Our favorite tour guide in Budapest is Andrew ILLES. We have known him, personally used him and recommended him for over 10 years with never a negative comment. Most of our suggestions you can pursue on your own or gain some greater insight with Andrew’s assistance.
Arrival and Getting Situated
Welcome: If you are arriving from within Europe I would suggest that you haveAndrewpick you up at the airport and give you a little introductory tour of Budapest as he delivers you to the apartment. This will get you orientated and ready to begin the adventure. For a tourist coming from the U.S. I would suggest you take Fotaxi (the airport contract taxi company) directly to the apartment, get cleaned up, relax a little and then set off on your own to explore. The Fotaxi kiosk is directly outside the Arrival Lobby. Fotaxi has developed a very user friendly and helpful system with a flat rate. Save the receipt for a discount on the return trip.
If you are arriving by train I encourage you to call Andrew Illes for a short orientation tour on the way to the Apartment or you call CITY TAXI when your train pulls into the station. They will tell you where to meet their taxi and the taxi number. The taxi stands at the train stations are full of unregulated taxis and if you choose one of those the fare could be quite expensive.
The first day is a great time to stay close to home and explore the lower end of Andrassy ut (street) or Kiraly utca (street) and maybe hop the M1 to the Vorosmarty tér stop dead center in the Tourist Zone. At the top of the stairs of the Vorosmarty tér metro station is the Café Gerbeaud one of Budapest’s famous landmark coffee houses and an excellent confectioner; while about 100 feet away is the Danube embankment.
TIP: For your first half day use Individual metro tickets. They will cost 320 fteach.
Pest at Your Door
Jewish Pest:From the apartment first walk to the M1 Metro Stop in front of the Opera house and purchase your 72 hour Travel Card.
Now walk to the Kiraly utca entrance to the Gozsdu Courtyard. Leave early and have breakfast at Café Vian in the courtyard, visit the shops and if it is Sunday there is an open air market as well.
After breakfast exit the courtyard onto Dobb utca and note the Spinoza Café at the exit from the courtyard. If you are in Budapest on a Friday evening the Dinner and Klezmer show at Spinoza’s is a good choice. Upon exiting the courtyard are in the WWII Jewish Deportation Ghetto; move on to the Rumbach Street Synagogue and then the Great Synagogue.
Shopping Time: After touring the Great Synagogue continue on to the Great Market Hall (take the tram) for shopping and lunch. The restaurants on the second floor have excellent authentic Hungarian food.
Now walk up Vaci utca and try not to spend too much money on the way. This is where Communist Party Leaders from all over came to purchase goods not commonly available behind the Iron Curtain. Also the site of the first McDonald’s behind the Iron Curtain.
If you haven’t yet been to the Danube Embankment this might be a good opportunity to walk along the river and look over to Buda. Walk on to the base of the Chain Bridge and then go to the shoe memorial on the Danube embankment.
Now on to St Stephen’s Basilica and the pedestrian area in front that leads down towards the river. For really good local crafts and high quality souvenirs; while standing at the front steps and while facing the Basilica look to the shops on your far right. There is also an interesting shop down on the pedestrian street towards the river that sells music related souvenirs that are unique and interesting.
Return to the Apartment. Tired? Get on the M1 metro at the end of Andrassy and relax for one stop.
Evening: Budapest is about the music and you should really plan to spend one evening either at the Opera, Operett or one of the Church Concerts. Callas Café on Andrassy ut is an excellent place for dinner after a concert or a show. Call, make a reservation and ask them to hold the table as you will be coming from the theater. The Opera House is next door, the Operetta Theater is a block away and St. Stephen’s is about 4 blocks. There are links to most of the major venues on this website and there is information on a number of restaurants in THE GUIDEpdf file also on this website.
The Road to Buda and Back
Szabadsag tér: After breakfast in the apartment take the M1 to Deak Ferenc tér then transfer to the M2 to the Kossuth Lajos tér metro stop. Take the early morning Parliament Tour, see the U.S. Embassy (wave and smile) and see the Soviet War Memorial in front of the US Embassy as well as the life size statue of Ronald Reagan walking towards the Soviet War Memorial.
Antique Stores: Now move on to Falk Miksa utca to wander through the antique shops including the maze of underground display rooms in the old interconnected building basements. Look for lunch here or wait until you get to Buda.
Buda: From Falk Miksa utca go to the end of the Margaret Bridge and get on the Tram across the river. Get off on the other side of the river; there is an excellent antique shop next to the old world custom shoe shop across the street from the tram stop.
Now take about a 15 minute walk down to Batthyány tér. Here you will find places to eat, an interesting church and an interesting market as well as the local (HEV) train service to Szentendre.
Board the tram to take you to the Chain Bridge and the Funicular up to Buda. The closest tram stop is about 100 yards before the bridge. Sit on the left so you can look across the river to the Parliament and Pest.
Up the funicular to the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Gypsy Market and the other sights of Buda. One of the few means of transport for which you’re Travel Card will not work.
Do the whole Buda Castle District tour. Two things often missed are the bar in the Hilton for the view of the Parliament through the old abbey naïve and the Hospital in the Rock. There are also some interesting shops in the courtyard of the building across the street from the Hilton main entrance.
Take the stairs down from Buda and cross the Chain Bridge on foot. Walk to Vorosmarty tér and take the M1 metro back to the Opera and home.
Evening:There are a thousand great restaurants in Budapest, choose one. The apartment is central to many of the best. See THE GUIDE for ideas.
Arrange for a night tour of Budapest with Andrew; Budapest is stunning in the evening when all lit up. Or ask Andrew to book you on one of the evening boat rides on the Danube to see the lights or visit one of Budapest’s wonderfully unique Ruin Pubs.
Choose a Day Trip
Time to see the surrounds of Budapest. Either discover on your own or contact Andrew Illes for detailed guided tours.
Szentnedre (Half Day): Don’t want to spend a full day on the Danube Bend then from the apartment take the M1 to Vorosmarty tér and transfer to the M2 to Batthyány tér where you can purchase a ticket on HEV commuter train to Szentendre. Spend the morning in Szentendre and take the early afternoon taxi boat back to Budapest.
Vac (Half Day): This gem on the banks of the Danube has the charm of Szentendre but with mummies and fewer tourists. Thirty minutes by direct train from Budapest’s Nyugati Railway Terminal. Even the train terminal is special; one of Eiffel’s early creations before his famous tower.
Royal Palace at Gödöllő (Half Day): A vacation residence used by the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his family. A favorite of the Empress Elisabeth (Sisi). Excellent gardens in the spring and the fall. Take the M1 to Vorosmarty tér and transfer to the M2 to Örs Vezér tere. Transfer to the HEV commuter train to Gödöllő.
The Danube Bend (Full Day): Take an all day tour to Esztergom, Visegrad and Szentendre. Visit the Cardinals' Cellar for wine tasting and take a short trip across the Danube to visit Sturovo in Slovakia. Entering Budapest on the Danube is a special event so be sure to take the boat from Szentendre back into Budapest as a way to end the trip.
Gyor and the Pannonhalma Archabbey (Full Day): Austria is famous for its abbey at Melk; the Austrians have nothing on this magnificent Archabbey and wine producer located about an hour and a half outside of Budapest on the Road to Vienna.
Lake Balaton & Tihany (Full Day): The largest lake in Central Europe and one of Central Europe’s prime summer resort destinations.
Puszta Horse Shows (Full Day): Where Hungarian “cowboys” put on spectacular riding shows on the great Hungarian Plains.
Evening: It’s been a long day, and while the apartments have excellent kitchens how can you resist sitting in one of the cafés on Andrassy ut or Kiraly utca; wine, good foot, people watching at its best.
Wrap Up Your Trip and Fill the Holes
Andrassy ut, Part Two: The Champs-Élysées of Budapest. Tradeoff between the M1 and going on foot. View the grand buildings and mansions that line this monumental avenue.
House of Terror: Ignore the kitsch name, this is an outstanding museum showing the travesty of fascism in Hungary’s history; from Nazi occupation to home grown fascism, through Soviet occupation.
Hero’s Square, City Park, Szechenyi Bathhouse, a simply amazing Zoo, Ice Skating (winter) and the Vajdahunyad Castle: living remnants of the celebration of a millennium of Hungarian civilization in the Carpathian basin.
New York Palace:Now take the M1 back to the Oktogon and then the tram to the New York Palace for lunch (pretty decent hamburgers if you are just dying for a taste of the States).
Some of What You Have Missed:
District VIIIArchitecture, Gypsies and Jews
Picnic on Margaret Island
Jewish Budapest from Buda to Pest and Beyond
Cold War Budapest
Sight Seeing Cruises on the Danube
Folk Dancing Performances
Gypsy Violins over Dinner
Designers’ Market in Erzsébettér (Saturday and Sunday)
Artist Exhibition in Gozsdu Courtyard (Saturday)
ECSERI Flea Market
Overnight stay in Eger
Overnight stay in the Tokaji Wine Region
And don’t forget to call Fotaxi, City Taxi or Andrew ILLES for the morning return to the airport. You want to be picked up 2.5 hours prior to flight time