guides to budapest, past & present

 
 
 

These Guidebooks are a pleasure to read:


My father’s Budapest memoir (ok, I may be biased about this one) is a guide to Budapest-between-the-wars...pick a war, any war... Like the city itself, the book is a bit unstuck in time but eternal in spirit.


In a more contemporary timeframe, the best way to get to know the city is by walking it, and the best walking guide to the city is András Török’s Budapest: A Critical Guide.  That book is published in English, German and French versions but is, sadly, not easily found outside Europe. I think of it as Volume 2 of Strictly From Hungary –  it has the zest and feel and Hungarian twinkle of  its author’s spirit, and it brings the zeitgeist forward into 1990 and beyond.  Török relishes the city in a way that few people relish anything, and despite his occasionally quirky language (which, though fluent, retains a good deal of the Hungarian rhythm and ornament), his book begs to be read in the way a succulent peach begs to be eaten, their flavor exploding in the mind’s eye and on the tongue respectively.  It is a rare work of literature among guidebooks, and its humor is a welcome friend as one explores the city.


Török guides your exploration by means of a series of five walks.  Each is described in some detail, with line drawings and maps as illustrations, and they increase the scope of the reader’s knowledge of the city as a whole.  Some time back I realized  the obvious: that all five walks begin in the same place, more or less the center of the city – Vörösmarty tér.  Old editions are sometimes available from used book dealers (try http://bookfinder.com)  The new edition is published by ParkKiado in Budapest and is widely available in bookshops there (in all three languages).  We stock copies in each language in the flats we rent to guests.


There is also the TimeOut guide to Budapest, which I think has the best restaurant, shopping, culture, and logistical listings of any of the English language guides.  Restaurants are a particular challenge in Budapest, in my view … the food is not what it once was and it can be a quest to find a meal that is not heavy, over-salted, and slightly off-kilter.  [I have concluded that there is a Hungarian Ministry of Oversalting and Overamplification in charge of all restaurants and concerts.]  There are exceptions, an increasing number of them, but though Török’s suggestions are good for local color about the places he suggests, they are, I think, a bit uncritical when it comes to the food.  I try to keep my own restaurant preferences current (on this website, click here), and there is also always the authoritative online source: chew.hu.


There are two wonderful and unusual guidebooks – Only in Budapest (in English and German) by Duncan Smith -- which is filled with interesting information in bite-sized chapters about specific sights and locales (each with a photo or two, many off the radar of the other guidebooks) -- and Budapest, The Granta City Guide by Michael Jacobs, which is very well written and provides a kind of outsider egghead’s complement to Torok’s insider egghead’s view of the city.


Other guidebooks that seem useful for the sightseeing tourist include the Eyewitness Guide and the Bradt Mini-Guide (which has a tart point of view in its deceptively tiny format).  And there are any number of small periodicals in most languages available at the Tourist Information centers (http://budapestinfo.hu … one office is on Suto utca in Deak ter very near the McDonalds). 


Look out in particular for the Budapest Funzine and the tabloid sized newspaper The City; both are weeklies, both have good background information and excellent listings, and neither is fully available online (the Funzine keeps threatening to go hi-tech, and does indeed have a website that is somewhat less comprehensive than the hardcopy). 


Detailed listings of cultural events can be found at websites listed on the Links page, in The Budapest Sun and/or The Budapest Times (weekly English-language papers available at most news kiosks and shops in tourist areas; the former has a 10 day guide, the latter a not-particularly-well-implemented interactive culture calendar; the latter also has a German edition, The Budapester Zeitung) and at ticket agencies such as the Rozsavolgyi Bookshop in the city center at Szervita ter 5.



 

There are many Budapest guidebooks available...almost every major guidebook series publishes one.  But the best introductions to the city can be found in books that are a bit outside the mainstream.  These can be hard to find but they're worth a small search for their wit, style, insight, and tips...