From their controversial media law to their discriminatory anti-gay constitution and crippling national debt, Hungary is often in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
As a lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans tourist you may have doubts about visiting a country where it’s perfectly legal to discriminate against a person based purely on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
However, as a gay man who lived in Budapest for just over a year with my partner, I experienced less homophobia than in more ‘accepting’ countries such as my native Scotland.
I’ll be honest, if you plan your holidays based purely on whether or not your chosen destination has a good gay scene, you might as well just give Budapest a miss.
However, if you love beautiful architecture, history, culture and are a glutton for good food then I strongly recommend you give Budapest a try.
On a clear day take the Funicular to Buda Castle and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Danube and the Pest side of the city from the grand terrace. From there, wander through the Castle district to Fishermans Bastion and the awe inspiring Matthias Church. A stone’s throw away you’ll find a street full of small privately owned galleries showcasing local art and design talents.
If your feet are up for it then take a stroll along the beautiful, tree-lined boulevard towards the imposing monuments at Heroes’ Square. Make sure to pop into Sugar! en-route to indulge in some weird and wonderful cakes followed up by a coffee in the decadent Alexandra book shop café.
This is also home to The House of Terror. The building, which was the main city’s headquarters for both the Nazi and Communist parties, gives a chilling (although a little biased) insight into Budapest’s tortured past.
Budapest is not a shopping destination by any means, but if you’re looking for something quirky to bring home – and can handle a bit of bargaining – make sure to pay a visit to the Ecseri flea market for Soviet relics, World War Two artefacts and random bits and bobs!
For an authentic taste of Hungary, head to one of the many no frills canteens across the city that serve local staples such as goulash for a meager price. The local markets such as the one held in The Great Market Hall also offer up some tasty treats including Mangalica – a special breed of Hungarian pig.
On a night out, the first thing you must do to initiate yourself into Hungarian culture is have a shot of Pálinka. There is no better place to try it than at the Rézangyal Bistro. Order the mézes barack (honey and apricot) flavour to start before moving on to something a little stronger!
As mentioned before, Budapest doesn’t have a very active gay scene. However, the low-key gay friendly Café Eklektika is a great little place to spend the evening as is the lively Alterego. I recommend you befriend a local through a social networking site, this way you’ll be invited to one of the regular villa parties.
And if you’ve indulged in a few too many shots, you can detoxify in one of Budapest’s legendary thermal baths such as the Király Baths.
So should you boycott countries with homophobic laws rather than spend your tourist money there? Some argue that’s the right thing to do, others say that having openly gay people visiting countries like Hungary is positive, particularly if it later inspires you to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans campaigners in the country.