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Budapest Bucket List

When it’s not busy posing as Paris or Berlin for Hollywood blockbusters such as Spy (2015) and Atomic Blonde (2017), Budapest has its very own unique character and charm.

One of the many Szines Varos Murals

While it may not possess the polished sophistication of its neighbour Vienna, the Hungarian capital has a gritty feel which will get under your skin if you let it. Here are its top must-sees for those who might need a little convincing.

Chain Bridge

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the city’s first permanent bridge across the Danube, dates back to 1849. Bar the neo-gothic Hungarian Parliament building only a short distance away, it is perhaps the city’s most iconic and recognisable structure. As one of the main thoroughfares linking the two sides of the cities, it is impossible to miss and an easy one to cross off the list.

Rising directly above the Chain Bridge on the Buda side is the city’s Castle Hill. Home to palaces, museums, postcard-worthy mediaeval dwellings and breathtaking views, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is enchantingly beautiful and will certainly end up dominating your Instagram if you allow it. Put on a pair of comfortable shoes, take your time and enjoy discovering every nook and cranny of this picture-perfect district. Be sure not to miss the Magdalene Tower, Fishermen’s Bastion and the Matthias Fountain. The Hungarian National Gallery, housed within the former Royal Palace, is also found in this district and this year it will be hosting a major exhibition of Bacon, Freud and the School of London.

Inaugurated in 2005, Müpa Budapest is a gargantuan cultural hub covering a floor area of 70,000 sq. metres and serves as a home for music and dance, as well as contemporary circus performances. The award-winning complex contains the 1,565-seat Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, the Festival Theatre and the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art. The latter’s annual programme consists of eight main exhibitions, this year’s highlight being Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures and Other Works.

Gilbert & George at the Ludwig Museum

Budapest possesses a booming gallery scene prominently show-casing both Hungarian and international art. Foremost amongst the city’s galleries is ART+TEXT, located within the gem of Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture that is the Bedő House (1903). Although only in its fourth year of operation, ART+TEXT has firmly established its place in the local scene, as well as in the international art fair circuit, by representing both emerging contemporary artists as well post-war modernists.

For those who prefer their art to be more urban and outdoor, the city is dotted with colourful, often multi-storey, murals commissioned by the Színes Város Association. Focusing on urban regeneration, its aim is to change the widespread distorted view on graffiti through wall paintings with artistic value that cheer up the cityscape. The areas chosen are often neglected yet have considerable pedestrian traffic. With over 70 projects now completed – in both Budapest and beyond – it can be said that the fulfilment of its mission is well underway.

If looking at too much art has you feeling dizzy, then the antidote might be to head for Margaret Island, a park at the centre of the Danube between the Buda and Pest sides. A tranquil getaway from the city, the island offers fresh air, silence and ample green areas. As a matter of fact, very little of the island is built up and its skyline is dominated solely by trees and an Art Nouveau water tower dating back to 1911. On Margaret Island you will also find the ruins of a 13th-century Dominican convent, several swimming pools, a Japanese garden and a small zoo.

However, if relaxation is really what you’re after, then a visit to one of the city’s renowned thermal baths is an absolute must. Featured in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster 5 (1997) and, more recently, in last year’s Spring/Summer Gucci eyewear campaign by Petra Collins, the Gellért Baths are the epitome of Art Nouveau luxury. The eight intricately mosaic thermal pools range in temperature from 19°C to 38°C, making them perfect for visiting at any time of year.

Whilst Budapest may be renowned for its thermal baths, it is also well-known for its ruin bars, and no visit to the Hungarian capital would be complete without at least a quick peek into the temple of palinka and bric a brac that is Szimpla Kert – the original ruin bar. Standing at the centre of the old Jewish district and Budapest’s nightlife, Szimpla Kert is an institution. On any given night it is a trip down the rabbit hole, but Sunday mornings, however, are for farmers and their fresh produce.  Experience it any which way you like, it will get stuck in your head no matter what, just like the city.

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