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trebex Feb 7th, 2011 08:45 PM

Budapest Trip Report - January 2011
Four nights in Budapest, after arriving from Berlin (see earlier trip report).

General impression: I really liked Budapest. It's a beautiful place, especially along the river. I was also really impressed with the friendliness of the locals and quality of service. I expected communist style unhelpful bureaucracy but was pleasantly surprised. Only issue was a cab driver who tried to charge me 5200 to the airport when the real price is 3600. I pointed that out on the price chart and he noticed his "mistake". And he noticed the lack of tip.

Flight: Arrived from Berlin on Malev, which was surprisingly good. Flew out on BA via London to New York.

Weather: Some fog and rain for the first day or so, then got a little brighter.

The Budapest Card: I bought it for 27 euros for 3 days. You get unlimited rides on trains, buses and trams, and small discounts to most museums. But unless you really plan to visit everything, and that will be difficult in three days, the price is not worth it.

Public transport is pretty easy to use. Tickets are nearly always checked on entering and often on exiting. Sometimes on the trains as well. There are many stories of visitors not knowing they must validate their tickets and being fined, so be sure to do that before riding.

Visiting in January: An EXCELLENT option. Prices are lower and the sites are practically empty. Was perfect.

Hotel: Connection Guest House - on Kiraly St, about two blocks from the opera house. This is a gay hotel, but I trust everyone will be welcome. Nice room, good hot water, TV, free internet, excellent staff and all for 30 euros per night. AND the best part - I was the only one there for the first two nights. After that, there was one other bloke.

First Day: Walked across the Chain Bridge to Castle Hill on the way to the Budapest History Museum. Only I walked the wrong way and walked around in circles not understanding why I couldn't find it. Finally got there, but the modern history section, my entire reason for going, was closed for renovation. Saw Matthias Church and the Castle, then ate lunch at LP recommended Toldi Konyhaja, a friendly local place. On the other side of the river, saw St. Stephens's Basilica, toured the opera house, which is nice, although I'd like to have seen backstage. Then went to the House of Photography which was closed while they set up some type of exhibit. They suggested I come back the next day. I didn't. Took the metro back the other way, then surprisingly managed to find the right tram, only I missed the stop because the doors will only open if someone is getting on or off and I didn't know where I was getting off. Made it to the Rudas baths. OK experience, but not sure how hygienic it is.

Second Day: Decided to plan more carefully. Got to Parliament in time for the 10AM tour. If you're an EU citizen, it is free; for the rest of us it is a whopping 3400. Still worth it even if it's a short tour. Visited the Art Deco museum. Nice on the outside, nothing worth seeing on the inside. Then to the Terror House, which is excellent. Gives you a good sense of the 1945-1956 history and there were few other people there. Then stopped at a local place for lunch where there was no English menu but the lady at the counter was happy to translate for me. Then to the Holocaust Museum, which is a really profound experience and a must for any visitor. I've been to Holocaust museums before and have heard the stories many times but it was a an important dose of reality. And they present it very well. And for most of the time, I was the only one there. At night, headed back for a night view of parliament, the castle and the bridges, before stopping at a bar/restaurant for goulash and noodles.

Third Day: Saw the Great Synagogue, which is really beautiful, along with the Memorial Garden and small museum. Then saw the remnants of the Moorish synagogue. Walked a bit around the old Jewish quarter, where I believe my grandfather was born. Then ate at a kosher restaurant, which was fair. in the afternoon, walked around the Central Market, which is a great place for cheap eats, then took the tram across the Liberty bridge to the end of the line and slowly walked back. At night, met up with a Facebook friend who took me to a Serbian restaurant, some unbelievably smoky bars and then to see the Margaret (?) Bridge and the outside of the Ludwig Center.

In the end, I highly recommend Budapest. Especially in the off season.

Next trips: Colombia and Vietnam.

Andrew Feb 7th, 2011 09:42 PM

Thanks for the report - makes me yearn for a return visit. I visited Budapest in September 2005. I am a photographer, and the highlight of Budapest for me was the stunning view from the hills on the Buda site of the Danube with the Chain Bridge and the Parliament building all lit up at night. I'm trying to imagine it with some fog in the way you may have seen it - could have been quite atmospheric.

FYI, I found Budapest had plenty of tourists in September but nothing at all like Prague which was just mobbed with them. Budapest was refreshingly more of a normal city. Sounds like winter is even better.

JulieVikmanis Feb 8th, 2011 02:28 AM

Thanks for both your reports. We plan to return to both cities this summer and welcome the information.

irishface Feb 8th, 2011 05:21 AM

Glad to read your report and your thoughts on what you saw and did. I really enjoyed Budapest on my visit 5 years ago. thank you for sharing.

Mathieu Feb 8th, 2011 08:03 AM

Thanks for a very good report.
You are correct that Budapest is a great city to visit in the off season, and the winter can be a great time to go, especially if theres not too much snow to hinder getting around. Sounds like you hit all the main attractions. The Szechenyi outdoor baths/spa during the winter is said to be magical to soak in while the steam rises and a light snow falls. And the view from the citadel is also spectacular. Budapest is one of my favourite Central European cities.


yk Feb 8th, 2011 09:55 AM

Thanks for your report.

You wrote:
<i>Visited the Art Deco museum. Nice on the outside, nothing worth seeing on the inside</i>

Did you mean the Art Nouveau museum ?

We toured it and enjoyed it a lot, though I must admit I'm nuts about Art Nouveau. We were allowed to touch the furniture and sit on the chairs on display!

I agree with you about the Parliament; worth the cost to tour the interior.

trebex Feb 8th, 2011 03:54 PM

Yes, you are correct. That was the one. I like the outside, but could well have skipped the inside.

Mathieu Feb 8th, 2011 09:10 PM

Andrew, I am a bit of a(n amateur) photographer myself and when last in Budapest in Nov 09, I ended up purchasing a tripod there (I had one at home but it was too bulky to carry on that trip) after discovering so many great opportunities for night time photography. I'd only recently purchased a DSL a few months before so had great fun experimenting with it, and ended up with some neat shots of the chain bridge (with lions) and the freedom bridge, all lit up and from different angles.
My hotel was right in front of the Freedom bridge and my room's balcony afforded excellent views of the bridge, river and the citadel. Adjusting the shutter speed resulted in some unique traffic ribbons as well.

Hope to return for my 5th visit sometime soon. A shot of the parliament buildings with the mist rising as the OP saw it would be cool.


kathleen Feb 9th, 2011 06:45 AM

If you had returned the next day to the Hungarian House of Photography, you would have seen an extraordinary photo studio inside the gallery/museum. The Mai Mano House is a gorgeous piece of architecture, inside and out. The Sunlight-studio is restored to look in part like the actual studio that Mai Mano used for portraiture in the early part of the 20th century. And, if you had brought your camera (and for a little more in admission price) you’d have been allowed to take photographs. The Sunlight-studio gets wonderful light coming in through those large windows (which can also be seen from the outside when looking up at the front of the building, second floor).

I was in Budapest for the first few weeks in January too. The weather was cold, but it since it didn’t snow or rain much at all, walking around was fine. And like you say there were no crowds at the usual places. Glad you enjoyed your stay there. I hope you had time to have some coffee in any one of the grand coffee houses.

trebex Feb 9th, 2011 01:33 PM

I took many pics of parliament and the bridges in the fog, but none of them turned out particularly great.

Did go to lots of cafes. But, as in Berlin, it seems it is easy to find coffee and cake, but finding good cake is another story. (No doubt many will disagree)

annhig Feb 9th, 2011 03:18 PM

trebex - did you see the rather anti-Budapest thread that was going a little while ago?

I'm glad that you had a rather more positive experience - we liked it too and we went between Christmas and New Year about 5 years ago.

Perhaps it's better in the wonter!

trebex Feb 9th, 2011 06:20 PM

I saw one about the people who were fined for not validating their tickets. And there was something else about unfriendly people or poor service, which may have been part of the same thread.

I had the Budapest Card which covered transportation, and tickets were almost always checked on entering the stations, so riding with an invalid ticket would have been unlikely.

And service was always quite good and the people very friendly and helpful.

Mathieu Feb 9th, 2011 06:29 PM

Ann, about halfway through that thread, I'd have to think that the OP was just yanking everyone's chain. And by the time I read the OP's latter posts, I'm almost sure of it.

"...then took the tram across the Liberty bridge to the end of the line and slowly walked back."

Trebex, long shot here, but if you walked anywhere near the Freedom/Liberty bridge on the Pest side, just past the famous Vaci Utca pedestrian street, there is a cool bar/restaurant there called the For Sale bar. It is unique because of the hundreds, maybe even thousands, of scraps of paper/notes hanging from the walls and ceiling. The whole place looks like an art project. It is low beamed, feels very much like an English style pub, has flickering light, and the floor is scattered with peanut husks from the patrons eating nuts from the baskets set on the tables. It attracts a great local crowd, the food is good, the beer is cold and there is live music on the weekends. Just wondering if you came across it as from your report it sounds like you may have walked that way.

trebex Feb 9th, 2011 08:44 PM

I don't have a clue what you're talking about. I took the tram to the end of the line, then walked back to the bridge. I'm not a drinker so I didn't see any place with peanut husks on the floor. Sorry.

Mathieu Feb 9th, 2011 09:07 PM

Nothing to be sorry about. Its a unique place and I thought you may have passed it on your walk back as its very near the bridge. Then again you probably wouldn't have noticed it nor have been interested in it anyway. No worries.

Surfergirl Feb 9th, 2011 09:39 PM

For Sale bar sounds excellent!

Trebex, another thanks from me. We're planning a similar trip this summer. May I ask from where you purchased the Budapest card, and also can you recall the costs and time involved in the flight from Berlin?

We're going with my friend who escaped Budapest as a baby in 1956, and has been back numerous times. But since she usually stays with family, in this instance I think these are better questions to ask you than her!

Thanks for any info you can provide.

trebex Feb 10th, 2011 06:17 AM

There was a tour office near the Buda Castle selling the cards. I believe it is also available at hotels. But as I wrote earlier, I don't think it is worth the price unless you really plan to do everything on the list, which will be quite difficult in the three days the card is valid for.

The Malev flight from Berlin was about $100 - $110 I believe. There are also some budget carriers with lower prices, but then you have to pay for luggage, drinks, snacks, etc... so I went with Malev. Flight was maybe 90 minutes.

annhig Feb 10th, 2011 07:25 AM

talking of bars in Budapest, we found a sports bar on bajiski Zsillinkszi Ut [a main street near the cathedral] which served the most fantastic fish soup I've ever had.

sadly we never found the bar you mention, Mathieu.

trebex Feb 10th, 2011 07:38 AM

I was curious, Mathieu, how I was "yanking" your chain....

mad4EU Feb 13th, 2011 08:59 PM

Nice report from Budapest. Cafe Kor is a great place to have a glass of wine and hang out. Great food too. It is right by St.Istvan Basilica.

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