8 Hidden Gems and Non-Touristy Things to See in Budapest

Red Star Graveyard

photography by: Odair Faléco/ Wikimedia Commons

Often dubbed as Paris of Eastern Europe, Budapest is not only Hungary’s capital and its most populous city, but also the second largest city along the Danube River. With its marvelous architecture, ample culinary scene and a plethora of thermal baths, the Hungarian capital attracts more than 12 million tourists annually, making it one of central Europe’s most visited cities. It should then come as an utter surprise that the city is also home to multiple quirky and off-beat attractions, skipped by the vast majority of visitors. Abandoned, obscured or simply left unnoticed, the eight places in following list offer an alternative experience in an otherwise touristy scenery.

Red Star Graveyard (Istvántelek Train Yard)

Unlike a typical graveyard where formerly-living earthlings are interred, the well-hidden complex in the north of Budapest, known as Istvántelek Train Yard, is instead home to dozens of decommissioned locomotives and cars from WWI to the Soviet era. Constructed in the early 20th century, the place was operated by the national railway company as a train depot where vehicles were repaired and maintained.

 

Following World War II and the advent of diesel engines, the workshops were ultimately abandoned. In the decades that followed, the pair of massive hangars and the many railcars strewn around have been slowly, but steadily reclaimed by nature. Story has it that among the roughly hundred or so defunct vehicles here, are also several trains that were used by the Nazis to transport Jews to their death in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

 

Interestingly, amid the yard’s decaying locomotives one can find extremely rare models, including the MÁV-301, used from 1911 to 1914, and the MÁV-424 (aka “The Buffalo”), whose Red Star symbol earned the place its moniker, the Red Star Graveyard.

 

As the partly-active complex is off-limit for tourists, visiting the train graveyard requires a great deal of resourcefulness and caution. While the premises is entirely fenced and guarded, there are some makeshift openings along Elem Street from where intrepid visitors can sneak in. If you opt to come during weekdays when workers roam the area, just make sure to behave in an unsuspicious manner.

An abandoned train in the Red Star Graveyard

photography by: Loco Steve/ Flickr


Lehel Market

Whoever passes in front of Lehel Market, could very well assume that this oddly-shaped building is the grotesque version of Pompidou Center in Paris. It has been rumored that architect László Rajk, whose father, the minister of interior under the communist regime, was executed in 1949 for political impurity, designed the whimsical edifice as his own personal vendetta.

 

Whether this tale is true or not is up for you to decide, one thing is clear though, the market, which is somewhat outshined by the well-known and lavish Nagy Vásárcsarnok, offers an authentic shopping experience, completely free of tourists.

 

Easily accessible by the nearby Lehel tér metro station, Lehel Csarnok is a popular spot among locals who buy here everything from locally grown fruits and vegetables, traditional sausages, pickles, pastries, cheese, just to name a few. Alongside the tens of stalls offering local produce are also a couple of fast-food eateries, including a stand that sells typical Hungarian eats like lángos, a scrumptious fried flatbread garnished with grated cheese and sour cream. If you wish to try something else, there is a Vietnamese restaurant serving huge bowls of Pho soups with shrimp, beef or chicken.

The outlandish façade of Lehel Market

photography by: Jorge Franganillo/ Wikimedia Commons


Kőbánya Cellar System

Whilst Budapest prides itself as having the world’s third oldest metro system after London and Chicago, it also boasts another network of tunnels, far older and lesser known. Nestled in the city’s 10th district, the cellar system of Kőbánya (Kőbányai pincerendszer) is a series of interconnected underground chambers and passageways that coalesce into Hungary’s largest cellar complex. Indeed, with a surface area of roughly 200,000 square meters, a total length of a whopping 35 kilometers and a depth of up to 30 meters, it is often referred to as an underground city.

 

It all began in the 13th century, when the limestone-rich soil was utilized for mining. In the following centuries, the quarry evolved into a massive set of subterranean, where at one point, the area’s mined limestone was used as construction material for some of Budapest’s most recognized buildings, including the Parliament and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

 

During the late 19th century, as the complex was increasingly regarded as an unsafe for mining due to regular floods and cave-ins, it was gradually occupied by wineries and breweries, who took advantage of its controlled climate which was ideal for fermentation.

 

Following a couple of years where the complex was used by the Nazis as an aircraft engine factory during WW2, the cellar system was abandoned and filled with debris. It wasn’t until relatively recently when the place was rehabilitated and transformed into a recreational complex, where visitors can explore. As of today, this underground maze is mostly owned by the Kőbánya district government which offers guided tours every now and then.

The lit walls of Kőbánya Cellar System

photography by: Christo/ Wikimedia Commons


Rákospalota's Poppy Field

It goes without saying that Budapest’s jungle of concrete and asphalt is the last place that comes to mind when thinking about pristine nature, and yet, a small speck of land in the city’s northern outskirts defies that very notion. Tucked away in Rákospalota neighborhood, the open meadow between Lidl Supermarket’s parking lot and the M3 highway was used for decades by the country’s agricultural cooperative for the cultivation of wheat.

 

For years, the former wheat field lied unassumingly, covered by weeds. That is, until 2022, when zillions of poppy seeds, probably carried by the wind, inundated the post-communist wasteland. With the arrival of the summer, the unremarkable grassland was strikingly carpeted with red poppies, instantly turning into a mesmerizing pilgrimage site for local families. We have no way of knowing whether this mind-boggling spectacle will reoccur again in the coming years, but if it does, make sure not to miss it.


The Little Swabian Hill (Kis-Sváb-hegy)

Part of the Buda Mountain range, the Little Swabian Hill is yet another natural getaway from the incessant hubbub of Hungary’s capital city. As evident by a sarcophagus found on site, the small hillock in Hegyvidék district was first inhabited during the Roman times. Over the centuries, the hill changed hands many times until it became an epicenter of wine production. In fact, the aforementioned stone coffin was repurposed as a grape press as recently as the 19th century, before being relocated into the Aquincum Museum where it sits to date.

 

Since the mid-1970’s, the knoll has been designated as a protected area, and thus serving as a habitat for a plethora of fauna and flora species, including the greater pasque flower, Hungarian iris and a host of migratory birds. Traversed by a network of trails, Kis-Sváb-hegy is comprised of multiple wooded areas and glades, cluttered with remnants of WW2 artillery and bunkers. A former quarry at northern part of the reserve is now a magnet for rock climbers who fearlessly ascend its nearly vertical wall. At 258 meter above sea level, the forested hill greets its hikers with sweeping views of Budapest, making the ascent well worth the effort.

One of Kis-Sváb-hegy’s verdant glades where visitors are awarded with spectacular views

photography by: Globetrotter19/ Wikimedia Commons


Lágymányosi Bay (Lágymányosi-öböl)

Rivers are double-edge swords, on the one hand, they provide cities with drinking water and navigational routes to the outside world, but on the other hand, they can also cause devastating floods. Following a series of calamities, culminating in the 1838’s flooding of Pest (one of the city’s two main parts), it was decided to create a countermeasure to mitigate any future deluge.

 

In 1876, the Kopaszi dam was built along the southern segment of Buda’s riverbank, providing a protection against seasonal floods. The 750-meter-long dike also enclosed a new body of water, known as the Lágymányosi bay. In the decades that followed, the embankment and the nearby cove became a popular recreational area for the residents of Budapest.

 

That all ended in 1949, when the Communist regime took over the country and allocated the place for factories. It wasn’t until the 2000’s, when the then polluted and decrepit part of town was transformed into a well-kept park. With a sandy beach, a pair of public balconies, multiple restaurants and cafés as well as a peculiarly designed amphitheater, the former industrial zone is now teeming with visitors and migratory birds alike.

Stretching along the bay is a set of tribunes, often brimming with locals

photography by: Sztudva Gyöngyi/ Wikimedia Commons


Steve Jobs Sculpture

At the noon of the 5th of October 2011, one of history’s most illustrious tech figures, Steve Jobs, has passed away after a prolonged battle against his pancreatic cancer. While his death was accompanied by a worldwide grief and gratitude, it was the Hungarian entrepreneur Gabor Bojar who really stood out among the mass.

 

In 1984, when Hungary was still under Communist rule, the two met at a technology fair in Germany, where Bojar’s company, Graphisoft, showcased its ArchiCAD software, whereby architects and designers can accurately draw their conceived plans. Jobs, who was deeply impressed by Graphisoft’s achievements, decided to donate a significant amount of funds and equipment to then young startup.

 

When Bojar received the grim news that Jobs has died, he almost immediately commissioned the construction of a memorial which pays a tribute to the late co-founder and CEO of Apple. Soon after, the Hungarian sculptor Erno Toth was entrusted with creating a full-size statue of Jobs, inaugurated less than 3 months after his passing. Made entirely of Bronze, the sculpture depicts Jobs in his typical garment and gesture, while an iPad-shaped plaque is inscribed with one of his famous quotes “The only way to do great work is to love what you do”.

 

The sculpture sits in front of Graphisoft headquarters, located in a tech park with which it shares its name. Interestingly, the memorial is a short distance away from another sculpted tech-legend, the statue of Satoshi Nakamoto, the illusive developer of BitCoin.

The statue of Steve Jobs

photography by: Derzsi Elekes Andor/ Wikimedia Commons


Károly Guckler Lookout (Guckler Károly-kilátó)

More often than not, the verdant mountain range of Buda is a mere backdrop for Budapest’s iconic skyline. Nevertheless, a sheer wilderness coupled with breathtaking vistas make the city’s mountainous outskirts a worthy place to visit by its own right.

 

Ensconced amid the wooded foothills of the Three Border Mountain, Károly Guckler Lookout far-exceeds its initial role as a scenic point. Built in 2016 on the remnants of a WW2 emplacement, the quirky structure is akin to a large skeletal football, whose beams are made of pine timber. While the unusual-looking monument is only 4 meter tall, it perches on a 499-meter-high mountain and as such, is bestowed with stunning panoramic views of the Hungarian capital, its surrounding countryside and on a bright day, also a distant glimpse of the Tatras.

 

The octagonal lookout owes its name to Károly Guckler, the region’s former head of the forestry office who in the late 19th century launched a vigorous campaign to reforest the then barren hillsides. Prior to the 1860’s, most of the city’s supply of firewood came directly from the wooded areas of Buda, which over the years stripped the district of its natural forest. To first replenish the area’s eroded soil, Guckler ordered the mass planting of black pine trees. After the soil was well strengthened, it was possible to replace the pines with reintroduced native trees, ultimately achieving Guckler’s goal of restoring Buda’s nature to its fullest glory.

Károly Guckler Lookout Tower

photography by: Medit71/ Wikimedia Commons