One of the biggest success stories of the last decade in Budapest has been the flourishing of Bartók Béla út, the once neglected boulevard that runs in a gentle incline up from the Hotel Gellért. One of the busiest streets in town, this main Buda artery shows how a convivial district can develop, with cafés and restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Any grey winter’s day is best perked up by a stroll down Bartók, where architecture, fine arts, literature and gastronomy go hand in hand. Step this way!
Many locals are already familiar with the best places along Bartók Béla út, now one of the busiest parts of Budapest. Here we put together our own favourites, adding a few secret tips, to create this relaxing but fascinating city walk.
Art Nouveau & the Artists’ Workshop
Starting out from Fővám tér on the Pest side, you head over Liberty Bridge to find the estuary of Bartók Béla út leading out towards the Danube. To the left is MITZI, where discerning hedonists can start off with a hearty breakfast. Tuck into an omelette with sun-dried tomatoes, accompanied by a rum espresso, and you’re fuelled for your walk.
As well as admiring the architecture – between the wars, this was Budapest’s finest hotel – you can also take a look at the fountain outside, as running around the base are lines from a poem by Sándor Weöres, Ének a határtalanról (‘Song of the Infinite’), whose words may stay with you as you set off.
Here, you can even take a slight detour up steep Kelenhegyi út, leading from the other side of the hotel past the Gellért’s famous baths and its many sculptures.
A little way up at Kelenhegyi út 12-14 stands the mysterious Artists' Studio, a house in late Art-Nouveau style, where famous Hungarians Béla Czóbel and József Rippl-Rónai created some of their works. Continuing onto Ménesi út, more beautiful villas await – but let’s quickly return to Bartók Béla.
Bartók treasure hunt
The first cultural treasure you find as you stroll up Bartók Béla, just to the left on Csíky utca, showcases the work of Hungarian designers in the form of sketchbooks and stationery. More creative workshop than paper-supply store, Fiók Shop is a haven for graphic artists and designers, lined with booklets, pens, pencils and paints, domestic and international. In addition, you also find products from domestic brands such as Malinovka, YKRA and Kivibag.
From here, you’re also round the corner from Budafoki út, where you can find environmentally conscious goods at package-free Ligeti Bolt, even things you can put together for dinner this evening.
There’s more cool domestic design to be found nearby at Repertory, clothes by DAIGE and jewellery by Mama Kin. Also close, Szia + stocks badges, stickers, sunglasses, socks, hats and other unique knick-knacks.
Back on Bartók Béla, diagonally opposite the corner of Csíky utca, Pagony is Hungary’s largest bookstore for children, great for presents as it also stocks CDs, bath toys, puzzles, even slides.
Lunch might be best enjoyed at Hadik, where you can experience the atmosphere of Budapest’s old literary cafés. It is here that famed Hungarian wordsmiths Frigyes Karinthy, Dezső Kosztolányi and Tibor Déry once convened. Goulash, venison ragout and goose liver await, along with, for Hungarian speakers, literary events.
Moving from literature to art, galleries abound on Bartók, so much so
that you can even organise your own art crawl. Standing for Kortárs Alkotók Stúdiója
(‘Contempary Artists’ Studio’), KAS embraces
Budapest’s latest trends in the visual arts.
The Godot Gallery represents renowned contemporary artists such as Imre Bukta, drMáriás and László feLugossy, while the Zsófi Faur Gallery is constantly working to promote and integrate Hungarian contemporary art into the international art scene.
Also on Bartók, you can also find the Három Hét Galéria (‘Three Weeks Gallery’) follows geometric and concrete trends, as does the B32 Galéria és Kultúrtér, where music and theatre shows are held along with exciting exhibitions.
In terms of the captured image, Artphoto Gallery showcases contemporary photography and Dokubrom displays archive shots edited by the expert team at Fortepan. A photo documentary of Hungarian life through the 20th century collated from public donations, Fortepan offers its works online, in a new English-language blog and here in physical form, the pictures frequently refreshed. Themed books are also available.
On Bartók, art and gastronomy go hand in hand, so the popular Kelet Café & Gallery is lined with bookshelves, hosts exhibitions and offers Indonesian dishes. The Arnold Gross Gallery Café also hides many wonders, including works by the namesake post-war graphic artist, which can be browsed over fine tea or delicious coffee. Custom prints, postcards and art albums are also for sale.
Magic at the Bottomless Lake
As you head towards the green getaway of the Bottomless Lake, Feneketlen-tó, one last surprise awaits. The Figaró Magic Shop has been run by the same Szabó family since 1969. Despite its tiny size, the store is full of wonders, tricks and stunts where even absolute beginners can find supplies for themselves. Ask nicely, and an assistant might put on a little card show for you.
Surrounded by greenery, tennis courts, a running track and an outdoor gym, the Bottomless Lake invites relaxation. Look out, too, for Mackó (‘Teddy Bear’), a statue created by famed sculptor László Molnár, in place by the playground since 1961. According to urban legend, the bear’s paws are never empty as children do not visit their friendly companion without offering them a little sweet or toy.