Although it may not be any of my business, nor anyone else’s for that matter, I cannot help but notice that the study abroad students who come to “experience” Budapest fail to do so. In fact they fail quite miserably at this. The wording may be strong but so is my point, and I’m comfortable with using strong words in this matter.
Most American students who come here for a semester or two tend to spend their leisure time “partying”. Yes, I would say that partying is the appropriate term. It even has a relatively cool sound to it. Thus everybody knows where Szimpla Kert is, what Corvintető is, and where which Morrison’s is located, and that forms their impressions of Budapest and of Hungarians. Yet when you ask them, and I apologize to those who are the exceptions to the rule as I do not mean to over-generalize, what the Terror Háza is or where the Palace of Arts is you get a blank and confused gaze as a reply. So listen up!
If you want to get the maximum out of Budapest you might want to visit the following venues and afterwards continue exploring the city on your own.
The aforementioned Palace of Arts (Műcsarnok) is one of the most important cultural institutions Budapest has to offer. It has been functioning for over a century at its current location – Hősök tér – and a lot of famous artworks have found their way there over the course of the century. Just recently there were exhibitions of Degas, Monet and Cézzane. Also definitely worth a visit is the ERNST museum at Nagymező u. 8, where at the moment Ed Templeton’s “The Cemetery of Reason” is the highlight. Other art exhibition halls and museums you might want to visit are The Ludwig Museum (museum of contemporary art) – which is located at Komor Marcell u. 1, The Budapest gallery – Szabadsajtó u. 5, the Dorottya gallery at Dorottya u. 8. I think this will do for galleries for now.
Then there are other aspects of cultural exploration of a city which do not necessarily include arts; one of the most important of which is the history of the city and wider area.
Now that we have art out of the way we can concentrate on historical learning; quick, on-site history lessons. The first place where you want to go and which is most essential for understanding the history of the area and people is the Budapest Historical Museum – or as most know it “the big castle on the other side of the river”. Another important site to visit is the Aquincum Museum. The word museum might be a bit misleading, for this venue is a predominantly an open air one, since the thing being exhibited is an old Roman city which used to cover the site. It still does, but it’s in ruins. In any case, it also a must-see. Kiscelli Museum in Óbuda is another pearl when it comes to history museums, as well as the previously mentioned Terror Háza (House of Terror) is. The latter two are more interesting for people who want to get acquainted with more contemporary moments in Hungarian history while the former two give a much more extended historical view. You can find all the information you need concerning Kiscelli, Aquincum and the National museum on www.museum.hu, while the Terror Haza you can visit any day without any hassle, seeing as it is located on Andrassy út 60, which is a five minute walk away from Oktogon.
After you visit some of these and once you start exploring the city by yourself, you will be able to say that you lived here, experienced the place to a certain extent and took in some of their culture. I do not want to get off on sounding pompous, especially because I am a prisoner of the “partying” culture as well, but I do think that you can take back much more and learn many interesting things concerning the country in which you are if you “mix it up” a little.
If art and history are simply not your thing, then fine; go to concerts at least, look into Hungarian cinematography, the contemporary music scene (also a code name for partying in a way) or sports even! Engage yourself and don’t just go home not being able to talk about anything else except the alcoholic beverages and food of the region. Hungary has much more to offer and I heartily advise you to look into it.