The Perfect Weekend in Budapest
7. The coffee: Lots Terem
Grandeur is found in the least likely places in Budapest. On a street also home to discount perfume shops and ropey fashion stores, round the corner from a Hooters bar, is the Parisi Nagy Aruhaz, five glorious floors of books discretely announced by an Art Deco façade. Up the escalators to the first floor is another discovery: one of the finest cafés in a city not short on fine cafés. Indeed, to call Lotz Terem a café feels something of an insult; its Neo-Renaissance interior is more palace than coffee shop. Customers, from students to elderly friends, sit beneath the arched ceiling, sipping on espressos as gargoyles gurn overhead and angels spin in the clouds of a mural painted by Hungarian artist Károly Lotz. Most visitors spend their coffee break lost in their surroundings, finding new details in the enormous chandeliers or the frescoes that fill every patch of wall that isn’t covered in gold. A trip to the pastry cabinet provides respite from a cricked neck: the blueberry cheesecake is just as distracting as all that gilding.
8. The swim: Rudas Baths
The Ottomans cleared out of Hungary some 300 years ago, but they left one very important part of themselves in the capital: the Turkish bath. The Rudas Baths dates from the very early days of their occupation, and has been added to almost every century since. Bathers emerge from wooden changing cubicles, flip-flops slapping on the tiled floor as they make their way to the very oldest section, the 16th-century thermal bath. Light streams in from tinted stars in the domed ceiling, creating coloured ripples on the walls of the octagonal chamber. People sit at the sides, chatting to their friends or reading a book, and plunge into the warm water to float on their backs, eyes shut. A stroll around the rooms leading off the central pool reveals saunas, steam rooms and the stern dispensation of various treatments by fierce-looking men clad in towels. Many visitors bypass the two-tiered 19th-century pool, and the new wellness section, and head straight to the roof. An afternoon at the baths is best rounded off here in the outdoor hot tub, watching boats slowly chug past on the Danube below.
9. The shop: Printa
It takes a fair bit of squinting to work out what the coloured dots make up – a giant Rubik’s Cube, painted on the side of a building on Rumbach Sebestyén street. Opposite, another source of national pride is celebrated in an even larger artwork: Hungary’s 6-3 thrashing of England in the infamous 1953 football match. The street lies deep within Budapest’s creative quarter, Erzsébetváros, more commonly known as the Jewish district. A few doors down from the murals, design shop Printa is right at home in these surroundings. Within, young locals perch at white bar stools drinking flat whites and tea, deciding which geometric necklace or leather bag to buy. Prints hang from crocodile clips on clothes rails, and ceramics are arranged like museum pieces on the low shelves. Much of the more graphic art, printed on tote bags and T-shirts, as well as the more customary paper, is produced in the workshop at the back-among them, our favourite souvenir from the city, a screen printed Pest Collection map of the very district in which it was produced.