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Why You Should Visit Budapest for Design and Architecture

By Carolyn Bánfalvi

Jan 17, 2012

From the July/August 2011 issue

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From a thriving art scene to creative bar culture, the Hungarian capital is coming into its own, new sense of style.

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Budapest may have hit its architectural stride in the 14th century, but today the Hungarian capital is coming into its own as a contemporary design center. The city’s newfound sense of style is visible everywhere, from the thriving art schene to the burgeoning bar culture. Here are some ways to dive in like a local.

Hungary’s National Style Architecture

Barcelona has Gaudí, and Budapest has Ödön Lechner. One of Hungary’s most influential architects, Lechner (1845–1914) created the country’s distinctive National Style. His work blended art nouveau with folk motifs and Asian elements, such as colorful tiled domes. At the Geological Museum of Hungary, note the globe resting on the shoulders of important figures in Hungarian history. And at the former Postal Savings Bank (pictured), look for his ornate ceramic bee hives.

Arts and Crafts Market

Browse work by local Hungarian designers at WAMP, the monthly outdoor arts and crafts market. Find colorful shoes by Agnes Lukacs (pictured); women’s clothing with bright, geometric patterns by Zagabo; and Ildikó Göntér’s accessories made from recycled materials, including wallets decorated with old currency.

The market is held monthly, and three times during December, at either Millenáris or Erzsébettér.

Budapest’s Ruin Bars

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A decade ago, romkocsma, or ruin bars, began popping up in the city’s sixth and seventh districts. In the courtyards of empty buildings slated for renovation, young people brought in secondhand furniture and started serving drinks. Today, many romkocsma (such as Szimpla Kert, pictured) are permanent fixtures. One of the best is Fogasház, which hosts DJs and film screenings. Fogasház, VII. Akácfa utca 51, 36/30-500-3749.

Opera House

Built between 1875 and 1884, the neo-Renaissance Opera House is worth a visit for the architecture alone. Purchase a box seat in one of the gilded balconies for a closer view of the baroque chandeliers. For a more raucous experience, head three blocks down to Giero. In this cellar bar, listen to several generations of men play passionate Hungarian Gypsy tunes on their violins and cimbaloms (Hungarian dulcimers) while women prepare and serve home-style dishes such as pörkölt, a paprika-laced stew.

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