Heroes Square © iStock/fotoguy22
A blossoming of wealth in Europe at the turn of the 19th century sent a rosy flush of culture across the continent. It was known as the Belle Époque, a golden age for the arts, and Paris was at the helm. Budapest, itself experiencing something of a renaissance sparked by the uniting of Buda, Obuda and Pest under one capital, was not immune to the charms of the ornate, foliage-festooned style. The city took to reinventing itself as a jewel box of Art Nouveau treasures inspired by the stylish French capital. Here, we cherry pick the loveliest Belle Époque places to visit in Budapest.
Nicknamed ‘the Champs-Élysées of Budapest’, Andrássy Avenue is a World Heritage Site and rightly considered one of Budapest’s most scenic ambles. It’s also one of the best places to do some Belle Époque-spotting: lined with grandiose mansions, embassies, museums, and other cultural institutes, it’s an architecture lover’s dream.
Paris Department Store
The grande dame of Andrássy Avenue is Párisi Nagy Áruház, aka the Paris Department Store. If those knock-out Art Nouveau façades fail to impress, venture in for an eyeful of impossibly opulent interiors replete with gilded frescoes. Its days as Budapest’s most illustrious retail emporium are long gone—it’s now home to ad-hoc pop-up exhibitions.
Museum of Applied Arts
From the outside, capped with its green and yellow tiled roof and a sizeable dome, the Museum of Applied Arts is an instantly recognisable Belle-Époque landmark in Budapest. Indoors, it continues to impress. We can’t decide what’s more amazing, the soaring atrium itself or the collection of furnishings, carpets, ceramics, and accessories made from precious metals.
House of Hungarian Art Nouveau
There’s no better place in Budapest to bask in treasures from the Belle Époque than at the House of Hungarian Art Nouveau. It’s a trove of furniture, fashion and early 20th century paraphernalia housed within a beautiful Belle-Époque building. A highlight is the café, installed with a rather lovely medley of period tables and chairs.
Franz Liszt Academy of Music
Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s prestigious concert hall and music school is the most treasured of Budapest’s examples of Belle Époque architecture. Its interiors glitter with chandeliers, mosaics, ceramics and frescoes, although the Miksa Roth-designed stained-glass windows have since been replaced. Combine a tour with some culture – there are excellent classical music recitals on most days.
Leopold Town – aka Lipótváros – is an ideal destination for the Belle Époque-seeking flâneur. In the centre of the city, and adjacent to the Danube, the district is rich in landmarks and historic buildings from all eras, though the turn of the century is well represented. Look out in particular for the Royal Postal Savings Bank, constructed in 1901 and considered a masterpiece of the style.