Arcade Bistro – Elegant French Restaurant in Budapest

Arcade Bistro is a highly popular upscale French style restaurant in Budapest off the beaten tourist track. As Fodor’s guide puts it, Arcade Bistro is a “modern, sophisticated bistro on a leafy intersection not far from Déli Pályaudvar (Train Station). The floor-to-ceiling waterfall smack in the middle of the dining room soothes as it keeps conversations discreet and complements the unfussy interior.” Frommer’s guide says: “this is a pleasant retreat at the foot of the Buda hills … which serves a unique palette of seafood and a selection of Hungarian and international cuisine. The starter was truly special, being a wonderfully marinated salmon with a red-pepper sauce: an unusual, yet very positive selection in a country where marinated or smoked salmon is a rarity. … We liked this place for its cozy and creative atmosphere.”

Address: Kiss János Altábornagy utca 38., Budapest 1126
Phone: 00-36-1-225-1969
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 11-16 and 18-24 (closed on Sundays)
Getting here: tram/ streetcar number 59 from Déli pályaudvar (Southern railway station) metro (red line), station.
Note: Booking a table in advance is a good idea. Wine by the glass (33 open bottles). Closed on Sundays. Hungarian artworks on the wall: El Kazovskij, Mulasics, Nadler, etc.

See the location of Arcade Bistro on the Budapest Tourist Map (check the knife and fork map icon in the middle, and click on the icons to learn more about the neighboring places of interest or click on the View Larger Map blue link under the map):


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Read more about the Best Restaurants in Budapest.

Cafe New York in New York Palace Hotel, Budapest

Café New York (New York kávéház) is in the recently renovated opulent five-star hotel, in the New York Palace, in a busy part of Budapest (easily reached by the red line metro at Blaha tér, or the trams 4 and 6).

It was a historical venue where the big names of Hungarian literature and movie making used to get together, but today it’s a luxury coffee house and bar – one of the oldest grand cafés of the fin de siecle Budapest. Both smoking and non-smoking parts. For your coffee, I suggest trying the Tiramisu in real Italian style, or just sipping a glass of Tokaj aszú – according to totally unscientific studies it helps to feel the grandeur of the café.

New York Cafe in Budapest New York Palace Boscolo Hotel

Opening hours: from 9am to 1am
Address: Erzsébet körút 9-11., Budapest district VII. 1073
Phone: 00-36-1-886-6111
Wifi: yes

See its location on the Budapest tourist map Check the yellow House icon in the middle standing for the New York Palace and Cafe, and click on Cup icons to get further info on good /Best Cafes in Budapest or the knife and fork icon for good / Best Restaurants in Budapest.


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The History of New York Cafe Budapest

The four-floor New York Palace was built in 1894 in eclectic style by a New York-based life insurance company: of course, not as a palace but as an elegant office complex. It re-opened as New York Palace Boscolo Budapest Hotel, a five star hotel of the Italian Boscolo group managed by Antonio Delpin, in May 2006. Its café, the New York, or rather, The New York in Budapest lingo (opened by Sándor Steuer a member of a famous coffee-family in 1894)

New York Cafe, Literature and Film art

The cafe became one of the most popular iconic cafés of fin-de-siécle Budapest, especially amongst Budapest literati: writers frequented the café for its inspirational atmosphere and company as well as for good coffees and meals. Waiters treated authors with due respect, even providing ink, paper, or aspirin for them. Special discount Writers’ Plates with generous portions of ham, cheese and rolls were given to artists just for a few cents (writing rarely has been a lucrative living). Writers of the first professional mainstream periodical of Hungarian progressive literature called Nyugat (West) were regularly coming together in New York Café. The managers (Harsányi brothers) loved the talented authors who aimed to elevate Hungarian literature to international standards – with great success. Can you imagine that there were 400 different journals and papers in the café to read at the turn of the 20th century? According to Noémi Saly, a Budapest café expert, in addition to Hungarian dailies and periodicals, Czech, Spanish, French and English journals were on display.

Moreover, in the 1910’s theatrical and movie intellectuals found their home in the café. “Indeed, this is where Sir Alexander Korda – director of films such as The Private Life of Henry VIII & The Thief of Baghdad – started out for his world award winning career, just as Michael Curtis, Oscar winning director of Casablanca did too,” according to the hotel’s official website. Yes, the café is undoubtedly deeply rooted in Hungarian cultural history.

In 1920 Vilmos Tarján put together his capital (half a million gained through gambling as District VII local government’s website points out) and took over the management of the café, which became the center of Budapest night life up until 1936. Once it was even visited by a circus seal to the amazement of the audience.

New York Cafe as a Warehouse?

In 1945 the palace was bombarded, the café had to close down in 1947 and was turned into a warehouse. What a beautiful warehouse it must have been…. It opened again in 1954 renamed as ‘Hungaria’ (New York was too capitalist for the then communist Hungary, and it was not a café any more just a buffet and restaurant). Two years later, the 1956 revolution left its marks on the building. After World War II there were plans to turn the palace into a fashionable mall, then in the communist era it functioned as the headquarters of a national publishing group (Pallas).

New York Cafe in the Modern era

After the change of regime in 1989, there were several bidders for the palace who wished to transform the property into a shopping center, and some suggested it as the venue for the new national theater.

But in 2001, Boscolo Hotels, the Italian hotel chain, purchased New York Palace from the Hungarian government with the promise of a full restoration of the famous New York Café. The café indeed got back its former pomp and the magical mixture of styles. “What will be done to bring back the poets and the painters?” posed the question Eve M. Kahn in the New York Times to Gilles Stellardo, the marketing director for Boscolo in North America. And the answer is elusive ”We will do something special for the writers and artists; we’re figuring that out right now.” Well, even if you don’t meet artists (there are no discount artist rates any more), you will surely enjoy the painstakingly restored café with rich marbles, friezes and gilt, the Murano glass chandeliers as well as high quality Italian coffees.

New York Cafe – Interior Design

The opulent splendor of New York Palace is characterized by the heavy influence of Italian renaissance with elegant but lavishly furnished interiors in marble, gilt, velvet, crystal, silk, bronze, enlivened by mythological figures, vigorous fresco scenes, baroque ornaments, bright red and blue chandeliers, and a likewise marvelous facade with carved statues, marble spires, wrought iron balconies. To mention but a few, there are 16 winged and horned devilish fauns dramatizing the windows of the café, several nude female statues and figurines to hint at lust, and in the royal suite there is a bronze horse with its leg sunken into the furniture as if it got trapped.

The New York Palace Boscolo is literally eclectic and full of aesthetic surprises to the eye. Tom Otley on Business Traveller compares the design to Kubrick’s film interiors: “Inside the New York Palace it is a strange mix. There is the extremely fashionable and good-looking design: both the breakfast room and the VIP room are some of the most attractive modern designs I’ve seen, a kind of Stanley Kubrick version of the future (a cross between the Milk Bar in A Clockwork Orange and something from 2001: A Space Odyssey). Then there is the carefully renovated grand, turn-of-the-(last)-century style of the café, one of Budapest’s most famous, with its marble, bronze, frescoes and Murano chandeliers. Finally there are the frankly odd touches, like the presidential suite with its turquoise Murano chandelier.”

So as you can see, eclecticism is clear. Be prepared to gape at its blended beauty.
The second phase of the hotel development on Osvát street is scheduled to be finished by 2009.

Cheese Shops (Sajtbolt) in Budapest

Budapest has currently a very small handful of specialist cheese shops that are worth mentioning.

Cheese Shop in the inner city

The cheese shop of T. Nagy Tamás is conveniently located in the city center, close to the Deák tér stop of all metro lines, Váci utca shopping street, etc. “Although precious few specialist cheese shops exist in Budapest, lovers of Italian, French and British cheeses will no doubt find “Big Tom’s” excellent range (and personal service) a real delight. Recommended. ” (Talking Cities UK). This is also one of those few places where truffle (original and canned) is sold, and where the owner took part in a French Truffle 001 course in France, once he decided to sell the product. In addition to cheeses, you can get dried fruits and some wines here too.

Cheese shop in Budapest Gerloczy utca Sajtbolt T Nagy Tamas

Address: Gerlóczy utca 3, Budapest 1052
Phone: 00-36-1-317-4268
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9 am – 6pm, Sat 9 am – 1 pm

See the location of the cheese store on the Budapest Shopping Map (map icon: the little yellow balloons with a dot).


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Szega Cheese Shop at the Market Hall in Fény utca

There are more Szega cheese stores in Budapest, and this one is comfortably located in the popular market hall, the Fény utcai piac (close to Moszkva tér, the Mammut Shopping Mall, or the Royal Palace in the Buda Castle District).

Address: Lövőház u. 12. (Fény utcai piac) 1024 Budapest
Phone: 00-36-1-345 4259

Dutch Cheese House in Duna Plaza shopping mall

Dutch cheeses on the second floor of the shopping mall. Cheese plates, gift packages are also available. What’s more the Hungarian specialty Szamos marzipan is also on sale here. The mall is right on the route of the blue metro line, so it’s very easy to get here (get off at Gyöngyösi utca station).

Address: Váci út 178., Budapest
Phone: 00-36-1-288-01-33
Opening hours: Mon-Sat 10.00 – 21.00, Sun 10.00 – 19.00

Szega Cheese Café in Budagyöngye Shopping Center

The cheese shop & café & ham shop is specializing in Camembert cheeses and sells hams too. Vegetarians, please skip this part. Mouth-watering Hungarian indigenous pork (mangalica) ham, prosciutto, jamon iberico, etc. hams are hanging above your head. It’s on the Buda side – alas a bit farther off the tourist tracks (unless you happen to take the Funicular Railway, or the Children’s Railway, or for any reason you should be strolling in the Buda hills on the route of the trams/ streetcars number 56). It’s a relatively new store, highly praised and compared to French cheese shops by locals. (Very close to one of the wine shops of the Hungarian Wine Society). In March 2007, the cheese shop won the Best of Budapest award.

Address: Gerlóczy utca 3, Budapest 1052
Phone: 00-36-1-317-4268
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 9 am – 7pm, Sat 8 am – 3 pm

See the location of the cheese store on the Budapest Shopping Map (map icon: the little yellow balloons with a dot).


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Szega Cheese Shop at Rózsakert

One of the Szega cheese stores in Budapest is located in the Rózsakert Shopping Center
Address: Gábor Áron u. 74. 1026 Budapest
Phone: 00-36-1-391 5814
Opening hours: 10 am – 8 pm, Sat 10 am – 4pm.

Soma’s Cheese Store

The third cheese shop, Soma’s Cheese (Soma Sajt) is really off center, so it’s for the cheese-freaks and dedicated ones, but it’s worth mentioning because of the specialty Orda, goat and sheep cheeses the store has on offer. The originally Transylvanian Orda is an easy-to-cut, fresh cheese (great for salads, meat dishes, simply with bread and butter or toast, or just by itself T. Nagy Tamás). It’s also ideal for dieters due to its light texture & low calorie content (125 kcal/ 100g). SomaSajt offers orda in 5 varieties: garlic-parsley, paprika-chives, dill, sesame, chives. Before you dive into a 1-2 hour journey to the shop, check out major stores, which will sell some of the Soma’s ordas, cheeses & ricottas: Auchan, CBA, G-Roby, Rothschild, TESCO to name but a few.

Somas Cheese goat sheep orda from Budapest Hungary Somasajt

Address: Péceli út 240., Budapest 1171
Phone: 00-36-1-258-6667
Opening hours:


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Budapest Wine Shopping: Hungarian House of Wines

The Hungarian House of Wines (Magyar Borok Háza) is in Budapest Castle District right next to the Matthias Church. The House not only has a nice and comprehensive exhibition summarizing the Hungarian wine culture, but they also offer wine tasting sessions in the dramatic maze-like cellar of the House.

The wines have been carefully picked from all the 22 wine-regions of Hungary, from Villany & Szekszard to Eger & Tokaj. There are about 700 different Hungarian wines & sparkling wines. The wine-exhibition, which is available in English, German, and French, gives a unique overview of Hungarian.


Wine Tasting at the Magyar Borok Háza

What kind of wines will you try?

You can try both typical Hungarian wines (which are considered Hungaricums), and the local varieties of international wines. The Hungarian wines on the tasting tour change month by month. Tasting Tokaj wines of the greatest value (prize-winning 5-6 puttonyos Tokaj aszú) is not part of the default wine tour, it comes at an extra price . It was the French king Louis XIV who said of Tokaji aszú “the wine of kings and the king of wines.”

How many wines will you taste?

You will get access to 50 different wines per tour, and it’s up to you which of them you try (just flushing your mouth as the experts do is a good idea to attempt to fight off the sneaky little goblets).

Where can you buy tickets?

On location. Tickets for the wine-tasting tour can be bought at the reception desk (opposite the main entrance). Tokens for the extra Tokaj 5 & 6 star aszú are also sold here.

What does the wine tasting session include?

  • participation in a 2-hour wine-tour
  • engraved tasting glass
  • small savory snacks with cheese: e.g. cheese scones (‘pogácsa’)
  • the map of the wine cellar

Address: Szentháromság tér 6. Budapest 1014
Phone: 00-36-1-212 10 31
Opening hours: 12pm – 8 pm
Prices: approx. 4,000 HUF (yes, basically only the price of a bottle of good wine)
Getting here:
1, from Deák tér, take bus number 16 (almost at Hotel Kempinski & Le Meridien)
2, take the red metro line till Moszkva tér, then get on the minibus, or just take a 10-15 minute walk up the hill.

Check the location of Hungarian House of Wines on the Budapest Shopping Map (check the Glass sign for wine shops & further wine buying details in Budapest) or read more about Hungarian wines on Budapest Blog.


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Anyway, the House of Hungarian Wines was founded in 1996 as a private enterprise. Wine growing in Hungary goes back to the Roman times. The best known wines are Bull’s Blood from Eger (Egri bikavér red wine) and the noble-rot-sweetened white wines from Tokaj (Tokaji aszú), but things are slowly changing and other wine regions (especially Villany) are getting their due international appreciation too in the world wine web.

Budapest Wine Shopping: Borkápolna at Hosok tere

Borkápolna Wine Shop (Wine Chapel) offers more than 1100 Hungarian wines and over 200 foreign wines. The accompanying wine cellar can take up about 110 people (book 1 week in advance), and serves Hungarian dishes for the wines. The vaulted cellar used to be a chapel during the communist era (between 1957-1991) as the original chapel called Regnum Marianum at the edge of the City Park was demolished by the Hungarian totalitarian communist leader Mátyás Rákosi: the neighboring long square was the ultimate marching square for communist festivities and Rakosi had the square ‘cleared.’ The tabernaculum is still in the wall of the cellar.

Borkapolna Wine Shop in Budapest at Hosok tere Wine Chapel

In the cellar, there’s a big fresco from 1973 by Korga (size 6×5 meter/ 323 sqft), which was made from golden mosaics: it shows St Stephen, the first Hungarian king offering his crown to Maria.
Address: Damjanich utca 52, Budapest 1071
Phone: 00-36-1-343-5258, or 00-36-30-941-2838
Opening hours: Mon-Fri 10 am – 8pm, Sat 10 am – 3 pm
Getting here: The wine store is very conveniently located – about a 5-10 min walk – from Hősök tere where the Museum of Fine Arts or the Millennial Monument is.

Check the location of Borkápolna Budapest on the Budapest Shopping Map (check the Glass sign for wine shops & further wine buying details in Budapest) or read more about Hungarian wines on Budapest Blog.


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Borkapolna is operated by Wine for You.

Budapest Wine Shopping: Budapest Wine Society

Several Budapest Wine Society vendors were praised on traveler forums, so let’s have a closer look at the Society. It was founded in 1993 by a group of friends under the initiatives of Attila Tálos and Tom Howells.

Bortársaság Budapest Wine Society in HungaryThe Wine Society started off with a store at the Buda Castle Hill, and now they have a national chain, still growing. These days they have about 50 Hungarian and foreign wine growers’ 500 different wines on their shelves. As they put it:

“We are the exclusive dealer of the winemaker’s product as follows: Konyári János, Légli Ottó, Bussay László, Etyeki Kúria, Györgykovács Imre, Dúzsi Tamás, Heimann and sons, Günzer Zoltán, Mayer Márton, Németh cellar, St. Andrea, Tokaj-Oremus, Királyudvar and Szepsy István and accentuated dealer of Jásdi cellar’s, Bock József’s, Gere Attila’s, Szeremley Huba’s wines. Bortársaság is the exclusive importer of the french Champagne Veuve Clicquot house, the spanish Torres and Vega-Sicila wineries, and the italian brands of Antinori, Prunotto, Fonterutoli, Tormaresca, Corvo and Santa Margherita.”

Of course, the Society has its own rules, and membership card entitling members to all sorts of discounts, special opportunities, etc.

Here’s a map of some of their shops: check out the Cocktail Glass signs on the Budapest Shopping Map for wines & spirits in Budapest. By clicking on a symbol you can learn more about the shops (addresses, opening hours, etc.).


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Chinese Lantern Festival at Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal Budapest

Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal Budapest is having Chinese Lantern Festival days from Feb 8 to 27, 2008. Booking with the Budapest Times means a 20% reduction for you. The Chinese Lantern Festival is a three-week celebration of the year of the Rat. The highly praised Rickshaw & Sushi Bar Restaurant of the five star hotel will now offer special menu selections prepared for the New Year celebrations.

Chinese Lantern Festival in Grand Hotel Royal Budapest illustration

Price: 10,000 HUF
Rickshaw & Sushi Bar Restaurant
Open daily: 6 pm – 12 pm (except Monday)
Reservations: 00-36-1479-4855
Location (the yellow house sign indicates luxury hotels in Budapest, Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal is the mid one):


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The Menu is as follows:

San Si Tang
Glass noodle soup
with chicken and bamboo
***
Zheng Jiao
Dim sum Chinese style
***
Song Shu Yu
Deep fried seabass with sweet sauce
***
Ba Bao La Jiang
Chiken, beef and pork meat mix
Chinese style with vegetables
***
Chao Nian Gao
Wok fried rice noodles
***
Ba Si Ju Zi
Caramelized orange fritters
with sesame seeds
***
Fortune cookies
Coffee or green tea
San Si Tang
Glass noodle soup
with chicken and bamboo
Zheng Jiao
Dim sum Chinese style
Song Shu Yu
Deep fried seabass with sweet sauce
Ba Bao La Jiang
Chiken, beef and pork meat mix
Chinese style with vegetables
Chao Nian Gao
Wok fried rice noodles
Ba Si Ju Zi
Caramelized orange fritters
with sesame seeds
***
Fortune cookies
Coffee or green tea

(photo from readysetglow.com)

Gellért Spa Bath in Budapest: Merry Healing in Art Deco Environment

Gellert Bath in Budapest/ Gellért Fürdő (say: Gal-ay-rt Fur-dur ) is one of the most frequented spa baths in Budapest by locals and tourists alike. Gellert Spa Bath is located in Hotel Gellert (Danubius Hotel Gellert), but the thermal spa bath is open for the general public (there is a separate entrance for non-hotel guests). Both the hotel and the spa bath are in a fascinating Art Nouveau – Art Deco building (including Hungarian folk art motifs, phenomenal colorful lead glasses and painted eosin mosaics).

The quality of the thermal water is superb (already in use in the 15th century!). In addition, Gellert Furdo has 13 baths including a wave bath and a children’s pool, so it is not only recreational but it’s fun. Needless to say, there are pampering massages, treatments, drinking cures, etc. Gellert Spa Bath – as part of Hotel Gellert Budapest was built in 1918. There are 13 baths 20-38 °C (68-100 degrees Fahrenheit).

See the Frequently Asked Questions about Gellert Bath and the Video at the bottom!

Gellert Spa Bath Budapest Hungary Gellert Furdo montage

The thermal water is recommended for:
damaged joints (e.g. worn hip and knee joints), degenerative diseases, arthritis, Ankylosing spondylitis or Bechterew’s disease, low back pain or lumbago, after accidents as a post therapy.
Address: Kelenhegyi út 4, Budapest, H-1118, check its location on the Budapest Tourist map (blue waves indicate major spa baths)
Location: Gellert Spa Bath is on the Buda side, almost at the foot of Liberty Bridge Budapest (Szabadsághíd), next to Gellert Hill, which is a great green area with the Statue of Liberty and a superb panoramic view of the Pest side of Budapest with the Parliament, Chain Bridge, Basilica, Gresham Palace, etc.
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 6am to 8pm
Phone: 00-36-1-466-6166
Getting there: Trams/ Streetcars: 18,19, 47, 49, Buses: 7 (green normal, not the red express!), 86
Prices: general admission with cabin HUF 5,300. There are all kinds of massages available, which can be booked online in advance for your convenience.

More  in depth info about Budapest Baths


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Miscellaneous: Saint Gellert (also known as St Gerard) was a Hungarian bishop who came from Italy to spread Christianity and educate the son of the first Hungarian king, St Stephen in the 11th century. Pagans threw him off the Gellert Hill. Unfortunately, Gellert Furdo is slightly worn down and will need some reconstruction to get back its truly five-star beauty.

Gellert Furdo FAQ

Are the baths inside or outside?
Baths are both outside and inside.
Is Gellert Spa Bath closed in winter?
No, it is open all year, on weekdays from 6am to 7pm, and at weekends from 6am to 5pm (except for some public holidays).
When is it the best time to go to Gellért Fürdő?
Well, that’s a good question. Although Gellert Furdo has 13 baths, weekends tend to be crowded, so it is worth going there a bit earlier.
Do you need anything else than yourself, a swim gear and money?
A towel, flip-flops or rubber shoes (for general hygienic and preventive reasons too), and water-resistant purse for the buffet or for massages & treatments will come in handy (although you can hire some of them for a nominal price). If you want to swim laps in the pool, besides using the thermal baths, you will need a swim cap too.
Can you book massages in advance?
No, unfortunately, massages cannot be pre-arranged. Gellert Spa Bath is operated on a first come first served basis.
Is Gellert Furdo good for children?
Yes, Gellért Spa Bath is a family-friendly place. For instance, there is an outside bath whose thermal water starts to wave periodically: its gradient depth ranges from 0.4m/1.30 feet to 2.75m/ 9 feet) . Then there’s a separate children’s spa bath (30 degrees Celsius/ 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 0.4 m/ 1.31 feet deep). Nevertheless, the spa bath is still a calm thermal bath and not a water amusement park (no big and complex slides, spring boards, etc.).
Shall I go to Gellért or Széchenyi Spa Bath?
Ideally, you should try both baths to discover which suits better your tastes. Both are located in a beautiful building (Szechenyi is neo-baroque, Gellert is fabulous art-deco). Both have world-renowned healing properties and good massages. Gellert Spa Bath might be a bit more touristy as it’s located in Hotel Gellert, while Szechenyi Furdo is an individual spa bath (note: contracted with several Budapest hotels). In addition, Szechenyi Spa Bath is slightly less expensive than Gellert Spa Bath (e.g. admission with cabin: 2,800 HUF vs. 3,100 HUF). Gellert might be a better choice for families with kids though, but several travelers suggest Szechenyi for children. Good question. Let me know what you found out: add your comments, please.

Do you know of the best Spa Hotels in Budapest?

We think that Hotel Gellert is really great, but may seem a bit outdated, if you want something high-end, upscale, and are willing to splurge. Here is a good list of the best Budapest spa hotels, and if you ask us, we recommend Corinthia Hotel Budapest.
How do you get from Keleti railway station to Gellért Spa Bath?
The easiest and quickest way is to take the red line Metro at Keleti pu. until Astoria. At Astoria, get off and take the green number 7 bus, which will take you over the Elisabeth Bridge to the Buda side. About 3 stops. See the Gellert Hill and the nice Hotel? There you are!

Watch Gellert Spa Bath Budapest on this video made with Michael Palin (comedian, writer, Monty Python member, as well as maker and presenter of several BBC travel documentaries). Hey, one of my favorite comedians!

Hungary the Land of Spas and Budapest the City of Spas

Visiting Budapest can not be complete without visiting one of the Budapest baths. There are thermal baths, open air spa baths, lidos and pools in big green parks all over the city. How come?

Gellert Bath

Gellert Bath – Joe Mabel Photography

Why is Budapest the City of Spas?

Hungary is full of wonderful spas, thermal waters, and both Budapest and the countryside (e.g. Zalakaros, Hévíz) can boast about superb thermal baths (at truly affordable prices). Little wonder that in 1937 Budapest officially became the City of Spas at the first World Federation of Hydrotherapy and Climatotherapy, for short FEMTEC conference held in Budapest with the participation of 37 countries.

Even the first president of the World Federation of Hydrotherapy was a Hungarian man (József Ferenc) Unfortunately, during the communist era, spa baths were very hard to be accessed for western travelers daring through the iron curtain. But since 1989, Hungary has been open to everybody who wishes to relax in its thermal baths, and huge investments are being made into the versatile utilization of geothermal energies.

As the old Roman proverb says:

“Balnea, vina, Venus corrumpunt corpora sana,
Corpora sana dabunt balnea, vina, Venus.”

“Baths, wine and love spoils healthy bodies;
but baths, wine and love make up healthy bodies.”

(this ancient Roman proverb was well-known in the Turkish ruled Hungarian city of Eger in the in the Middle Ages, according to chronicles)

Last time, I have written about Szechenyi Furdo, Budapest, probably the most frequented by tourists due to its charm, location, architecture, treatments, etc. This time I will give a short overview of Hungarian spa baths.

How many spa baths are there in Hungary?

Currently there are about 140 registered thermal baths in Hungary, out of which about 10 spa baths are located in Budapest (Csepel Bath and Lido, Dagaly Bath and Lido, Dandar Bath and Lido, Gellert Baths, Kiraly Baths, Lukacs Baths, Paskal Lido and Baths, Palatinus LidoRac Bath, Rudas Bath, Szechenyi Baths, Ujpest Bath) – some are using the same thermal springs. However, according to estimates (sources differ widely), there are about 1300 thermal springs in Hungary (620 wells) – many of which are not simply mineral waters containing magnesium or calcium, etc., but they are proven medicinal waters with various healing properties.

You can see some of the spa baths in Budapest in this nice video:

Why are there so many spa baths in Hungary?

First the Romans, then the Turks have discovered that the area where Hungary is now located is abundant with warm or hot healing waters – some are muddier, others are cleaner, some are good for your legs, arms and joints, others for your lungs, kidney, stomach, etc. Spa waters were recognized by their heat and smell, and soldiers, dervishes, pashas, etc. liked this special luxury – not just for religious but for medical reasons too. But why are there so many of these healing waters? The answer is geothermal energy, i.e. the energy given by the heat of the Earth. This heat preserved in the inner parts of the planet, under the crust, gets to the surface more easily in Hungary as the crust under the country has become thinner over the thousands of years. So much thinner that the average geothermal heat coming from beneath is twice of the European average. Hungary has several geothermal reservoirs, hot springs, more readily available, well before geothermal drilling became a practice. You can find thermal waters under 80% of the Hungarian territory. No wonder, 2008 has been announced as the Year of Waters by the Hungarian Tourism Co.

What are Hungarian spa waters good for?

Of course, over the last 1000-1500 years in the Carpathian basin, people who inhabited these regions have got to know what these waters are best used for to preserve your health. Treating locomotor diseases, stomach complaints are the most typical, but some of the water springs are recommended for gynaecological problems, skin diseases, etc. As thermal waters are not black or white magic, you may wish to check with your doctor if spa baths are recommended for you or not (usually they are not suggested for chronic high-blood pressure, anaemia, during pregnancy, right after heart attacks, etc.).

Remains of the old Spa Culture

Excavations have revealed Celtic and Roman ruins of bath houses, mosaics, remains of frescoes, which show that the Romans used the available spa water resources for heating and bathing alike. Aquincum (literally: Water-city) a military city also inhabited by wine-growers, tradesmen, etc. had bath houses, palaces, amphitheatres, aqueducts, sewers, and it is the most well-known aquacultural memento of the Roman times in Hungary. Originally it served as a border city to protect the outermost territories of the Roman empire. See its location on this reconstructed map (red letter in the upper right part):

Aquincum map in the Roman times now located in Budapest Óbuda

Here’s a photo of the mosaics of the Roman bath (made by khoogheem)

Aquincum Budapest Museum the Roman bath house mosaics

Turkish occupation, Turkish Baths

During the Ottoman Turkish occupation (from 1526 to 1699), the Turks have built at least 40 spa baths (or hamam) on the medicinal water springs they have found in Hungary. It was an excellent financial investment – not just today but already in the 16th century. Turkish architectural features (impressive dome, small windows, niches with fountains, etc.) were well preserved, and in the last couple of years considerable investments have been made to reconstruct the beautiful and mysteriously lit Turkish baths. Alas, only a handful of them are operational these days. In Budapest, you will find Rudas Gyógyfürdő (Rudas Spa Bath from the 1550s), Rác Gyógyfürdő (Rác Spa Bath – formerly known in King Matthias time as the Royal Spa – under construction!), Király Fürdő (Király Spa Bath – built in 1565), as well as the historical Császár Fürdő (Csaszar Spa Bath). In the countryside, you can visit the Turkish Bath in Eger (built in 1610-17), or the Turkish Bath (now only functioning as a Bath Museum) in Pécs.

This is a photo of Rudas Fürdő (Rudas Turkish Bath)

Rudas Fürdő Turkish Spa Bath in Budapest

and a picture of Király Fürdő (Király Turkish Bath)

Király Fürdő Turkish Spa Bath in Budapest

Searching For Oil, Finding Water

In the course of the 18-19th century, there were several attempts made to find oil in Hungary, the liquid gold to make profits everyone was hoping for, which often resulted in finding good quality thermal medicinal waters. Hungarians enjoyed them tremendously, but it took many decades to recognize that the thermal baths and geo thermal energies are the golden mines of Hungary. Not only in Budapest, but all over the country of Hungary new spa and medicinal baths were built, e.g. in Zalakaros, Hajdúszoboszló, Sárvár, Hévíz. Needless to say, the most visited thermal bath houses are in Budapest, so if you take a visit in the Hungarian capital, do not miss the “Baths Budapest” item on the itinerary.

Budapest Zwack Museum: History of the Hungarian Liqueur

The Zwack Museum in Budapest shows the history of the Hungarian bittersweet liqueur called Zwack Unicum, and so much more than that: the exhibition is also the history of a family of six generations going through the ups and downs of Hungarian history. You can see the greatest European mini-bottle collection of 15,000 pieces, as well as the passport to Sweden made out to Peter Zwack by the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

But we can learn about the exciting story of how János Zwack managed to save the secret recipe of Zwack Unicum in an oil barrel in 1948, when the factory was taken away by the communist government. How did they continue producing the liqueur in the communist era? How did Peter Zwack manage to get back his family business by outbidding the Guinness Group? etc.

Of course, the tickets include tasting too: you can try three different Zwack products (the legal age for drinking alcohol in Hungary is 18, so kids under 18 won’t be given Zwack products to try). The museum is accessible for guests with limited mobility too.

Opening hours: Monday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm
Tickets: 1500 HUF (850 HUF for students under 18), but admission is free with Budapest Card.
Group visits need to be booked in advance at muzeum@zwackunicum.hu
Further inquiries: 00-36-1-476-2383

Budapest Tourist Map:

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Special Products in Hungary: Zwack Unicum, the bittersweet herbal liqueur

If you ask a Hungarian to tell you some of the typical Hungarian products and produces, you will very likely hear of the Hungarian paprika, the Rubik cube, Tokaj wine (especially Tokaji aszú) and a kind of herbal digestive bittersweet liqueur called Unicum amongst the top Hungaricums. And Unicum means Zwack Unicum from the Zwack family, exported to 40 countries all over the world. Now unlike the magic cube invented by Rubik, Unicum is a century old product, going back to the 18th century.

What do the leading tenor Luciano Pavarotti, American icon Jacqueline Kennedy, and world famous conductor Zubin Mehta have in common? These celebrities have all shared a weakness for the Hungarian bitter liquor known as Unicum.

What makes Zwack Unicum special?
The liqueur is not only fun, it also blends the healing power of more than 40 herbs & spices to ‘cure you of all ills.’ Of course, Zwack Unicum has its own secret formula, so secret that even the master blender does not know the recipe of the liquor: “There needs to be one family member present with the master blender when the herbs are being blended, and even the master blender doesn’t know the recipe because he receives them pre-mixed,” Izabella Zwack, a sixth-generation Zwack said. In addition to the numerous Hungarian awards, it has also been the Worldstar Winner in Tokyo in 1998

History of Zwack Unicum
Like Jagermeister, Unicum has its own history. According to the Zwack family legend, the liqueur was made in about 1790 by a Zwack who was a doctor, and as he happened to be the Royal Physician of the Austro-Hungarian emperor Joseph II, he presented the unique concoction to the Habsburg kaiser. Joseph II appreciated the drink saying “Das ist ein Unikum!” (“This is a specialty!”), most probably with a bittersweet face as the liqueur is literally bitter and sweet at the same time. And more than that: you can feel the special harmony and magic witchcraft of forest sorceress’ age-old herbal knowledge.

The founder and owner of the Zwack liqueur and rum distillery, a Moravian József Zwack, set up his company in Pest during the middle of the 19th century. He insisted his spirits should be made of organic raw materials, never of synthetic substitutes. Production of Unicum bitters started in 1860; the trade mark was patented in 1883. Since then, it has been sold in a dark green spheroid glass bottle (source: Avenue Vine)

Zwack Unicum poster from 1915 shipwrecked man with a happy survival bottleUnicum is a true trademark: a long standing (or flowing) and trustworthy brand in the Hungarian market, easily recognized by the white cross emergency sign on a deep green rounded bottle (it’s as default brand for Hungarians as Coca Cola for the international market, you just cannot imagine not having it). In 1915 Sándor Bortnyik has created one of the most famous and popular poster for Zwack Unicum: a shipwrecked guy happy to find a bottle of Zwack Unicum (message in a bottle) in the stormy sea (you can buy it as a poster too).

The liquor even survived the communist period when the factory was confiscated from the Zwack family and the whole family had to escape. “My grandfather escaped with the recipe in his pocket and that was the only time when Zwack was not in the family.” says Izabella Zwack.

In the 1956 revolution in Budapest, Unicum, the bottle of which looks like a peculiar vintage bomb, was used as a case for ammunitions against the Soviet tanks. And in 1988, just a year before the silent revolution and the birth of the new Hungarian democracy, the Zwack descendants went back to Hungary and bought back the Zwack factory and facilities.From 2007, Unicum is not only exported to about 40 countries, but the mysterious concoction is currently available in limited release in Ohio and New York too.

spheroid, bomb-shaped bottles of Zwack Unicum from HungaryBomb-shaped bottles redefined, or refined
As Frommer’s guide writes, “With its memorable bomb-shaped bottle, emergency-cross logo, and unforgettable taste — it’s Uniqum.” These days it is marketed in a more peaceful style (see the picture below made by Columbus Alive in Ohio).

Further Zwack Drinks
Besides Zwack unicum, which is a polarizing drink (either you love it, or you can’t stand it), often compared to Jagermeister, Ouzo, etc., the Zwack company also offers Zwack Attacks, Bloody Hun (basically the Bloody Mary a la Zwack with 3 oz. Bloody Mary mix, 1.5 oz. Zwack Unicum, celery, pepper, salt), and Zwackstache in foreign markets. In Hungary, you will find Zwack branded as Unicum, and a similar Zwack drink (less bitter, more citrusy) called Unicum Next. Give them a try.
How to drink Unicum?
The best drinking advice comes from the producer, so let’s quote Sándor Zwack: “It’s a wonderful drink, it is wonderfully made. You can drink it room temperature if you want, with a nice cigar. You can mix it with cranberry, pineapple and orange juice. It’s great with Red Bull, but the way we market it is to be ice cold.”

Zwack Unicum gift: Essence of Hungary
You will find Zwack Unicum in all stores and gift shops (a bottle of 0.7 l [1.43 UK pints, 1.48 US pints] is approx. 3500 HUF). The Essence of Hungary is aZwack Unicum Essence of Hungary gift package with Tokaj wine, pálinka and Zwack Unicum beautiful gift package, which in fact combines all three flagship drinks of Hungary: besides Zwack Unicum, you will also get Tokaji aszú (a sweet Tokaj wine) and Pálinka (strong brandy made of flavoury fruits).

For some reason, the Essence of Hungary drink trio is only available in the Zwack Specialty Store located about a 20 minute walk from the Central Market Hall: go from Liberty Bridge (Szabadsághíd) to Petofi bridge (Petőfi híd), then straight ahead to Dandár utca 1. in the 9th district. Or you can take the blue line metro and get off at Klinikák station followed by a 10 minute walk.
Check the Zwack Specialty Store location on the Budapest Tourist Map:


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Cheers in Hungarian
When you want to say cheers in Hungarian, you need to muscle up your linguistic skills a bit: you can say egg-ace-shage-ed-rae (Egészségedre, literally ‘To your health’), or egg-ace-shage (Egészség) for short (informal). For a less neutral version, you can say Isten-Isten (ish-ten, ish-ten or God-God). The real black belt version of Cheers is when you want to say cheers to everybody in a bigger company (‘to our health’), which is Egészségünkre, say egg-ace-shagen-krae. Cheerio will be also understood by most people.