Buda's Coolest Neighborhood: A Guide To District 11 (Újbuda)

A combination of brainy college students and middle-class local residents make this a throbbing part of town teeming with cafes and art.

Use this map to find all places mentioned in the article below.

When it comes to food, drinks, art, and events, the Buda side of the city is hardly comparable to the bustling Pest. In fact, until recently, it was difficult to find a single neighborhood in Buda that even remotely resembled the lively parts of Pest across the Danube. Keep in mind, though, that many locals don't mind this at all, and prefer to keep Buda quiet, residential, and free of mass tourism, if possible.

Over the last decade or so, however, art galleries, cafés, and bars have been springing up on and around Bartók Béla Boulevard in District 11, within the area known as Újbuda. The transformation of Újbuda is partly the result of systematic urban planning and new local zoning laws that have drawn cultural institutions to the neighborhood with below-market rents and other district-level benefits.

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A section of Bartók Béla Boulevard.

The most scenic way to reach Bartók Béla Boulevard from Pest is through Liberty Bridge. If you have extra energy, hike all the way up to the Liberty Statue, perched atop Gellért Hill and offering 360-degree views of Budapest. It takes about 30 minutes. If you decide to do it, work your way up on this quieter side of Gellért Hill: take Verejték Street, setting off opposite the entrance of Gellért Bath, which is at the side of the faded-yet-grand Gellért Hotel.

Back on Bartók Béla Boulevard, start your journey at KÉK (Contemporary Architecture Center) and see if they have a temporary exhibit of interest. Across the street from it are two leading contemporary art galleries: Politically-charged artworks are Godot's claim to fame, while Faur Zsófi Galéria's young roster of artists produce experimental pieces of photography, paintings, and installations.

Be sure to visit Pékműhely 2, which puts out some of the best pastries in Budapest from a nondescript, shoe box-sized bakery (#15/b). Although you can't go wrong with anything here, I most enjoy the kakaós csiga (chocolate-filled roll) and the túrós táska (pastry filled with sweet-tart cottage cheese and flavored with ginger for a slight kick).

For coffee, drinks, or a snack, you can choose from two excellent, all-inviting cafés almost next to each other. Kelet was among the first places that spurred Buda’s nascent rebirth. Books line the walls of this snug, dimly lit space, which usually fills to capacity with a mixed group of locals. Béla is a slightly more hip version of the same genre.

Once refreshed, head toward the Danube's bank, where stretches the imposing campus of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. With over 20,000 students and an acclaimed reputation, it's one of Hungary's most important academic institutions. I especially enjoy roaming its leafy campus and visiting a few of its notable buildings.

The most recognizable is the central "K" building (1909), designed by Alajos Hauszmann, the university's own professor (the best view of it is actually from the Pest side). Try to also get a glimpse of the library's impressive Gothic Revival reading room ("Kö" building). Finally, architecture buffs might enjoy the "R" building, erected in a socialist-realist style. It was the state-imposed architectural style of the early years of communism, best known for its primitive decorations featuring joyful laborers. (See our full list of Budapest's most interesting buildings.)

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The campus of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics.

After you've discovered the campus, try Stoczek canteen for a low-priced, stereotypical cafeteria lunch surrounded by students and academic staff. Another great option is the butcher shop on Budafoki Street, and old-school eatery hawking roast sausages, pork belly, and fried schnitzels. Across the campus are two adorable "mom-and-pop" designer stores run by local artists. Fiók for Graphics sells cute stationery, while Repertory specializes in jewelry and clothing.

It's time for drinks? The good news is that you have several options to choose from. Back on Bartók Béla Boulevard is Szatyor, Buda's take on the ruin bar theme. Gdansk Bookstore Café attracts the city's Polish expat community with bohemian-intellectual vibes. Craft beer fans should settle in to the below-ground KEG Sörművház for hop-forward IPAs made by local breweries. During the warm months, Pagony offers an atypical way of enjoying a thermal bath (or whatever has remained of it). Wine lovers: head to Palack for an array of local vinos.

For obvious reasons, many penniless students from the Budapest University of Technology prefer the dirt-cheap and a bit grungy drinking joints off Bartók Béla Boulevard. Two that I can safely recommend are Borpatika and Libella. Aside from students, retired neighborhood regulars with a fondness for alcohol also congregate here.

Finally, note that there's an impossibly cool concert venue, A38, docked on the Danube, near here. It's a repurposed Ukrainian stone-carrier ship from 1968, and today one of the main concert halls of the city with A-level live shows almost every night of the week—be sure to check their schedule, you might find something of interest (for more concerts, also see our weekly events guide).

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