Picnics on a Danube bridge, wild music festivals and a white-sand beach make Budapest the perfect destination for summer. With the city experiencing an all-time high in visitor numbers, there are still many lesser-known sites where you can hang out with the local crowd, even during peak tourist season. These include the riverside Valyo Kikötő chill zone, the hidden courtyards of ruin bars and the outdoor pools at the century-old Gellért Baths. Dive in to find out what’s hot around town.
Chill at Budapest’s newest riverside hangout
Budapest has the enviable asset of the Danube running through it and lately many attempts have been aimed towards better integrating it into the lives of residents. One recent project is the newly inaugurated Valyo Kikötő, set up across a vast riverside space by red Rákóczi Bridge, near the Palace of Arts. This cool community hangout turns this formerly neglected dock into an inner-city festival site for the warmer months. Art events, fairs, outdoor yoga, concerts and film screenings all feature at this off-beat venue, easily accessible by public transport. Valyo is the non-profit organisation behind the project, its major activities centred on the river as members try to improve access to the Danube embankment.
Visit thought-provoking international exhibitions
If you’ve always wanted to immerse in the vivid realm of a peculiar Mexican painter or see a dozen transformations of an Oscar-winning actress, Budapest has it all this summer. Through August 12th, the National Gallery presents a multi-channel video installation by the German Julian Rosefeldt, who filmed Cate Blanchett reciting declarations while playing varied characters for the artist’s Manifesto project. Then on July 7th, this Castle District landmark displays colourful works by Frida Kahlo, revealing milestones of her magical realist oeuvre. Beginning on July 3rd, Ludwig Museum on the Pest riverfront exhibits a collection of one-minute sculptures by Erwin Wurm, who masterfully turns everyday objects into compelling installations.
Soak up sunshine at Budapest’s white-sand beach
Soft white sand, comfy loungers, cocktails, parties, palm trees and plenty of aquatic attractions. This is Lupa Beach, a recently developed waterside destination for urban sunseekers. Located an hour from the city centre, just beyond Buda’s northern border, this former pit lake once out of bounds to swimmers now caters to bathers on a budget and exclusive visitors, too. At any one time, 10,000 people can enjoy a real seaside experience along a shore stretching over two kilometres, with spots for swimming, wakeboard, diving, Thai massage and SUP yoga. Meanwhile, two dozen restaurants sell barbecued delights, burgers and wine. An extensive spit of land, aka Long Island, has themed bars along the waterfront.
Attend mini concerts taking place around landmarks
Music by Bach, Mozart and Franz Liszt can be heard around public places at major city landmarks until August 12th for Zenélő Budapest, a series of summer cultural events. Taking place at iconic locations such as the Fishermen’s Bastion, outside St. Stephen’s Basilica and at the Great Market Hall, each performance runs for about 20 minutes. Among hundreds of short concerts, audiences can also listen to Gypsy music, chanson and jazz. In addition, riverfront Várkert Bazaar at the foot of Buda Castle, will be hosting full-length concerts every Sunday morning. Best of all, no admission fee is required. For more information about the schedule, visit the event’s website.
Lounge at the city’s most unique picnic spot
It’s happening again. Dates are now set for Budapest’s special picnics on Liberty Bridge. On four consecutive weekends from July 14th, the stately span will become a car-free public hangout. Having been set up in 2016 by a creative urban crowd while the bridge was closed to traffic due to construction works, this one-of-a-kind attraction has become one of the most highly anticipated events for the summer months. Managed by Valyo, the same group behind the Kikötő project (see above), events this year allow local bands, flamenco dancers and yoga instructors to perform directly above the Danube along this historic crossing while it’s closed to motorised vehicles. It’s time to flood the bridge again with fun!
Sample Hungarian treats made with a twist
There is so much more to Hungarian cuisine than good old goulash, and many staple foods are now being served with dabs of variation. For fine example, a plain egg-coated bread fried in oil, the classic morning dish bundás kenyér, now comes filled with ham and cheese at grand café Börze. But the city’s ever-bustling party hub also offers fancy local fares: Lángosh by Gozsdu Udvar sells hearty Hungarian deep-fried dough topped with chilli beans or filled with carbonara sauce. Then there’s upscale eateries like Klassz that fuses local gastronomy with Asian elements. Egg soup (tojásleves) here has buttery breadcrumbs, paprika oil and sous-vide eggs, while pork and sauerkraut stew (székelykáposzta) is made with tenderloin and pearl barley.
Explore downtown murals during walking tours
For many years, talented artists have been visiting Budapest every summer to breathe new life into drab façades as part of the Színes Város (Colourful City) Festival. The result is sassy murals all around the city centre, often portraying surreal visions inspired by the most diverse topics from fairy tales to gastronomy and urban lifestyle. If you want to learn more about the Budapest evolution of firewall painting, the topics covered and the artists behind the project, join the interactive Street Art Tour, run by Színes Város. Beginning in Dob utca, the walk covers the focal zones of District VII, ending at Dobrumba, where each participant is served a lemonade or a spritzer.
Take a plunge at the alfresco wave-pool of 100-year-old Gellért Baths
Budapest is often referred to as the capital of thermal baths as the city sits on a patchwork of hot springs, providing plenty of activities facilitated by healing waters. Opened to the public in 1918, the Art Nouveau Gellért Baths remain immensely popular with soakers, who plunge amid its ornate interior embellished with stained-glass windows and picturesque Zsolnay tiles. In summer, its outdoor area springs to life, with a sizeable wave pool providing stirring entertainment for children and grown-ups since 1927. This alfresco plunge zone is complete with adventure pools and hot tubs, surrounded by sun beds.
Celebrate freedom at music festivals
Plan your rave-cation in Budapest, a city filled with musical mayhem during the sun-splashed season. The merrymaking starts on June 13th with the intimate Kolorádó Festival, bringing indie, R&B, electronica and meditative gatherings to a vast forest on the outskirts of Budapest. The highlight of summer in Hungary remains Sziget, a week-long jamboree of non-stop entertainment taking place this year between August 8th and 15th. Fans here can look forward to acts such as Arctic Monkeys, Lana Del Rey and Kendrick Lamar. Outside Budapest, VOLT Festival (June 26th-30th) in the hills above Sopron features the likes of Depeche Mode and Iron Maiden. Then, for fans of electronica, the southern shore of Lake Balaton is the place to be in early July for Balaton Sound (July 4th-8th).
Eat authentic Asian food at Budapest's Chinatown
Budapest’s very own Chinatown is found around Monori Center, a District X trading zone with abundant Asian shops and warehouses for wholesale activity. While here, you won’t find highlights of Oriental architectural styles, nor dangling Chinese lampions, but street-food stalls piled with authentic Asian cuisine are in abundance. Spicy pork trotters, ginger-infused tripe, hot crayfish, steamed sticky rice and many more dishes are on the menu, cooked up by vendors representing regional Chinese gastronomy. These are all available for this summer’s night-time market, taking place every day through June 22nd from 5pm till midnight. If you’ve always wanted to taste Chinese chicken feet, now is your chance.
Hang out in hidden courtyards of ruin bars
Budapest’s famously dilapidated drinking destinations attract revellers all year round. These hangouts also feature cool semi-secret courtyards for summer carousing with plenty of open-air seating options ranging from simple wooden benches to cosy hammocks. First, there’s comfortably cosmopolitan Anker’t with a huge courtyard that throbs with parties and live screenings of sports events during the warmer months. Gritty urban vibes fill Füge Udvar, a low-key and inexpensive locale with a graffiti-adorned open area tightly packed with picnic tables. But if you don't mind venturing out of the party vortex, Élesztő beyond the Grand Boulevard provides a shaded patio, primarily patronised for its cool selection of craft beer.
Indulge in one-of-a-kind sweet treats
A trio of the city’s sweetest destinations have recently dropped some new calorie bombs on Budapest. To begin with, Snickers bars are fried in waffle dough and then sprinkled with marshmallows in a pocket-sized sweet shop of the party haven of District VII. But the collection of new confections in town doesn’t end here. Hong-Kong style eggettes are the real deal at Ráday utca’s Waffle & Love, where the crisp batter cakes are filled, stuffed and drenched with scores of sugary toppings. Meanwhile, downtown doughnut destination Mr. Funk wraps ice cream into soft candy floss and crowns this hedonists’ fantasy with popcorn, Oreo or even small fried cakes on request.
Party aboard a repurposed Ukrainian cargo boat
Rock Budapest’s most boisterous boat, where music and cocktails brighten days and nights all summer long. Formerly serving as a Ukrainian stone-carrying barge, the A38 Ship is now a popular city concert venue and entertainment centre, permanently anchored near Petőfi Bridge on the Buda side. Every afternoon, DJs and cocktails take central stage on the bow terrace, where admission is free. There are even twofer deals on cocktails until 7pm. Expect good vibes, a cool crowd and a beautiful Danube panorama as acclaimed local and international music masters get you moving to tech house tunes, hip-hop and funk.