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A bit away from Budapest's downtown, Zugló is a leafy neighborhood swarming with beautiful residential homes. Unbeknownst to you, you might have already been here since the tourist sites within the City Park — Heroes’ Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, Széchenyi Baths — are also part of it. But there's more to Zugló than just the City Park.
For a deeply immersive experience into everyday Budapest life, I recommend you first visit the Bosnyák Square Market, ideally on a Saturday morning. From Ferenciek tere in downtown, you can take buses #7, #8, #110, #112, or #133E, and within less than 20 minutes you'll be within the confines of this decor-deprived bustling space, which couldn't be more different from the pristine Great Market Hall in the city center. Here, you won't need to worry about being pushed aside by fellow tourists, the price points will make you double-check your currency conversion rate, and vendors will give you the time of day. Pick up some seasonal fruits, vegetables, or paprika-laced salami along the way. Note that the independent farmers are in the back of the space.
If you get hungry, try the sausages or the roasted pork knuckles at the nondescript butcher shop next to the main entry. There's also a lángos stall inside, in the rear of the market, serving made-to-order deep-fried flatbreads topped with sour cream and grated cheese.
Once you're finished, dart across the street and take a bus back toward the city center, getting off at Cházár András utca, not far from the City Park. This area is teeming with beautiful houses hidden on quiet side streets. Zugló's fresh air and proximity to the city drew Budapest's upper crust in the late 19th century — first, they built summer homes to escape downtown's heat waves, then many of them moved out here permanently. During the communist era, these lavish houses were nationalized and parceled up into smaller apartments or became consulates as many of them still are.
The red-bricked art deco building on the far end of Cházár András Street is one of Budapest's top high schools (before WWII, it was a Jewish school, hence the Star of David and the delicate menorah patterns on the facade). Turn right, and saunter down Abonyi Street, taking in these handsome mini palazzos along the way. My favorite eye candy is the medieval castle-lookalike on the corner of Abonyi and Zichy Géza Streets, imposing even in its current state of disrepair.
If you enjoy art nouveau architecture and don't mind a 10-minute detour, turn right and then onto Stefánia Road to reach the Geological and Geophysical Institute of Hungary. Designed by Hungary's famous art nouveau architect, Ödön Lechner, the impressive building features curvilinear motifs and Hungarian Atlas figures atop the light-blue ceramic roof.
Zugló doesn't have many restaurants — Wang Mester Konyhája, a higher end Chinese place is one of the few — but Pántlika Bistro and Kertem are two outdoor-only bars within the City Park also serving food (they're open from spring to fall). While waiting for your order at Pántlika, you could scan the remarkable buildings lining the other side of Hermina Street (#47 was also designed by Lechner).
The Széchenyi Baths is just a stone's throw away from here, in case that's your thermal bath of choice. The City Park is also home to the Vajdahunyad Castle, a bombastic building modeled after a Transylvanian medieval castle. Inside it is the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture, which doesn't sound like a must-see but it actually has a fascinating permanent exhibit in all of its quirkiness; we even wrote an ode to the museum. Parts of the City Park are currently under construction as it's being transformed into a museum quarter as part of the Liget Projekt.
Don't leave Zugló without seeing Heroes' Square, a sweeping plaza peppered with historic Hungarian figures and a towering obelisk. Two major museums flank the area: the Museum of Fine Arts has a world-class collection of Italian Renaissance paintings while the Műcsarnok (Kunsthalle) is best known for its high quality temporary exhibits.
From here, you can take the century-old Millennium Underground / M1 back to downtown, or, if you have limitless energy, first visit the Budapest Zoo, just steps away. Not far from the Zoo's entrance is Édes Mackó, a kürtőskalács vendor that cooks these caramel-glazed chimney cakes the traditional way — over charcoal.
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