Budapest Guide for Culture Junkies

„Budapest, Budapest, you wonderful thing” – this is the first line of a popular Hungarian song known by almost every person in our country. What can we say? If you dive into the vibrant cultural life of the Hungarian capital, you will have to admit that Budapest is indeed a wonderful city. Below you will find a list of places that are well worth a visit.

Where music lives

Since we started this article with lyrics, it is only fitting to mention concert venues first. Established in 1875, the Franz Liszt Music Academy on Liszt Ferenc Square is definitely one not to be missed. Besides housing classrooms where the academy’s students perfect their craft, its concert hall is home to a number of classical concerts that are carrying on the legacy of the institution’s namesake, world-renowned Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.

While the majestic Music Academy has more of a traditional vibe, the Budapest Music Center (BMC) in Mátyás Street offers a selection of high quality contemporary performances for the lovers of classical music. Besides its concert hall which has amazing acoustics and 300 seats, BMC also houses the Opus Jazz Club where you can listen to the greatest jazz performers from Hungary and abroad. BMC has more than 700 events per year, so you are bound to find something that interests you.

In case you are interested in traditional Hungarian folk music, your place is the Fonó Buda Music House (Fonó Budai Zeneház) in Sztregova Street. The word ‘fonó’ means weaving house in English – the venue got its name from this traditional rural communal space where people used to come together. In Fonó, you can enjoy Hungarian folk music and world music concerts as well as dance house evenings where you can learn folk dances. Trust us, you will have a lot of fun.

The temples of visual art

In case you are more of an arts person, Budapest has a wide variety of programs and venues to offer you as well. There is a wide array of museums and other exhibition spaces where you can enjoy art from a variety of time periods.

First, we have to mention the Műcsarnok (Kunsthalle or Art Hall), a representative exhibition hall of modern and contemporary art right next to Heroes’ Square. Its temporary exhibitions feature Hungarian and foreign artists both individually and in groups as well. The museum’s elegant exterior was designed to impress – it was originally built for the 1896 Millennium Celebrations for the 1000th anniversary of Hungary’s founding.

If you would like to delve into the history of Hungarian art, the Hungarian National Gallery in the Buda Castle is a must for you. Although the palace interiors unfortunately did not survive World War II, the National Gallery has the largest collection of artworks by the most prominent Hungarian artists from the Middle Ages to the 2000s. Besides a number of emblematic paintings and sculptures, the Gallery is also home to temporary exhibitions usually featuring foreign artists.

For the lovers of photography, we would suggest visiting the Robert Capa Contemporary Centre of Photography in Nagymező Street, which is – very conveniently – just a few steps away from the aforementioned Music Academy. Besides the estate of world-famous Hungarian photographer Robert Capa, the Centre usually has works by contemporary photographers on view.

Diverse Budapest

On top of the places listed above, Budapest has even more to offer – there are a few venues that are not dedicated to only one genre. Located right on the banks of the Danube, Müpa is one of the most modern cultural institutions of Hungary. Its programs include classical and contemporary as well as pop and jazz concerts; on top of that, they have opera, new circus and dance performances, literary evenings and film screenings, too. Everybody can find something there.

The Trafó Contemporary House of Art in Liliom Street proves that size is not everything: although it is considerably smaller than Müpa, they are a worthy competitor when it comes to the quality of the performances. Trafó is a unique establishment in the Hungarian cultural scene with its international network; its programs range from theatre, new circus and contemporary dance performances to concerts and art exhibitions.

Last but not least, we have to mention a historical marvel of architecture. The Pesti Vigadó was finished in 1865 and, though it was seriously damaged in World War II, its interiors have been beautifully renovated in the past decade. Originally built to house balls and other social gatherings, now it is home to art exhibitions as well as classical, world music and contemporary music concerts.

After checking every place on our list, you can confidently call yourself an expert in Budapest’s culture – as a well-deserved reward, we would suggest to watch a movie in the Uránia National Film Theatre, one of the most beautiful cinemas in Europe.

Tóth Eszter