The major symphony orchestras in Budapest are the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the Philharmonic Society Orchestra, the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, the Budapest Symphony Orchestra, and the Hungarian Railway Workers' (MÁV) Symphony Orchestra. The major chamber orchestras include the Hungarian Chamber Orchestra, the Ferenc Liszt Chamber Orchestra, the Budapest String Players, and the Hungarian Virtuosi. Major choirs include the Budapest Chorus, the Hungarian State Choir, the Hungarian Radio and Television Choir, the Budapest Madrigal Choir, and the University Choir.
Budapest is now on the touring route of dozens of major European ensembles and virtuosos. Keep your eyes open for well-known touring artists.
Note: Most Budapesters tend to dress more formally than casually when attending performances. However, the location of your seat determines your dress code. If you are on the lower level, you should dress from smart casual to more semiformal. In the upper regions, you can get away with jeans and a sweater. In wintertime, you are expected to check your coat and any bags. There is no getting around this, so don't annoy the attendant by trying to argue the point. The usherette will not seat you.
The Millennium City Center
The Millennium City Center is situated on what was the last large available parcel of riverfront land in Budapest. On the 10 hectares (25 acres) of land, the plans have been to build a convention center in the southern section to include a 10,000-seat center for hosting conventions and sporting events, a casino, and a medicinal and recreational spa. A multifunctional exhibition hall will be adjacent to the Convention Complex while two international hotels will be built on the north side.
With the opening of the Palace of Arts in early 2005, the latest cultural complex created in the Hungarian capital includes a National Concert Hall, the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, and the smaller Festival Theater. To reach this center, take tram no. 2, a scenic route that begins at Jászai Mari tér.
Theatre & Dance
Budapest has a varied and vivacious theater season from September through June, but the majority of plays are in Hungarian only. The Merlin Theater, V. Gerlóczy u. 4 (tel. 1/317-9338 or tel. 1/318-9844; www.merlinszinhaz.hu), used to be the mainstay for English speakers, but the options are slim and rare. Located on a quiet street in the heart of the Inner City, the Merlin now programs less than 20% English-language shows. During the unusual times when they do have an English show, tickets cost 1,000 Ft to 2,500 Ft; the box office is open weekdays 11am to 7pm. Take the metro to Astoria (Red line) or Deák tér (all lines).
For international or Hungarian dance, music, or theater of the contemporary sort, the Trafó House of Contemporary Art, IX. Liliom u. 41 (tel. 1/215-1600 or tel. 1/456-2040; www.trafo.hu) is the place to go. Having opened in 1998, this venue has offered a wide range of events that are extremely different and experimental, definitely not for the traditional thinker. Regardless, there have been performances I could have seen repeatedly and those where I wanted to demand a refund, but it all equalizes in the end. If you happen to be here for any length of time, they now have three, five, and seven performance tickets priced at 6,000 Ft, 8,000 Ft, and 10,000 Ft. The beauty is that you can get two tickets for the same performance deducted from your season ticket, to take a friend along. Prepare to get there early and stand close to the theater doors. With open seating, it is like a herd of cattle stampeding through. We especially recommend some of the dance works of the French-Hungarian Compagnie Pál Frenák (www.ciefrenak.hu); their men on ropes were unbelievably well done. Tickets cost 1,500 Ft to 2,000 Ft; the box office is open Monday through Friday from 2pm to 8pm and weekends 5pm to 8pm. Reserve or purchase tickets in advance on the website. Take tram nos. 4 or 6 or the metro to Ferenc Körut (Blue line).
One theater company that has been brought to my attention is the Katona József Theater at V. Petofi Sándor u. 6. (tel. 1/765-0174; www.katonaj.hu). As a public theater, its main support is provided by the City of Budapest. An independent company was created here in 1982, after seceding of the National Theatre of Budapest. The troupe has extensive international connections, which are enhanced by its being a founding member of the Union of European Theatres. The company regularly embarks on international tours and to date has performed in more than 60 cities of the world. The productions as well as the artists have received numerous national and international awards. Depending on how vulnerable you are to nose bleeds, the prices range from 2,900 Ft up in the high altitude section to a pricey 14,400 for primo seating.
For musical productions, especially those by Andrew Lloyd Webber, go to the Madách Theater, VII. Erzsébet krt. 29-33 (tel. 1/478-2041; www.madachszinhaz.hu). However, I find it disconcerting to hear these show tunes I know redefined to a Hungarian translation, so brace yourself for the experience. The theater was built in 1961 on the site of the famous Royal Orpheum Theater and has been restored to its former elegance. Its hit production since spring 2003 is The Phantom of the Opera. The theater has a love affair with the plays by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Cats anyone? You will find many of the plays rotating for years with a few other American classics thrown into the mix. Ticket prices are 900 Ft to 9,000 Ft, but if you value your legs, do not sit in the balcony where leg room is nonexistent. The box office is open daily from 3pm to 7pm; performances are usually at 7pm. Take tram nos. 4 or 6 to Wesselényi utca.
Affectionately called the wedding cake, the very ornate and striking theater is the Vígszínház (Comedy Theatre of Budapest), XIII. Szent István krt. 14 (tel. 1/329-2340; www.vigszinhaz.hu). Here again you will find productions in Hungarian only, usually by Hungarians, but at times there will be international playwrights. The Vígszínház operates in the traditional repertory system, which is incredible to most foreigners; almost every evening a different performance is given with the technical staff having to build and strike down the sets each day. The theater has a repertoire of actors who appear in numerous shows over the course of the month, having to learn the roles for each show. The repertory comprises 10 to 12 plays on the stages of the Víg's 1,100 seats. With a show almost every night, the theater stages numerous plays that pull in delighted audiences. The box office is open daily 11am to 7pm. Depending on the performance ticket prices are 900 Ft to 5,000 Ft. Take the metro to Nyugati pu. (Blue line).
An important venue in the world of contemporary performing arts in Budapest is the MU Theatre, XI. Körösy József u. 17 (tel. 1/209-4014; www.mu.hu). Offering the work of contemporary choreographers and young dancers, this venue has similar events as the Trafó above. The box office is open Monday through Thursday 6pm to the beginning of the performance, and Friday through Sunday from 1pm until the start of the performance. Tickets run the gamut from 1,000 Ft to 2,000 Ft. Take tram no. 6 to Moricz Zsigmond körtér.
The first children's and family theater in Budapest, the Kolibri Pince (Hummingbird Cellar), VI. Andrássy út 77 (tel. 1/351-3348), is a small theater with seating for 60. It offers entertainment for all age groups, but children are its main focus. The repertoire includes adaptations and story-musicals as well as one-man shows and small theater pieces. Other theater locations include the Kolibri Fészek (Hummingbird Nest), VI. Andrássy út 74, a room-theater where 50 to 70 children view the show sitting on pillows and chairs. The largest is the Kolibri Színház (Hummingbird Theater), VI. Jókai tér 10, with a stage where puppet performances are usually held seating 220. Metro: Oktogon (Yellow line). Tickets cost 800 Ft to 1,600 Ft depending on theater and performance.
Hungarian Folk Dance Houses
Hungarian folk music has many styles, sounds, and instruments with some music associated with dances, while others are autonomous. Hand in hand with national identity, folk music has had a revival via the táncház (dance house). An evening of folk music and folk dancing can be a wonderful cultural experience during your stay here. The events in a neighborhood community center certainly come with a higher recommendation than those offered as tourist events. When an American choreography student was studying here, she pointed out that many of the dances were male-centered with the ladies as window dressing. Perhaps some are, but others are definitely mixed equally. Listed below are a few of the best-known dance houses. The offering is dance instruction for an hour and then several hours of dancing accompanied by a live band. You just might hear some of Hungary's best folk musicians in these simple dance houses. If you have two left feet, just come to watch and listen. Every festival has some folk dancing included, so if you are too inhibited to try these places, try to arrange your trip around some festival time. Most dance houses are open from September to June and are closed for the summer.
Authentic folk-music workshops are held at least once a week at several locations around the city. The leading Hungarian folk band is Muzsikás, the name given to musicians playing traditional folk music in Hungarian villages. They have toured the U.S., playing to great acclaim, so may not always be available at a Budapest táncház. Music is Every Thursday (Sept-May only) from 8pm to midnight for 700 Ft, there's music at the Marczibányi Square Cultural House (Marczibányi tér Muvelodési Ház, II. Marczibányi tér 5/a (tel. 1/212-2820). Take the Red line metro to Moszkva tér. Also try the Municipal Cultural House (Fõvárosi Muvelõdési Ház), at XI. Fehérvári út 47 (tel. 1/203-3868). At the Kalamajka Dance House, Belvárosi Ifjúsági Mûvelõdési Ház, V. Molnár u. 9 (tel. 1/371-5928), reachable by M3 Ferenciek tere, is the biggest weekend dance, with dancing and instruction on the second floor, while jam sessions and serious palinka drinking take place on the fourth. The Kalamajka band is led by Béla Halmos, who started the dance-house movement in the 1970s. Usually traditional villagers give guest performances. Open Saturday from 8pm to 1am for 700 Ft, you can dance until you drop.
An important heritage-preserving center, the Almássy Square Culture Center (Almássy téri Muvelodési Központ), VII. Almássy tér 6 (tel. 1/352-1572), from 6pm to 10pm hosts folk dances to the music of the electric Greeks Sirtos in the main hall. Upstairs is a bit crazier with the small fanatic band of Magyar dancers who twirl to the Kalotaszeg sounds of the Berkó Band until midnight. A short walk from Blaha Lujza tér (Blue line or tram nos. 4 or 6) gets you to this folk center. Entrance fees vary from 700 Ft to 1,500 Ft.
Most people who come to a táncház evening do so to learn the folk dances and the music that accompanies them, not for touristy reasons. However, this does not mean that tourists are not welcome to learn the dances or sit and observe while hearing musicians practicing and partake in a local scene at next to no expense. You have the opportunity to become part of the program instead of merely watching others perform.
Every Monday, Friday, and Saturday from May to mid-October at 8:30pm, the more touristy Folklór Centrum presents a program of Hungarian dancing accompanied by a Gypsy orchestra at the Municipal Cultural House. This performance is one of the best of its kind in Budapest.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.