Local on the health scene in Budapest

In our Local on the Health Scene series, we’re asking fit correspondents around the world to let us in on their city’s best spots for high performers. Between its setting on the Danube and palatial buildings, Budapest is a magical place steeped in history.

For nearly four years Alia Akkam, a native New Yorker, has lived there (currently in central Pest) expanding a writing career that covers food, wine and spirits, travel, and design. She frequently craves green juice, finds peace in guided meditation and sound baths, and has recently returned to practicing yoga.

Below, her guide to the city's best restaurants, thermal baths, and outdoor adventures.

An unexpected vegan dining scene

Hawking ubiquitous tourist menus of chicken paprikash, goulash, and stuffed cabbage is common at Budapest restaurants, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that the city is devoted solely to hearty, carnivorous cuisine. In recent years, local chefs have taken a turn toward more refined, balanced cooking that emphasizes high-quality, fresh-from-the-market ingredients. Here, three examples:

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  • 1000TEA

    An aura of Zen pervades 1000Tea, which is tucked away in a courtyard on one of Budapest’s most tourist-clogged streets. Peruse the vast menu of loose-leaf brews, from Lapsang Souchong to Greek mountain tea, and ring the bell when you’re ready for the staff to take your order.

  • Matrjoska Kroshka

    This quirky vegetarian street food restaurant is known for its homemade veggie burgers in flavors like beetroot-rosemary and oyster mushroom–thyme. Go for lunch or an early dinner—they close at 7:30 p.m.—and sample vegan versions of Russian classics like pelmeny (stuffed pasta).

  • MÁK

    A serene Scandinavian vibe in the form of light wood and brick accents welcomes diners to this eatery in buzzing District V. But it isn’t just the ambience that suggests such an influence: Everyday Hungarian ingredients like pike, perch, and trout are melded with Nordic ones like pumpkin seed and aromatic pine.

An ancient thermal bath culture

Rejuvenating in purportedly healing, mineral-rich waters is a Hungarian ritual that traces back to Roman times. With 123 natural springs alone, Budapest is known as the “City of Spas.” Explore this age-old wellness tradition, which pairs hot and cold pools with steam and sauna sessions.

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  • Széchenyi Thermal Bath

    One of the largest in Europe, this sprawling bath has an idyllic setting in City Park (Városliget). Plan for an early arrival, as tourists flock to the Neo-Baroque Renaissance building for its trifecta of outdoor pools. During the warmer months, Széchenyi acquires a nightclub sheen with hedonistic “sparties” unfolding on Saturday nights.

  • Veli Bej

    A stand-out example of Budapest’s Ottoman heritage is the hushed, hard-to-find 16th-century Veli Bej in Buda’s District II. There are a number of small pools here, but the central octagonal one—surrounded by arches and set underneath a domed, skylit ceiling—is the most alluring.

  • Lukács

    One of the baths most frequented by Budapest denizens is the Neo-Classical Lukács. Opened in 1894, it features an array of indoor and outdoor pools, which stretch out in the courtyard. It’s adorned with marble tablets that depict the gratitude of those who claim they’ve been cured by the Lukács waters.

A wealth of outdoor activities

After a long, brooding Budapest winter, locals love lingering in the sunshine, whether on a café terrace sipping lemonade or along the banks of the Danube River. For fitness enthusiasts, there are a number of al fresco adventures to enjoy as well.

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  • Margaret Island

    Planted in the middle of the Danube between Buda and Pest, the island known as Margitsziget is a striking example of urban nature. This retreat features lush landscaping, an open-air theater, religious ruins, and the Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Stadium, named after and designed by the first Olympic swimming champion. Take it all in by running the shady, rubberized track (3.3 miles) that rings the island, then refuel with a dip in one of the outdoor pools at Palatinus, on the island.

  • Citadella

    One of Budapest’s most stunning panoramas is savored from the Citadella, a Hapsburg-built fortress perched atop Gellért Hill. Reach it—and Budapest’s own Statue of Liberty—via a steep, but relatively short, woodsy path accessed from the Elizabeth Bridge that can be hiked in under 30 minutes. For a more challenging climb, embark on a forested ascent of János Hill, home to the fairytale-like limestone Elizabeth Lookout Tower. At 1,732 feet, it’s the highest point in the Buda Hills.

  • Római Part

    The “Roman Riverbank,” is a quick train ride away from Buda, but it’s far more rewarding to snag a bright green MOL BuBi bike from one of Budapest’s plentiful docking stations and cycle to this Danube hideaway. From the center of the city, it’s about five-and-a-half miles. Once you’ve arrived, embrace the water with a canoe ride, then soak up the shore’s retro, beachy atmosphere with a fröccs (Hungary’s summertime spritzer) on a striped lounger at Fellini Római Kultúrbisztró.  

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There are over 100 miles of cycling paths inside the city.