People like to say that the style of architecture in Budapest is ‘eclectic’. I often wonder if this is just a handy word for people who know about architecture to fob off people like me who don’t. Then again, it is accurate. Nothing is more likely than to see a secessionist (i.e. Art Nouveau) block of flats next to a neo-renaissiance office block, opposite a super-modern construction and two eyesores from the communist era that you’d rather not even talk about, let alone look at. In fact, if you’ve found yourself in Szervita tér, then that’s exactly what you’ll see.

Postal Savings Bank building © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Postal Savings Bank building
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
The Torok Bank House is just one example of the range of art nouveau buildings you can find about the city, and whilst I shall point out what I feel are some of the best ones, the main point to take away from this is that you should constantly be looking up – in Budapest there is always something to see when walking around the city.

That said, if you will settle for nothing but the best example of secessionist architecture in Budapest, then you can do no better than The Royal Postal Savings Bank, at 4 Hold utca. Turning the corner onto an otherwise innocuous street, you will find your vision dominated by a gargantuan extravanganza of colour and curlicues; the roof tiles alone are enough to keep you blinking. This was built by Ödön Lechner, Hungary’s premier architect, in 1901, and is still in use today as the National Treasury. Make sure you pop inside though: the foyer is just as impressive as the outside, and slightly shinier.

Memorial to victims of Nazis © Bachtrack Ltd / Hannah Marcus
Memorial to victims of Nazis
© Bachtrack Ltd / Hannah Marcus
If after that you need a break from art nouveau, you are conveniently near to Szabadság tér (Liberty Square to you and I) which makes up in controversy what it lacks in colour. (There is actually a secessionist piece on this street, which houses – what else in such a location – the US Embassy, but good luck getting close; it’s fenced and guarded). Past the abandoned neo-classical monster on the left side that once housed a television centre, you will find the memorial to the Russian soldiers who fell defending Budapest from the Nazis, which is so hated by the right wing elements of the city that until very recently it was protected by a fence from projectiles such as rotten tomatoes and the like. Luckily, it is balanced out by the memorial to the victims of the Nazi occupation which stands at the end of the square, which is actually square. Depending on your view, this memorial is at best tasteless or ugly, but at worst offensive, which is how the Jewish population of Budapest felt. It’s worth seeing, not just to form an opinion, but for the poignancy of the make-shift memorial which has sprung up in front of it; consisting of stones, suitcases, flowers, and testaments to those that died, it is a compelling testament to the past and a fascinating commentary on how we choose to remember tragedy.

Ferenc Liszt Academy Entrance Hall © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Ferenc Liszt Academy Entrance Hall
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
After all that controversy, you’ll probably be ready for some Art Nouveau again, and luckily, the city is more than willing to provide. The Ferenc Liszt Academy might look imposing from the outside, but you will thoroughly regret not popping in to have a look around – the entire building is bursting with colour and life, an ongoing testament to the most impressive figures of the art nouveau movement. The entrance hall (according to my guided tour, which you should definitely also do), is designed as a tribute to Dionysus, but with an underwater theme that explains the blue and green mosaic – the god of wine and theatre combined with a love of the inspiration of the sea.

Almost in direct contrast to this is the main concert hall, which is so distractingly decorated you can almost forget that it actually serves as a musical venue. (Almost. With some of the best up and coming musicians in the country, actually going to one of their concerts is probably the best way of rectifying this). Look out for the signs of dedication to Apollo – the suns, the laurels and lyres – all interlocking in a mesmerising pattern of black and gold. The seats are comfortable too.

Bedő-Ház © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Bedő-Ház
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Whilst the Liszt Academy is probably the jewel in the crown, no tour of Budapest’s architecture would be complete without The Museum of Applied Arts. Inside, it does what it says on the tin – that is, take you on a tour of a range of items which unapologetically combine utility with aesthetic consideration. The building itself is an extension of that theme, the roof composed of the same brightly coloured tiling you’ll have seen on St Matthias’ Church, or the old Post Office, but the inner doorways and gate sporting original flower patterns, tiling and curlicues everywhere. Definitely stop for a look at the exterior even if you don’t have time to go in.

Having taken this excitingly haphazard tour of the city’s lesser-known sights, you may find yourself wondering why there is such an enthusiasm for art nouveau, and even what its official definition is. Luckily, Bedő-Ház – found around the corner from Liberty Square – exists to answer your questions. This museum of art nouveau is – you will probably be entirely unsurprised to hear - converted from a house which was one of the best, most excessive examples of the style, and the eclectic mix of items and information will both inform, surprise and delight.

Tired after all that exploration, there is no better place to end your visit than the Lotz Cafe. Hidden away inside what used to be the Paris Department store, but is now known as the Andrássy utca bookshop, at least three people will try and recommend this cafe to you, and you should listen to them – there’s something almost magical about finding this ornate and frescoed interior at the top of a seemingly standard bookshop. It’s like finding a secret door to Vienna, only better because you’re still in Budapest. And as you’ve probably gathered by now, Budapest is great. Exploring the city will reveal and endless treasure trove of life, colour and history - so what are you waiting for?

Lotz Café © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Lotz Café
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin