After a day of intensive sightseeing or soaking in a mineral bath, do as Budapesters do and unwind over strong coffee and sweet cake in an old, cozy café. There were more than 400 coffeehouses in Budapest at the turn of the century, attracting everyone from soldiers and aristocrats to poets and actors, and some of the best are still in business today.
The most famous is the Café New York situated in a 19th century Art Nouveau townhouse of palatial proportions. The café's opulent interiors and literary associations have endowed it with near mythical status. Like other cafés, it was originally popular with writers for purely practical reasons: it offered a warm refuge from cold rented rooms that they could scarcely afford - and paper and ink were gratis. Though today you're likelier to rub shoulders with fellow tourists rather than struggling scribes, the New York still counts editors of literary magazines among its habitués.
When the café first opened, one of Hungary's most famous playwrights of the last century, Ferenc Molnár, and his colleagues tossed its key into the Danube so that its doors might never shut. Which means you can still enjoy a steaming hot cappuccino accompanied by a plate of somlói galuska, a triad of creamy, chocolatey dessert dumplings, or a host of other luscious offerings.
Refinement is the operative word at Café Gerbaud. And sugar, too - this is one café where indulging one's sweet tooth is elevated to an art form. For here you'll find the finest range of pastries in the city. Desserts figured prominently from the outset, as one of the first owners was a Swiss confectioner. In fact, Emile Gerbaud invented the Hungarian specialty known as konyakos meggy, dark chocolate with a cognac-soaked sour cherry in the center. Gerbaud is big and always busy, so try to secure a table in the quieter vaulted section to the right of the long, central pastry counter.
Another must on the café trail is the elegant Café Művész whose location opposite the Opera House lends it a certain charged atmosphere. Pick a spot to roost inside, where marble table tops and crystal chandeliers exude an Old World grandeur, or repair to the terrace for prime people-watching. A different sort of setting awaits in the Zsolnay coffee house, located in the Béke Radisson Hotel. Its interior of mint green and brass dates from the 1930s, and coffee is served in distinctive cups made by Zsolnay, one of Hungary's best known manufacturers of fine porcelain.
oldest café is the Ruszwurm in the Castle Hill district of Buda. This Baroque
gem sports the same cherrywood paneling and quality service as when it first
opened, in 1824. And the same high quality treats. The Ruszwurm's confectionery
is so fabulous that couriers were once sent from Vienna to retrieve it. Whatever
you try - and we heartily recommend the Linzer torte or the ice cream - you can
be assured that it's homemade.
stops on the Budapest café trail: Café Angelika with neo-Baroque furnishings,
marble floors, and stained-glass windows, Café Pierrot, on the site of a
onetime medieval bakery, and the Lukács, former coffee house of the Communist
No matter which café you settle into, remember that taking your time is what it's all about.
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