Budapest is one of the most exciting cities that I have ever visited. Among the many things that are so attractive in Budapest is the city’s rich and bustling artistic life. With more than 40 theaters and concert halls, a prestigious Opera House and over 100 museums and galleries, you can’t get bored here. There is a wide array of cultural events to choose from. From theaters and museums to concerts and music festivals, Budapest has it all. Especially music. Ah, music is at its best in Budapest! With choices ranging from jazz and rock , to classical and opera, you can have a great artistic experience in Budapest as a music lover.
1. Best Music Venues in Budapest
1.1. Vigadó Music Theater
Vigadó is the second largest concert hall in Budapest. The building was erected in the mid 19th century as a replacement for another venue that burned down. At that time, it was the most important concert hall in Budapest, where celebrities like Liszt, Brahms, and Debussy were frequently performing. During the Second World War, Vigadó suffered great damages, but was later on restored to its original beauty. The building is located in a small square, along the Danube promenade.
Compared to other venues in Budapest the acoustics of the hall is not so good. However, the auditorium is superbly decorated and deserves a visit. Unfortunately, Vigadó doesn’t offer tours, so you will have to attend a performance in order to see it. The concert hall is currently the home of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, so they have very good folk dance performances here.
1.2. The Hungarian State Opera
Located on Andrássy Boulevard, the famous opera house in Budapest was commissioned by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph and opened its doors in 1884. Built in Neo-Renaissance style, the building exceeds by far the beauty of Vienna Opera House, after which it was modeled. Although not very big, the auditorium is ranked as the third best acoustics, after Scala in Milan and the Paris Opera House. I had the opportunity to attended several performances over the years and was very pleasantly impressed by the level of interpretation. The subtitles are in Hungarian, so you’ll have to get yourself acquainted with the subject before the performance.
Some may argue that Hungarian opera productions are not as extravagant as the ones in the USA. That may be true, but for $50 you can get the best seat in the house, as opposed to $350 in Los Angeles. Even if you are not a fan of this style of music, visiting the Opera in Budapest is a must. Guided tours in several languages are offered daily, between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m.
1.3. The Palace of the Arts
The Palace of the Arts is the newest and most grandiose addition to the already wide variety of venues in Budapest. It is located in the Ferencváros district, between the Soroksári road, the Grand Boulevard and the Lágymányosi Bridge. Although a little off the tourist route, the Palace of the Arts is really worth a visit. The easiest way to get there from the city center is to take Tram No.2 from Margaret Bridge all the way to Millennium Cultural Center (which I believe is the last stop). Home to the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, Festival Theater, and Ludwig Museum, the cultural center is absolutely beautiful and very unique in Central Europe. The National Concert Hall is huge has one of the largest organs in Europe.
1.4. The Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music
Located in the beautiful Liszt Ferenc Square, this magnificent Art Nouveau building serves as the Budapest’s music conservatory. The building bears the name of its founder, Franz Liszt, the famous Hungarian-born composer. The Academy opened its doors in 1875. Its first location was in Liszt’s apartment, then later moved to into a building on Andrassy Boulevard. Finally, in 1907, it took residence in the beautiful building where it is today. Liszt Ferenc Academy has two beautiful auditoriums: a green-and-gold main hall and a smaller hall for chamber music and solo recitals.
2. Best Music Festivals in Budapest
2.1. Budapest Spring Festival
The Spring Festival is the largest and most prestigious cultural event in Budapest. It takes place in April each year throughout the city in over 40 venues, including various public places, squares and parks. The festival starts with a very beautiful opening parade on the streets of Budapest. The event includes classical music, opera, ballet, and theatrical performances and is attended by many famous Hungarian and international artists.
2.2. The Summer Music Festival
The Summer Music Festival and is held in the mock castle of Vajdahunyad, in City Park, between July and August each year. The event includes a series of classical, jazz, swing and gypsy music. Performances are on Mondays and Thursdays evenings. Attending the open-air concerts is a very pleasant way of spending a beautiful summer night in Budapest.
2.3. Other Music Festivals
Other world renowned music festivals in Budapest include the Hungarian Folk Dance Festival (held in the Buda Castle), the Jazz Festival, and the Sziget Music Festival.
3. Best Theater Venues in Budapest
Theater plays a very important role in the city’s artistic life and is the most popular form of art in Budapest. Unfortunately, because of the language barrier, this form of art is restrictive for visitors. If you are interested in attending an English performance while in Budapest, be advised that there are a few small theaters like Scallabouche and Theater on the Roof that put up English productions once in a while. The following venues are however the best and most famous ones in Budapest and can be toured without attending a performance.
3.1. The National Theater
The National Theater opened in 2002, after many years of planning. The building is stunningly beautiful and has an arc-shaped glass façade decorated with statues of nine muses.
Designed by architect Mária Siklós, the theatre has a very unique, moving stage that can be raised at 72 different points. The park surrounding the theatre building is equally beautiful and has a so-called Ziggurat, a maze, and several statues of famous Hungarian actors. The park has two very interesting elements: a mock ship that seems to be floating towards the Danube, and a very unusual water fountain in the shape of a fallen building façade.
3.2. The Comedy Theater in Budapest
Vígszínház, as the locals know it, is one of Hungary’s oldest and most beautiful theaters. Designed in a French Neo-baroque style by the Fellner and Helmer studio in Vienna, opened in 1896 as the result of the ever-growing demand for bourgeois entertainment in Budapest. The theater plays both national and international plays and musicals.
4. Best Museums in Budapest
Budapest has a great number of museums, many of which are world renowned. From history, to science, art and many more, there is a museum for every age and taste. If you like visiting museums but don’t have too much time in Budapest, I would suggest visiting at least three of them:
4.1. The National Hungarian Gallery
Located in the Buda Castle, the National Gallery houses the largest public collection of fine arts in Hungary. Displays include medieval and Renaissance stone carvings fragments of 11th-15th century, architecture and marble carvings from king Matthias’ palace, great collections of late-Renaissance and Barroque art.
The Gallery occupies restored buildings which formed part of the Royal Palace in Buda Castle. There are 4 floors of treasues tracing Hungary’s art history. Reserve at least 3-4 hours for visiting the museum.
4.2. Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts is located in a neoclassical style building dating from the beginning of the 20th century. The museum has six departments: Old Sculpture Gallery, Old Painter Gallery, Egyptian, Antique, Modern art, and Graphics. If you like visiting museum, this museum will surely impress you. It has a very large collection of international art (over 100,000 pieces), as well as a collection of female artists from the 17 century.
4.3. The Museum of Applied Arts The Museum of Applied Arts is located a couple of tram stops away from Petőfi Bridge, on Üllői Boulevard 33-37, in one of the most iconic buildings in Budapest. This Art Nouveau construction with its outstanding ceramic tile roof was the third of its kind in Europe. The museum houses European decorative arts from the Middle Ages to the present day and has some of the finest pieces of Esterhazy treasury – the most influential aristocratic family in Central Europe.
Here you have it. A list of the best cultural venues that you should miss when visiting Budapest.
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