Alex Habour, explores Budapest, hunting down the very best the capital of Hungary has to offer. Described as a ‘gem of city’ by Lonely Planet, we certainly wouldn’t disagree.

Readers’ Questions

If you have any further questions about Budapest, please leave them in a comment. For questions on other destinations please send them via our contact form with the heading ‘Readers Questions’.

1. Which is the best hotel in Budapest?

There are so many hotels in Budapest that it’s difficult to choose just one that stands out. When I visited, my family and I stayed in the centre, in a lovely self-catering apartment from 7 Seasons Apartments, with two bedrooms (one with ensuite), bathroom, and large open-plan kitchen / dining / living area. There was also a spacious balcony which was lovely for an evening drink. 

Different travellers will have different needs and wants though; whilst this self-catering option suited us, others might prefer some luxury or be on a tight budget. Here’s a short selection of some of the top rated hotels in the centre of Budapest.

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above: Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace by Károly Meyer

Best hotel: Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Voted Travellers’ Choice® 2014 Winner on Trip Advisor

Unique hotel: Aquamarina Boat Hotel

Best value hotel: Aventura Boutique Hostel Also voted Travellers’ Choice® 2014 Winner on Trip Advisor

Boutique hotel: Bohem Art Hotel

2. What is the best time of year to visit Budapest?

The weather in Budapest can be changeable, with the four seasons being distinctly different. The winters tend to be quite cold and grey, and the summers can be very hot, often reaching temperatures over 30℃. Many prefer to come in spring in April or May, or early autumn, in September. These months are when temperatures are mildest and there isn’t that much rain. This is a bonus because there are lots of outside attractions, so the driest, most inclement months are generally best. In winter and summer you may want to spend most of your time indoors, out of the extreme temperatures, therefore missing some lovely sights.

Winters are unpredictable; they can be very cold, with lots of rain or snow. Occasionally there will be a spell of warmer weather for a week or two but it’s probably best not to depend on this. As the winters are so cold, spring starts with low temperatures, but days are generally sunny, with occasional scattered showers. Temperatures are lowest in March at around 5℃, and start to rise towards the end of April, often reaching 25℃. Summer (June-August) sees prolonged hot periods with highs between 32–35℃, with occasional cooler, wet periods. If you plan to sightsee in these months, make sure you are prepared for the heat. Going into October, days are usually still mild, with temperatures around 20℃. The autumnal Indian summer comes to quite an abrupt end in November though, with temperatures falling drastically and spells of rain and snow occurring.

3. Is there a great traditional dish that I should be sure to try when I visit?

Goulash soup is one of Budapest’s most traditional dishes. Somewhere between a soup and a stew, this is a beef dish cooked with onions, tomatoes and green pepper and lots of Hungarian paprika powder. All the times I had it in Budapest it had either noodles or potatoes in (or sometimes both) which give it a nice thick texture and hearty feel.

Goulash, Budapest

above: Goulash, Budapest by Eric Stefl

Another traditional dish we saw being cooked in most places was roast goose. This is usually served with steamed red cabbage and sautéed potatoes mashed up with onion.

4. Which is the best restaurant in Budapest?

Whilst there, we went to some fantastic restaurants. One of which was Spoon Cafe & Lounge Bar. Don’t let the casual name fool you, this is a swanky establishment set on a static boat on the Danube. The food is fantastic. I had some of the best mushroom risotto I’ve ever eaten. And the view is breathtaking. You can see the castle on the hill all lit up at night. This one is definitely worth a visit.

Varhegy, Castle Hill and the Spoon restaurant on the Danube

above: Varhegy, Castle Hill and the Spoon restaurant on the Danube by Teemu Ylikoski

 

5. Are there any events or activities that you would recommend?

Claustrophilia. This is a live-action puzzle, in the form of a room escape game. Teams of up to five are given an hour to solve a series of riddles and physical tests in order to make their way from one room to another, eventually escaping to their freedom. We had to have two go’s at this as the first time it took us most of the time to get out the first room, so we barely touched the rest. The second time we escaped, but not without help from the guy who organises it, and sits in a separate room watching you on CCTV to make sure that you don’t panic. This game is great if you like something a little different, and always wish you’d been on the Crystal Maze.

Budapest by Night

above: Budapest by night from the river by Edgar Barany C

Other classic activities which you have to do at least once as a tourist include taking a boat tour along the Danube and visiting Buda Castle, on the hill on the Buda side of Budapest.

6. Which local wine should I be on the look out for when I visit?

Hungary is one of the few countries whose words for wine do not derive from Latin, meaning that they have been producing wine for a very long time. Their Tokaji wine, a sweet dessert wine, is probably best known outside of Hungary, so a must-try when visiting it’s origin.

7. Where is the best spa to enjoy a day of pampering?

There are lots of spas in Budapest – it’s one of the things that the city is best known for! In fact, with 118 springs in total, Budapest has more thermal and medicinal water springs than any other capital city in the world.

Gellert Spa, Budapest

above: Gellért Spa by Miroslav Petrasko

The Gellért Spa is one of the most well-known, being right in the centre of the city and right on the bank of the Danube. This is a fairly standard spa, with a swimming pool, sitting pool, wave bath and children’s pool. However many of the other spas cater for specific activities and tastes, with some geared towards sports, others towards children, and some even holding ‘party nights’ at the weekend, with music and light shows. I didn’t have time to visit any whilst I was there, but would definitely make it a priority on my return.

8. Where is the best museum or art gallery?

It all depends what you’re in to, as museums and art galleries often focus on one niche, but I was particularly intrigued by the Pinball Museum. Of course, attractions like the Holocaust Memorial Centre and Museum of Fine Arts will be on many a hit-list, but Budapest has a wide and interesting range of museums, from the Palace of Wonders to the Invisible Exhibition, so make sure you factor in time for a couple of these sorts of activities.

9. What’s the best bar in Budapest?

We found a little place called The Bar, which was right near to our apartment. It’s small and intimate inside, with dark and luxurious decor (most surfaces are covered in gold finish) and the bar staff really know their stuff. This is definitely the place for a cocktail or two. Just off Kiraly utca, on a street called Anker koz, it’s right near the centre of Budapest and a short walk from a wide range of other bars, restaurants and nightspots.

10. What would make a great souvenir to take home?

Palinka! This is a traditional fruit brandy invented in the Middle Ages in Hungary and comes in almost any flavour you can think of but the traditional and therefore most prevalent ones are plums, apricots, apples, pears, and cherries. It’s pretty fierce at first, but rather moreish…

palinka, hungary

above: Pálinka by David Ebert, below: Budapest by night by Pedro Szekely

Budapest

Written by Alex Harbour, on behalf of Avalon Waterways, specialist in first class river cruising experiences in Europe and Worldwide.

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