One of the many things that I find so attractive in Budapest is the city’s rich cultural life. When it comes to music, art and culture in Budapest, you can count on finding the best. With more than 40 theaters and concert halls, a prestigious Opera House and over 100 museums and galleries, there is no way to get bored there. Theater plays a very important role in the city’s artistic life, but the language barrier makes it a restrictive form of art for the visitors. Music, on the other hand, – accessible to anyone – is at its finest in Budapest. With choices ranging from jazz festivals and light music, to classical and opera, you can have some of the best artistic experiences if you are a music lover. Here are some of the venues that I always enjoy visiting when I am in Budapest:
The Hungarian State Opera (located on Andrássy Boulevard) 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 (1200 seats), the horseshoe shaped auditorium offers 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, but so are not the prices. For $50 you can get the best seat in the house compared 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.
Vigadó Music Theater is the second largest concert hall in Budapest. The building was erected in the mid 19th century as a replacement of another concert hall on the same site, that had been destroyed by fire. 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, but the auditorium is superbly decorated and is really worth visiting. Unfortunately, Vigadó can’t be toured, so you will have to attend a concert in order to see it. The concert hall is currently the home stage of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble.
The Palace of 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.
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.
The Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music is a beautiful concert hall and music conservatory in Budapest that was named after its founder, Franz Liszt. Located in the beautiful Liszt Ferenc Square, the magnificent Art Nouveau building has two auditoriums: a green-and-gold main hall and a smaller hall for chamber music and solo recitals.
The Academy of Music, initially called the College of Music, was initially founded in Liszt’s home and later on relocated in its current building. The Academy is home to a vast collection of books and manuscripts donated by Liszt.
A series of classical, swing and Hungarian gypsy music takes place during the months of July and August in the mock castle of Vajdahunyad in City Park. The event is called the Summer Music Festival. Performances are scheduled for Mondays and Thursdays evenings and are a very pleasant way of spending a beautiful summer night in Budapest.
Other world renowned music festivals are: the Hungarian Folk Festival in the Buda Castle, Jazz Festival, and Sziget Music Festival, which is among the top 10 in Europe.
Budapest has a great number of museums, many of which are world renowned. From history, to science, art and more you can find something for every age and taste. There is a lot to see, but if you are not particularly inclined to spend a lot of time indoors, I would suggest at least three of them:
The National Hungarian Gallery (in the Buda Castle) that 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.
Museum of Fine Arts, located in the Heroes’ Square, which is absolutely outstanding. Built at the beginning of the 20th century in a neoclassical style, the building stands With a very large collection of international art (over 100,000 pieces), the museum has six departments: Old Sculpture Gallery, Old Painter Gallery, Egyptian, Antique, Modern collection, Graphics collection.
The museum is very large and has a very impressive collection of old masters, as well as collection of female artists from the 17th century. There is no way to cover the museum in one visit if you really want to see all the collections. I would suggest spending at least the entire day in it.
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.