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Going to Budapest because we love classical music and history


Does anyone know of any tours/guides/books we should check out if we want to be educated about the history of Hungary/Budapest? And/or educated about the composers of Hungary (i.e. we are going to Bela Bartok museum and seeing the symphony at the Bela Bartok Concert Hall and going to the Liszt) - anything more peculiar or thorough?


Posted by
3683 posts

The Hungarian state opera house is huge, old, and glamorous. Subsidized tickets are great bargains by North American standards and are available on-line. A backstage tour is interesting even if you don't want to sit through a performance where the subtitles are going to be in Hungarian.

Posted by
13546 posts

I came to Budapest for the first time about a dozen years ago and over time my return trips have ramped up to 3 a year totaling 4 or 5 weeks each year. One of the things I love about forums like this is that they keep me humble as I always learn new things. I had no idea that they continued subsidizing the opera house after the soviets pulled out. That’s a good thing. Many city symphonies and operas are supported to some degree with tax money. Glad to hear the Hungarians are no different. Actually, because of their values I would be surprised if they were a little more generous than most cities in the US are with their fine arts. Thank you.

Well you have me stumped. I guess you could read books about famous composers. Here is a link to names other than Bartok, Zoltán Kodály, Erkel Ferenc and Liszt they are pretty foreign to me.

As for venues. The Opera has done performances subtitled in Hungarian and in English. But let’s be honest, 20 years ago no one subtitled anything so don’t let that deter you. I generally go out and purchase a summary of the opera or the ballet and study it before the performance so I can follow it. But as excellent as the performances are I would hope you are going for the entire package, performance, atmosphere and cultural experience. \

The performances speak for themselves. They are generally very well rated and received. The Hungarian Opera and Ballet companies are world class. The venue is unquestionably one of the most magnificent in Europe. The Cultural Experience is unique. This is a culture where the arts still hold a place of prominence in society. For any performance you will find student in cheap sports coats with a date, pensioners in their finest suits and dresses (c. 1968) and the wealthy in perfect dresses and designer suits or even black tie. Yes, you will also see tourist dressed like ….. Don’t get me started.

For the Opera you want a box seat on the second level that will give you direct access to the main lounge and front balcony at intermission.

Just as good a venue is the Budapest Operett Theater. Not as magnificent but sill laden in gold leaf and of the same period in appearance they put on simply fantastic Operetts and Musicals. For this you want a box seat in the center. This will get you invited to the parlor at intermission where you will be served Champaign and sweets.

In both the Opera and the Operett, the seats I suggest will put you in a situation where you can meet and talk with the locals. We have met fascinating people this way. For me, this is what traveling is all about
A third very excellent venue is the grand hall at the Liszt Academy of Music. This recently renovated art deco masterpiece is not to be missed.

The Bela Bartok concert hall is a new facility. I have been in it to look around but have not yet seen a performance there. It is a spectacular venue on the inside.... the outside .... welllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll.

You can tour most of this on your own. Even the Liszt has tours (check their website). The neighborhood around the Liszt has a number of very old and very interesting musical instrument stores (mostly near or on Kiraly utca).

Also, while not classical you need to hear a Klezmer concert to get a rounded view.

If any of this interests you, let me know, and i will help if i can

Because these are all very much local venues for locals and because the locals love these venues, the tickets sell fast. So purchase ASAP. Also know that theater is seasonal (closed in the summer).

Posted by
35 posts

Wow! Thanks everyone! Super cool.
I wish we were going into Slovakia!!! Next time. Would love to meet the musicologist!