For centuries a tumultuous crossroads of art, architecture, invasion and rebellion, the bohemian capital of Hungary has finally found serenity. But it’s still got a maverick soul.
Author Sarah Horne
FLICK THROUGH ANY HISTORY OF BUDAPEST and it’s abundantly clear that for every flourishing of the arts and architecture, for every golden decade filled with pastries and sweet coffee and endless conversation, residents have had to endure less lovely periods. It’s no wonder Budapestians have a reputation for telling it like it is. Suffering invasions by the Turks, the Germans and the Communists, the city’s denizens developed a taste for both decadence and rebellion, tempered by a hefty dash of sunny resignation.
And yet, in spite of it all, Budapest is flourishing again, its grand buildings refaced, its pitted streets once more lined with Belgian blocks, its edgy spirit thriving in unexpected corners. But don’t worry—the city’s rebirth hasn’t diminished its bohemian dreaminess. Hollywood couldn’t have concocted a more evocative, nostalgic scene. All you have to do is step into one of the city’s smoke-filled bars, where locals squabble good-naturedly until dawn. Or you can take in the buildings skirting the Danube (which splits the city in two: Buda and Pest), all moody in the hazy afternoon light. Budapest is moving forward, but its heady past is everywhere.
And rest assured—the shopkeepers are still delightfully surly.