The biggest and best festival in Europe. Dirt cheap and everyone friendy. I went travelling with a few mates after GCSE's and ended up at Sziget because I read about it in the travel section. The times we have had at Sziget and in the city of Budapest were the best ever. I returned to Sziget this year and it was just as good. The line-up on the main stage was brilliant but there are about 30 other big stages, with every type of music and a laid-back atmosphere which make it so much better than British festivals. And it's a week long! I cannot go this year as I'm saving up for my gap year.
If you've done the Budapest basics, you should absolutely take an afternoon and visit Bela Bartok's house museum in the Buda Hills. This is a hymn of praise not only to the conductor, but his passion for Hungarian folk culture.
Among the highlights: his oversized, primitive recording device which he dragged all over historic Hungary, having local residents sing their songs into it, and his furniture, most of which is handmade from various parts of Transylvania. The ladies who staff the museum can give you a tour in English and are very nice and accommodating.
While you are there, make sure you walk through the Napraforgo ut. housing estate, built in 1931 to house refugees from areas cut off from Hungary by the Treaty of Trianon. Architecture fans will delight in the display of creativity there, from Bauhaus to Arts and Crafts. Unfortunately, rich Buda residents are now buying all of them out and restoring them according to their own tastes, so the results of that could harm the ensemble, but you should go there anyway.
This is a great doubleheader excursion well off the well-trodden tourist paths.
It's best to go to Ferenciek Tere (metro blue line), look for restaurant Karpatia and wait for bus #5 just outside there. You go to the end of the line, i.e. Pasareti Ter, and look for the signs. The way to both is actually marked.
If you like music, and you can't quite bring yourself to fork out your life savings for a ticket to one of the UK festivals, then go to Hungary in August. The Sziget festival is simply brilliant. It's held on a stunning island in the middle of the Danube river just out of the centre of Budapest. They always have a varied programme of music, in 2007 this included the Killers, the Hives, Chemical brothers, Faithless, Nine Inch Nails, Pink and Razorlight to name but a few. They also have great world and dance music, and local Hungarian music. but even better than the lineup is the civilised way in which the festival is organised. You can get to a clean toilet at any time. The food is delicious, cheap, and easily available. Everyone is really friendly. A lot of the island is a beach, so you can walk around in bare feet and really feel like it's a holiday too. Accommodation is easy, either on the island - or do as we did and rent a beautiful and cheap apartment in Budapest itself. It's so easy to get to and from the island. Don't miss it. Get there before anyone else finds out about it!
Óbudai Island, Budapest, August every year. www.sziget.hu
Built in the late 19th-century in Renaissance style, the glorious State Opera House is a wonderful example of the mania for historicist architecture in Budapest. A must for opera or ballet fans, and well worth a visit for the stunning frescoes and dazzling gilded interior for everyone else. Tickets are inexpensive by London standards and can be booked online before your visit.
22 Andrássy Street, VI. Budapest; nearest metro: Opera; www.opera.hu/
A very posh, old-fashioned eating experience up in the old castle area, this is worth saving the forints for. The food is very rich and traditional and the wines are expensive but superb. But it's the operatic and ballet-based entertainment that sets the place apart. There is hardly room to swing a cat but two dancers and a string quartet somehow find space to perform.
There is the largest hammered dulcimer (called a cimbalom) I have ever seen and two short chubby opera singers belt out recognisable favourites with great panache. Go on. Spoil yourself!
Kiraly Etterem (Kings Restaurant)
1014 Budapest, Táncsics Mihály Utca 25.
Tel: +36 1 212 8565
For classical music, www.jegymester.hu can get tickets for almost anything, I have used it and can vouch for its reliability. If you want to get good tickets for the Opera most of the good seats get block reserved by agencies and you can only get the cheap seats (about £2-£5), the reservations get freed up 48 hours before a performance. However Ticket Express (www.tex.hu) can be found two minutes from the Opera House and tickets can be bought there. Be aware that some opera performances are held in the Erkel Szinhaz which is near to Keleti (East) train station, and it is not as nice and the acoustics are not nearly as good. Still I was there recently and enjoyed it all the same.
Ticket express would be able to provide tickets for other music events too.
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