Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Duncan JD Smith, author of 'Only in Budapest', takes to the back streets of the Hungarian capital to visit the latest Budapest fad: a pub in a building that comes close to being a ruin. It's cheap, cheerful and lots of fun.

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Duncan JD Smith’s ’Only in Budapest’ was the first book we discovered from the ‘Only in’ series of guidebooks on European cities. That was back in 2006, and since then we have extolled the merits of this series a number of times in hidden europe. The series now extends to nine titles, of which the latest — ‘Only in Paris’ — had a mention in the last issue of hidden europe.

The Budapest guide has been particularly successful with a third edition published last month. It includes a lot of new material, so hidden europe invited Duncan JD Smith to give us a flavour of something novel from the Hungarian capital.

From Castle Hill to Heroes’ Square, Budapest is a city beloved by visitors for its architectural diversity. Splendid palaces, ancient churches, bath buildings, and imposing arcades all contribute to the feel of the place, even though some of these showpiece attractions are crying out for restoration. That is the reality of Budapest in modern times: Vienna it is not. But how many visitors would actually go out of their way to see a badly dilapidated apartment house, especially if it was of little apparent historical interest? The answer, surprisingly, is quite a few! Moreover, they are not looking for art and history but rather drink and entertainment in one of Budapest’s socalled Ruin Pubs (Romkocsma). The phenomenon of the Ruin Pub originated in the run-down Jewish Quarter of Pest in District VII, where lack of money, neglect, and an absence of gentrification has created an abundance of crumbling and sometimes abandoned late nineteenth-century apartment buildings.

This is just an excerpt. If you are a subscriber to hidden europe magazine, you can log in to read the full text online. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 40.


Having worked for many years in the publishing industry selling other travel writers’ books, Duncan J. D. Smith decided in 2003 to start writing and illustrating his own. As a self-styled ‘Urban Explorer’, travel writer, historian and photographer he has embarked on a lifetime’s adventure, travelling off the beaten track in search of the world’s unique, hidden and unusual locations. He has so far traversed four continents in search of curious places and people, from the wartime bunkers of Berlin and the baroque gardens of Prague to the souks of Damascus and the rock-cut churches of Ethiopia. His European findings are being published in a ground breaking series of guidebooks – the Only In Guides – which have been designed specifically for the purpose. Volumes on Berlin, Boston, Budapest, Cologne, Edinburgh, Hamburg, London, Munich, Paris, Prague, Vienna and Zurich have been published, with Krakow in preparation.

Duncan divides his time between England and Central Europe, and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Find out more about Duncan and his work at www.duncanjdsmith.com and www.onlyinguides.com.

This article was published in hidden europe 40.