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Cultural Connections – Budapest
Day 4: Train Trip #1 – Prague to Budapest
We left Prague this morning and after a relaxing time on the train (about seven hours), we finally arrive at the central train station in Budapest, Keleti, around 6:30 in the evening. We grab a taxi and head over to our hotel, the Bohem Art Hotel, on the “Pest” side of town, just one block off the Danube.
The Bohem Art Hotel
The Bohem Art Hotel is not nearly as grand as the Ventana in Prague. While very nicely appointed, our room is minuscule. The bed is tucked into the window, just fitting in the alcove. I have to climb over my husband to get in and out of bed, and the TV is on the wall at the foot of the bed. Please note there is no space between the wall and the foot of the bed; the wall is the foot of the bed.
Not all the rooms at the hotel are this small. For some reason, we have selected or been given, the smallest room the hotel has to offer. I can’t remember and none of our itineraries show the room type from when we booked. However, I’m sure the room size has something to do with our budget.
After checking in to the hotel, we head out for a quick walk to get our bearings and some dinner
Day 5: A Tasting Tour of Budapest and it’s Famous Market
Again we are up bright and early. But today we skip breakfast since we are off for our tasting tour at the Central Market Hall “Nagy Vasarcsarnok” and more! We meet up with our guide, Barbara (Barbi), from Taste Hungary. There are just two other people in the group, and we head off for an enjoyable four-hour eating extravaganza.
Tasting Inside the Market
Our first stop in the market is for a quick drink. “Unicum,” Hungary’s famous liquor, is made from a blend of more than 40 herbs and spices and aged in oak casks for over six months. I have to say this beats Starbucks! Next, to keep a level head, and give the alcohol something to hold onto, we head to the “Langos” stand. Langos is a fried bread that comes with both sweet and savory toppings. Barbi suggests we have the Langos with loads of garlic. What a way to start the day!
Eating Everything We See!
From there, we eat our way through the market hall, stopping to taste salamis: beef, pork (both mild and spicy), and horse (the dark one in the back) while getting a brief lesson in the farming and agriculture of Hungary.
Most interesting to me is the Mangalica pig (I’m a big pork fan). This breed of pig grows a thick, wooly coat similar to sheep. I didn’t get to see any live pigs, maybe on the next trip.
While we are getting a fun guided tour and eating our way through this beautiful market, most people are actually shopping for their dinner. The Market Hall is where locals shop regularly for food, just like going to your local grocery store back in the states. And you can find it all here … from fish, poultry, and meat to veggies, fruits, and spices.
Before leaving the Market Hall, we sample three kinds of cheese, including a type of cottage cheese covered in chocolate. Barbi explains that this type of cheese is a typical snack for children when they arrive home from school in the afternoon.
Tasting Outside the Market
Our group heads outside next for more tantalizing tastes of Budapest. First stop, a gourmet chocolate shop, Chocolate Rozsavolgyi . The chocolate here is awesome and award-winning. This shop and the chocolate was yummy, but somewhat out of order as our next stop was lunch.
A local butcher shop functions as both a butcher and bistro that is our lunch stop. Our lunch (sorry no pictures) consists of three kinds of sausage, fried potatoes, potatoes with sour cream and cottage cheese, a duck leg, sweet red cabbage, and pickles. All of which is terrific! Fortunately, each couple shares a plate, so while we are quite full, we are not stuffed.
After lunch, we head over to the charming pastry shop, Auguszt, for a lovely sampling of pastries. Auguszt Coffee House is one of the oldest patisseries in Budapest. The family-owned business has been making their traditional treats for five generations, originally established in 1870. Pastries are one of the defining “cultural connections” among the three cities on our tour.
Not Done Yet…
You would think that by now, we’ve had plenty to eat and drink, but the tasting isn’t over yet. Our last stop is a lovely wine bar behind the Market where we get to sample three delicious Hungarian wines, a white, a red, and a sweet late harvest — a fitting finish for the day.
We loved our day walking through the city… eating and drinking … really tasting the culture of Budapest. Taste Hungary is where we booked the tour, and I certainly recommend using their service.
Day 6: The “Buda” Side of Town
Today we wake up on the early side and head down to sample the Hotel’s breakfast service. As in most European hotels, breakfast is included in the price of the room. We often take advantage of these terrific buffet spreads, and our breakfast usually lasts us until dinner time. The buffet at the Bohem Art Hotel is plentiful, fresh, and varied, giving us the needed fuel for today’s planned tour of the Buda side of town.
I’m a fan of all sorts of transit, and on the first evening in Budapest, I noted the funicular across the river and knew we’d be taking this car up the hill. We head out from our hotel, cross the Danube via a nearby bridge, find the ticket window, and board the funicular to climb the hill to Buda Castle.
The Castle, first built in 1265, now in ruins (see photo below), was destroyed in the great siege of 1686. This location on the highest point in the area has been the home for Hungarian royalty for over 700 years.
Nearby is the more modern-day Baroque Palace built between 1749 and 1769. If you want to visit the museums inside the castle, there is a fee that I think was around 10 € per adult when we were there. We chose not to go into the Castle and instead to enjoy the courtyards, gardens, and magnificent views over the Danube for free.
We don’t often stop for a mid-day meal when out exploring. However, we do like to sample fresh fruit at the markets or stop for a coffee, or something stronger between sites.
When we finish taking in the sites on the hill, we begin to walk through Buda back down to the Danube, stopping to grab a quick cup of hot wine to drink along the way.
Seeing the City from the River
Back at the riverbank, we hop on one of the many boats that offer hour-long tours of this section of the Danube River all day, every day. These tourist boats operate sort of like a tour bus in that there is a narration of the sites you see on the banks of the river. It is relaxing to sit down after nearly four hours of walking, and we enjoy watching the Budapest sail by.
After this short cruise, we meander back to our hotel for a brief rest and to choose a place for dinner.
Time to Eat Again
We are in an excellent location for food. There are restaurants all along the river bank. For tonight’s dinner, we find a Greek Restaurant – “Dionysos Taverna.”
My husband loves Greek food, and this restaurant is only a couple of blocks from the hotel. Since the weather is changing, it’s beginning to rain, a closer restaurant is better. Dionysos has covered outside seating, and while the weather isn’t the best, there are heaters and blankets for the guests. We choose to sit outside to better see the lights of the City, the Castle, and the Chain Bridge all while watching boats and people stroll by.
We start dinner with steamed mussels, and both of us order a pasta dish for our entrée. The staff is gracious, the food delicious, and this lovely rose was delivered at the end of the meal to say thank you.
Day 7: Beautiful and Evil
Today is our last full day in Budapest, and we plan to spend the day walking the Pest side of town. The city is still going through a rejuvenation. The many years of war and oppressive regimes have taken their toll on what once were majestic buildings with beautiful architecture. As you walk the boulevards, you see buildings that have been cleaned and returned to their original beauty alongside those waiting for their chance.
The Hungarian State Opera House
The Opera House was opened in 1884 in the midst of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Budapest was eager to show the world that it was as refined and cultured as its co-capital, Vienna, and so built an Opera House to rival the best in Europe.
This venue is stunning. There are statues and paintings everywhere by famous Hungarian artists such as Szekey and Lotz. The foyer welcomes you with its marble columns and vaulted ceilings covered in murals. Everywhere you look, you see fine art and fascinating craftwork such as the wrought-iron lamps that illuminate the wide staircase and main entrance.
While smaller in size than many other Opera venues, the quality of the acoustics in the Budapest Opera House is considered to be among the best in the world. After walking through the building, we are treated to a short set of arias by local artists to showcase the beautiful sound.
Tours of the Opera House are available nearly every day and in several languages. The cost is around 10 € per adult (this seems to be the going rate for many sites).
The House of Terror
The House of Terror documents the horrors the AVH (the Hungarian version of the KGB) committed during the repressive reign of the Hungarian Communist regime that lasted for 40 years. The museum presents a detailed overview of the terror inflicted on the Hungarian people from spying to disappearing.
The museum is located in the same building where the Arrow Cross (the Hungarian Nazi Party) made its headquarters when it took control of Budapest in 1944. When WWII ended, and Budapest was occupied by the Soviet Union, the building transitioned into the home of the AVH (the State Security Authority).
You can visit the House of Terror every day except Monday and certain Holidays from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm cost is about the same as for the Opera House. You are not allowed to take any photos inside the museum, so put your camera away and make this tour a mindful meditation.
I leave the House of Terror feeling troubled and sad. I know these types of museums are meant to remind us of these horrors so that, hopefully, humanity will not repeat them. But I am not sure that humankind has evolved enough yet to stop the insanity.
If you have the option, I would certainly do these venues in reverse. See the House of Terror first and the Opera House after. It is far better to end your day with thoughts of beauty.
Day 8: Train Trip #2 – Budapest to Vienna
Today’s train ride to Vienna is much shorter than the previous Prague to Budapest trip, just 2½ hours. We are still using our Eurail Pass, but also have seat reservations on the train, which ensures we will have guaranteed seats.
General Advice on Seat Reservations for the Train
When possible, we make seat reservations for all our train trips. Seat reservations are an additional cost charged by the train line that ranges from as low as 2€ per seat to as high as 20€ per seat, depending on the type of train and the services offered.
I sincerely recommend you make seat reservations for popular trains and anytime you are traveling during peak times. You must make these in advance, but it’s easy, and you can do this through Eurail.com or the Rail Planner App available at the App Store or on Google Play.
We are leaving Budapest for Vienna from a different train station today, Kelefoe. When we arrive at the station, we are amused by the overall appearance of this station. Kelefoe appears to be stuck in time somewhere back in the middle of the 1900s. I made a quick video of the “Arrivals” and “Departures” boards. Hope you enjoy.
Kelefoe Train Station, Budapest, Hungary