Friday, October 23, 2009

The Five Most Over-Rated Tourist Spots in Budapest

5. Vásárcsarnok

The District IX market hall is basically a decked-out airplane hanger for produce. It impresses at first blush, but it doesn't take long to realize that an eggplant looks the same in Hungary as it does at home. It is left to the vendors to give the place some local flavor. A butcher at Vásárcsarnok once tried to sell me cow cheeks (which they don’t even put on display – they are so unsightly and unpopular) for a higher price than an equivalent quantity of a prime mangalica cut. He succeeded (crafty bastard) in selling me ground beef at twice the going rate. Central Market? Try, Central Mark-up.

Happy Alternative: District V Csarnok

Also designed by Gustave Eiffel, it is the Vásárcsarnok in miniature, without the busloads of Koreans, and without the attitude.

4. Szentendre

Aside from a few good museums, the charm of Szentrenre still eludes me. A small – albeit picturesque town – with big city prices. Most of what you find, aside from the most gaudy of Hungarian craft souvenirs, are other tourists wandering around looking at each other, wondering why every travel book insists Szentendre is an essential part of their itinerary.

Happy Alternative: Vác

Equally small and picturesque, with a few great produce and flea markets, Vác is an under-touristed gem. An excellent starting point for expeditions into the Bukk hills, and you don’t have to suffer the HEV to get there.

3. Váci U.

Featuring low-rent brands that pass for luxury shopping in Budapest, Váci is perhaps the last street in Budapest I would elect to show a visiting friend. With the konzum lányok, professional beggars, and bus tour ticket hawkers making forward motion a chore, it's not even all that pretty a walk.

Happy Alternative: Király Ut.

Before Andrássy was built, Budapest’s gentry paraded up and down Király, the city's most elegant shopping street. Though it lost its high-end status long ago, Király has retained its charm. From haute-cuisine to budget dining, 24-hour dentists, hipster bookshops, and a few of Pest’s best bars, Király is a more authentic representation of the city than Váci, or, these days, Andrássy.

2. Gundel

A former irreproachable bastion of Budapest fine-dining, it is now the favorite spot of reality clown Győzika. Enough said.

Happy Alternative: Klassz

There are always inventive takes on local produce for very reasonable prices at Klassz, which is why it is full every night. The menu changes every few months, but they always have goose liver (still legal in Hungary!) and much-hyped mangalica pork on offer. As Klassz is partnered with the Wine Society, their wine list is amongst the best in the city.

1. Lánc Híd

Hungarians love their fancified Chain Bridge. But in the scheme of great European bridges, it pales. Go to Prague if you want spectacular bridges. The Chain Bridge connects the equally over-rated Castle District with bone dry Roosevelt Square, making it all that much more avoidable.

Happy Alternative: Szabadság Híd

This is an honest, elegant, working-man’s bridge. Patina-green Szabadság just received a huge renovation and is open again for business, with its wonderful views of the Danube from the southern part of central Budapest. Connecting lovely Gellért Hill with Fővám Tér, Szabadság Bridge is also the top choice of jumpers. What is more Hungarian than that?

Matt Henderson Ellis is a freelance manuscript editor and author coach working with writers who publish in print and digitally.

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