Budapest is a city for all seasons…but summer is my favorite. With a warm climate, deliciously long days, and ample outdoor fun, Budapest springs to vibrant life when the weather warms up.
On a sunny day, great views are easy to come by. Up at Buda Castle, most tourists pay $5 to climb onto the fanciful Fishermen’s Bastion view terrace. But if you walk just a few steps to the far end of the terrace, you’ll find a café that lets tourists stroll up for free and snap a photo from essentially the same viewpoint.
Moments after arriving in Budapest on this trip, I stepped out of my hotel and found myself in the middle of the city’s outdoor summer design fair. Sponsored by the local arts organization WAMP, the craft market fills a city-center square one day each month, all summer long, with stylish shoes and handbags, quirky designer dresses, stylized maps of Budapest, all manner of design-y knickknacks, and other eye-pleasing souvenirs. Nearby, a row of creative food trucks — with gourmet hot dogs, burgers, and ice cream — keeps craft lovers well-fed and watered.
The riverfront March 15 Square — once a seedy and borderline-dangerous area — has been totally refurbished. A hip local café, Kiosk, has taken up residence in the grassy park. Order a drink at the bar, find the neon-beanbag-chair perch you like best, and watch the riverboats float by.
In fact, appealing little eateries are popping up all over Budapest — often tucked in picturesque and shady little corners like this one.
For something more classic, grab an outdoor table and nurse an iced coffee or cocktail at one of Budapest’s many grand cafés (a city forté). Callas has long been one of my favorites for its stunning Secessionist interior. But in good weather, it’s hard to pass up the genteel sidewalk ambience and great views of the Opera House and Budapest’s thriving main boulevard, Andrássy út.
Budapest has a summer calendar full of special events (including one of Europe’s premier music festivals, Sziget Festival, in August). But even if you don’t plan your trip around special events, you’ll likely stumble upon something going on — such as the Budapest Marathon, filling the Danube embankment.
Years ago, after maybe a dozen visits to Budapest, I challenged a local friend to show me something I hadn’t seen before. He spent the day taking me all over the city, poking into little hidden treasures like Károlyi-kert — a public park surrounded by looming buildings dead-center in Pest. While tourists throng the main shopping drag, Váci utca, just a couple of blocks away, almost none of them makes it into this tranquil oasis of green. Instead, you’ll find mostly locals: the après-work crowd nursing a drink at a funky outdoor wine bar (Csendes Tars) and browsing nearby design galleries and vintage shops; kids horsing around after school; urbanites simply looking for a leafy escape from the city; and a few smart travelers using the Rick Steves Budapest guidebook.
To really escape from the city, ride the train 45 minutes north to Szentendre, a sleepy little river town with an almost Mediterranean street plan and more than its share of beautiful churches. While the town is packed with galleries and shops (and, let’s be honest, tourists), the main reason to come here is simply to stroll the sunny cobbles and enjoy the colorful old houses. Just a two-minute walk into the steep lane takes you completely away from the crowded main drag.
These are just a few of the ways you can make the most of summer in Budapest. In my next post, I’ll suggest some evening and after-hours options.