What is now the Hungarian city of Budapest was once two separate cities — Buda and Pest — divided by a desolate brackish green river, the Danube, which snaked northward and in 1873, under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, unification of the two very separate cities took place.
The hilly Buda is home to a variety of architecture with influences that hark back to the Ottoman Empire and Turkish or Russian occupation; others belie the Habsburg imperialism of the grand palace, Art Nouveau or Moorish architecture, and other buildings bear the no-frills beige starkness of the Communist era.
Great change has transformed Hungary over the last three decades in all arenas — social, cultural, political and economic
Pest, meanwhile, is an urban nucleus centered around the west side of the city, with all the din and clamor an economic upsurge delivered with its restaurants, bars, clubs, co-working spaces, galleries, operas, and boutiques.As you walk around the city, you notice that many Hungarians (especially those of older generations) have a hard, blank look, while the eyes of others darken with a flinty and impenetrable stare. If you examine the shiny veneer of high-rise buildings and opulent architecture, or the ornamentation of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge linking Pest to the palatial Budavári Palota (Buda Castle), a thick layer of grime and soot mucks up the luster. Budapest is just 27 years free of Communist domination, and scars of occupation and oppression — first by Mongols, then Turks and Russians — are still present. After all, the Iron Curtain was breached not in Berlin, as many believe, but on the Hungarian-Austrian [border](http://www.economist.com/node/13005172), and great change has transformed Hungary over the last three decades in all arenas — social, cultural, political and economic.
The Danube’s physical division of the original Buda and Pest is manifest of the divisions the city still bears. The city straddles various eras: there’s the slow emergence of free markets from Communist oppression, technology surfaces from antiquity, a burgeoning cosmopolitan lifestyle rises alongside a provincial one, and new prospects also appear to be rising.And prospects, Budapest certainly has. It’s possible to eat French food in cozy terraced courtyards under the stars, to bathe in mineral springs dating from the Ottoman Empire, dance to DJs poolside, enjoy a Pavarotti opera in stately chandelier-lined halls, and network among a growing number of start-up tech companies in modern co-working spaces.
Budapest’s tourism industry has skyrocketed with more than 3.3 million visitors in 2015, evident in the clamor that echoes around the city’s gritty beauty, affordable luxury and earthly delights. The city is definitely worth a visit for music fans, spa seekers and foodies alike — here are some of our favored haunts.
Music Venues and Clubs
Tesla’s low-light glow-in-the-dark vibe and booming sound system rival the superclubs of London or New York. With an interior fit for creatures of the night housed in a renovated historic Art Deco building, Tesla programs a number of touring DJs. Its website lauds deep house music nights with “the hottest chics [sic] and the best vocal house music in one venue.”
Akvárium straddles an open-air stepped courtyard and an indoor massive dance floor that’s adjacent to an outdoor pool piped with speakers. Performers vary from British hip-hop acts to German techno DJs and Swedish metal bands.
Mega club Hello Baby is housed in the historic Haggenmacher Palace with grand stone balustrades. Antiquity meets state-of-the-art as DJs spin house and techno on the main dancefloor, while a smaller room usually features funk and soul.
Great food and live classical and jazz in a superlative architectural building designed for optimized sound quality? Yes!
Deep stocks a wide selection of electronic music, vinyl, CDs and goods—slip mats, DJ supplies and DVDs. They also run a label, Shiftin’ Gears Recordings, and act as a independent music distributor.
Rock, metal and hardcore lovers revel in glory at Headbanger, the destination for hardcore music selects, grommeted leather armbands, goth or rocker T-shirts and even Motörhead mugs for hardcore coffee-fueled music lovers.
With a wide selection of rock vinyl and CDs, Wave caters especially to alternative lovers, but also stocks jazz, hip-hop and electronic music.## **Bars**
It’s more than a bar: Púder is a “ruin pub” and kaleidoscopic bevy of entertainment, fine food and cocktails. Ruin pubs are a trend in Budapest in which enterprising would-be bar owners set up shop in abandoned buildings throughout the old Jewish Quarter neighborhood, most of which was an unattended wasteland following the ravages of WWII. Typically, ruin bars are underground pop-up spaces furnished with thrift store finds and eccentric decorations and thrive, rent-free, until an investor buys the building in which they’re housed. Púder has a rotating program of entertainment, including puppet shows and improvisational comedy.
Szimpla Kert is the original ruin pub and has remained in business since 2001, unlike many of the other similar bars whose temporary locations have been uprooted by the growing economy and rising property values in Budapest.
Instant is housed in a once-decrepit abandoned apartment building whose owners have razed the walls separating apartments to allow for a sizeable dance floor, as well as seven bars, seven stages, and gardens.
Restaurants### [Déryné Bisztró](http://www.bistroderyne.com/)
Originally built in 1914, Déryné Bisztró bears all the opulence of the pre-prohibition brasseries of Paris. Red velvet draperies offset lounge seating and black-and-white checkered floor tiles in the main dining lounge. Palms reside in elegant woven wicker baskets. A horseshoe-shaped bar with brass and leather fittings and marble countertops segues into a sort of living room area with an immaculate overstuffed leather sofa and fireplace.
Here, modern design meets comfort and amenities — this is a place to spend hours in conversation while sipping a cucumber gin fizz or herb mojito. Downstairs, atmospheric lighting accents the building’s original brick archways. And the food: artisan-crafted, preservative-free pastries and breads, fresh whipped butter (topped with hand-stamped parchment), buttery puffed croissants and savory cream of mushroom and chive tarts. And those are just the baked goods, of which there are more than 40 varieties every day — the classic French cuisine includes soupe à l’oignon, consommé and steak frites, while Hungarian staples include goulash and sztrapacska dumplings.
Trendy meeting place Mazel Tov serves traditional — if somewhat basic — Israeli cuisine. The destination isn’t necessarily for the food, but rather, the lively atmosphere, with its rustic brick dining halls updated with modern, austere lighting and an indoor garden.### [Meat Boutique](http://www.meatboutique.hu/)
The superbly named Meat Boutique is a carnivore’s haven located on a picturesque cobblestoned boulevard adjacent to the Danube River and the Chain Bridge. Every cut of beef is available, as outlined on a massive meat mural painted on the restaurant’s interior wall: New York strip, T-bone, tenderloin and filet mignon.
Like Déryné Bisztró, Centrál marries Hungarian and French cuisines in an opulent bistro setting. The menu offers affordable luxury, especially for the large breakfasts with fresh orange juice, mangalica sausages, bacon, eggs, and vegetables.
The pattern repeats: French food is a hit in Budapest. Café Gerbeaud was founded in 1858 by Henrik Kugler, the descendent of a confectionery dynasty, who later partnered with an heir to a Swiss confectionery. And the confections are divine — long display cases are lined with an assortment of rainbow-hued macarons, lavender truffles, raspberry shortcakes, and orange caramel cream cakes. With a grand dining hall with tall ceilings and glinting chandeliers, two restaurants and the confectionery, Gerbeaud redefines French luxury.
Also worth checking out…
The Auróra serves as a community hub and meeting place, combining a gallery setting with a variety of concerts, DJ events, art openings, co-working space, and provides a general locus for social activism and Jewish religious ceremonies.
Budapest has a number of coed thermal baths, most of which are affordable. The Ottoman-eraRudas Baths were built in the 16th century during the Turkish occupation of Hungary and have a number of mineral spas and saunas with varying temperatures as well as a rooftop pool with a stunning view of the Danube.
It’s worth seeing the rooftop view at night, especially on Fridays and Saturdays, when Rudas stays open until 4 AM.
Lukacs Baths andSzechenyi Spa & Baths also host weekend spa parties, or “sparties,” with DJs, steam machines and LED light shows.Gellért Thermal Bath is housed in the Art Noveau style Hotel Gellért built between 1912 and 1918 and features natural mineral spring water, saunas, steam rooms and mud treatments.