The Favorite Places In The City of a Budapest Expert

Photo: Tas Tóbiás

There isn't enough space here to list the full range of Noémi Saly’s expertise. She’s an all-around Budapest expert, a coffeehouse specialist, and a cookbook historian. In her books, she beautifully brings alive the Budapest of yore: its colorful characters, memorable stories, and legendary places. Recently, I had the chance to ask about her favorite Budapest places and her answers were characteristically original.  

Which neighborhood do you like to hang out in?

In Tabán, naturally, where I’ve been living since I was born. Today, it may just look like a large green space in the heart of the city but it used to be a vibrant residential area before they knocked down the houses in 1933-36 to make space for an elegant spa district. Nothing came of it because of WWII and instead Tabán was turned into a massive park. But in my head, I can still picture the old Tabán: winding streets, goats grazing on the hillside, children romping, drunkards wobbling down the street, women hanging clothes on the line, and the slender tower rising from the orthodox church.

Where do you usually go for coffee or a drink?

These days I rarely go out to cafés or drinking joints but I do have a few favorites. I like Tranzit, which occupies what used to be a bus station on Kosztolányi Dezső tér; Csészényi in Krisztinaváros; and Gerlóczy and Centrál in downtown.

What’s your favorite Hungarian food or pastry? Can you recommend a Budapest restaurant for people to try?

I love fish but hate scaling it, so when I’m at a restaurant that’s what I’ll usually order. At my favorite local spot, Tabáni Kakas, it’s always a great dilemma whether I should get the roasted trout or the crispy duck leg with bits of liver and red cabbage… My other important fish place is the Szegedi Halászcsárda, located along the Danube on the Pest side near Liberty Bridge. The fish soup (halászlé, #14) is just as good as in their “mother restaurant” in Szeged. As for pastries, I swear by Auguszt Pavilon across from Farkasréti cemetery. Their cottage cheese pie (túrós pite) and custard slice (krémes, #9) are unbeatable.

What are some places you visit to see local art?

The most important, which I’d recommend to anyone, is the National Gallery, always with good exhibits. But since I’m a cultural historian and museologist, my favorites are the smaller museums that fall outside the main attractions. Such as my former employer, the Hungarian Museum of Trade and Hospitality, in Óbuda, with plenty of wonderful artifacts and temporary exhibits. And the nearby Goldberger Textile Museum, the Óbudai Museum, the Vasarely Museum (showing the works of Victor Vasarely, father of the Op art movement), the Thermae Maiores (with Budapest’s Roman-era remains), and the Ganz Foundry Museum — and boom, you’ve spent the whole day.

Similar hidden treasures on the Pest side include the Museum of Tax and Customs and the Hopp Ferenc Museum of East Asian Art, both of them inside stunning villas. I regularly revisit these museums, dragging along the children of family and friends, who usually end up having a really nice time.

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

Apart from the must-see sites, leave some time to discover the everyday side of Budapest. On a Saturday morning, visit the market on Fehérvári út or in Kispest. Besides Széchenyi Baths, try Veli bej or, in the summer, the Csillaghegy baths. Take a stroll down Király Street, which runs parallel to the better-known Andrássy Avenue. See the Pálvölgyi cave with incredible rock formations — you’re unlikely to find elsewhere a natural treasure like this just minutes by bus from the city center.

Take a ride on the Children’s Railway, coming back down via the Libegő chairlift (it’s most beautiful at sunset). Most importantly, don’t mind spending four or five days in Budapest; two isn’t enough for a well-rounded experience. Budapest isn’t street-food; it’s a long, unhurried, multi-course meal. Enjoy!

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