Paris vs. Budapest: Budapest
Daniel Barabasi | Wednesday, March 19, 2014
In the cold winter of 2013, “Business Insider” named Budapest, a place you probably haven’t heard of, the hipster capital of Europe.
Following the “Book of Hip,” such an act would immediately discredit any underground-ness the capital of Hungary would hold. Instead, the irony of “Business Insider” having any claim to make such a statement only emblazoned the avant-garde spirit of this pearl of Eastern Europe.
You might be wondering how this forgotten city became the center of what you should not have heard of, but, clearly, you have to thank the Turks and the Soviets.
Wait, what? That’s right, the current highlights of the city and culture draw their roots in the two largest conquerors of Hungary. The Turkish threat explains the structure of the current city, with the majestic castle of Buda overlooking the Danube, as well as the Turkish baths where locals and tourists relax on hot summer days and dark winter ones alike. The Soviets, on the other hand, kept the city under a firm rule, releasing over 40 years of repressed creativity and repairs with their withdrawal.
Now, if that doesn’t excite you, here’s something that will: The best recommendation I have for those coming to Budapest is to come “hungary.” Unlike the mainstream tourist destinations in Western Europe, Budapest offers three-course gourmet Hungarian meals for under ten dollars. I’m talking soup or salad, a full entrée and dessert, all for the price of a burrito at Chipotle.
Oh, and did I mention it’s socially acceptable to have dessert with every meal? The pastry and coffee shops of Budapest hosted Nobel Prize-winning poets, writers and photographers in the early 20th century, so clearly dining there will also make you world-renowned. Croissants are so overrated — Instead, complete your European experience with a krémes — custard cake — at the Ruszwurm.
Now, this all might sound more like an affordable European destination rather than the hodgepodge of art and creativity “Business Insider” promised. So why indeed is there a migration of black-rimmed-glasses-toting immigrants to the city?
The answer unfolds in Pest’s District VII, not to be confused in the slightest with the one in Panem. Over the past few years, abandoned, run-down buildings were bought up and renovated by skinny-jeaned entrepreneurs. The product: “Ruin Pubs.” Inside, you can find live bands, hookah bars, dance floors and movies over projectors, all while relaxing under old computer screens and Christmas lights. The pubs tout almost everything available at a thrift shop, with the most popular seating being an old Trabant car and a bathtub.
Now, to get in, of course you’ll have to fit in, and that means perusing the local shops during the day. Secondhand and vintage stores in the center of the city pick out the best of the Soviet fashion, which, considering the strictness of Communist rule, is quite popping. If pre-worn clothing isn’t your style, the local shoe brand, and of course Communist-inspired, Tisza Cipo has made a revival, and costs the same as your average high-end Converse.
If amidst all this eating and wandering you have an urge to kick back as well, the Turkish baths offer a social way to wash of the grit. Locals lounge about multiple indoor and outdoor pools, then sometimes disappear for massages in the heart of the baths. Of course, on summer weekends, the outdoor basins grow speakers and DJs, in this way offering an incentive for youths to visit with pool raves.
At the end of your trip, after hitting all the places mentioned above and then some that have opened since this article got published, you run one big risk. You might not leave your friends back here with their jaws hanging when you brag about your trip to Budapest. But the joke’s on them: While they wiggled through camera-happy tourists in Western Europe, you got to fill your belly and soul at a fraction of the price.
Just please, please, don’t ask about the appetite of the locals.