Destination Insight: Budapest
Budapest for Business
Thanks to its central location connecting eastern Europe, the Balkans, Russia and the Middle East, a highly educated population and a major EU funding boost targeted at SMEs, the Hungarian capital has become a thriving business hub in recent years, generating around 80% of the country’s GDP.
Key sectors in Budapest include ICT and electronics, pharmaceuticals, food industry and automotive, while the city is also home to incubator the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.
Budapest for Pleasure
Budapest is divided by the Danube into two distinct districts on each side of the river: Buda and Pest. Buda is largely residential, while Pest contains the greater part of the city’s visitor attractions.
One of the city’s most distinctive attractions are its ruin bars. Budapest has made resourceful use of these grand dilapidated buildings which fell into disrepair during Soviet times and are now feted as being among the city’s most prized watering holes, whether just for a swift, fortifying glass of the national tipple palinka (a fruit brandy) or a more immersive evening.
Some of the best include Szimpla Kert, one of the earliest ones set in a former factory and which doubles up as a farmer’s market at weekends, and stylish Doboz in the Jewish District with a courtyard decked out with enormous trees and laidback singer songwriters.
New York Café
In its heyday Budapest boasted over 700 coffeehouses, which during the first few decades of the 20th century formed a central role in the city’s cultural life. Many were destroyed in the wars, some remain but few are more famous than the New York Café.
Housed on the ground floor of the Boscolo Hotel, perhaps the proverbial ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’, it was where the city’s intelligentsia hung out and debated the ideas of the day over a coffee and a rich slab of torte.
The building was originally the Budapest HQ of the New York Life Insurance Company and later it housed the offices of the Nyugat literary journal. Legend has it that writer Ferenc Molnár loved the place so much he threw the café’s door key into the Danube in a bid to keep it open around the clock.
Lavishly opulent surroundings, decked out with extravagant frescos, Venetian lamps and gold-plated pillars. Admire the Belle Epoque décor and enjoy being serenaded by the string quartet. The café is a firm tourist fixture so be prepared to queue for a table.
It’s estimated that at least 600,000 Jewish and Roma people were murdered by Fascists during the Second World War, with many hundreds being forced to strip before being shot by firing squad and thrown into the freezing Danube, where of course many perished. Sculptors Gyula Pauer and Can Togay have created a sobering memorial to the victims of this atrocity, with around 60 pairs of rusted, cast iron shoes lining the riverbank. To better understand the wider context of the Holocaust in Hungary, visit the Holocaust Memorial Centre, one of only six dedicated Holocaust museums in the world.
Like many former Eastern Bloc cities, Budapest has exiled most of its Communist monuments to a statue park on the outskirts of the city, but there are still a handful of especially imposing ones to take in at the Citadella on Gellert Hill, high above the banks of the Danube. The 1947 Liberty Statue sees a bronze figure holding a palm 26m aloft in deference to its new occupiers, flanked by a pair of fearsome griffins. From here you’ll also have an excellent vantage point to take in the illuminated cityscape, the Danube and its fine collection of bridges.
Most visitors will flock to Budapest’s Great Market Hall of course, but for a less crowded, more intimate experience take time to explore the Food Hall on Hold Utca. The ground floor here heaves with stalls selling enormous salamis, stuffed pickled vegetables, onion pies, tempting pastries and coffeeshops, while the top floor is given over to street food stalls offering both local cuisine from around the globe.
Budapest’s often called ‘the city of baths’ and for good reason. The city’s abundance of bath houses are a relic from its 16th and 17th century Turkish heritage and few capitals cities can boast such elegant venues for bathing in therapeutic, thermal waters. One of the largest and most historic is Széchenyi Baths, with 18 pools and a stunning Baroque façade, here you can take in the waters while watching men playing chess, chest deep in the thermal outdoor baths.
Getting to Budapest
Budapest is currently served by 15 UK airports including Glasgow, Belfast, Newcastle and Cardiff.
Getting around Budapest
Budapest offers decent public transport, with 4 Metro Lines, trolleybuses, trams, buses and a scheduled boat service which plies the Danube during the summer months.
For more information, visit the tourist board’s site: http://visitbudapest.travel/