Budapest Whale (Bálna)-CET Building

A New Shopping and Cultural Centre

The city’s newest sight, the Whale (Bálna, formerly called CET) opened in November 2013 after a long period of debate and legal dispute between the municipality of Budapest and the constructor.

Quick Links: History-IntroLocation Opening HoursWhy visit?Shops, AttractionsEvents,Festivals

KORZÓ-Antique and Design Market on Sundays

Opening hours: 10.00-18.00

A fair featuring unique, quality antiques, designer and contemporay art products. There are usually children programs too so it is an ideal Sunday program for the whole family.

See other antique/flea markets in Budapest!

Budapest Whale Cultural and Shopping centreHave you wondered what the colossal glass and metal structure sprawling at the Danube bank in Pest between Petőfi Bridge and Szabadság Bridge is?

That’s the “Bálna / Whale” (formerly called CET building) a modern shopping, cultural, and entertainment centre, as well as a tourist attraction on par with Paris’s Eiffel Tower, or the Covent Garden in London – at least that’s what the city leaders want it to be.

This aim seems to be a bit far fetched, considering that a few weeks before the planned opening the Whale was still yawning almost empty.

There is a large scale model of Budapest made 30 years ago in the head of the animal that could be visited for free on two days at the beginning of October. It might stay there after the opening unless a retailer want’s to rent the space in the head.

A Brief History of the Whale

Whale Shopping Centre southern entranceThe Danube was a very important transportation route in the 19th century: the main portion of wheat produced in Hungary was transported on ship.

To serve this water traffic, four public warehouses were built in the Pest side of the river between 1874 and 1881.

By the beginning of the 21. century the buildings were in bad shape, on the road to dilapidation.

A project was launched to refurbish and use the warehouses in ways that meet the requirements of a 21. century, modern capital city.

A Dutch architect, Kas Oosterhuis, was commissioned to design a multifunctional complex from the four buildings preserving some of the original architectural elements.

Construction begun in 2009 but the 2011 opening had to be delayed due to legal issues. In 2012 the structure became the property of the Municipality of Budapest that done some necessary repairs and started to prepare for the opening.

Location

It is located in a rapidly developing area in close vicinity to the Great Market Hall, and the the new campus of the Corvinus University, not far from the scenic riverside walkway, the Danube Promenade.

Actually you can enjoy a wonderful panorama of the river and the Buda side from the nice wooden benches and walkway outside the building:

Scenic view at the riverbank at the Bálna

Budapest Whale in Numbers

Brutto area: cc. 30 500 sqm out which nearly 12 000 sqm can be rented. There is also a 2000 sqm area for outdoor terraces.

Opening

The complex opened in November 2013 with concerts, cultural programs, and children workshop. The first “inhabitants” of the building were also be there:

  • Budapest Anno: (a unique market place focusing on two different themes: the antique shops will sell rare and vintage artworks, while organic food shops of the other side of the place will offer bio and natural food stuff),
  • the New Budapest Gallery,
  • a few restaurants and cafes.

Opening Hours 

(individual shops might have different opening hours)

Every day: 10.00 – 22.00.

Why Should You Visit the Bálna?

Shops inside the BálnaEven if it won’t fulfill the city leaders’ utopistic aim, the Budapest whale will hopefully prove to be a fabulous cultural centre with exciting exhibitions and other programs.

The contemporary art exhibition of the New Budapest Gallery, housed in one of the preserved warehouses, is a great start.

There is also a lookout point somewhere on the top – invisible from the ground floor – from where visitors will be treated to a stunning view.

Add some good restaurants and cafes, the close proximity of the Danube and the Corvinus University, and I can envision a great future for the centre.

TIP: One more reason to visit: if you hate noisy, crowded plazas definitely swing by the Bálna: during my visit on a winter day in 2014 only a a couple of people were strolling inside – a peaceful place to grab some food or coffee and enjoy the spectacular vista from the top levels.
In spring and summer you can sit outside and admire the view of the Danube and the opposite side. The Olimpia Cafe has a nice outdoor terrace.

A Visit to the Whale in January 2014 – Looks a Bit Abandoned

Magyar Sziget shopI dropped by the mega complex (in Budapest ) on a cold, grey winter day and was pleasantly surprised by the warm interior and lack of people – though the latter is owed to the low number of shops, cafes and restaurants that are open.

There’s a nice shop selling quality Hungarian folklore items, some art shops, 2-3 cafes and restaurants- one is a craft beer pub at the southern entrance aptly named Jónás Pub with some great specialty brews on tap and in bottle (Arany Jónás, Black Jack IPA, Jokerface, Távoli Galaxis, Brutal Bitter, James Brown Ale etc. (a mug costs around 550 – 900 HUF), wines and pálinkas, coffee, tea, and a nice variety of fruit syrups (szörp in Hungarian).

The Magyar Sziget shop sells typical Hungarian food stuff – lots of paprika and garlic strings as decor.

Lamp shopThe yellow retro bus outside (see the second photo on this page) is Robur Bistro offering fast food: hamburgers, hotdogs, sandwiches (was there till the end of February 2014).

The place looked eerily abandoned and quiet compared to other shopping and entertainment centres in Budapest.

The place is sure busier on Saturdays and Sundays when the craft and farmer’s market is held on the -1 level where you can get bakery goods, cheeses, organic mangalica sausage, pálinka (Hungarian fruit distillate), artisan beer, cute vintage art, design leather bags, Herendi porcelain, munch some pancakes – a very pleasant place in Budapest to do a weekend shopping (though do not expect green grocers, and as wide choice as in the Great Market Hall next door.

Once the Nehru Park (named after India’s first prime minister), the area between Fővám tér and Petőfi bridge will be reorganized and developed into a cool urban park with a biodiverse garden and a water garden in front of the Bálna, this part will become one of the city’s most popular place for recreation.

Awesome view, the comforting presence of the river Danube, terraced cafes, pubs, great shops and events – we need nothing more to have a good time in the city.

  photos about my visit to the Whale on our Facebook page.

Events, Program Tips

people on the terrace of the BálnaBelgian Beer Festival May, 2017

Tickets: 2 800 HUF, includes 3 glasses of beer (200ml) or 4000 HUF (incl. 5 glassess of beer), and a special tasting glass

The Belgian Beer Festival festival is organized for the 8. time indicating the popularity of quality beers in Hungary.

Each year visitors can sample around 190 beers by 35 belgian breweries, 50 will be on tap.

Must try beers include the famous Omer, the Duvel Tripel Hop or the Deliria (from the Delirium line) made by women.

TIP: Should you miss the Belgian Beer Fest in May drop by Jónás Kézműves Sörház/Craft Beer Pub on the groundfloor of Bálna, at the southern entrance.

Regularly changing craft beers on tap, decent coffee and hot chocolate, natural fruit juices and syrups. Terrace in nice weather. Opening hours: Mon-Thurs: 9.00-23.45, Fri-Sat: 09.00-02.00, Sun: 09.00-23.00.

Spring Festival in Bálna

The Bálna is also one of the venues of the Budapest Spring Festival, one of the the largest cultural festivals in the city.

Official website: Bálna

Related: Our Favourite Budapest AttractionsBudapest EyeSkycourt Shopping Tips

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