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Trip Plan Tags: 
budapest weekend

Wish list for the Ecsite conference trip


Tandem Café


Piaf, Hungary

25 Nagymezö utca, Pest, District VI
Budapest 1064, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 312 3823

Open from dusk till dawn, this red-velvet underground lounge and after-hours club babysits a diverse crowd of urban vampires—the comfortably unemployed, Central and Eastern European layabouts, and modern troubadours—all paying homage to the eponymous Gallic goddess of heartbreak. Pick your poison: There's smooth jazz at the piano bar upstairs, or obscure disco and '80s pop songs on the packed dance floor downstairs.

Open 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.


Gresham Bar, Hungary

Four Seasons Gresham Palace, 5–6 Roosevelt tér
Pest, District V
Budapest 1051, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 268 3000

Inside the Four Seasons Gresham Palace hotel, this swanky cocktail lounge brings international luxe and concomitant prices to Roosevelt Square, on the Pest side of the lovely Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd). Filled with an international, multilingual mix of hotel guests, well-to-do locals, and expatriate businessmen, the marble-clad space is somewhat dark, with a touch of intrigue. It's also expensive, and worth it, for top-shelf bottles served by well-trained mixologists at a marble-and-mirror bar beneath an arched skylight with Art Deco arabesques.


Dokk Club, Hungary

122 Hajógyári sziget, óbuda, District III
Budapest 1033, Hungary
Tel: 36 30 53 52 747

Located to the north of the city on óbudai Island, a.k.a. Hajógyári sziget, this vast cavernous lounge and dance club with brick arches, billowing curtains, VIP booths, and two elevated catwalks serves up sophisticated trance and house from visiting international DJs, such as Liverpool's Mark Knight and Frankfurt's DJ Tarkan (as well as local resident DJs). The beau monde is certainly shooting for the moon here. Girls garb themselves in all the finery they can muster, but only twice a week: Dokk is open on weekends only, though the hedonistic after-parties, which last until well after dawn, more than make up for the limited hours.

Open 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. Closed Sunday to Thursday. Closed from June through August.

Bahnhof Music Club


A38 Ship (A38 Hajó), Hungary

Petöfi bridge embankment, Buda, District XI
Budapest 1117, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 464 3940

Right on the Buda side of the Petöfi bridge, this beloved club, restaurant, and bar, occupying a Ukrainian ship anchored in the Danube, attracts everyone from club kids (for the DJ shows) to couples in their mid-50s (for dinner and torch songs). On a given night, you might find France's ska-salsa sensation Sergent Garcia, England's electronic stars E-Z Rollers, or the Russian-English turntablist DJ Vadim. Unsurprisingly, the views over the river and embankments can't be beat; much more unexpected are the great jazz combos that add a relaxed vibe to what is ostensibly a party barge.

Open 11 p.m. to 4 a.m.

See + Do

House of Terror Museum (Terror Háza Múzeum), Hungary

60 Andrássy út, Pest, District VI
Budapest 1062, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 374 2600

By no means appreciated by all when it opened, partly due to the word "TERROR" writ huge on the building's facade, this museum sets out to expose the ways and means of two 20th-century systems of oppression that held sway here—right here. From 1937 to 1956, this 1880s neo-Renaissance town house harbored first the ultra-right Arrow Cross Party's HQ, then the offices and interrogation rooms of the Communist secret police. Creepiness has been amplified to the max with re-creations of torture chambers, screenings of propaganda films and survivor interviews, and walls full of coerced "confessions." It's part chamber of horrors, part memorial.

Closed Mondays.

See + Do

Gellért Baths and Spa, Hungary

Danubius Hotel Gellért, 4 Kelenhegyi út
Buda, District XI
Budapest 1118, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 889 5500

The quintessential city spa is fed by Gellért Hill's mineral hot springs, flush with calcium, magnesium, hydrocarbonate, alkali, chloride, sulfate, and fluoride, and is good for what ails you—especially if that happens to be rheumatism, osteoarthritis, neuralgia, lumbago, ankylosing spondylitis, and pretty much any chronic degenerative joint disease. But you don't need to be sick to bob around with the nénis and bácsis (aunties and uncles) in the gorgeous, dimly lit Roman temple–like pool, with its marble columns, stained-glass roof, and mosaics, inhaling the slightly stinky steam. Despite signs warning of the perils of long immersion in high concentrations of minerals, it's common practice to wallow all day, bringing your snacks, newspapers, and chess boards and ending up with skin that resembles the hippopotamus you've been impersonating. Massages and other therapies take place in the medical suites and are a terrific bargain (though they bear no relation to scented hotel spa sessions with padded benches, Enya soundtracks, and fluffy towels). This is all burly Hungarians, wooden tables, and soap suds—and forget about modesty. There are many other spas in Budapest, of course, but this is the classic one you've seen in pictures, and it's conveniently sited by the Liberty Bridge. Note: It's operated independently from the eponymous hotel by the Budapest Spas Co., so it's not necessary to be staying in the very faded Gellért Hotel. No treatments on weekends.

Closed Saturdays and Sundays between October and April.

See + Do

Castle Hill, Hungary

Buda, District I
Budapest, Hungary

The funicular from Clark Ádam tér is the nicest way to approach the romantic, scenic, and egregiously misnamed Castle Hill. There is no castle. However, there is a Royal Palace, which dates from the 13th century—not that you'd know it. Having been destroyed 31 (yes, 31) times, its latest, Communist-built incarnation is remarkably dull, though it does house the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Also up here is the residence of the president of the republic, Sándor Palace, and, in Szentháromság tér (Trinity Square), the church Mátyás Templon, where King Matthias was married and Franz Liszt's Coronation Mass had its 1867 world premiere when Emperor Franz Joseph was crowned king of Hungary ( The Fishermen's Bastion—the part of the medieval ramparts that once protected the fisherman's market—is another landmark up here, as is Ruszwurm, which catered to the sweet tooth of Queen Erzsébet (a.k.a. Sisi) in 1827 and is still serving cakes today (7 Szentháromság; 36-1-375-5284; Altogether, it's pleasant to stroll the cobblestone streets, admire the views, and maybe succumb to the touristy boutiques.

Tom George



Menza, Hungary

2 Liszt Ferenc tér, Pest, District VI
Budapest 1061, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 413 1482

Menza is partly a gag, taking its name and decor from the Communist-era cafeterias that once dotted the city. But it also serves excellent simple cooking at moderate prices: Main courses, like tender roast baby chicken with timbale of baby spinach or hearty paprika-inflected fisherman's soup of pike, perch, zander, and trout, hover around $10. The retro vibe, value-for-money ratio, and first-rate people-watching have made Menza the destination on busy Liszt Ferenc tér for artsy scenesters and business types loosening their neckties after-hours. If you can't reserve a table in advance, come by around 5:30 or 6 and grab a drink before dinner: You won't get kicked off your table when you finally decide to eat, and you'll have even more time watching the scene. Prices are low enough in the evening, but weekday lunch specials dip even more: two filling courses for about $5.

Lunch and dinner daily.


Kádár, Hungary

9 Klauzal tér, Pest, District VII
Budapest 1072, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 321 3622

Only open for lunch, this mom-and-pop shop is run by a Marlon Brando look-alike whose recommendations are not to be taken lightly—not so much because you're thinking of The Godfather, but because everything is excellent and filling. Favorites include tender stewed pork with house-made noodles, and peppers stuffed with a mix of pork, rice, and spices in a savory tomato sauce. Echoing an earlier era, photos of Hungarian celebrities from the 1970s adorn the wood-paneled walls, and self-serve seltzer bottles sit on the tables (which are covered in red-and-white checked cloths, of course), but be careful, or you'll pull a Marx Brothers on your lunchmates. Prices are similarly old-fashioned: Even with appetizers, drinks, and a dessert, like the wonderful shredded-apple cake, it would be hard for most couples to cross $30. The experience of being served Hungarian home cooking by what appears to be Don Corleone, however, is priceless.

Closed Sundays and Mondays. Lunch only.


Gundel, Hungary

2 Állatkerti út, Pest, District XIV
Budapest 1146, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 468 4040

Maybe you're embarrassed to obey your swanky hotel's concierge and heed the advice of every guidebook ever written, but in the case of Gundel: Get over it. Just dress in finery, order up your chariot, sweep into the park, and allow yourself to be ushered to your table in the Art Nouveau palace that first opened in 1894 (and is now owned by restaurateur George Lang and cosmetics tycoon Ronald Lauder). As the waiter, just this side of obsequious, snaps your virgin napkin, and you spear your goose liver with Tokaji and Hungarian truffles with your sterling-silver fork…just yield. Oh, and consider a second mortgage.


Café Kör, Hungary

17 Sas útca, Pest, District V
Budapest 1051, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 311 0053

Kör is one of the perennial best in town, thanks to chef Ádám Répás, who uses seasonal ingredients and bases his menus on Hungarian comfort food, then twists and lightens for the modish palate. Accordingly, the antique tables in the ocher-walled bistro next to the basilica—and, in summer, the terrace tables—are always full of a cross section of Budapesters: the arts crowd, dressed-up ladies, and (a lot of) expatriates. A list of daily specials augments the likes of roast salmon with lemon balm sauce and potato croquettes—also available (as is everything) in a smaller portion at a smaller price. This is the place to acquire your Hungarian sweet tooth: The expert pastry chef turning out cheese dumplings with hot fruits-of-the-forest sauce and gâteau Gerbeaud is Répás's grandma. It's also open for breakfast.

Closed Sundays; cash only.



Café Central, Hungary

9 Károlyi Mihály Utca, Pest, District V
Budapest 1053, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 266 2110

Originally opened in 1887, Café Central quickly became the center of the city's intellectual life, spawning important periodicals and literary movements, maintaining a library of reference books, and subscribing to over 200 newspapers for its reading poles, only to be shuttered in 1949. Rescued and reopened by a local businessman in 2006, it may no longer be a breeding ground for Nobel laureates, but for a fix of Austro-Hungarian café culture, this legendary kávéház on the Pest side of the Elisabeth Bridge remains a standout. A renovation in late 2010 brought in a new manager (sourced from one of the city's toniest restaurants) and cocktail bar, plus an updated dinner menu of such Continental classics as grilled chicken suprême, Vienna-style schnitzel with creamy potato salad, and slow-roasted veal cutlets with spicy vegetable lecsó. Once again, the Central can be highly recommended for far more than just coffee and cakes.—Updated by Evan Rail

Open daily 8 am to midnight.


Buena Vista Café, Hungary

4-5 Liszt Ferenc tér, Pest, District VI
Budapest 1064, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 344 6303

A mover and shaker in the Liszt Ferenc tér scene, this three-level place, with a huge terrace of canvas chairs in summer, has a fabulous Danish Modern–meets-dungeon decor and an extensive menu ranging all the way from maté to exotic teas in the first-floor café to veal tournedos with goose liver and fogás (a fish from Lake Balaton) in the upstairs restaurant. The hip factor is raised by the fact that the owners also stage the annual Sziget festival—the Hungarian Lollapalooza.


Baraka, Hungary

Andrássy Hotel, 111 Andrássy út
Pest, District VI
Budapest 1063, Hungary
Tel: 36 1 483 1355

Widely considered to be one of the best kitchens anywhere east of the old Iron Curtain, Baraka has only gotten better since moving in spring 2006 from a beloved downtown location to a slicker, bigger, and less-crowded spot inside the Andrássy Hotel, at the far end of the city's favorite boulevard. Tables in the space-age banquet hall (long and dark, with black and purple walls and silver trim) are separated by pewter vases filled with tall, fresh lilies. The staff is very helpful and knowledgeable about all kinds of Hungarian wines—a region where most of us need guidance. Prices aren't cheap—main courses start at $25—but are always worth it: A wing of pan-seared red snapper, drizzled with porcini butter, arrives on a fragrant cloud of ginger mashed potatoes, and seared goose liver is served on toasted brioche in a port–red currant sauce. Bargain hunters should make a weekday lunch reservation and order two courses of the same creative cooking for around $15.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.