Autumn’s golden light sets Budapest glowing– leaves in City Park blush scarlet and the white turrets of Fishermen’s Bastion gleam beautifully under the late afternoon light, while the setting sun burnishes the waterfront Parliament building, a kaleidoscope of architectural styles. But the change of seasons brings much more than colour to Hungary’s capital. A freshness in the air makes you long to linger in warm outdoor baths, wine cellars and gritty ruin bars. The summer crowds have ebbed away, so you’re free to roam parks and museums without fighting for space. From seasonal events and inspiring sights to the city’s quirky side, here’s how to explore the best of Budapest in the autumn.
Experience a whirlwind of culture at CAFe Budapest Festival
Literature and music are the lifeblood of Budapest. A slew of world-changing cultural figures lived here, among them composers Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók, and writer Sándor Márai, perhaps Hungary’s most famous wordsmith. Autumn is the ideal time to feel the pulse of this rich heritage: the city erupts with music, theatre and art for the CAFe Budapest Festival , which takes place this year from 2 to 18 October. Forty venues across the city play host to live music, theatre, avant-garde performances, art exhibitions and more.
The programme for CAFe Budapest (previously known as Budapest Autumn Festival) has an eclectic roll call of 110 events. Hungarian greats will be paid tribute, but the thrill of this festival is dipping into the city’s cutting-edge art scene: a raucous medley of jazz, rock, opera, dance and even contemporary circus. The festival’s Art Market showcases thousands of works by nearly 500 artists, a dedicated exhibition of contemporary photography, and the diverse statue exhibition called ‘sCULTURE’, which is installed across the former industrial site of the Millenáris cultural centre.
Performance art figures heavily in the program as well. In Bodyscape, human bodies act as the canvas within sci-fi neon-lit spaces. Meanwhile the Kiskép Gallery will glitter with glass art, and Budapest in 100 Wordswill tap straight into the city’s subconscious as writers from their teens to their 90s capture Budapest’s character. Music lovers can pick from booming organ recitals, string ensembles and techno-tinged ‘sound sculptures’. Performances are interwoven throughout the city, popping up in unexpected places, weaving passers-by into the spectacle.
Luxuriate in Budapest’s bathhouses
It’s said that 118 hot springs feed Budapest’s spas and pools, and autumn is an especially tempting time to take the plunge – tourist crowds have dissipated but outdoor temperatures remain mild. Bask in the silky waters of Gellért Baths’ eight thermally heated baths. Delicate constitutions beware: some of the pools are for bathing pros only, with the mercury rising as high as 40C. For an even more impressive choice of indoor and outdoor pools, explore Széchenyi Baths. This sprawling complex is as good for people-watching as it is for unknotting your muscles in balmy water; you’ll spot locals playing chess and talking politics in these toasty pools.
Embrace unusual sights and wacky transport
Let the change in seasons inspire a new perspective on this romantic city. See the city by segway, or take a tour by Trabant, the notoriously inefficient East German vehicle that continues to inspire wry nostalgia. Seek out some of Budapest’s stranger sights, too: the neoclassical Basilica of St Stephenhouses the saint’s mummified right hand, draped in jewels and housed in a sparkling monstrance (slip a 100 Forint coin in the slot to illuminate the hand). For an entire treasure chest of curiosities, make your way to the Golden Eagle Pharmacy for an exceedingly odd array of health tonics like ambergris and mummy powder.