Budapest's Top 10 Hidden Gems
Planning a nice trip to Budapest is a real challenge. There is a lot to say about this incredible European city and with so much information coming from travel guides, bloggers, vloggers, and Instagrammers, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Many of them post long lists of their favorite attractions and must-see places, and some of them aren't bad, but where do the locals go in Budapest?
One and a half years ago, I asked my Hungarian followers on Facebook and collected their answers. Now I will be taking you around Budapest to show you their top ten favorite places in the city!
Budapest's Top Ten Hidden Gems:
- Boat Factory Island
- The Main Square in Óbuda
- The Koller Gallery and Garden
- The Ruins of the Church of St. Mary Magdalene
- Gül Baba Street
- Vörösmarty Square and Café Gerbeaud
- The Architect's Cellar
- Mikszath Square
- Vajdahunyad Castle
- Wekerle Estate
Scroll down for more information about these fabulous locations!
1. Boat Factory Island (Hajógyári-sziget)
Budapest is a city of water and islands. Hajógyári-sziget (or Óbudai-sziget) is the largest of the islands along the city's section of the Danube. "Shipbuilding Island" or "Boat Factory Island" has become world-famous thanks to Sziget Festival—one of the largest music festivals in Europe—which hosts hundreds of attractions and attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year.
But even outside the festival season, this island is a site you won't want to miss. It is a calm, green place with fields and groves where you can spend a whole day in tranquility—a real paradise for people and their pups! But don't forget to take a big blanket, some sandwiches, and drinks, as there are no pubs or cafes on the island.
2. Main Square in Óbuda
Hidden amongst ugly, grey, concrete buildings near Árpád Bridge you can find an old, pleasant square covered with cobblestones. Though Óbuda is often underestimated by tourists (and sometimes even by locals), this area retains some of the atmosphere of the 18th and 19th century, making it well worth a visit.
Around Fő tér—the Main Square—there are a number of restored houses, for example, the town hall of the 3rd district, some taverns, and the Zichy Mansion. Built in 1746-57 as a residence for a wealthy Hungarian family, this mansion is now a museum of modern Hungarian art and local history.
Don't forget to stop at the smallest coffee shop in Budapest, Gazlampa Kioszk! This tiny bar in the center of the square opened in the building of a former gas station.
3. The Koller Gallery and Its Hidden Garden
Buda Castle is a whole district that includes the historical castle and palace complex as well as museums, cafes, churches, and other interesting places. However, one of its best treasures is hidden—the sculpture garden at the Koller Gallery. The Koller Gallery is a three-story atelier-house and the oldest private fine art gallery in Hungary. In addition to its stunning (if small) indoor collection, it also features an intimate sculpture garden.
György Koller (1923–1996) founded the Association of Hungarian Engravers in the 1950s, and it soon became well known in the Hungarian art scene. In 1953, the first private gallery in Hungary was opened in the atelier-house designed for the Hungarian-Italian sculptor Amerigo Tot. In 2006, the grandson of György Koller became the managing director of the Gallery. He has pledged to uphold the gallery's goal of representing Hungarian and international art, both modern and contemporary.
The garden is an oasis between the stones, where you can relax and enjoy the beauty of art. The Koller Gallery and garden is truly a must-see while in Budapest. Best of all? Entry is free!
4. Ruins of the Church of Mary Magdalene
First built in the 13th century, the church was all but destroyed during World War II and Rakosi’s communist era. Now a ruin, all that survives are the main door, the stunning tower with its 24-bell carillon, and a graceful Gothic window. Though these ruins remind locals of the horrors of war, this is still a well-loved place.
5. Gül Baba Street
This cobbled street near Margaret Bridge leads to the tomb of Gül Baba. As you may know, the majority of Hungary—including the territory of present-day Budapest—was occupied by the Turks from 1541 to 1686. Gül Baba was a Turkish holy man, an Ottoman Bektashi dervish poet, and according to a legend, the one who introduced roses to Hungary (although in truth, roses were already known here). Gül Baba is thought to have died in Buda, and his tomb is now a museum and a meeting point for Muslim pilgrims. It is currently closed due to ongoing renovations.
Gül Baba street is a unique place in Budapest because it is one of the oldest and the steepest streets in the city. The pathway curving towards the sacred site was recently renovated but retains its old charm.
6. Vörösmarty Square and Café Gerbeaud
Even though it is one of the busiest places in Budapest, Vörösmarty Square is a popular date spot among locals. It is also where the annual Easter and Christmas markets take place.
The most beautiful building in the square is Café Gerbeaud, a romantic palace designed by Jozsef Hild and built in the 1830s. Gerbeaud Confectionary was founded by Henrik Kugler, the third child of a confectionary dynasty, who became a famous Hungarian confectioner. He traveled to many European cities (including Paris) in search of knowledge and expertise before returning to Hungary and opening his own shop. In the 1880s, Henrik Kugler moved his confectionary to Vörösmarty Square and invited a young confectioner, Emile Gerbeaud, to join his enterprise. Gerbeaud later bought the shop, and now Café Gerbeaud is one of the oldest confectionery shops in the city.
After enjoying a pastry at the café, stroll down Váci street, which is perhaps the most elegant shopping street in Budapest.
7. The Architect’s Cellar (Építészpince)
This edifice was once a palace belonging to Count Kalman Andrassy, but it is now the home of the Chamber of Hungarian Architects. This stunning building boasts ivy-covered façades, a wall fountain, cube stone patterns, and symmetrically curved staircases and is located behind the Hungarian National Museum. This hidden gem is an oasis of calm and charm.
Above the arched staircase of the courtyard, there is an absolutely gorgeous yellow glass and iron awning. Just take a look at the pictures below! The rooms surrounding the courtyard once functioned as the service quarters but are now used for various exhibitions and events, and home to a cheap restaurant with a delicious daily lunch menu. When the weather permits, tables and chairs are set up in the courtyard, making it an incomparable spot to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Don't miss a stop at the Architect's Cellar!
8. Mikszath Square
In the past few years, Budapest's Eighth District—also known as Józsefváros—has become a new hotspot for cultural life with its easygoing cafes, pubs, galleries, and street life. This is the ideal place if you want to ditch crowded tourist sites and rowdy bars in favor of crumbling balconies and local haunts.
This lovely square close to Baross utca is a hub of pleasant nightlife and an ideal place to cool down with a beer, drink a coffee, or eat something before continuing on your way. The square was named after Kálmán Mikszáth, a famous Hungarian writer, publisher, and politician, whose statue is in the corner of the square. He lived here in the 19th century.
One of the best cafes is the Zappa, the interior of which is dominated by a huge floor-to-ceiling mural. It was a legendary place in the late 1980s, and many Hungarian artists and musicians started their careers there.
9. Vajdahunyad Castle
Vajdahunyad Castle, now home to Budapest's Agricultural Museum, was built in 1896 but looks much older because it was designed to showcase the evolution of European architecture and features both Gothic and Baroque details. The locals adore the castle and its small, artificial lake. Part of the City Park (Városliget), it is close to Heroe's Square and the Széchenyi Thermal Bath.
Opposite the castle's main entrance, you will spot a mysterious statue: a man with a hood on his face. It depicts Anonymus, the notary and chronicler of the Hungarian king, Béla IV. The first Hungarian history book was written by this unidentified man.
10. Wekerle Estate
This neighborhood is not a well-known tourist spot and is far from the inner city's popular attractions, making it the perfect place to get away from the crowds that often swarm the city center. Wekerle Estate is a unique place—a fairytale village built in the art nouveau and art deco styles.
The estate was named after Sandor Wekerle, a former Hungarian prime minister who supported the idea of building comfortable, human-scale housing estates for government employees. He was instrumental in launching this project and succeeded in creating a garden city while retaining something of the rural atmosphere of the village it replaced.
Chief among the many architects tasked with designing the housing estate was Károly Kós. Together with Béla Lajta, he created a new Hungarian style that fused the design ideals of Art Noveau and Art Deco with Transylvanian-style architecture. Construction began in 1908, and 1,007 houses were built between 1911 and 1914, including four schools, two kindergartens, and the police headquarters and barracks for mounted police. Unfortunately, construction stopped during the Great Depression in 1925, and there was never any further development. If you take a look at the map of District XIX you can see the geometrically planned streets of this neighborhood.