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.
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Have 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”
- 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 wanted it to be.
A Brief History of the Whale
The 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.
It is located in a rapidly developing area in close vicinity to
- the Great Market Hall, and
- 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:
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.
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.
(individual shops might have different opening hours)
- Every day: 10.00 – 20.00.
Why Should You Visit the Bálna?
Even 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. Usually couple of people are strolling inside so it is 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 Bálna Bisztró has a nice outdoor terrace and great meals and drinks.
I 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).
Local Food Specialties
The Magyar Sziget shop sells typical Hungarian food stuff – lots of paprika and garlic strings as decor.
The 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).
On most days the place looks eerily abandoned and quiet compared to other shopping and entertainment centres in Budapest.
(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
WAMP – the Hungarian Design Market
Date: 17. November 2019, on the 1st floor of the Whale
Opening Hours: 10.00 – 18.00
The country’s biggest design market welcomes everyone on the first floor of the Bálna to browse among and shop for one-of-a-kind products, perhaps getting gifts for Christmas.
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
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