The Favorite Budapest Places of An Architecture Historian
A curator for the Hungarian pavilion at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale, Dániel Kovács is an architecture historian whose books and articles have shaped the way I view Budapest. He was chief editor of influential architecture magazines including HG.HU and Építészfórum and is currently in charge of special projects at the Hungarian Museum of Architecture. Dániel has also written beautiful books about Budapest’s Art Nouveau and Bauhaus-inspired modern buildings.
Which neighborhood do you like to hang out in?
Two years ago, just before the pandemic hit, my partner and I moved from Dohány Street on the Pest side to Újbuda in District 11. Since then, our new neighborhood has offered plenty to discover: the Danube’s bank; Kopaszi-gát; the hillsides dotted with villas; the cafés and stores along Bartók Béla Boulevard; the interwar-era apartment buildings ringing Móricz Zsigmond körtér; and Gellért Hill. I love that here in Újbuda, it’s just as easy for me and my partner to keep ourselves occupied as it is for our five-year-old son.
Where do you usually go for coffee or a drink?
I like Béla and Kelet, both of them cafés on Bartók Béla Boulevard. Before we moved, we were regulars at Jelen, but it has since moved to Ráday Street (where it’s called Jelenke), unfortunately right across the street from a very loud gym.
Is there a lowkey restaurant you like to drop in for a quick meal?
Hummus bar! A great shawarma, no matter the time of day, can always knock me off my feet. But when I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll cross the river to Biang, a casual Chinese restaurant by the Great Market Hall. Their homemade noodle dishes are the best thing that has happened to noodles since the invention of the Bolognese sauce.
How about for a sitdown dinner?
To me, the greatest thing about Budapest’s food scene recently, even more so than the new Michelin-starred places, has been the appearance of excellent and affordable Middle Eastern and Asian restaurants. My most recent positive experience was at Leila’s, a small Lebanese restaurant in Paulay Ede Street. It delivers all the charms of a family-run establishment and the food is wonderful.
What are some places you visit to see local art?
At the permanent exhibit of the Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti) I always find new favorites. Most recently, for example, a beautiful Jacobean-era portrait by William Larkin that the museum recently purchased. I have a very positive experience also with the Kiscelli Museum (especially the exhibits inside the vast church building) and the Kassák Museum, about the life and the work of Hungarian avant-garde artist Lajos Kassák.
This coming spring, my employer, the Hungarian Museum of Architecture, will open its first exhibit inside a 1936 modernist building which once belonged to the opera star Rózsi Walter and was designed by József Fischer. It will be the first authentically restored villa from this period that’s open to visitors. The opening exhibit will explore the topic of modern homes.
What are some places fans of architecture shouldn’t miss while in Budapest?
I think Fészek Művészklub is a true treasure. It was a clubhouse for Hungarian artists and the inside today is fitted with striking 1960s furnishings. Even if you don’t go for a specific event, try asking the doorman to let you in for a peek. The interior courtyard, home to a Cuban restaurant now, has retained the original details complete with maiolica decorations.
If you’re interested in post-1945 architecture and design, my field of research, then I’d recommend the National Gallery, whose interior is among the best from this period. Unfortunately, the museum will likely be dismantled soon.
What tip would you give for Budapest visitors to get the most out of their time in the city?
The advice I have is the one I try to follow when I travel abroad: give it some time to let the city and yourself discover each other; try to meet some locals; be open and flexible; and do a variety of things. And of course don’t miss a stroll down the Danube’s bank, ideally both during the day and at night.