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Why Hungary Is an Epic Vacation for Culture Lovers

From Michelin-starred restaurants to Europe’s newest cultural district, Budapest’s top experiences speak to past, present, and future.

Aerial view of the bowed, grass-covered rooftop of the Museum of Ethnography in Hungary

Museum of Ethnography

Courtesy of Visit Hungary

Full of noteworthy sites like the Citadella and Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest is one of Europe’s great historic capitals. But it’s also a city planted firmly in the 21st century, with dazzling contemporary architecture, world-class restaurants, and a thriving design scene. Travelers who love history and culture will discover a wealth of experiences to satisfy their curiosity. Head underground and dig up the secrets of the Castle District. Admire the stunning art nouveau architecture of a historic thermal bath. Watch an opera at a modern concert hall. Here are the top ways to immerse yourself in Budapest’s timeless culture.

Explore Budapest’s newest architectural wonder

Europe’s largest urban development project is currently unfolding in Budapest’s 300-acre City Park. Soon, as part of the Liget Budapest Project, the area will become one of the continent’s most contemporary and comprehensive cultural districts.

Spiral staircase, hanging globe lights, and ornate ceiling inside the House of Music Hungary.

House of Music Hungary

Courtesy of Visit Hungary

One institution that has already opened to the public is the House of Music Hungary. Created by Japanese star architect Sou Fujimoto, the space provides a distinctive artistic experience combining architecture and exhibition design to offer visitors new perspectives on music and sound.

Nearby, the award-winning Museum of Ethnography, designed by a Hungarian architect, marks the first purpose-built ethnographic museum. There, visitors can learn where present and past converge through fascinating displays about Hungarian life and culture.

Eat Hungarian cuisine with a twist

Budapest has seven restaurants boasting a Michelin star and while most of these are a mix of international cuisines, others serve up a new interpretation of Hungarian cooking. Traditional dishes come with a modern flair at Babel, where the restaurant walls still show marks from the 1838 Great Flood of Pest. The multicourse tasting menu pays tribute to Austro-Hungarian classics with dishes like fish soup, made with tender sturgeon; and Layered Potato with Hungarian sausage, egg, and sour cream, which references a Sunday-lunch staple.

At Stand, which has two Michelin stars and whose owner won the world-renowned Bocuse d’Or chef competition in 2016, Hungarian roots are evident throughout delicacies like sterlet filet, charcoal-grilled saddle of venison, and cherry and white chocolate flavored with roasted figs.

Go underground in the Castle District

Sweeping view of a river featuring The Castle District in Hungary

The Castle District

Courtesy of Visit Hungary

Budapest’s famed Castle District encompasses many of the city’s most popular sites and attractions, including Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, the Hungarian National Gallery, and Matthias Church. Underneath it all lies a hill that is surprisingly hollow on the inside, with a maze of tunnels, cellars, and caves that are just waiting to be explored. While some of the network dates to medieval times, sections have been used throughout the years. (One part served as a makeshift hospital for soldiers during WWII.) Reinforced by concrete walls, the tunnels are safe to visit on a guided tour.

Soak in an art nouveau masterpiece

Budapest’s thermal baths remain a major part of the local culture—and no spa is more grand than Gellért Baths, which has been attracting the city’s most stylish bathers since 1918. Built as part of the stately Hotel Gellért, the spa’s stunning architecture, including its stained-glass windows, vaulted ceilings, and Zsolnay porcelain tiled walls, is as much a reason to visit as the soothing treatments. Take a dip in the thermal pools and relax on the sunbathing terrace in a place that’s hosted everyone from Richard Nixon to Ryan Gosling.

Catch a show

Exterior view of MÜPA in Hungary (known as the Palace of Arts until 2015)


Courtesy of Visit Hungary

One of Hungary’s most celebrated and modern cultural institutions, MÜPA (known as the Palace of Arts until 2015) serves as Budapest’s premier venue for top-notch classical music, dance, popular music, jazz, art, opera, world music, and contemporary circus acts. Be sure to attend a concert at the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, renowned for having some of the best acoustics in the world and stop by the Ludwig Museum of Art, one of the few museums in Hungary that collects and displays only contemporary works of art.

Interior view from the stage of the lavish, red, tiered seating at the Hungarian State Opera House.

The Hungarian State Opera House

Courtesy of Visit Hungary

Nearby, the Hungarian State Opera House provides another first-rate venue for music lovers. This historic building has hosted important artists and international stars like Gustav Mahler and Luciano Pavarotti. Recently reopened after a long renovation, its splendid chandelier and richly decorated interior are more beautiful than ever.

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