If the way to my heart is through my stomach, then it is little wonder I have fallen in love with Budapest through Hungarian food.
great way to both see a city and try out different cuisines is a food tour. I have been on food tours in Hanoi, Vietnam and in Washington DC and now try to make it part of any city break. I have always learned more on a food tour than any bus or guided tour.
Our guide on the Secret Food Tour in Budapest was the fascinating journalist and entrepreneur Zoltan. I won’t ruin it for anyone who is intending to go by revealing all the stops, but expect to taste a variety of dishes which show Hungarian food at its very best, including goulash, strudel, langos (fried bread) with a garlic, cheese and sour cream filling and a wonderful paprika paste.
Also expect to find out loads of quirky facts about the city, its people and its food, including recommendations on what to do and see during your trip.
The base for my trip was Hotel Moments on Andrassy Avenue in the city centre, only a short walk from the Hungarian State Opera House and St Stephen’s Basilica.
This hotel just oozes elegance while retaining the renovated 19th century property’s original spirit with its glass-topped atrium lobby.
Since emerging from behind the Iron Curtain, Budapest has become one of Europe’s best-loved city break destinations — and with good reason. The city, which the Danube runs through dividing the Buda and Pest parts, has been dubbed the ‘Paris of the east’ because romance is everywhere.
Take a walk around the city and prepare to be mesmerised by the architecture, from the magnificent domed, gothic-style parliament building to the stunning St Stephen’s Basilica (home to the mummified arm of St Stephen) and the fairytale Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill,
a popular lookout spot where anglers once sold their catches.
Budapest is two cities — south of the river is Buda, north of it Pest. They’re joined by a number of bridges, the most impressive of which is the Szechenyi Chain Bridge.
A lot of the tourist sites are on the hillier Buda side, including Buda Castle, which is a magnificent building that towers over the city. While there, make sure to visit the Labyrinth caves where the notorious Vlad Tepes, or Vlad the Impaler — the inspiration for Dracula — was apparently held prisoner for many years. The caves were recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1987.
Also venture out to see Gellert Hill, which stands 235m above the city and offers fantastic views of the Danube, the Buda Hills, Pest and the distant mountain ranges.
While there, take a look at the old walls of the citadel, built in the 1800s, as well as the Liberty statue.
Budapest has the second largest synagogue in the world seating 3,000. The Dohany Street Synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue, is the largest in Europe and another Budapest Unesco World Heritage Site.
Dohany Street carries strong holocaust connotations as it constituted the border of the Budapest ghetto during the Second World War.
A visit to the Shoes on the Danube Bank holocaust memorial is a sobering experience. Designed and created on the east bank of the Danube River by film director Can Togay, and sculpted by Gyula Pauer, the 60 pairs of iron shoes honour the Jews who were murdered along the banks during the war.
The House of Terror Museum was the headquarters for the Nazis and, later, the communist secret police. A place of torture and execution, the building now houses a museum focused on Hungary’s terror regimes that is as fascinating as it is chilling.
If you want to see some of the old Soviet statues, make your way to their final resting place in the city at Memento Park, where you will see those of Lenin, Marx, Engel and others.
For something much more relaxing, head to Szechenyi Baths, which is Europe’s largest medicinal bath complex. Rich in sulphate, calcium and other minerals, its warm waters, supplied by two natural springs, are believed to remedy a range of ailments.
You can even try your hand at a game of chess while bathing in one of the outside pools, or try its Thermal Beer Spa, where you can sip unlimited beer.
The old Jewish quarter, with its charming cafes, bazaars and markets, is where you can find many of the best bars and restaurants. Many of the bars are known as ruin bars because they sprung up in ruined buildings which were damaged during the Second World War or left abandoned.
My favourite was Szimpla Kert (Simple Garden) with its graffiti-covered walls and bizarre knick-knacks. There you can have a beer in an old Trabant car, sip on a cocktail, drink a shot of the Hungarian fruit brandy palinka or catch a band playing.
While in the city, also check out the Great Market Hall where you can try an array of Hungarian food and drink. The stalls offer goulash, bowls of spicy fish soup, speciality hams and cheeses and much more.
For a treat, try out the New York Cafe Budapest at the New York Palace Hotel, which has been dubbed the world’s most beautiful cafe.
As you walk through the door, you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve entered the Sistine Chapel. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, with sparkling chandeliers dangling from elegant high ceilings adorned with spectacular frescoes, this cafe dates back 125 years.
We enjoyed tea and New York chocolate cake while a pianist played in the background. Afternoon tea options for an extra special treat are also available.
You are guaranteed the most relaxing afternoon there in the most beautiful surroundings. It is worth paying for the experience.
After we had stuffed our faces, we headed back to the magnificent Hotel Moments to chill out. Full of character and elegance, all rooms in the 99-room hotel are set around the atrium, are medium-sized and are contemporary-classic in style.
The beds were incredibly cosy, which ensured a great night’s sleep before we went exploring all the city had to offer. Bathrooms have frosted glass doors and a walk-in rain shower.
We also enjoyed a brilliant breakfast of cooked-to-order omelettes with other offerings, including freshly squeezed juices, speciality coffee and pastries.
Your stay at the hotel and in Budapest will create some incredibly special moments which will stay with you for ever.
– I stayed at Hotel Moments in Budapest. For information and to book, visit https://hotelmomentsbudapest.hu/ or email [email protected]
– Secret Food Tours Budapest: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/secretfoodtours
– I flew with Aer Lingus from Dublin to Budapest, with fares starting from €45.99 one-way including taxes and charges. Visit aerlingus.com