State Opera House © Attila Nagy
State Opera House
© Attila Nagy
In Budapest, you dress up to go to the opera. This is obviously not unique to the city, but when you see their State Opera House you understand why you’d want to. That is not a building that you want to let down – it looks like something out of a fairy-tale. Historical legend has it that Emperor Franz-Jozeph specified that this Opera House was not to be as large as the one in Vienna – and thus its capacity is only 1,261 people – but said nothing about whether it was to be more beautiful; and by all accounts, it is. In-house legend has it that the cherubim which adorn the walls and ceiling come alive at night and play symphonies in order to preserve the acoustics – and when you’re standing open-mouthed in the red and gold splendour of the main theatre, it's a legend that's easy enough to believe. There are tours running daily in pretty much every language so there is no reason not to be taken around this glorious building, which recently celebrated its one hundred and thirtieth anniversary by recreating the Imperial Court in pageant form on the surrounding streets. The State Opera is very generous in wanting to bring music to the people and puts on outdoor concerts several times a year.

The Opera House plays host to at least 20 premières a year, as well as many old favourites (the preferred being Puccini, Verdi and Wagner, whose statues adorn the outside of the building), at least 20 dance recitals a month, plus performances by the Budapest Philharmonic Society who also accompany the shows. In addition to this, the State Opera also stages performances at the Erkel Theatre – which is about as different a building as it is possible to get. Its brutalist style does not have the same opulent warmth of its sister, but there is something charming about its modernist cleanness, and certainly the theatre inside, with its mammoth capacity and perfect acoustics, cannot be faulted. I saw Puccini's Turandot, which showcased one of the State Opera’s three selected chamber singers for the year, and you’d be surprised how easy it is to follow an opera entirely in Italian with Hungarian surtitles, with the set and costumes nearly as compelling as the music itself.

Turandot at Erkel Theatre © Péter Rákossy
Turandot at Erkel Theatre
© Péter Rákossy
If the Opera House embodies Budapest’s glory days under the Imperial Court, then arguably there is no better representation of modern Budapest than the Palace of the Arts (also known by its Hungarian abbreviation MüPa). Approached from the Number 2 tram (officially The Tram With The Best View In Europe), the elegance and grace of this building is evident from the moment it comes into sight, particularly when contrasted with the old-world opulence or reconstructed edgy ruins that Budapest will have made you used to. Inside, the light wooded building is somehow welcoming despite – or perhaps because of – the scope of its open-plan interiors and sweep of its wide staircases. It will come as no surprise that free concerts are often held in spaces around the building; the day I was there, one could stumble upon an expert Jazz recital around almost every corner, for no better reason than they felt like having a Jazz Festival. In addition to this, there is the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, and the smaller Festival Theatre. The former is a feat of acoustics, with so many vibration chambers that you can almost feel the technical expertise, even as you lean back in the knowledge that everyone in the room can hear absolutely perfectly. The building plays host to a range of recitals and concerts, orchestras and dance shows, and with its constantly rotating programme there will always be something worth seeing. Also, it lights up at night and looks even prettier, so if you need another excuse to go back in the evening, it’s nearly worth it just for that.

MüPa hosts a wide variety of music both classical and otherwise, much of it world class. Their semi-staged Ring Cycle in June can be as good as you'll hear anywhere, the classical programming has up to the minute contemporary work as well as the standard repertoire, while top dance and even contemporary circus performances feature in the Festival Theatre.

Palace of Arts (MüPa) © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Palace of Arts (MüPa)
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Having covered then and now, a glaring omission to our tour of musical architecture is the secessionist period - but luckily, that is covered by the riverside palace that is The Vigadó. Since this is not just a concert venue, but also a ballroom, conference centre and function hall, the building feels less music-specific, but all the more exciting for it. Not only does it contain at least three art galleries, it has also recently opened up a studio space which will alternate exciting modern productions with broadcasts from international operas, and they are just finishing up some renovations that will reopen the restaurant that has not existed since the hall was opened about a hundred years ago. The programming here is a little more sporadic, due to the flexible nature of the venue, but the building is beautiful enough that you won’t regret swinging by. (At night, there’s also a lovely view across the river; you can see the castle all lit up - and when their terrace is opened in Summer it will be even better from inside the building).

The Budapest Spring Festival, which runs in April, spans all of these venues (and others) and brings together a mouth-watering variety of Hungarian and top international stars: the 2015 festival features Elīna Garanča, Christian Gerhaher, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Kirill Petrenko, the San Carlo opera from Naples, Netherlands Dance Theatre and many more, not forgetting locals Iván Fischer and the superb Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Vigadó at night © Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Vigadó at night
© Bachtrack Ltd / David Karlin
Whilst these three are the big classical music venues, there is so much going on around the rest of the city. Remember that tramway you took to get to Mupa? All along the river you will have seen a host of river-boats - permanent features which host a range of restaurants and jazz clubs. The most respected is the A38, but there are plenty to choose from. Back in the city, pretty much any location you visit is probably either a concert venue or a dance club in the evening - if not both. On Dob St, the Spinoza Cafe holds weekly Klezmer nights, whilst the underground Lampas bar next door is a popular swing venue. In Deák Ferenc tér, right in the centre of the city, Aquarium is an underground nightclub and concert location (called so because of the large pool of water it resides under), built into the hole that was once meant to house the National Theatre (before it was built next to MüPa instead. Budapest is full of little anecdotes like this). Larger venues which are still not exclusively classical include Fono, a jazz, folk and world-music concert hall, and the Budapest Music Centre, which plays host to a wide range of classical, contemporary and jazz evenings, as well as playing host to the Opus Jazz Club, which holds concerts every Wednesday to Saturday at 9pm. No matter what sort of music you are a fan of, Budapest will probably have it. If you want to spend a night expanding your mind and soul at the opera then that’s incredibly easy to do. And if you decide afterwards that you want to party until 7am? Well, then that’s even easier.