A city with a penchant for eating and partying where the U.S. dollar stretches for days, Budapest is a hot destination for American travelers. To fill the days, there are castles and churches with sprawling hilltop vistas (and countless stairs to reach them), but it’s the night when the city truly shines. A nocturnal stroll along the Danube in Pest affords dreamlike views of Buda’s most impressive buildings and bridges, all immaculately lit. Along the way are plenty of bars with outdoor seating to gawk while sipping a beer or taking a shot of Pálinka, a traditional Hungarian liquor that shouldn’t be missed.
Walking the city by day (it’s small enough that you don’t need public transportation, but trivia-tourists may want to take a ride on the longest tram in the world, or on the second oldest electrified metro,), there’s a subdued, almost somber feel. Most of the architecture boasts beautiful detail, but you’ll have to look past decades of dirt and neglect with faded, chipping paint, and crumbling concrete. It’s easy to imagine what a grand city it may have been, but the effects of Communism and war are clearly visible now in an economy that can’t afford to rebuild everything. (Don’t worry: There are plenty of spots in the city center that have been completely renovated, and modern conveniences for day-to-day life are abundant.) When the sun goes down and the lights come on, the city is aglow with the vitality it lacks in the sun. The hyper social Hungarians come out to play as the music pumps and the alcohol flows, spending little money but all of the energy they saved through the day.
My host in Budapest was Gergely (Gergo) Boda, 31, who lives in the heart of the city, just behind Gozsdu Udvar, an outdoor wonderland of connected bars and restaurants whose carnival-like pulse alone is worth a nighttime walk-through. Here, Gergo makes an important distinction between gay visiting and gay living in Hungary’s capital, and reminds us to visit the parliament, which may be one of the most spectacular buildings you’ll ever see. If you happen to catch it during the day, you must go back at night.
Out Traveler: How long have you lived in Budapest?
Gergo Boda: Seven years. I came here after university because my brother and some friends were here. The city where I finished university was quite small, so being gay there wasn’t great. And the salaries were smaller!
How long have you been out?
When I was 16 I first I told a friend, and then my older brother when I was 18 or 19. My other brother found out on his own, and my mother knows, but I didn’t tell her myself. But my father and stepmother, whom I grew up with, don’t know. I don’t think they could handle the situation well. They wouldn’t kick me out of the family or anything, but it would just be a strange situation. They don’t ask anything about my private life so it doesn’t come up. If I get into a serious relationship they need to know about, then maybe, but right now there’s just no reason for it.
How is it for a gay person to get along in this city?
Not that bad, if you hide it. I haven’t heard any stories of anyone being attacked because they’re gay, but we don’t display it. Hungarian guys don’t walk hand-in-hand or kiss on the street. There are some bars and clubs, but people in general just don’t talk about being gay. That’s just how the people are here. If you see gays holding hands, you know that they’re tourists. Nothing happens to them—it’s not dangerous—but to live here as a gay person is not as easy as visiting.
Two places a visitor should go with just one day here?
Go to Parliament because the building is so beautiful, huge, and amazing. And visit Hero’s Square. It’s a big square with monuments to historical people, and there’s also a small castle, and a large park.
Your favorite restaurant in Budapest?
I like Suelto. They have a good kitchen, it’s in the city center, and the people are quite nice. You can get some traditional Hungarian food, but they have everything really.
One thing every visitor needs to know about your city before coming here?
Follow Brandon Schultz on Twitter @BrandonAlexandr and Instagram
All the shops are closed on Sunday so if you need anything buy it on Saturday!