Skip to content Skip to footer

Branding lessons from Budapest

I returned for a week to Budapest, the capital of Hungary. 
Looking at a town from a branding perspective, there are a couple of takeaways.👇

Budapest has changed quite a bit since my last extended visit. For the better. I feel that the town finally starts to get its own ‘voice’. 
In other words, it’s brand expression. A couple of examples.


A lady in her 40s – She is extremely beautiful – and even more so because she is not fully aware of it. 

She shows some signs of age, a puffy face in the morning, and some wrinkles here and there.
She tries to keep up with those signs of aging, but not too hard. 

She is forgetful and passionate.
She dresses how it could be best described as shabby-chic

She has a very interesting history. She works in the creative sector. 


She speaks in an alluring tone, with a deeper voice and a lot of wit and humor. 


Her looks
Budapest is a beautiful town with gorgeous architecture. The buildings themselves carry their charm but need some renovation. 

Her tone of voice

On the streets, in cafés, and in museums, the tone is very tongue-in-cheek.
A lot of jokes, language games, and self-critical humor are set to witty use. 
It is delightful to see the town finding its own voice. And it’s a very friendly one. 

E.g. ‘Dog fouling is a litter offense! It is the owner’s responsibility to clean up would be a British thing to say. The Budapest sign says: ‘Szedd össze magad!’ – that would translate to ‘Get your sh’ together!’ – without the cursing. 

Her general atmosphere

Budapest finally doesn’t try to be ‘like Paris’ or ‘similar to Prague’ or ‘cousin of Vienna’.

Budapest is becoming Budapest.
Offering exactly what she has and trusting that person who visits will exactly appreciate this unique atmosphere.

And this is how She will stand out.

The cafes and restaurants serve this general atmosphere too.
Some of them of course replicate the grand imperial allures.
Newly established places and bakeries evolved to mix the humorous, the beautiful, the old, and the crappy – embracing it as a whole. Throughout town, they seem to represent a single brand identity. The visuals and interiors are very carefully crafted, yet never pretentious. That was 2 centuries ago. 
I am also intentionally not mentioning the other extremity, the well-known ‘ruin bars’. 

E.g. One of my favorite bakeries was Vaj – having a fully 21st-century friendly space (e.g. Western standard cleanliness and service) but absolutely Hungarian-tasting design and messaging. 

Witty signage seen in Vaj underlines the tongue-in-cheek tone.
The interior of Csiga is one of the great examples of the ‘budapestesque’ shabby-chic. 

In branding terms, the town dares to be its own thing, is completely behind its unique proposal, and has found the exact people she is standing for – her customers.

She is not trying to target travelers wanting Northern comfort and fin-de-siécle wherever they can see. Her target is people who still see Hungary as an exotic, historical, somewhat troubled, beautiful place with a lot of spice. 

Her identity, tone of voice, and presentation all fit the whole.