Budapest still preserves many architectural relics from its turn-of-the-century heyday. The bohemian Art Nouveau, the opulence of the Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque, and the elegance of Classicism all make a very good reason for it being one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe. Today, these places are home to luxurious cafés and bohemian restaurants, where you can enjoy modern comfort (and flavoursome dishes), while being transported back to the grandeur of the last century. We have rounded up 5 iconic spots you can not miss while in the Hungarian capital.


The Glamorous: New York Café

Being voted the most beautiful coffee house in the world, New York Café is nothing short of glamorous, famous and historic - and also has many legendary stories. The former headquarters of the New York Life Insurance Company was designed by Alajos Hauszmann, who also designed the Buda Castle, so it's no wonder that its radiant grandeur almost illuminates the boulevard. The protagonist of so many poems, short stories, and chansons, the palace still embodies all the dreams, fantasies, and nostalgia we cherish about the Belle Époque and the vibrant intellectual life between the two world wars. If you want to spend a few hours immersed in the atmosphere of a glittering, gold and marble-clad, wood and crystal-encrusted majesty, then make sure you come to the New York Café!

Behind the scenes: The New York Palace has appeared in many films, including Spy Game starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, Bel Ami with Robert Pattinson as the womanizer, Atomic Blonde with Charlize Theron as a secret agent, and even Jennifer Lawrence walking down the Café's famous marble staircase in Red Sparrow.


The Elegant: Royal Guard Restaurant and Café

Entering the rebuilt Royal Guard building (Főőrség Palace) in Buda Castle, you can almost touch history. Damaged in World War II and then demolished in the 1970s, the Hungarian Royal Guard and Riding Hall has been rebuilt according to the original plans, photographs, and art historical-architectural features. On the ground floor of the former barracks, an elegant café-restaurant with a turn-of-the-century atmosphere has been created. On the walls and ceiling, archival photos of the Guard's daily life recall the building's past: handsome lads with curly moustaches and thin waists are watching us as we enjoy our coffee. 

Behind the scenes: Once the Royal Guard building was also an attraction, with huge crowds waiting on Sundays to see the striking guards in their fine dresses at the afternoon changing of the guard. If you want to soak up the atmosphere, it's worth trying the Grenadiermarsch, a taste of the classic dishes once served to Hungarian soldiers.


The Classic: Centrál Café

The editors of Nyugat (a Hungarian literary journal in the first half of the 20th century) used to meet up here, so if you're looking for an authentic literary café, Centrál is the place to be. Since its reopening in April, it has managed to stay faithful to tradition while becoming a modern, cosy, and comfortable community place. The 135-year-old café has been completely revamped after two years of closure, and now you don't even need a time machine to recreate the atmosphere of a turn-of-the-century grand café. The renewed and brightened interior pays a subtle homage to literature and Parisian chic. The menu offers a modern French twist on tradition, with great dishes from breakfast to dinner.

Behind the scenes: The Centrál Café is one of our oldest literary cafés in Budapest, which opened its doors in 1887 on the lower floor of a classic bourgeois apartment building on the corner of Károlyi, Irányi, and Cukor Streets. Besides the traditional menu, you can also choose from a literary selection, offering classic and contemporary poetry and even song lyrics. Pick one and it will be recited by a literary waiter while you sip a well-deserved coffee.


The Modern: Városliget Café

If you're in the City Park, you're bound to stop for a moment to admire the magnificent building next to the summer lake/winter ice rink, which has been a gem of the capital's largest park since 1885. The magnificent turn-of-the-century building houses a café, restaurant, and event space, where we're greeted by the cosy atmosphere and flavours of the Belle Époque. The interior, designed with modern comforts, will keep us entertained for hours. Whether it's a business lunch, a romantic dinner, a celebration, or even a coffee break after walking the dog, you will love to relax with a panoramic view of the City Park.

Behind the scenes: Make sure to try the Tender beef sandwich, a "noble dish" from the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was initially made popular by Emperor Franz Joseph I, as it was his favourite dish. Soon it spread throughout the empire to aristocratic and bourgeois kitchens and became a popular dish for Hungarians. A true gastronomic classic!


The Bohemian: Gundel Restaurant

The name Gundel might sound familiar to you: maybe you have already tried the famous Gundel pancake (filled with ground walnuts, raisins, and rum, served in dark chocolate sauce), which is still a No. 1 favourite for many Hungarians and tourists alike. But perhaps only a few people know that the Somló-style sponge cake was also created under the auspices of Károly Gundel, and it was also the Gundel dynasty that introduced the Wiener Schnitzel and completely reformed the Hungarian cuisine. Gundel Restaurant used to be not only for fancy feasts. The terrace was a place where pretzels crunched, beer flowed and the hospitality of Károly Gundel was enjoyed by all. It was in this spirit that the revamped Gundel opened its doors in December 2021. So now classic Gundel dishes and a truly bohemian atmosphere await us in the nostalgic embrace of the Belle Époque. 

Behind the scenes: Károly Gundel often named a dish after one of his regulars. This is how, for example, the Újházi chicken soup was born, named after actor Ede Újházi, the Jókai bean soup after the famous writer, Mór Jókai. Eggs were made Munkácsy-style, steaks came Feszty-style. The Gundel Restaurant has always been popular with celebrities, so much so that Queen Elizabeth, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Bill Clinton, Pavarotti, Angelina Jolie, and Schwarzenegger have all visited the restaurant.  

The article was written in collaboration with Eventrend Group, who are responsible for the operation of the New York Café, the Royal Guard Restaurant and Café, the Centrál Café, the Városliget Café, and the Gundel Restaurant, contributing to protecting, renovating, and preserving the historic buildings of turn-of-the-century Budapest.