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Budapest City Culture

Budapest Landmarks
Budapest City Culture
Budapest’s blend of architectural styles (including its unique brand of Art Nouveau), distinctive neighborhoods, and the wide Danube River coursing through the center of town, make it a treat to wander the city’s streets.
Photo by Guido Alberto Rossi/age fotostock
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    Budapest Landmarks
    Budapest Landmarks
    Although most of Budapest was shaped during the golden age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of important earlier buildings exist, mainly on the Buda side. The Royal Palace (Buda Castle) on Castle Hill, for example, has been built and rebuilt over the years. The Dóhany Street Synagogue is Europe’s largest, with two onion-shaped domes and a mostly Moorish design. The opulent State Opera House on Andrássy út dates to 1884. The neo-Gothic Parliament, built in 1902, dominates the Danube's banks. And the bridges that cross the Danube, like Széchenyi Chain Bridge, are some of the most important (and most used) landmarks in the city. On the Pest side, the Millennium Memorial at Heroes' Square, built in 1900, pays tribute to the seven chieftains of the Magyars.

    Photo by Guido Alberto Rossi/age fotostock
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    Distinct Neighborhoods to Explore
    Distinct Neighborhoods to Explore
    It's in Budapest's distinct neighborhoods where you'll really begin to understand the city. The natural place to start is the 5th District. Next to the Danube on the Pest side, the city center holds buildings like Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and the Museum of Ethnography, and also has a high concentration of restaurants, shops, and bars. The 7th District Jewish Quarter has three synagogues (including Europe’s largest) and places to sample Hungarian-Jewish cuisine. Winding backstreets reveal artisan workshops, street art, funky ruin bars, and an air of history. Nearby, the 8th District Palace Quarter is emerging as a preferred area for galleries and hip cafés. Allow time to appreciate the baroque and medieval buildings in the Castle, too.
    Photo by David Ryan/age fotostock
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    Hungary’s Art Nouveau
    Hungary’s Art Nouveau
    Barcelona has Gaudí; Budapest has Ödön Lechner. The father of the Hungarian Secession movement (the Hungarian style of Art Nouveau), Lechner’s late-19th/early-20th-century buildings used Hungarian folk motifs and Oriental touches, and lots of steel and colorful Zsolnay tiles. Look for the yellow ceramic bees and their hives on the colorful former Postal Savings Bank. Examine the Geological Museum, inside and out, and notice the blue ceramic motifs, part folk and part geological. The Thonet House has an intricate façade covered with baby-blue Zsolnay tiles. The Drechsler Palace, an example of his early work, shows how significantly his style changed over the course of his career.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Colorful Folk Traditions
    Colorful Folk Traditions
    Hungarians are proud of their colorful folk traditions, from music and dance to regional styles of applied arts. There are many ways to experience some of these genres in Budapest. The Hungarian Heritage House holds frequent formal folk music and dance performances. It also operates the nearby Museum of Applied Hungarian Folk Art. Across the street, Mester Porta is a small but well-stocked shop selling top-quality folk art made by artisans from around the country. There are plenty of weekly dance houses (táncház) where enthusiasts come to learn dance steps as live music sets the tone. In August, a festival in the Castle is devoted to Hungary’s living folk arts and traditions. Visit the Museum of Ethnography to learn more.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Music, Theater, and Dance
    Music, Theater, and Dance
    Budapest offers a variety of entertainment options, from the Budapest Festival Orchestra at the Müpa, the former Palace of Arts or soulful Klezmer songs at Spinoza Café, to classical concerts at the art nouveau Liszt Academy of Music or raucous folk music with screeching violins at a dance house like Fonó. If you’re feeling fancy, catch an opera at the regal neo-Renaissance Opera House, or if you’re in a grittier mood visit Giero, a cellar bar with soulful Gypsy music nightly. Some theaters, such as the Katona József Színház, feature local performances with English subtitles. The Trafó House of Contemporary Art has a wide-ranging program of dance, art, and more.
    Photo by Juliane Jacobs/age fototstock
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    An Emerging Fashion Scene
    An Emerging Fashion Scene
    Budapest may not be the first European capital that comes to mind as a fashion and design destination, but the city has an emerging design scene fueled by the creative energy of a generation of young designers, many of whom are starting to enjoy international recognition. Their shops, mostly tiny ones, are scattered around town. Many designers work on such a small scale that their work is only available on occasions such as the monthly WAMP design market. Design Terminál, located in a former bus terminal, holds exhibitions, activities, and events concerning local art and design. Budapest Design Week is held in early autumn, and Budapest Fashion Week happens every April. Pick up the free Budapest Design Map to help you navigate the scene.
    Photo by Yadid Levy/age fotostock
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    Festivals For Music, Wine, and More
    Festivals For Music, Wine, and More
    Budapest has a full calendar of festivals and special events throughout the year. During the Christmas season, drinking mulled wine at Christmas markets will keep you warm. The largest markets are at Vörösmárty tér and the Basilica. The Budapest Spring Festival brings classical music, dance, opera, folk music, and more to venues across town. The summer festival season is especially busy; highlights include Budapest Pride, Sziget music festival, the Festival of Folk Arts, and St. Stephen’s Day (which includes lots of events and fireworks over the Danube in the evening). There are several craft beer festivals, too, and the Budapest International Wine Festival in early September is in the Castle.
    Photo by Erich Hafele/age fotostock
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    The River That Defines the City
    The River That Defines the City
    The Danube, which courses through the heart of the city, is Budapest’s most defining geographical feature, and the river and its banks are cited as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are many ways to enjoy the beauty of Budapest’s section of the Danube. Walk across one of the bridges, such as the Chain Bridge, which was built in 1849 and was the first permanent bridge linking Buda and Pest. Take a Danube boat ride to see the river up close. Explore one of the islands in the Danube, such as Margeret Island (which holds a small zoo, restaurants and bars, swimming pools, hotels, and more). Or admire the river from above by climbing up to the Citadella atop Gellért Hill for one of Europe’s most stunning urban panoramas.
    Photo by Eric Nathan/age fotostock
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    Contemporary Culture in Budapest
    Contemporary Culture in Budapest
    From the ruin bars that brought life to derelict buildings and the graffiti murals that brighten up unsightly 7th district walls, to small and often hard-to-find galleries and design shops, Budapest is a mix of old and new. Galleries are scattered around town. Some to look for are Kisterem, Telep, and Chimera Project gallery. The Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art is a large collection of Hungarian and international contemporary art. Book a room at Brody House, a boutique hotel with great style, where each room features works by different artists. It operates Brody Studios, a culture club that houses several working artists' studios, and holds plenty of cool events (call for current schedule). Perhaps the city's most poingent art installation is Shoes on the Danube, 60 pairs of shoes sculpted from iron memorializing the Jews who were executed along the banks of the river during World War II.
    Photo by Bernd Tschakert/age fotostock
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    Understanding the Communist Past
    Understanding the Communist Past
    Hungary’s Communist past provides invaluable insight into modern Hungary. Physical reminders remain in the form of some architecture and a few monuments. But the best way to learn about Hungary’s more than four decades of Communism is to visit the House of Terror Museum, located in the former secret police headquarters on Andrássy út. The museum is dedicated to the victims of the Communist and Nazi regimes; its cellar was once used as a prison. Memento Park is an outdoor park that holds the oversized statues and monuments removed from public places after the fall of Communism.
    Photo by age fotostock