What generally brings travelers to Budapest, aside from the goulash, is the capital city’s location on the map. Hungary itself is comfortably nestled on the unofficial border of Western and Eastern Europe, which presents quite a convenient transition for visitors coming from either region. Budapest is well connected to Vienna, Austria as well as Bucharest, Romania, for example, and tourists tend to pass through in transit while on a more ambitious travel itinerary. While it is easy to view the city as a necessary rest stop on the way to somewhere else, Budapest actually deserves more acknowledgment, for it is a conglomeration of cultural wealth and history.
A visitor to Budapest will quickly learn that despite a past defined by countless invasions and occupations from neighboring lands, Hungarians have managed to integrate the best aspects of each reigning guest into their present culture. Yet probably the most influential periods of occupation were, in fact, when Hungary was ruled by the Ottoman Empire for approximately 150 years from 1541 to 1699, and then again when it was under the Austro-Hungarian dual monarchy from 1867 to 1918. There are three particular Turkish and Austrian influences that have remained in Budapest ever since and continue to be part of everyday life.
The Turkish are responsible for introducing coffee culture to Hungary, and the Habsburg Empire stemming from Austria further ingrained it into society so that it is presently impossible to go thirsty in Budapest for want of a sufficient café. Today any native in Budapest will rave about the quality of caffeinated beverages their city has to offer, and rightly so. The blacker, the stronger, the better.
An appropriate accompaniment to any shot of espresso would naturally be a heavenly slice of cake, preferably from Ruszwurm Cukrászda (Ruzswurm Confectionary) found at Szentháromság utica 7 in the Castle district of Buda near the Matthias church. The confectionary has been around since 1827 and while small and cozy, it is regularly overflowing with guests.
Yet another one of Budapest’s famous cafés dating back to 1858 is Café Gerbeaud on Vörösmarty tér 7 in Pest on the other side of the Danube river. While the café is highly regarded for its coffee, cake and pastries, patrons even more commonly flock here for the delectable ice cream served in the fashion of an Austrian ice cream parlor.
To prove that the people of Hungary have successfully taken one influence and adopted it as part of their own way of life, one only needs to mention paprika. This spice has turned into something so Hungarian that many people forget it was originally the Turkish who brought it to the country in the first place. Now paprika has become synonymous with traditional Hungarian dishes, the likes of pörkölt and paprikás as well as other filling meals.
One such establishment where visitors can enjoy coffee specialties by day, Hungarian cuisine in the afternoon and potent alcohol at night is the Silenus Pub & Rezangyal Bistro, located on Petőfi Sándor utca 17 in Pest. The atmosphere here is comfortable, yet lively, and the selection of drinks and meals provides a taste of everything one could wish for on a night out.
Not only have the Hungarians adopted drinks and cuisine, they have also decided to keep certain hobbies as well. In Budapest one will find numerous thermal baths that were originally inspired by their Turkish counterparts.
Arguably the most iconic of these is the Szechenyi Bath and Spa in the City Park at Állatkerti krt. 11 on the Pest side. This spa is one of the more tourist friendly options in that bathing suits are required to be worn by all. There are three outdoor pools as well as several smaller, indoor pools all set to different temperatures, the hottest reaching 38 degrees Celsius (100 F), including saunas and a steam room. During the week a day’s worth of admission with a locker costs 3 400 HUF or 3 550 on weekends (around $15 USD). The spa rents towels to visitors, but these are more akin to bedsheets, so it is recommended to bring one along.
Hungary has been conquered on several occasions throughout its vast history. Yet in Budapest, one is exposed to the very best of these times. With luxuries such as the blackest coffee, the sweetest confectionaries, the spiciest paprika and, of course, the most lavish baths, it is evident that Hungarians do know how to persevere.