It was once the red-light district of Budapest, but not the crumbling former palaces of Jozsefvaros have been transformed to create an arty enclave
SEE: The Károly Kós Gallery is housed in the same grand building as the Association of Hungarian Architects. Set at the back of the courtyard, it puts on a different, heavyweight architecture-related retrospective every fortnight, such as a recent poster show celebrating 19th-century Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl, who designed the State Opera House. Otpacsirtautca 2 (www.meszorg.hu)
The upstairs gallery at Ateliers Pro Arts has rotating exhibitions of work, mostly by Hungarian artists, some of whom also have studios in the cobbled courtyard at the back. Downstairs, the light-?lled bistro restaurant is a good spot for live jazz and blues at weekends. Horánszky Utca 5 (+36 1 486 2378; www.ateliers.hu)
SHOP: Portéka Bolt peddles a few locally made crafts, but the real reason to pop in is the delicatessen with Hungarian wines, jams, chutneys, truffle oils and seriously good milk and dark chocolate made by former sommelier Szanto Tibor. Horánszky Utca 27 (+36 70 313 0348; www.portekabolt.hu)
Ring bell 14 (the difficult-to-spot door is behind the gelato stand) and take the stairs to second-?oor FlatLab, a showroom and studio for a handful of fashion and graphic designers. There’s cycle gear by Urbanlegend, casual-yet-directional men’s and women’s clothing from designer Emese Kasza (her label is Mei Kawa) and text-?lled canvases by Gergely Szoke on the walls. Lights are made from wooden coat hangers, the changing room is full of artwork and there are leather satchels by Kag and lovely Malinovka sketchbooks for sale too. Baross Utca 3 (+36 30 949 4286; www.?atlab.hu)
Szputnyik sells a mix of new and vintage fashion in a gallery-like space with white walls and wooden ?oors. The former mostly consists of printed vest tops, funky ?uoro jumpers and pretty patterned dresses; the latter, jumpsuits and party frocks. There are also accessories: racks of second-hand shoes, belts laid out over an old wooden trunk and magpie-pleasing costume jewellery. Dohány Utca 20 (+36 1 321 3730; www.szputnyikshop.hu)
EAT: There’s a woodland-fairytale feel to Russian restaurant Matrjoska Bisztro, which has owl illustrations on the wall and bare bulbs that dangle over twigs hanging from the ceiling. Order as many starters and small bites as you can – bulgur-wheat salad and tomatoes, lamb blinis, herring and potato, smoked salmon and caviar – and wash it all down with shots of vodka. Lorinc pap Tér 3 (+36 1 796 8496; www.matrjoskabisztro. com).
Yellow-tiled steps and tons of greenery surround the entrance to all-day bar and restaurant Café Csiga (breakfast is until noon). Inside the main restaurant, mismatched wooden tables and chairs cluster around a wrought-iron spiral staircase. The kitchen whips up sharing platters and thick, warming goulash – and there are water bowls for dogs by the door. Vásár Utca 2 (+36 30 613 2046).
SNACK: Bagels, coffee and Hungarian craft beers are all that’s on the menu at Budapest Bagel, a small shop with whitewashed brick walls, a concrete counter and ?oors, and a couple of wooden benches outside. The bagels, which are baked upstairs, are stacked in an upturned crate on the counter and toasted on the spot by bearded guys wearing backwards baseball caps. Savoury options include duck, salami or sautéed peppers; for the sweet-toothed, there are cinnamon-and-raisin bagels with blueberry cream cheese or peanut butter. Baross Utca 4 (+36 30 633 3608)
For an afternoon sugar ?x, stop off at Jezsek Cukraszda, a traditional patisserie and ice-cream parlour. The interiors are nothing special – there are just a couple of round marble tables – but the fancy delicacies displayed under the glass counter are delightful: poppy-seed-and-apple pie, white-chocolate-and-raspberry mousse and Józsefváros lemon-and-kiwi cake, which is light as air and a local speciality. Népszínház Utca 53 (+36 1 333 4408; www.jezsek.hu)
DRINK: Ruin bars – pubs in disused old buildings and originally aimed at students – are all over Pest, but for something more grown-up, head to courtyard bar MI. The outdoor kitchen serves a mash-up of street food: Vietnamese caramelised pork belly, Thai chicken with lemongrass and Mexican empanadas. The place buzzes with a low-key thrum; some nights silent ?lms are projected onto the wall, on others an art class takes over the communal table to paint by candlelight. Mikszáth Tér 3 (+36 70 291 4668)
The coolest café on Mikszáth Square, Lumen roasts its own coffee in the small gallery/events space next door (there are plans to sell bags of beans here too). Join the queue for a morning espresso at the bar in the back, then sit on old-school chairs or low, purple-painted triangular stools. There’s an upright piano, a stash of board games and, at night, the place is packed with people drinking wine and listening to DJs playing jazz, folk and electronica. Mikszáth Kálmán Tér 2 (+36 20 496 8317; www.lumenkave.hu)
SLEEP: The only hotel worth staying at is Brody House, and it’s a lesson in the art of reclamation. Beds are made from wooden pallets or beams. Chairs have been turned into lights. Distressed cream doors are hung higgledy-piggledy on one wall; sheet music is papered over strippedback plaster on another. Each of the 11 rooms is different, so if you’re staying more than one night it’s worth bed-hopping between them. Help yourself to drinks from the honesty bar in the living room or head to members’ club Brody Studios (staying here means automatic entry), a ?ve-minute cab ride away. The hotel also owns Brody Art Yard, a newly opened exhibition space, gallery and screen-printing studio. Bródy Sándor Utca 10 (+36 1 266 1211; www.brodyhouse.com).
For your own crashpad, book the Little Whistle Apartment, a few minutes’ walk from District VIII. It’s perfectly petite: the front door opens straight onto the kitchen with its breakfast bar for two. There’s a double bedroom with smart striped linen and matching curtains tied back with rope, and a living room with another double mattress up a wooden ladder on a mezzanine level. Vintage street signs hang above the doors, there are pretty window boxes and a map marked with a few of the owners’ favourite restaurants. The only downside is the bathroom, which is tiny and fairly basic.