius (the Danube in Latin) fountain, designed by Miklós Ybl and Leo Feszner. Its statues symbolize historical Hungary’s four most important rivers: Danube, Tisza, Dráva, and Száva. Originally it was located on Kálvin Square for 60 years after its inauguration in 1883. The basin of the well was created out of a single rock. It was so heavy it needed a special vehicle for transportation, and people were worried that Margaret Bridge would collapse under its weight. Luckily it didn’t, so people can admire the bridge and the fountain as well.
Dominika Suri is a baker, so she surely knows the taste of excellence: “I love how City Park has this historical atmosphere, that it’s full of old memorials, but because it was renovated recently, it’s also modern and is full of new bits and pieces. It’s a mixture of old and new and it’s where nature meets the downtown. I love how chilled it is. We often come here after work with Hummus, and I feel like there’s always something new to explore around the lake and Vajdahunyad Castle. There are more and more programs in this beautiful park; there’s even a brand new, fully equipped, super fun dog park! This place brings people together. It has this community shaping power. I love that my baking studio is right around the corner so that I can visit every single day.”
Although the Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park may look like a historical building enveloped in mysterious tales dating back to medieval times, the castle was only built in 1896 for the Millennial Exhibition, which celebrated the 1,000 years of Hungary since the Hungarian Conquest of the Carpathian Basin in 895. Ignác Alpár designed the castle to feature copies of several historical buildings from the Kingdom of Hungary, especially the Hunyad Castle in Transylvania (now in Romania). The castle displays different architectural styles like Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque, as parts of the buildings it drew inspiration from are from various time periods. It’s not a commonly known fact that originally it was made from cardboard and wood, but it became so popular that it was rebuilt between 1904 and 1908, this time from brick and stone.
The castle is also known as Dracula’s castle. According to the legend, Dracula’s character was most probably inspired by Vlad the Impaler, the 15th-century Transylvanian prince, who was imprisoned by John Hunyadi in Vajdahunyad Castle for years. The writer of Dracula, Bram Stoker pictured his main character living in the castle of Vajdahunyad, or somewhere in the dark and stark hills of Transylvania. What we know today is that before writing his novel, he met Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian writer and traveler who shared dark stories of the Carpathian Mountains with Stoker.
Szabolcs Szabadfi is a baker who has the perfect recipe to get those chillin’ vibes: “The entire City Park is amazing. There’s so much to see and experience in a peaceful environment at the heart of the city. I especially love the Budapest Zoo. It’s well structured, enjoyable, and exciting - everyone has to find time to visit it at least once every season. My favorites are the elephants and the botanical garden. I love sitting down on a bench and just be lost in my thoughts. It’s a perfect place to slow down after a busy sightseeing day for adults and children.”
Let’s admit it, we all have a soft spot for animals. And if you want to see all species gathered in one place, you should make Budapest Zoo your destination. The Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden opened its gates in 1866, making it one of the oldest in the world with almost 150 years of history. In the very beginning, besides Hungarian species, the zoo only housed several monkeys, lemurs, parrots, camels, and kangaroos. It had neither lions nor tigers nor elephants at that time. The first giraffe was donated to the zoo in 1868 by Franz Joseph with Queen Elizabeth's intervention.
Unfortunately, the zoo almost got destroyed in World War II. Out of the 2000 specimens, only 15 survived the Siege of Budapest. Luckily all the historical buildings were reconstructed between 2003-2007, which gave the zoo its unique atmosphere back that it once had.
Fun fact: The zoo once had to rebuild the elephant house due to a strange request from the Turkish Embassy, who complained that the building reminded them of a mosque, which they found very insulting.
Zsolt Szivák is a musician who makes the hills alive with the sound of music: “Róka Hill Quarry is a beautiful, quiet spot in Csillaghegy. Depending on how high up you climb, you can have the most glorious panoramic view. This former limestone mine attracts families, rock climbers, day-trippers every weekend, not only because of the views but also because of the unique caves, bizarre rock formations, and the rare animals, plants, and flowers it’s home to. There are even dedicated places for a bonfire! Who wouldn’t enjoy sizzling up some meat or vegetables in a surrounding like this?! It will always be a special place for me. This is where my friendship with my high school mates started. I’ve even written songs here because of the harmonious atmosphere. Plus, the acoustics are great!”
Lately, quarries are getting popular when it comes to hosting open-air raves. They have quite an atmosphere even at night, but they are way prettier in the daylight. Csillaghegy (Star Hill) was a little town named Kissing in the middle ages, however, it became abandoned by the 16th century. Three centuries later, a recreation area has been established in the same spot and got the name Csillaghegy. That's where the 254-meter tall Róka Hill is located, being part of an old quarry that is also called the Grand Canyon of Budapest. Its history goes back to the Roman era, but the only records of it being a quarry are from the 19th and 20th centuries. It stopped operating in the 1950s, but for a short time after, goats and cattle ruled the fields.
More than ten caves have been discovered around the area in the past years. Some of them are free to explore for anyone who’s up for a bit of adventure or could use a little shade and chill on a warm summer day. The place has some botanical rarities, like the woolly foxglove that can only be found here in Budapest. There is another interesting fact: Crows frequently use the mine to build their nests inside, which causes a few parts of the quarry to be closed occasionally, not to disturb them.
Gábor Miklós Szőke is a sculptor, which explains why he enjoys a place filled with metal: "Csepel was one of the biggest industrial centers in Europe. It’s bigger than most of the districts in Budapest. It’s like a living and breathing history book. Through the look of the buildings, you can pretty much follow the historical events and changes since the 1910s, as they are all snapshots of the past with many interesting details, exciting, unique venues, just like the temple-like halls or air defense bunkers that look like rectangular pyramids, just to mention a few. Even though it used to be like an uninhabited island, now it’s full of small and large businesses, factories, and thousands of different faces. Inspiration is all around; it’s an exciting, super unique environment and experience for both locals and tourists that’s not too far from the city center you must see if you are done with the “classic” sightseeing, and you long for something urban, something different. This area has been such an inspiration for me from day one since I established my studio here."
Csepel is one of the most diverse districts in Budapest. It has industrial areas, urban and suburban parts, housing estates, and water resorts as well, which altogether sounds like a photographer's starter pack. Officially speaking, Csepel belongs to neither Pest nor Buda, as the district resides on an Island. Csepel Island has played an important role in Hungarian History. Arpad, the great ancestor of the Hungarians, used Csepel Island as a center of dominion after the Hungarians tribes came to the country. Even Hungarian kings in the past were all over this piece of land. From the Middle Ages, it was one of the top choices of the Hungarian kings in terms of vacation retreats and also became a wedding present from kings to their future spouses.
The most important and most popular place on the island is a factory. Manfréd Weiss established his factory (later Csepel Works) in 1893. Manfréd Weiss Steel and Metal Works were one of Hungary’s largest machine factories and the second-largest industrial enterprise in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. The factory has even played a part in Hungarian aviation history as there were plans about developing an airport here as the spacious area seemed excellent for this kind of construction. Even the Graf Zeppelin aircraft has landed here in 1931 that was a huge event.
After World War II, the factory was nationalized in 1948. With the arrival of Communism, the Csepel district was re-developed yet again, this time as an industrialized manufacturing area dominated by heavy machinery and truck factories. Csepel Iron and Metal Works became a flagship company of the communist era by producing tubes, machinery, bicycles, motorcycles, vehicles. Forty years ago, more than 30,000 people were working in the factory.
Gergely Szűcs is a communication mentor, which explains why his description is so on point: “Standing at Heroes’ Square gives you the feeling of a ‘bigger picture.’ It’s where different worlds, histories, and nations collide, and you suddenly realize that you are standing on the shoulders of giants. There’s something so spectacular and overwhelming about it. I’ve been living in downtown Budapest for 10 years now and I usually come here from Andrássy Avenue. I take a long walk to clear my head, be inspired, and think. Besides this emotional, sentimental effect it has on people, it’s also incredible aesthetically. So, let your mind be blown here, then take a deep breath and get ready to explore Budapest by heading to Andrássy Avenue, walking all the way to Deák Square, the epicenter of the buzz, while getting to know the culture, the history, and the different faces of the city in between.”
There is always a moment in life when you realize how tiny you are compared to everything that surrounds you. It’s not a bad thing, though. On the contrary, it can be pretty elevating. This is probably how you’d feel when standing in the middle of Heroes’ Square. Two emblematic buildings enclose the site, the Museum of Fine Arts on the left and the Hall of Art on the right. On the other side, the square faces Andrássy Avenue, which seems endless, as it runs its total length of 2,31 km.
The central feature of Heroes' Square is the Millennium Memorial. Its construction began in 1896 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin and the founding of the Hungarian state. The square was inaugurated in 1906. So many statues, but what do they represent? The tall column in the middle is topped by the Archangel Gabriel, while the horse riders at the bottom of the column are the 7 Hungarian tribal leaders who led the people into their present home after years of wandering through Asian steppes.
The Memorial Stone of Heroes lies at the front of the monument, which is a stone mausoleum encircled by an ornamental iron chain. Right behind this tombstone, there is a bronze plate that marks the site of an artesian well, whose drilling was completed in 1878. This well provides water for the Széchenyi Thermal Bath located nearby, along with the Dagály Baths on Népfürdő Street. The well is 971 meters deep and produces 831 liters of hot water per minute at 74 degrees Celsius.
An interesting fact is that the square has an almost identical duplicate in Shanghai. Shanghai Global Paradise is home to dozens of World Wonders, all in one park. The park offers a cheaper alternative for Chinese citizens who can't afford to travel the world. On its grounds, you can find the Great Pyramids, the Acropolis of Athens, the Brandenburg Gate, and of course Budapest’s Heroes’ Square. As it was built without any consultation with the Hungarian government or Budapest’s municipal authorities, it remains a great mystery how they got a hold of the plans needed to build the monument.
András Török is an author who even wrote a book about his favorite place in Budapest: “Liberty Square is a symbol of Hungary’s glory days. I know every inch of this area, since I lived here for 16 years, also I wrote a book about it. There used to be an army barracks here, so big, that 27 elegant blocks were built in its place by 1905. The biggest of them, the gigantic Stock Exchange building, is deserted now, waiting for a new function. These days it is a perfect mix of cosmopolitan grandeur and of small-town leisure activities. Now, it is filled to the brim with memorials and statues, with two American presidents among them. Art nouveau Bedő House is my personal favorite. It has a nice little café with an ever-changing management. Liberty Square is one of the most harmonic city oases anywhere in the world. No kidding!”
Liberty Square has plenty to explore both over and underground. Initially, the square was known for the massive fort that was built in a rectangular shape to surround a huge patio. It was called Újépület (“New building”) but was frequently referred to as the Hungarian Bastille. The construction started in 1786 with plans by Austrian architect Isidore Canevale. It served as a prison for quite a while. After the fall of the 1848-49 revolution and war of independence, hundreds were imprisoned here, for example, Count Lajos Batthyány, the prime minister of the first independent and responsible Hungarian government, was executed besides the walls of the building. The surrounding streets are named after those who were murdered here to commemorate these bloody events. The fort was demolished in 1897, leaving a painful memory behind in Hungarian history.
What could be even more interesting than the architecture of the square? Something that’s invisible from above is lying below the ground. There is a tunnel system running 16 floors below Liberty square which leads to a top-secret nuclear-proof bunker built for Mátyás Rákosi, the Hungarian Communist Party leader from 1945 to 1956. They were planning to create suites with a capacity of 250 people for the party elite. However, the project was shut down, and the place became completely abandoned.
Attila Tóth is a designer, which makes him a trusted source when it comes to judging fine architecture: “Ziggurat Gallery is located in a great part of the city. It’s both a tower and an exhibition building at the same time, located right next to the National Theatre and Müpa Budapest. Not many people know about it, even though it’s the perfect place to read or hang out with amazing views. It has a big city vibe in contrast to the surrounding area, with an atmosphere reminiscent of the past. Stepping out of Müpa after a play or a modern circus performance and strolling along the riverside without any tackiness, in peace and quiet, is a pretty cool feeling.”
It looks like art follows us wherever we go. Even when we leave the city center, we keep bumping into it. Just look around at this building complex you’ll find right next to the Danube! First, take a glance at Müpa Budapest. Did you know that the organ in its Béla Bartók National Concert Hall is ranked among the largest concert hall organs in the world? Then, explore the National Theatre that found its final location after so many years of searching. Amazing, right?
Originally, a ziggurat is a massive structure that was built in ancient Mesopotamia, with a sanctuary on top. According to the concept, Ziggurat Gallery is a stylized version of the Tower of Babel from the Bible, however, it serves different purposes. Its construction was finished the same time as the National Theatre in 2002, no wonder, since it belongs to the theater as its official exhibition space. When we enter, there are seven rooms to cross, which could be a reference to the structure of Bluebeard’s castle.
National Theatre’s garden and statue park contain many wonders besides the gallery. There is a beautifully constructed hedge-maze you can look at from above after climbing up to the top of the Ziggurat. Everything in the park is connected to the world of theater. As you walk around, you can learn more about legendary Hungarian actors and actresses by looking at their statues. The space in front of the main entrance to the theatre is designed to imitate a boat's prow, which looms over an artificial water surface. Rather than the traditional two-armed ramp used in grand theaters, the main entrance can be approached by crossing the ship's bridge. The architects even recreated the silhouette of the old National Theatre on Blaha Lujza square in two dimensions in the body of water surrounding the ship's prow.
Zsófi Vecsei is a hat designer and a devoted SUP enthusiast: "Imagine having this spectacular view of the Parliament Building all to yourself (and a few early birds) while floating on the water before the city wakes up. It’s such an incredible experience of calmness, refreshment, and peace with scenery that you cannot get bored of. Everyone has to have an early morning SUP experience here with this view at least once in their lifetime. Go and rent a board at Clark Ádám Square – you won’t be disappointed.”
Okay, but what is SUP? It’s the short form of Stand Up Paddle, which is a sport everyone can try and enjoy even without any previous experience. You only need a paddle and, most importantly, a big, special kind of surfboard which can be used for many things from hiking on the water to practicing yoga, or it could even come in handy while fishing. Luckily in Hungary, almost all waters are perfectly compatible with SUP, Lake Balaton, Lake Velence or the Danube are equally perfect for a little practice. You can tame the waves, wherever you are. In the past 5 years, there has been a yearly SUP communal paddling event running Roman Beach to Kopaszi-dam that allows participants to see the city and all the famous sights from an extraordinary point of view.
Apart from renting SUPs, Clark Ádám Square has other wonders to discover. One of them is the Buda Castle Funicular, which connects the Danube Banks with the Castle District. It’s part of the UNESCO World Heritage since 1987. The funicular takes you 50 meters up on its short, 95-meter-long ride. Fun fact: Both carriages have a name. One is called Gellért, and the other, Margaret.
Iván Vitáris is a musician who proves that the Buda side rocks as well, quite literally: “Millenáris is a park that’s been converted from a manufacturing plant. It’s interesting because the factory has been integrated into a modern urban environment without being destroyed. Now there are exhibitions, dance theaters, gastro festivals, concerts here. We have played here many times. It’s so cool that in the hustle and bustle, near the busy Castle District, around Széll Kálmán Square or Lövőház Street, which is filled with craft beer bars, specialty coffee shops, Asian food, and so on, there’s this quiet, calm, green park. All the reasons we love the Pest side for is found near this area in Buda.”
On the weekends, the park is always filled with life as children play in the grass, while adults try all delicacies served in gourmet food caravans or join the groups exercising yoga and take a breath of fresh air. These days, the buildings of Millenáris Park mostly host cultural events and serve high-level entertainment, but it wasn't always like this. They have quite a long history that dates back to the 19th century. In 1844, Ábraham Ganz founded his workshop on the premises, which soon became one of the biggest engineering companies in Europe. At the end of the 19th century, the products of the Ganz and Partner Iron Mill and Machine Factory promoted the expansion of alternating-current power transmissions.
Many revolutionary inventions are connected to the Ganz works, which turned out to be quite successful and helped Hungarian engineers to gain respect world-wide. The invention of the roller mill by András Mechwart in 1874 revolutionized the world's milling industry. Budapest's milling industry grow the second largest in the world, behind the American Minneapolis. In 1886, the ZBD engineers (Károly Zipernovsky, Otto Bláthy and Miksa Déri) designed, and the company supplied, electrical equipment for the world's first power station to use AC generators to power a parallel-connected common electrical network. This was the Italian steam-powered Rome-Cerchi power plant.
From the 1990s, a general discourse started on the topic of pollution, and as a consequence, the need for moving the factory someplace else became inevitable. This decision allowed the area to transform into this great park as it is now.