2012 promises to be another exciting year to visit Budapest. With its festivals and events, history and culture, emerging design scene, delicious Hungarian cuisine and scenic beauty there are many reasons to visit. Here are 12 great Budapest experiences, in no particular order, to get you started:
1. Turkish Bathhouses
Budapest is famous for its thermal baths, but did you know that the city remains one of the few places in the world with original Turkish bathhouses, dating back to the 16th century, that are still in use? Some of them are in ruins while others like Veli Bej have been recently renovated. Veli Bej, still in its pre-opening stage, is already welcoming visitors and is set to fully open in the first half of 2012. Now is a great time to visit, as admission is cheap and only a handful of people have discovered it. Rudas is another favorite Turkish bath.
2. Sziget Festival Celebrates its 20th Anniversary in 2012
2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the popular Sziget Festival. The event is one of the biggest music festivals in Europe and this year it promises to be better than ever. Sziget will celebrate its 20th birthday with famous international artists, Hungarian bands and rising stars in a number of music genres, ranging from pop-rock to jazz throughout the week-long party. Stay tuned for the full lineup.
3. Budapest's Eclectic and Art Nouveau Architecture
Budapest is known for its beautiful late 19th and early 20th century Eclectic-style buildings and Art Nouveau architecture. This year there will be several events to show them off to visitors, including 'Budapest 100', which opens the doors of 100-year old buildings to the public, and the House of Hungarian Art Nouveau with its permanent exhibitions. Themed walking tours are another great way to discover Budapest's architecture for a behind the scenes look at some of the masterpieces.
4. Budapest's Wine Bar Scene
Hungarian wine is a must-try on your next visit. Most people have heard of Tokaji and Bull's Blood but thanks to emerging young vintners and increased focus on local varieties in recent years, you will be pleasantly surprised at the spectrum and quality of Hungarian wine. To facilitate this trend, hip, new wine bars have been popping up all over Budapest featuring a wide range of Hungarian vintages from around the country.
5. Foodie Tours and Culinary Adventures
Budapest is a great foodie destination, the city has a vibrant restaurant scene and Hungary is famous for its cuisine. In the past couple of years the prestigious Michelin Guide has awarded several stars and Bib Gourmand’s to the best establishments. Budapest is fast becoming a food lover's heaven and dining in the city can be an amazing experience. Whether it's street food, market visits, local eateries, award winning restaurants, cooking classes or culinary tours, there is something for everyone.
6. The First Budapest International Film Festival
The 2012 Budapest International Film Festival was announced at last year's Cannes Film Festival. The event will feature both international and Hungarian feature films, short films, documentaries and animations. If you are a film buff like me, you may also be interested in Budapest's Titanic Film Festival held each year in the spring.
7. Music and Culture
Did you know that Hungary is the birthplace of famous composers and musicians like Liszt, Bartók, Kodály, Kurtág and Ligeti? Budapest lives up to expectations with its prestigious musical institutions, including the famous Opera House, the Academy of Music and the Palace of Arts, not to mention the over 100 museums and galleries in the city. People with more varied interests should check out some of the unique museums that Budapest has to offer.
8. Festivals Abound
It almost seems like there's a festival for everything in Hungary, including 'Mangalica', the curly haired Hungarian heritage breed pig, wine, pálinka, sausages, cheese, contemporary art, dance, jazz, arts and crafts, Christmas fairs and the list goes on and on. This is great news, as festivals are a fun way to learn about the culture and mingle with the locals, and there will be plenty to choose from in 2012.
9. The Always Popular Ruin Pubs
While they have been around for a decade now, Ruin Pubs remain a unique and immensely popular part of Budapest's entertainment scene. Whether it's Szimpla Kert, the oldest and the trend setter for many ruin pubs to follow or Doboz, one of the newest additions, they remain popular with visitors and locals alike. In the summertime Ruin Pubs extend to kerts, patios, and outdoor spaces open from May to October.
10. Emerging Design Scene
WAMP, Budapest's monthly design fair, Art Market, a contemporary art exhibition and fair, Café Budapest, the contemporary arts festival, Design Terminal, the newest addition to Budapest's design scene and the ever popular annual Design Week all make Budapest a worthy 'design destination'. All of these events feature hip, homegrown fashion, art and design by young, up-and-coming Hungarian artists.
11. The Danube River
The Danube makes the list once again, simply because of its scenic beauty and because a Danube cruise remains one of the best ways to experience Budapest and take in the magnificent views of the city. The Danube both divides and connects Buda and Pest and has always played an important role in the city's history.
12. Get More Bang for Your Buck in Budapest
In addition to all that Budapest has to offer (history, culture, baths, architecture, food, wine bars, festivals, ruin pubs, etc.) the city remains very good value for money for visitors, mostly because of its devalued currency, as Hungary is not using the EUR. Great deals can be found on everything from hotels, restaurants, museums and attractions to unique local tours and thermal baths. So be sure to add Budapest to your list of destinations to consider for your next trip.