The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, having been well prepared for the beauty of Budapest, was nonetheless surprised at its magnificence. “They said that of course, Budapest is beautiful,” he remarked. “But it is almost ludicrously beautiful.” Anyone who’s visited the Hungarian capital would agree. It’s a city with 19th-Century elegance, beautifully blended with Baroque, Neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture. Like all cities, it has two faces: one for visitors, and another richer and more interesting one for its inhabitants. Fortunately, the latter is very easy to access. Follow our guide to experience Budapest like a local.
A Budapestian will always avoid the “tourist menus” advertised at restaurants and cafés throughout the city. Most opt instead for the delicious and very reasonable “daily menus”, which generally include a bowl of thick, piping hot soup followed by a meaty casserole or paprika-laden goulash. For a snack, try a rich, deep-fried lángos (a type of Hungarian fried bread), found fresh in most foodie haunts across the city.
To really live like a local in Budapest, it’s essential to learn a few Hungarian phrases. English is widely spoken across the city, but Hungarian is the mother tongue. A Finno-Ugric language, Hungarian has 13 million native speakers not only in Hungary but in Romania, Serbia, Croatia, and several other countries. It’s been called Europe’s most complex language, but ignore its reputation for being notoriously difficult to learn. Pick up a handful of key words to navigate the city. “Szia” (pronounced “si-uh”) for “hello” and “köszönöm” (pronounced “ku-su-num”) for “thank you” is a good start.
The Romans were attracted to the land that is now classed as Budapest in the 1st Century AD, because of its natural thermal springs. The arrival of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century renewed and revitalised that culture, and by 1934 Budapest was rightly recognised as “The City of Spas”. Every Budapest bathhouse taps into a different spring, which means each is slightly different. The most famous is the Széchenyi Baths, which is one of the largest bathhouses on the continent and recognisable for its grand neo-Baroque interior. To sidestep the tourist trail, however, seek out the city’s smaller baths, such as Király, and take a dip just as the locals do.
Visitors to the Hungarian capital almost always go to the Great Central Market Hall – which is hardly surprising, given its impressive repertoire of fresh, delicious produce and souvenirs. However, in the spirit of living like a local in Budapest, visit the quirky Szimpla Kert on a Sunday instead. A quick jaunt from Corinthia Hotel Budapest, it’s one of the city’s oldest ruin bars and on Sundays, it transforms into a bustling market. Browse the organic food produce, or relax with a drink while perched, naturally, in an old bathtub.
Újlipótváros is an arty neighbourhood in Budapest’s 13th district, which means it’s a little further from the centre than most visitors are willing to venture. However, it’s worth the trip for Pozsonyi Avenue, which is lined with cafés and restaurants and was a home to writers and actors between the wars. Choose a gelato from the extensive selection at Cioccolatte or a kick back with a coffee at trendy Ébresztö and soak up the unique village atmosphere, just as a local in Budapest would do.