With its wide range of unique attractions, Budapest is now an internationally popular destination for a growing number of globetrotters, and those who arrive to Hungary’s capital often follow an itinerary provided by varied city guidebooks that includes key landmarks and devouring “tourist menus” at eateries in urban areas full of worldly visitors. However, for those who would like to look beyond the areas typically traversed by tour buses, we present 14 cool activities that Hungarian city-dwellers pursue, like getting around the city on bicycles, visiting art-house cinemas, and much more.
Transformed from being a notorious neighborhood to becoming a vibrantly up-and-coming hub of culture, Budapest’s District VIII is now one of locals’ most beloved gathering grounds for its colorful mix of bars, galleries, and eateries. Found near Semmelweis University and a few blocks away from the Hungarian National Museum, Mikszáth Kálmán Square and its neighborhood is bustling with life all year round, featuring such beloved locales as the artsy Lumen Café, Vostro with its inviting interior, or the unpretentious Zappa; during warmer months this is one of the city’s best spots for terrace dining and drinking.
Those who want to skip the city’s highly traversed parklands can instead embark on a mild upward hike on the side of Gellért Hill to take a soothing break at the Philosophers' Garden, a panoramic spot that Budapest’s residents oftentimes visit to unwind. However, this is also a cherished oasis for relaxing activities during spring and summer, when sports aficionados head up there to practice yoga or tai chi. At the park, we are encircled by serene sculptures – including figures of Jesus Christ, Buddha, and Mahatma Gandhi – that bring many of the world’s great thinkers together, thus this fresh-air facility provides us with extra inspiration while we enjoy the scenic views over Budapest's cityscape.
While Budapest earned global fame with its dilapidated edifices that are transformed into surreal watering holes, the Magyars oftentimes skip the more overhyped (or overpriced) hangouts and instead head to some of the city’s more ordinary bars to enjoy glassfuls of refreshing fröccs drinks or sample pints of local artisanal beer. Some of the more cherished hotspots include the laid-back Ellátó Kert on Kazinczy Street, the countryside-style Margitutcakilenc in District II, or the summertime hotspot Kertem in City Park, along with plenty of dive bars tucked all over town.
Budapest boasts several established and up-and-coming fashion designers, who dream up unique styles for urban dwellers and create chic pieces that are merchandised at Magyar retail outlets, and many of these clothing havens serve as ultimate shopping destinations for trendy Hungarians. Eva’s Room (Budapest 1054, Aulich street 8, 2nd floor, door 2, bell 38), is a homey hangout popular with locals for its coherent clothing line and attractive accessories, but Hungarians also like browsing collections at Lucky Shepherd (Budapest 1027, Fő Street 63-65), where Magyar-made garments are sold alongside lovely leather bags and accessories.
Budapest’s burgeoning breakfast scene inspires a growing number of Hungarians to take their time over the mouthwatering morning boosters served at the city’s specialized eateries, and while several restaurants offer various breakfast feasts at major touristic hotspots, those who opt for lesser-known hangouts will experience the real deal in terms of local hospitality. Many of these eateries are run by young urban professionals who left their 9-to-5 jobs to instead offer an edible experience for people in the city. Here are some tastefully tempting offers: the spinach omelet at Törökméz, the Croque Mademoiselle at Café Flore Matin et Soir, the bundás bagel at KicsiZso, or the poached egg at Odú.
Several long-established running tracks have been renovated in recent years, while new ones are being installed citywide, and many of those who want to stay fit in Hungary’s capital traverse one of Budapest’s soft-surface jogging paths that are easy on the joints. Encircling Margaret Island, a rubberized running facility provides panoramic views for sports aficionados, and this centrally located oasis is considered one of Budapest’s most popular places for jogging; on the Buda side, we can exercise amid more laid-back scenes at Feneketlen Lake, while those who are looking for a hardcore calf-strengthening workout can jog up to the Normafa parkland, where a top-quality rubberized track stretches from Jánoshegyi Road all the way up to the Erzsébet Lookout Tower.
Those who would like to get away from the bustling urban lifestyle for awhile don’t need to go too far out of town to find pristine spots for hiking. The sylvan hills of Buda provide plenty of opportunities for leisurely day trips with well-established hiking trails crisscrossing amid undulating settings. The National Blue Trail that crosses the entire country has a section that runs in the Buda Hills along the periphery of Districts II and III. This part of the Blue Trail is not too challenging, so it can be easily conquered by first-time hikers.
Kick off your hike at the Children’s Railway in Hűvösvölgy (get there by tram 61 from Széll Kálmán Square) and follow the blue trail markers heading up to Hármashatár Hill and Virágos-nyereg, ending your tour at the Rozália Brickyard; from there bus 218 takes exhausted hikers back to Óbuda’s Szentlélek Square, where the HÉV train goes back downtown.
Many movie fans in Budapest prefer visiting specialized art-house cinemas instead of grand multiplex movie halls, and Hungary’s capital has several local film theaters that screen a wide range of motion pictures, from the freshest blockbusters to art movies to evergreen classics. Lovingly preserved since the 1890s, Uránia is one of the city’s most fascinating film palaces, which also serves as a stylish location for many major Hungarian film festivals. Not far away, the Puskin – constructed in 1926 with oversized marble columns and gilded decorations – is the place for watching fresh films as well as black-and-white classics. Those who would like to let loose after the movies can do all of the above at Toldi Cinema, complete with a club popular among locals. Best of all, these specialized movie theaters regularly screen English language movies with Hungarian subtitles.
When the first rays of spring sunshine start warming the city, locals organize impromptu picnics across Budapest’s prominent parklands. After filling a basket with homemade sandwiches and refreshing lemonades or a bottle of wine, people make their way to the city’s nature retreats to lay their blankets on the grass and enjoy sedate moments away from the urban buzz. Budapest has several parklands suitable for alfresco lounging, including the tree-shaded Margaret Island, City Park right behind Heroes’ Square, and the expansive Kopaszi Dam at the Buda side of Rákóczi Bridge.
Even though guerilla public-art projects are spread across multiple metropolises worldwide, many of these intriguing initiatives pop up in Hungary’s capital, where communities of creative minds inspire urban dwellers to come up with artful actions and to bring a personal touch into city life. As a colorful example of such a community-decorating assignment, several of the city’s trees were covered in knitted patterns in recent years to enhance urban settings with unique designs, while just recently, artsy Magyar blogger Marina Bellai embarked on a city trip a few days before Valentine’s Day to hide 500 little crocheted hearts around Budapest, sweetly surprising all fortunate finders with lovely messages.
During springtime and the mild summer months, locals conquer many of the city’s attractions that are suitable for bathing in sunshine, like the wide staircase that leads up to the entrance of the Hungarian National Museum, which is a popular place for students in Budapest who enjoy retreating to this monumental landmark to study after class, or just to unwind amid sun-splashed scenes. Traversing the Danube Promenade, we often spot couples sharing a bottle of wine while relaxing at the riverbank, and the panoramic parkland in Vigadó Square entices passersby for spontaneous tanning.
Almost every week there’s a festival (or two) happening in Hungary’s capital, and whether it’s a gluttonous gathering, a cultural extravaganza, or a fascinating seasonal fair, several stage shows entertain visitors with high-sounding music performed by prominent and up-and-coming bands. The Downtown Festival – happening at varied locations in Budapest’s District V – is a multiple-day extravaganza during the early summer months that presents free concerts of various genres, while the fascinating Budapest Spring Fair and the Christmas Market at Vörösmarty Square are often complete with musical stage performances. These festivals are also good platforms for learning about Magyar bands, as most of the entertaining ensembles at these events come from Hungary.
An ever-increasing number of bikers are on Budapest’s roads in recent years – we see urban bikers navigating Pest’s major thoroughfares and pushing uphill along the roads of Buda, using rolling sensations of various types, from sturdy mountain bikes to refurbished vintage city cycles to old-school one-gear camping bikes. While Budapest’s roads have a lot to develop to provide proper conditions for the burgeoning biking communities, there are already several events organized citywide to promote this fresh lifestyle, including I bike Budapest, a mass cycling event that takes place every spring in Hungary’s capital to inspire the city to close major roads to cars and instead accommodate thousands of bikers.
Considered as one of Budapest’s major contemporary-exhibition sites, the Ludwig Museum features frequently changing temporary displays of modern-day artists from Hungary and around the world throughout the year. From progressive paintings by local visionaries to surreal displays by international household-name artists, the museum thrills visitors with several exciting showcases, while the adjacent Palace of Arts cultural center offers diverse stage performances with lots of English-friendly extravaganzas.