With the thermometer climbing over 30, a hot city can be a challenge. Here we suggest the ten best ways to stay chilled in the Hungarian capital.
Baths and lidos
What better solution can there be other than bathing? Budapest is a city of spas, with plenty of pools, too. On Margaret Island, the legendary Alfréd Hajós pool complex and on the mainland opposite, the Császár-Komjádi swimming centre have outdoor pools. The one at the revered Dagály has reopened, as has the Csillaghegy Árpád Thermal Bath up in Óbuda. Less crowded will be the Paskál and Pünkösdfürdő Baths, while Római Baths are expansive enough for you to swim and picnic in the same place. The classic thermal spas have swimming pools, so you can take the plunge at the Lukács and the Gellért.
Taps and fountains
The quality of tap water is excellent in Hungary, but if you prefer bottled, everything is going plastic-free and refillable – so communal fountains are always a good idea from an environmental and sustainable point of view. This summer, bags of fresh water are also being handed out at key points in town such as Deák tér.
Secret yet accessible courtyards
The cool and quiet of Budapest’s inner courtyards are a delight for the eyes and the body. Outsiders can visit wood-panelled Unger House (Múzeum körút 7.), between busy Museum körút and Magyar utca, the 19th-century Paloma Palace (Kossuth Lajos utca 14-16) and the ivy-clad courtyard of the Építész Pince in the Palace Quarter at Ötpacsirta utca 2. The atrium-equipped inner courtyard of the former Fészek Művészklub (where Cuban-style La Bodeguita del Medio Bar now operates at 57 Dob utca) or the beautiful inner courtyards of Szent István körút can be visited during shop opening hours, particularly Nos.1, 9 and 15.
Depths below Buda Castle
Comparable to Swiss cheese, Castle Hill features three layers of cellars below street level that merge with a natural cave at the bottom. Recently, the Danube-Ipoly National Park has led guided walks to the cellar and cave system, where twelve-degree temperatures mingle with high humidity, but you can also find a similar atmosphere in the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum, as well as in the Mikve Gallery that hides a ritual Jewish bath in the depths of the Castle Hill.
Top-quality ice cream
In the heat, there is literally nothing better than top-quality ice cream with no artificial flavours, enhancers, or colorants. Fortunately, Budapest has dozens of such outlets – Erdős és Fiai, Gelarto Rosa, Nándori, Fragola – while added to our selection of favourites, three artisanal newbies have popped up in recent months.
Parks and gardens
One of the many treasures of Budapest are its parks. The recently reopened space in the heart of the party district, between Dob and Wesselényi utca features large trees providing shade, a fountain and a public shower feature – well worth exploring. Elsewhere, the classic recreation zones of City Park and Margaret Island fill with families and couples all summer long. For picnic spots in the city centre, try Károlyi-kert, Szabadság tér and Szent István Park.
While being active in the heat can get very sticky indeed, nearby water always helps. From the Szilas stream in District XVI, a five-kilometre bicycle path leads to Lake Naplás, while you can cycle from the leisure zone of Kopaszi Gat in south Buda all the way up the Danube to the alfresco bars and eateries of the Római Part in Óbuda. While you’re up there, it’s worth visiting Óbuda Island before the construction of the Sziget Festival begins.
While the caves below Buda Castle remain undeveloped for spelunkers, there are two places in Budapest for that classic caving experience. Szemlő-hegy on the hillside above Kolosy tér was renovated in 2011 and made partially accessible. You can only visit as part of an hourly tour and continue your exploration with the combined ticket that includes the more visitor-friendly Pál-Völgyi Cave nearby. Both are a pleasant 12 degrees with 100% humidity.
In summer, while many flock to the great outdoors, some seek the air-conditioned solace of the cinema. Many here in Budapest show films with English subtitles or even in original language. Your best bets are Puskin in the city centre, Művész on the Grand Boulevard, as well as blockbusters at the multiplexes in the Cinema City chain. And the venerable Bem even screens black-and-white classics most weeks. Look out for our regular Weekend Guides for a look at what’s showing.
In times of need, you can always turn to the Church. Budapest has many impressive ones – St Anne’s by Batthyány tér, Jézus Szíve Jesuit Church by Városmajor – where you can find cool silence. Opening hours vary and sometimes, say for postcard star Matthias Church in the Castle District, there’s an admission fee charged. One of the the most central is the Inner City Parish Church, overlooking the Danube from the entrance to Elizabeth Bridge.