Budapest is a beautiful city. That can come as a surprise to some who have not visited and imagine it as a post-communist block country. It’s only become a major tourist hotspot in the last 15 years but rightly so. It’s an architecturally stunning city straddling the River Danube with hilly, historic Buda on one side and Pest on the other (though I keep forgetting which way round it is). It’s likened to Paris and everywhere you turn, there is an impressive and beautifully designed building. They are particularly big on statued buildings – in all kinds of weird and wonderful forms. Buda is home to the castle and government buildings and up in the touristy top, is almost Disney-like in its perfection. Pest is flat with large tree-lined roads, green spaces and an incredible parliament building amongst other architectural delights and a bunch of thermal spas to boot. The Jewish quarter, with its glorious synagogue, is the hip centre of Budapest and the gentrifications creeps around its streets alongside it’s still old dusty and decrepit grand buildings.
Alongside its art deco magnificence, Budapest, of course, has a more recent history which also has an impact on the look and feel of the city. Following the liberation of Hungary from Nazi Germany by the Red Army, Soviet military occupation ensued, which ended only in 1991. This very controversial period, which some older Hungarians look on back as better times, has left an indelible mark on the city and politics aside, this is a quite unified imagery and design which I am rather partial to. I’ve always been quite fascinated by it in its many forms – be it propaganda illustrations or statues and art. I have sought out many a communism museum or exhibition over the years – in Cuba, Vietnam, Prague and even a fascinating show in London which mostly had Soviet-era vacuum cleaners and toys.
Budapest has an interesting relationship with these and although a bunch of them have been removed (the most impressive of which are now housed out of town in the Momento Park) many, which are not overtly political, still remain. Most notably the statue which stands overlooking the city, which was familiar to me from my previous visit, is actually one half of a huge monument celebrating the Soviet Union. The lady with the palm leaf was kept and is now used to represent peace over the city, whilst the huge soviet soldier now sits in Momento park.
Art & Craft Beer
Another strong visual element in Budapest is the street art and ruin bars – a general creativity that threads all around, especially in the Jewish District. It’s an exciting part of an ungentrified part of a city. Artists and creatives have the space and availability to do their thing (affordably). With the likes of cities like New York and London squeezing out these neighbourhoods ever further, cities which have a newer kind of scene – many from the former communist block, are a breath of fun and exciting as they are less thought out.
I didn’t get to visit any other ruin bars this trip but revisiting the notable and touristy Szimpla Kert is still a treat. Baths for seating – what’s not to love?
Doblo wine bar – a beautifully designed and cosy space with great cheese and meat.
Vintage Garden – full of pink and fluffy clouds and girly heavenliness – plus really tasty (if a little overpriced) food. It’s an Instagrammers dream and visually a girlie treat.
For a retro and emotive experience, the underground hospital which was used doing the war and also later in the communist era is a unique experience and I confess to feeling creeped out by my own souvenir choices of a gas mask and original syringe!
The street art in Budapest is probably one of my favourites from anywhere I’ve been, party as it’s a bit less try-hard/commissioned than other places and comes in many interesting forms. You can stumble across and be delighted or challenged by it all over the city.
It only takes a minute to Pick It and Pin It!