15 things to do in Budapest during the FINA World Championships
Photo : Tamás Kőrösi/We Love Budapest
While the world’s biggest aquatic-sports attraction is under way in the Hungarian capital, the city’s competition sites fill with fans cheering for the planet’s best swimmers through the end of July, when the first phase of the FINA World Championships ends. However, urban life is buzzing beyond the pools as well, and anyone who is in Budapest during the water-sports tournament can submerge into various activities citywide, including sipping cocktails at rooftop bars, listening to a musical fountain, enjoying live sports screenings, visiting exciting exhibitions, and much more.
For the FINA World Championships, two of Budapest’s key sights are hosting temporary pools for the aquatic contests, and this altered cityscape provides unique opportunities for snapping exclusive photos of historic landmarks as they are surrounded by these grand contest sites. Standing at Buda’s Battyhány Square, we can soak in the picturesque panorama over the Parliament all year round, while a temporary pool will be set up at this riverfront plaza just in time to host FINA’s high diving contests, adding a twist to any photos that are taken from here. On the Pest side of town, a pair of newly built pools are installed for synchronized swimmers, and anyone can take artistic shots of the parkland’s ordinary scenes with the fairy-tale Vajdahunyad Castle in the background, now enhanced with these modern competition facilities.
In downtown Budapest, several alfresco hotspots invite urban dwellers for lounging under colorful awnings or inside tree-shaded courtyards, including Akvárium Klub, one of the city’s most popular centrally located hangouts for imbibing sparkling fröccs concoctions made with fine Hungarian wines. Anyone who wants to soak in riverfront views while eating and drinking can grab a breezy spot at one of the outdoor bars of Bálna Budapest, the city’s whale-shaped shopping mall, but if peace of mind is what you need, retreat to Csendes, a picnic-like venue right next to District V’s Károlyi Garden. Or would you rather frolic near FINA’s City Park location? Kertemserves tasty beers on tap late into the night,while Kőleves Kert’s equally colorful scenes entice a happy mix of foreign and local guests back into downtown. Finally, anyone who wants to immerse into spectacular panorama over Buda’s cityscape can relax in one of the deck chairs at PONTOON near the iconic Chain Bridge.
During the tournament, a pair of public viewing places await supporters at the FINA Aquatics Fan Zones, where anyone can follow the competitions as they happen. Budapest’s sprawling Margaret Island parkland and the open-air grounds around the Danube Arena are both turned into temporary fan zones (also called FINA Market Streets), where live broadcasts, various concert shows, food trucks, and playful competitions provide pleasant attractions for guests for no entry fee. Meanwhile, the centrally located Terasz Budapest becomes an unofficial cheer zone during the tournament, where fans can enjoy live championship screenings, alongside several other open-air activities, including using a photo wall or enjoying fine bites served by the restaurant.
One of the key locations of the FINA Championships boasts a distinctive aquatic attraction where high-rising water jets form rhythmic patterns in synch with popular music tunes, a show that entices passersby at the top of every hour beginning at 11am, with the last performance starting at 9pm. The musical fountain on Margaret Island has been one of Budapest’s favorite summertime destinations for many years, and this high-spirited facility is now freshly upgraded with new effects, creating even more colorful entertainment in the city’s sprawling parkland. Thanks to this recent upgrade, from now on those gathering around this outdoor attraction after sunset can watch an impressive presentation with photos projected on the water that portray famous imagery of Hungary’s history, while the surrounding trees will be illuminated with colorful lights.
There are numerous seasonal exhibitions on view in Budapest during the FINA World Championships, and the city’s museums offer air-conditioned refuge even in the sweltering summertime heat. The Robert Capa Contemporary Photography Center presents a photo collection by living-legend artist Elliott Erwitt, whose oeuvre includes plenty of pictures that he took for pleasure, but which eventually earned him fame; another recently opened exhibit of the same museum embraces 24 years of Sziget Festival history with a retrospective photo display. Meanwhile, the Ludwig Museum presents a series of provocative portraits by Gilbert & George, a creative duo who depict modern city existence in a way that portrays the artists as living sculptures within the pictures. However, those who would like to catch glimpses of Budapest’s past while sipping refreshments can see a collection of historic street photos displayed at Városliget Café’s terrace (Budapest 1146, Olof Palme sétány 5) in City Park, right next to the FINA synchronized swimming venue. Finally, the Titanic exhibition is set to make waves starting on July 20th in downtown (Budapest 1061, Király utca 26), where several original artifacts that were recovered from the ill-fated ship will be on display.
Discover Budapest with the free FINA Insider guide
As an extra edition of the recently released spring-summer 2017 Insider guide, We Love Budapest issued a comprehensive FINA edition to provide visitors of the championships with information about competition venues and timetable details, along with plenty of insider tips for making the most of your Budapest stay or your trip to Lake Balaton during the tournament. In addition to the FINA-related content, this special booklet also contains a selection of helpful articles from our latest biannual Insider guidebook, including timely tips for Budapest sightseeing, dining, shopping, nightlife, and more.
Lounge on creatively shaped wooden benches downtown
Wave-shaped wooden benches tastefully evoke this summer’s aquatic theme as they bring new life to downtown Városháza Park, an ordinarily underutilized plaza next to Deák Ferenc Square. The fascinating street facilities were built by the creative Hello Woodorganization – an independent, international educational platform in design and architecture – to provide urban dwellers with alfresco lounge sites for the sun-splashed months, while free solar-powered charging stations were also installed with the timber street fixtures for those with dying batteries. This city-center pop-up park is not only ideal for laid-back lounging, but it’s complete with a couple of sports stations, including a table-tennis site and the Hungarian-developed teqball, while two drinking fountains ensure refreshment after a heated match.
For plunging into one of the freshest gastronomy sensations in town, sun-soakers head to Margaret Island’s recently refurbished Palatinus Bath, found in the middle of Budapest’s parkland, just a 13-minute walk from the Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Complex location of FINA. Right next to the entrance of the Palatinus strand park, golden potatoes fry at Laza Pala to feed beach bums with palatable bites – however it’s not the zesty French fries that are the main attraction at this hot hangout. This summer, Hungarian master chef Lajos Bíró cooks up a selection of Hungarian meals here with a twist, including a sandwich topped with high-quality párizsi cold-cut meat, a delicacy for carnivores that has nothing in common with the industrial párizsi meats that are found at local supermarkets. In addition, we can savor the chef’s signature crispy Wiener schnitzel that is a deft adaptation of the Austrian specialty into Hungarian cuisine. Best of all, Laza Pala is not only open for Palatinus guests, but anyone can enter the eatery from Margaret Island to try the savory meals.
Budapest is a doubly delightful metropolis for sports fans in late July. In addition to the FINA World Championships, during July 28-30 the Formula 1 Hungarian Grand Prix drives some of the world’s fastest pilots to the Hungarian capital to rev up their engines and zoom around the Hungaroring race track just outside of Budapest, all hoping to earn global recognition and a shower of champagne at the finish line. Those who can’t make it to the races can still follow the adrenaline-fueled extravaganza with live broadcasts happening at numerous hangouts throughout Budapest, and after the winners are doused with champagne on Sunday, two upscale celebrations welcome the public that night to join reveling drivers and celebrities, at Buda’s Symboland at Buddha-Bar Hotel inside Pest’s Klotild Palace.
Embark on a time-bending journey to Memento Park
Take a break from the urban sites and embark on a journey to an outer Buda district where a vast collection of communist-era statues soars skywards inside an open-air museum. Memento Park’s red-star residents include Lenin, Marx, Engels, and many Soviet heroes that once towered above the streets of Budapest as part of the ordinary cityscape during Hungary’s repressive period under Kremlin control. However, this surreal parkland is not about publicizing tyrant personalities, but instead the museum’s main quest is to present the fall of a broken ideology by showcasing thematically displayed communist-era artworks. Guided English-language group tours start every day at 11:45am, which are often tailor-made to the audience; read this article for information about transfers between central Budapest and Memento Park:
As one of the historic red-brick market halls constructed around Budapest in the late 1800s, the covered emporium at Batthyány Square – just steps away from the FINA high diving venue – has a beautiful façade, as well as a supermarket, a drug store, the Steamhouse Café, and well-maintained public restrooms. However, to see Budapest’s real market scene, city visitors usually head to the Great Market Hall, a monumental bazaar covered with ornate Zsolnay tiles – inside this boisterous food fair, diverse vendors offer a selection of palatable produce, including smoked sausages, shiny apples, crimson paprika powder, and many other fine treats. At a more secluded location, the century-old Klauzál Square Market Hallhouses a 7,000-square-meter food emporium that offers everything from a supermarket to stands selling fresh local produce and dairy products on two levels. Close to downtown, the out-of-sight bazaar on District VIII’s Rákóczi Square is considered as a hidden gem, while the recently trending Downtown Marketis fast becoming one of the city’s prime gastronomy destinations, with numerous restaurants flanking its gallery level.
Take an alfresco plunge at Budapest’s thermal baths
Sitting on a vast network of hot springs, the Hungarian capital is often referred to as the city of thermal baths, and the steamy spas are highly exalted for their rejuvenating attributes and recreational amenities accessible all year round, while many of the spas also operate sun-splashed open-air facilities during summertime. The city’s 99-year-old Gellért Bath features a 50-square-meter alfresco wave pool that has been entertaining soakers since 1927. In addition, the outdoor area of Gellért is complete with adventure pools, hot tubs, and plenty of sun beds. Found between FINA’s Batthyány Square location and Gellért Bath, an outdoor hot tub is perched atop the riverfront Rudas Bath, providing soakers with muscle-melting pleasures and a stunning panorama over the Danube and Budapest’s cityscape. Meanwhile, not too far from FINA’s City Park competition venue, alfresco pools provide steamy sensations all year long in the courtyard of the neo-Baroque Széchenyi Bath.
One of Duna-Ipoly National Park’s most popular sites is hidden beneath a pleasant residential area of the Buda Hills, welcoming visitors with easygoing adventures inside a cavernous subterranean maze often referred to as “Budapest’s underground flower garden”. Once filled with natural thermal water, hydrothermal karst activities helped create the floral-like formations inside the million-year-old cave that was accidentally explored during construction works around the area in 1930. During FINA, extra English-language tours walk visitors around the gazillions of pea-stone formations, cauliflower-shaped rocks, and calcite plates that enhance the chilled chambers. Upon concluding the tour, an interactive exhibition awaits visitors near the entrance, where bilingual information boards provide additional guidance to visitors about Hungary’s caves. For more information about the upcoming tours and for directions to Szemlő-hegyi Cave from downtown Budapest, check out this article.
Since Budapest’s gastronomy scene has been undergoing a rowdy revolution and the city’s nightlife is becoming more refined, many rooftops are turned into soaring hangouts, where besides fine drinks and meals, guests can savor far-reaching vistas over much of Hungary’s capital. Atop Andrássy Avenue’s recently-abandoned Paris Department Store, 360 Bar offers buzzing urban life with generously poured tipples, live DJ sets, and wraparound views of the entire cityscape. Nowadays, those who want to get a taste of five-star high life can lounge on the comfy couches at the High Note SkyBar atop Aria Hotel Budapest, from where guests can immerse in close-up views over St. Stephen’s Basilica. Formerly serving as a helicopter landing pad, the deluxe Intermezzo Rooftop Terrace crowning the Hotel President boasts unique Parliament views, delicious rib-eye steak, and flavorful cocktails, while the St. Andrea Wine & Skybar recently opened above downtown’s Váci Street to provide guests with a big-ticket experience.
When the sun goes down in the Magyar metropolis, the city’s nightlife awakens as many bars open up to welcome bibulous crowds with intoxicating drinks and a diverse musical repertoire playing in the background. Revelers around the world praise the city’s colorful nightlife, and we certainly understand why. With snazzy bars like Black Swan, where guests enter to imbibe elegant cocktails while being whisked back in time to a more elegant era, or the mysterious Boutiq’Bar with its unpredictable signature concoctions, Budapest truly rivals the diverse party scenes of metropolises around the world. Of course, there are also the ruin bars, the dilapidated after-hours magnets of the city, including such hotspots as Szimpla or Instant (which recently merged with another living-legend locale, FogasHáz), a surreal site where DJs spin tunes and heat up the scenes on weekdays and weekends. Meanwhile, when in Budapest chart a course to A38– a repurposed Ukrainian cargo boat anchored near Petőfi Bridge – to dance the night away amid buoyant scenes.