The Local’s Guide To Budapest

Here's how to experience the Hungarian capital like a Budapest local.

St Stephen’s Basilica © iStock/george tsartsianidis

Not only does Budapest have the two faces of Buda and Pest it also has twin personalities, each with unique appeal. For visitors, Budapest rolls out an astonishing wealth of medieval, architectural wonders, puts on a delicious spread of paprika-peppered cuisine and readily replenishes glasses of Bull’s Blood wine. The city’s residents, however, enjoy the Hungarian capital in an entirely different light. Looking beyond Budapest’s guide book-approved sites, they tend to delve a little deeper. From sauntering through the city’s hip, up-and-coming neighbourhoods to what to order at favourite local eateries, our Budapest guide offers a glimpse of local life.

Hang Out At A Ruin Bar

A handful of popular ruin bars have been picked up by Budapest guides, but beyond these, there are plenty more excellent watering holes to enjoy. Ellátó Kert is one option, with its live music, easy Mexican-themed menu and balmy courtyard the real crowd-pleasers. Enjoy plenty of ambiance at Rózsadomb Presszó in the well-heeled Rózsadomb district. Its quirky retro décor includes vintage soda bottles and an antique record player, making this a particularly popular pick for a cold beer among Budapest’s hipsters.

Pick Up The Lingo

English is widely spoken across the city, but Hungarian is the mother tongue, and learning a few key phrases will stand you in good stead when accessing the local’s Budapest. Being Finno-Ugric, Hungarian has been called Europe’s most complex language, but ignore its reputation for being notoriously difficult to learn. Pick up a handful of key words, such as “Szia” (pronounced “si-uh”) for “hello” and “köszönöm” (pronounced “ku-su-num”) for “thank you”.

Eat As The Locals Do

A typical guide to Budapest’s menus will tick off rich goulash, steaming fisherman’s soup and cheesy lángos as Hungary’s culinary highlights. But to solely focus on these would be to ignore the huge variety that comprises Budapest’s gastronomic landscape. Take Menza, for instance. This lively contemporary café serves up an inspired menu that counts among its specials ingenious Hungarian twists such as cold strawberry soup and traditional toltott kaposzta with kohlrabi. For something more traditional, Rosenstein is a favourite among families for its laid-back ambience and good, honest fare.

Stroll The Streets Of Újlipótváros

Újlipótváros is an arty neighbourhood in Budapest’s 13th district, which means it’s a little further from the centre than most visitors are willing to venture. However, it’s worth the trip for Pozsonyi Avenue, which is lined with cafés and restaurants and was a home to writers and actors between the wars. Choose a gelato from the extensive selection at Cioccolatte or kick back with a coffee at trendy Ébresztö and soak up the unique village atmosphere, just as locals do.

Have A Bath

Budapest’s natural thermal springs initially attracted the Romans in the 1st century CE, and the tradition of long, hot soaks continued through the 16th century with the Ottomans. By 1934, Budapest was rightly recognised as “The City of Spas”. Every bathhouse taps into a different spring, which means each has a slightly different character. The most famous is the Széchenyi Baths, which is one of the largest bathhouses on the continent and is generally attended by every visitor to the city. To sidestep the tourist trail, however, seek out the city’s smaller baths, such as Király. You can find a tranquil wellness center in the Aquincum Hotel as well, where you can experience the healing benefits of Margaret Island’s thermal waters.

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