2018 has been a bumper year for Budapest, with record visitor numbers and an even higher global profile for the Hungarian capital. With a spectacular performance by Dua Lipa at a packed Sziget Festival, visits by Hollywood stars and queues round the block for a Frida Kahlo exhibition, this city has seen many memorable events this year. Relive some of these magic moments with our special series looking back on 2018 – and look forward with us to 2019! Today’s feature: Budapest’s best new openings of 2018.
Early in the year, at a grand ceremony at the Várkert Bazár, the fantastic news was announced that four Budapest restaurants had received Michelin stars – and Onyx was the first in the city to receive two. Borkonyha, Costes and Costes Downtown retained their Michelin status, while Stand25 was among four other establishments also recognised by the prestigious gastronomy experts.
Later in the year, the culinary couple of Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll of Stand25 fame opened fine-dining destination Stand on Székely Mihály utca – they even made a unique music video about it – while chef Ákos Sárközi and the team behind Borkonyha unveiled sister venue Textúra further along Sas utca.
Almost every week, Budapest saw a new Asian eatery open, the most prominent being the Biang Bisztró, a first move into the city centre by renowned Chinese chef Master Wang. Meanwhile, over at Budapest’s Chinese Market, traders created a marquee of street-food delights, open after 5pm for the summer season.
The city wasn’t short on new Italian restaurants either, arguably the most prominent being La Fabbrica near the Basilica and pizza specialists Manu+ on Múzeum körút, from the successful Pizza Manufaktúra stable.
Perhaps the most prominent restaurant opening of all was Beefbar Budapest, the signature restaurant at impressive newbie Hotel Clark overlooking Chain Bridge. If you’re looking for Kobe beef in town, here’s where to find it.
Though not a new opening, it felt like a new beginning for innovative Balaton eatery Paletta, which celebrated a year of setting up in Budapest with a contemporary makeover and new winter menu. Fish, of course, remains in the foreground.
Finally, mention must be made of Pesti Sólet, whose modern interpretation of Jewish cuisine merits investigation in District XIII.
Cafés, bars and clubs
2018 was the year it rained craft beer in Budapest. Everywhere you looked, an artisanal ale bar had opened, making you wonder if there were enough small-batch Hungarian brewers to supply them. These days, there most certainly are.
The year was bookended by Balaton siblings Norbert and Zsolt Csonka opening Beer Brothers at Astoria, and the global enterprise Brewdog from Aberdeen setting up at Anker köz. In between, Budapest brewers Horizont took over the Taproom at the Gozsdu Udvar and KEG Sörműház brought trendy beers to Buda.
With the city’s party hub of District VII bursting at the seams with drinkeries – though there was still room for a decent new sports bar, Rocky’s, in World Cup year – focus moved to Bartók Béla út, aka Béla Bartók Boulevard. This main Buda artery behind the Gellért Hotel is now awash with trendy bars and cafés, the buzzy BÉLA typical of the genre.
District XIII also saw a few new venues spring up – part café, part bookstore, part concert venue, part vinyl outlet Klinika proved to be a very welcome arrival.
Specialist outlets weren’t confined to craft beer. On Király utca, Pálinka Museum Shop Bar covered all bases where Hungary’s revered fruit brandy was concerned while MyWine was probably the most impressive, and certainly the most central, of the bars offering reds, whites and rosés.
All over town, cafés of all varieties appeared. Tipo brought a little designer touch to the embassy quarter while The Hatchery brought fine coffee and pastries to District VIII thanks to the ever-enterprising Butter Brothers. Highlighting another trend, the Board Game Café moved nearer to the action on the District IX section of the Grand Boulevard.
Right in town, café-lined Madách tér showed that it hasn’t lost its lustre, attracting the likes of PIÑA to set up a new cocktail spot. Mixed drinks with prime views were provided by Leo, the panoramic rooftop bar atop the Hotel Clark, not five paces from the Chain Bridge.
Budapest’s role as European Capital of Sport for 2019 influenced a number of initiatives during 2018.
A few weeks before news broke that Budapest had been awarded hosting rights for the World Athletics Championships in 2023, a huge mural went up on Krisztina körút in Buda showing locals lacing up their running shoes and limbering up for action. By this time next year, the new national Ferenc Puskás Stadium will have been built, before taking up its role as co-host of football’s Euro 2020 tournament. A new visitor centre with unique drone footage revealed how the arena will look when it’s ready.
Over in the City Park, a new outdoor public gym, sports courts and a floodlit running track opened, although these were part of a much larger and ambitious project that will transform this revered recreational space in the next few years. For the time being, canine owners can take advantage of the new dog playground unveiled there this spring.
In adjoining Heroes’ Square, the city’s biggest cultural opening was the welcome return of the Museum of Fine Arts, completely overhauled with a permanent exhibition dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci. As part of the revamp, the fin-de-siècle Roman Hall was first unveiled after several decades of being used as storage space.
Another ornate institution, the Paris Department Store on Andrássy út, reopened its doors as the home of Future Park, aka the Andrássy Entertainment Centre, an interactive educational complex for kids. Other new children’s attractions included the SuperFly trampoline park near Árpád Bridge, Holnemvolt retro fairyland and miniature menagerie at Budapest Zoo and the Csillaghegy pools and spa up in Óbuda.
The ever-resourceful team at Valyo, already responsible for the Liberty Bridge picnics every summer, created a new recreation zone by Rákóczi Bridge as part of their laudable remit to bring the Danube into the daily life of the city.
There was more fun news to report when another statue by the Banksy of Budapest, Mihajlo Kolodko, was thought to have created another pop-up artwork when a gun-toting meerkat was found alongside the famous statue of TV detective Columbo at Jászai Mari tér. Revered Habsburg Empress Elizabeth, aka Sisi, also got her own statue on Madách tér while Ottoman poet Gül Baba saw his tomb and statue restored and reopened to the public, unveiled in the presence of the national leaders of Hungary and Turkey.
Right at year’s end, the Brody family extended their brood with the Workshop, a members-only bar and venue to complement the group’s boutique hotel, writer’s villa and studio space.
With record visitor numbers announced at various points during 2018, the annual figures for guest stays in Budapest should surpass the ten million plus watershed of 2017.
The year saw a significant increase in tourists from China, as underlined by a conference here this spring that focused on this growth market.
In a year of firsts, Budapest Airport at last saw a hotel open on its doorstep, the 145-room ibis Styles. A new app-controlled lodging, the KViHotel Budapest, proved an inventive arrival on Nyár utca, while the long-awaited Hotel Clark began welcoming guests to its prime location by Chain Bridge from March 2018.
In the same Continental Group, since November the D8 has been providing visitors with a funky, urban alternative to the nearby five-star big hitters in the city centre.