The favorite Budapest places of an architecture critic

Photo: Barna Szász for Offbeat

Dávid Zubreczki is a renowned journalist in Hungary writing about the urban design and architecture of Budapest. Think of him as the unofficial tastemaker for the general public when it comes to, say, a high-profile new building or a neglected historic neighborhood. Dávid’s writing is precise but never preachy, and one can always sense the mountain of knowledge behind his sentences. This year, he has written two beautiful books about architecturally important church buildings in Budapest and the Danube Bend. Be sure to follow him on Instagram for updates.

Which neighborhood do you like to hang out in?

I’ve lived in Mátyásföld since I was born. As I like to say, my home address has changed five times, but my zip code has never. Mátyásföld was built as a vacation resort on the city’s outskirts at the turn of the 20th century, but Budapest has swallowed it up over time. Though parts are in disrepair, it has retained some of its historical charm, complete with country houses, spacious gardens, and wide roads lined with sycamore trees.

Where do you usually go for coffee or a drink?

Since I live on the outskirts of Budapest, when I’m in the city center, I usually just go wherever my friends are. Mátyásföld doesn’t have too many bars, so I like to drink my fröccs (wine spritzer) on the balcony. If I do go out around here, I head to Legenda Bowlingozó. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to trek out here just for it, but it’s a perfectly unpretentious place with homemade beers.

I also like their quirky brewery (Legenda Brewery), which is nearby and with seating for customers. It occupies what used to be a furniture store and the owners haven’t changed much of the interior. The patrons are a cross-section of the neighborhood, ranging from craft beer fans to construction workers. I usually get an order of pork knuckle (csülök) with my beer. Even if you’re hesitant about this dish, I can safely recommend it; it’s among the best I’ve had.

Is there a lowkey restaurant you like to drop in for a quick meal?

Near my place in District 16, there are two really good casual restaurants; one a pizza shop, the other a burger joint. At the wonderful Kemencés Pizza, it’s not unusual to see a pizzaiolo outside the shop chopping wood to fuel the oven inside. There’s only a few seats and usually a very long long wait — they might tell you to come back in an hour and a half — but when they hand you the steaming, just-out-of-the-oven pie, you know it was worth it. The burger place, Kalóz Burger, is located along my running trail by the Szilas stream. The burgers are very good and they also sell craft beers sourced from a nearby brewery called Synthesis, located just around the corner.

How about for a sitdown dinner?

There are few elegant sitdown venues out here in the “countryside,” but I’ve never been disappointed by Limoncello restaurant. Just to be clear, gastro tourists shouldn’t venture out here just for this, but if you’re already in Mátyásföld, I can safely recommend it for a decent lunch.

What are some places you visit to see local art?

I don’t have go-to places, instead I seek out venues for a specific performance or exhibition. Most recently, I was at the Ludwig Museum for two openings, both of which I can highly recommend. One is a collection of the pieces shortlisted for the Esterházy Art Award 2021, the other is called “Othernity.” This one presents buildings from Hungary’s Communist period, and shows the works of young, contemporary Central European architects who updated the original, so-called socialist modernist designs.

What are some places fans of architecture shouldn’t miss while in Budapest?

Budapest has few individual buildings that are considered singular. Instead, the uniqueness of this city comes from the overall impression of its architecture — the views, the atmosphere, the panorama. There’s also its naturally beautiful setting with the Danube, the Margaret Island, the gentle Buda hills, and the grand boulevards, avenues, and plazas that sprung up during the Austro Hungarian Empire.

If I nonetheless had to come up with something architecturally unique, I’d name two buildings near each other. The funeral chapel (#60) of the Farkasréti cemetery was designed by Imre Makovecz in 1991. He remodeled the interior of an old building in a way that the wooden beams give the impression that we stand inside the rib cage of a person, where the casket is positioned in the place of the heart.

Across from the cemetery stands the church of All Saints (#61), designed by István Szabó in the 1970s in the Brutalist style. There was little public funding for churches during the Communist period, so the architect himself crafted many of the interior furnishings, for example he painted the glass windows. Despite the building's cheap, prefab concrete elements, which Szabó didn’t try to conceal, it looks striking from the outside, and even more beautiful from the inside.

What tip would you give for Budapest visitors to get the most out of their time in the city

Don't miss the main attractions! It’s cool to focus only on the unknown and the offbeat, but in all seriousness, it’s for good reason that certain landmark sites have become the key attractions of Budapest.

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