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Budapest sightseeing- with or without a guide

We have 3 days in Budapest prior to a Viking River cruise. We have contacted a tour guide for a half day on foot/metro and a half-day with a driver. We know that Viking does a city tour by bus/foot as we leave the city, but don't know what, if any part will be done in-depth. Listed in their itinerary is: Opera House, Heroes Square, Parliament, Fishermans Bastion, Matthias Church....doesn't seem likely that the buses will stop and take us in or walk us around much of this. We are also capable of doing some of our own exploring.
So, what would you suggest we do- on our own, with a driver/guide, with a guide walking?

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December! Expecting to be cold, but ready for it.

We have traveled a good bit, and other than the language, think we will be able to use transportation to get around. But we are having difficulty deciding what sights to have a guide take us around to, either on foot or in a car. I don't think the synagogue is on our Viking city tour. The photos look pretty amazing. Would that area be worth a guide?
The Castle Hill isn't mentioned on the itinerary either.....maybe that as well?

Other plans: Hungarian Koncert one night, possibly an evening river cruise, the Santa tram, or Christmas tram looks fun, wanted Nutcracker tickets, but they say sold out, so we will have to check in person, and of course, lots of Christmas Market time.

More thoughts?

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10984 posts

Ho! Ho! Ho!
Theater is a big deal in Hungary and the tickets do sell fast. You might also consider a church concert, the Budapest Operett Theater or the Liszt Academy to see what performances are available. There are a couple of TicketMaster type companies, I use: For the Liszt Academy you have to go to:

I come from a part of the US that had no metro system and I still adapted to the system in Budapest very quickly. You need a travel card and a map of the main metro and tram lines. All totaled you might need to use 4, possibly 5 of the lines.

Yes, it gets dark early, but Budapest is beautiful all lit up. Andrassy ut, the park, the river front, Buda Hill, all good. Here, my favorite photo: and yes, you can take a cab to that very point and see it for yourself. Part of what made us fall in love with Budapest. Then there are the restaurants, clubs, ruin pubs and Christmas markets. These are pretty decent as Christmas Markets go. The committee that runs it reviews the items sold to ensure quality.

Guides are not essential for a general view of Budapest. If you have an interest then I do suggest one. Say for instance “Jewish Budapest” or “WWII” or “Communism” or “Palaces” or the darker side of town (District 8). When we have special guests I have one of a couple of guides that we know well pick them up at the airport or the train station and give them an “Orientation Tour”. I mapped out a route where the guide drives past or in view of most of the good stuff on the way to our home. Then that which interests our guest they can return to on their own. Generally speaking driving point to point with the intent to get out and see and touch doesn’t work well in Budapest because of the lack of parking and the traffic. PM me and I can give you the contact information for the guides.

If you give me dates and arrival and departure times and where you are staying I can map out something to consider for a list of places and ways to get to them.

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The House of Terror is an extremely well done museum. Takes a couple of hours and closed on Monday.

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16781 posts

When Rick Steves' Tour groups of about 26 people visit Budapest with a local guide, we use only walking and public transportation to get around the city. I'm sure that any private guide you hire would be able to do it the same way, leading you on to the appropriate tram, etc. You can buy a book of 10 metro/bus/tram tickets to share, or 24-hour or 72-hour passes. Rick's Budapest guidebook also mentions a more expensive Hungary Card that includes transport, some museums, and some local walking tours, which "could be a good value for the busy sightseer."

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Here are the card rates:
Budapest 24-hour travelcard HUF 1 650
Budapest 24-hour group travelcard HUF 3 300
Budapest 72-hour travelcard HUF 4 150
Budapest 7-day travelcard HUF 4 950
Budapest Card for 24 hours HUF 4 500
Budapest Card for 48 hours HUF 7 500
Budapest Card for 72 hours HUF 8 900

The Budapest card provides a lot of discounts. There was a time when I would have said not worth it but they have really improved it in recent years. If you are a museum hound, its probably a good deal.

Here is a good map of the Metro and Trams but it doesn't show the new M4 line. So open this one, see where it is and then draw it on the first map. I suggest this because the first map is so unintimidating but shows what you will need. Also, recognize how limited is the zone you will be working in. Find Deak Fernec ter where the M1, M2 and M3 all cross. From that location you will not need to travel more than 3 stops in any direction on the M2 and M3. The M1 you will go one stop to the west and to the next to the last stop in the east. Most tourists will have little or no need of the new M4 line.

Also look carefully at the Tram lines. The trams are like Hop on - Hop off busses but better and cheaper. There are three lines you are likely to ride. One on each side running along the river bank, one on the loop from Margit Island to Blaha Lujza tér and the one that runs from the Gellert Hotel to Deak Fernec ter. Its really as simple as three metros and three trams.

Don't worry about the language. It would be nice to learn Good Day, good bye, Thank you, yes and no; and maybe excuse me. But that's just to be nice. Most you come in contact will speak English or try and help even if they don't speak English.

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We are still debating the need for a car/driver/guide and walking/metro guide..... We are staying in the Marriott Millennium Court.
Two 4-hour itineraries have been suggested:
With a car--
On the Buda side visit the exterior of the Royal Palace (the interior houses museums and galleries), the Old Town with the Fisherman’s Bastion the lookout terrace and Matthias Church from the inside – a beautiful neo-gothic cathedral.
Visit Gellert Hill with a beautiful view over the city, the former Liberation Monument and the Citadella (former fortress).
Visit the lobby of the famous building of Gellért Spa and Hotel and visit the Cave Church (if it is open).

The covered Market hall is a colorful jewel with all its fruit, meat, vegetables and even souvenir stalls and will be also visited. Have lunch there after the tour possibly.


Visit Heroes’ Square with its statues of the Hungarian leaders throughout the ages, walk in the City Park, see the Széchenyi Spa and Vajdahunyad Castle.
Visit the area of the Opera House and the theatre quarter.
Visit St. Stevens Basilica, the largest Catholic church in Budapest.

Visit the area of the Parliament (Parliament building, 1956 revolution memorials, Liberty square).

Questions: Might some of those be just as well visited on our own? As in, we can read about them and/or have an audio tour that would be pretty thorough? Are any best seen, and easily seen in the evening after it gets dark? Like Gellert Hill, though I guess a tram or cab back up there would be better so we would also see the spa and Cave Church. Would both tour itineraries, with some edits, be possible on foot/metro instead of the added expense of the car?

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First of your itineraries, but on your own. Its easy and will cost about 2,400 forint each person ($11), less if you purchase a Travel Card for your stay:

Leave your hotel and walk to the river embankment. Turn right and enjoy the view of Buda and the Castel across the river as you walk north to the Chain Bridge (10 minutes). Cross the bridge on foot (there are pedestrian walks on each side). At the opposite end walk to the funicular that goes up the hill (10 minutes). Buy a return trip ticket. Using a decent guidebook (I like the Eyewitness Guide for Budapest for the purpose of maneuvering Budapest – Sorry Rick) spend two hours on Buda Hill (Fisherman’s Bastion the lookout terrace and Matthias Church, Palace, etc) then take the funicular back down.

At the bottom of the funicular look for the yellow tram stop. Take the 19/41 tram south to the Gellert Hotel. (5 minutes). Get off and visit the hotel lobby, bath or whatever interests you. Then walk up to the Gellért Hill Cave Church. This might take you another hour.

Time for lunch. Back to the yellow tram stop. Now you want the 47/49 Tram that crosses the. Get off at the first stop. You are now at the Great Market Hall. Go to the Second Floor and have lunch.

What you didn’t do is “Visit Gellert Hill with a beautiful view over the city, the former Liberation Monument and the Citadella (former fortress).” I think this is best done at night and with a Taxi. is a good company and that photo on their web page is where you want them to take you after the sun goes down. What made us fall in love with Budapest?

What do you want to do now? Two more stops on the 47/49 Tram and you will be at the Great Synagogue and the edge of the old Deportation Ghetto. Or walk down the stairs by the bridge you just crossed and you can take the Number 2 metro one stop to very near your accommodations.

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Let's just pick up from where you left off on the previous tour. Again, about an $11 per person trip (way cheaper with a Travel Card)

From the Great Market Hall take the 47/49 Metro to its end stop (away from the river). Get a seat on the right that faces backward. That way you can see the Great Synagogue when you pass it.

At Deak Fernec ter get on the M1 Metro Line heading towards Mexikói út (metro directions are identified by the name of the end stop in that direction). Get off at the next to last stop: Széchenyi fürdő. You are in the park. Again, using a good guide book you can easily spend a couple of hours here (walk in the City Park, see the Széchenyi Spa and Vajdahunyad Castle) and across the street at Hero’s Square. The M1 is a great little line with a great history. Look it up.

Now your choices are two. Either make the 30 minute walk to the Opera House (beautiful walk with wonderful architecture) or take the metro in part or in whole. I would suggest getting on the Metro at Hero’s Square, (Hősök tere): heading towards Vörösmarty tér and then getting off at the first stop, walking to the next stop and getting back on; getting off again at the Oktogon stop from which you walk to the Opera House. There are late afternoon tours of the Opera House. There is usually a sign out front with the details or visit their website (Hungarian State Opera House).

After the opera house continue your walk down Andrassy ut. At the end look to your right and you will see the St. Stevens Basilica. Nice zone. My favorite tourist shops are just south of the entrance to the Basilica.

Its dark by now but you are in a good neighborhood to enjoy in the evening. I would say if you are feeling in the mood to go ahead and enjoy the evening and walk over to the Parliament. The walk takes you straight through Szabasag ter (see @worldinbetween's comments below) The entire walk and the Parliament is beautiful when all lit up at night. It will take you about 15 minutes from the Basilica. From the back side of the Parliament you can hop the No 2 Tram back to near your accommodations (3 stops).


Walk from the front of the Basilica straight to the River where you will see the chain bridge and stops for the No. 2 Tram.

Now, I suppose you are hungry???? But you didn't ask...............

@worldinbetween: Check me. Did I get it right?

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10984 posts

Third Tour inspired by @Worldinbetween. From your hotel walk up Kossuth Lajos utca to the Dohnany utca Synagogue (you have to make a short left on Karoly krt – bring a map). On the left you will see Belvárosi Auguszt Cukrászda (pastry shop at No. 14). Pastries are excellent and the adjacent courtyard hints at Budapest’s age of glory.

As you approach the plaza in front of the Synagogue know that you are in now in what was the Jewish Deportation Ghetto. This is where the Budapest Jews and the Jews brought from the country side were held until deportation to the death camps.

Do the tour at the synagogue. It really is pretty good and your guide will deliver the tour with great emotion. Then walk up Wesselényi utca to Rumbach utca. Down Rumbach to the Synagogue. Again really worth the time to see. Generally the side door is open and a gentleman will charge you a few hundred forints for a tour.

Just past the synagogue on your right you will see a pediestrial route. Take it. This takes you through the Gozsdu Courtyard on Sunday morning they do a sort of craft market event. Otherwise interesting shops and restaurants. Continue heading in the same direction until you find yourself on Kazinsky utca. Right, left and behind you are a number of cafes. All interesting and fun if you are hungry or just want to sit and have a coffee or snack. This is a great zone and very much what is good about Budapest.

Turn Left on Kazinsky utca and then right on Kiraly utca. When you walk out to the Kiraly utca sidewalk you have left what was the Jewish Deportation Ghetto. Know that here once stood a wall. Behind you the streets were littered with the dead and dying from hunger and exposure.

Kiraly utca is a wonderful typical street with restaurants, shops, etc. The first street on your left is Vasvari Pal utca. At the corner you will see a sad example of a condemned building. It was a protected historic structure that the owner tried to tear down but got caught so it now sits in this state while it goes through the courts. On the opposite corner is an interesting wine bar.

Continue up Kiraly utca to the Liszt Academy. Get in if you can and look around. Stunning. Trun left and you will be in Liszt Ferenc tér with lots of good restaurants and bars. Walk through the square to its end at Andrassy ut. You saw Andrassy ut on the previous tour so return to Menza restaurant and head down the road that runs alongside the restaurant. This is Paulay Ede utca. The third street on your left is Vasvari Pal utca. On your left is a Synagogue with an interesting history. At the end of the street is that Wine Bar I pointed out earlier. Turn right down Kiraly utca and take it back to the 47/49 tram stop.

This trip should take about 5 hours maybe less, maybe more depending on your style and interests. Still it barely covered half of the Ghetto.

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Thanks so much. I think that we are going to opt for guiding ourselves. I like all three tours you guys suggested and think we can handle it! Now if the weather will cooperate!

I think that will still leave time for the Christmas market, either the big one, or any we happen to run across :-)

Thanks for the detailed treks, the pictures, the maps, fee schedules, and all else that is helping a lot!

Restaurants? Sort of in the areas we will be visiting? I have seen mention of a few elsewhere in the forum, so will keep digging around in those as well.

Will shops/restaurants/admission tickets accept euros instead of forints? We have both, just wondered if there was a definite preference.

Evening activities? We are going to a Hungarian Koncert performance one evening. Would like to go to the Gellert Hill overlook one evening. River cruise or Santa tram?

If time, should we think about going to Szentendre for a few hours? Not sure we will need another tour, just wondered.

Thanks again!

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10984 posts

The Santa Tram is the No. 2 tram which you will be taking if you follow my second tour suggestion.

You are in Hungary. It's best to use Forints. An awful lot of the places you will visit will be happy to take Euros but you will not get great exchange rates. I use my credit card where ever it is taken and then I use the ATMs to draw cash for the rest of the places. Works well.

You will have enough to do in Budapest. I would skip Szentendre on this trip.

Some Hungarian fare places scattered around the town in the places you have visited (by the tours above). Unfortunately your accommodations are a little removed from really easy transportation but Budapest is lovely to walk in. One suggestion. While you must walk the length of Vaci utca at least once, don't eat there and don't spend too much money there. Get out and see the real Budapest. Budapest is full of good food. I have only been to one restaurant that I thought was miserable and that was the GERLÓCZY CAFE

This place has gotten great reviews recently. I plan to try it out in late December: It is sort of by the Parliament (take the No 2 "Santa" tram)

My personal Hungarian comfort food favorite right now: You will pass it on that Jewish Ghetto tour I suggested. Another on the edge of the Ghetto. This one an all you can eat Hungarian buffet which is very well done and pretty classy. Always gets good reviews. Read the deal on the web page:

Old world Budapest complete with gypsy music: (admit it. You are a tourist!!)

Good basic Hungarian food with great service and nice people and good prices: Very simple to find behind the Basilica.

And one from near Hero's square that I always enjoy:

And the weather will cooperate. It will be 28F and snow.

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So, we are getting pretty near our travel date! Leaving Tuesday morning!
A couple more questions, if you have time!

The first day, we arrive and get to our hotel around 1 p.m. That will be 3 a.m. or so body-time..... Our usual approach is to try to hit the ground running and run til local, though early, bedtime, to try our best to manage the new time zone. Assuming we can do that, we think we will go to the Christmas Market in Vorosmarty Square for a few hours the first day- it could be immediate or later. But, is there a site that we might consider doing as a stand-alone couple of hours? We are seeing Heroes’ Square, the City Park, Széchenyi Spa and Vajdahunyad Castle, the Opera House and theater quarter, and St. Stevens Basilica on Thursday. Maybe head toward Parliament? Would we take a tour or just see it? Or something else that would be easy to get to, and not too strenuous for us that afternoon.
Also, depending on that plan, is there a fairly low-key but enjoyable dinner suggestion? I am reluctant to make it too involved that first night. (Part of my thought is based on our traveling with my 78 year old mother, who does great, but I don't want to overdo it!)

Ok, and a silly question.....packing is getting pretty tight. Do I need sunglasses?! Yup, I'm getting that tight!

I love all the suggestions you all have made. Thanks so much. Can't wait to implement them!
By the way, Happy Thanksgiving!(And James, did I see a Howdy and a Whoop! from you somewhere? Are you an Aggie?)

Thanks all!

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When any major European city, we take "free walking tours" on the first morning we're in town. You can Google them. The tour guides are first rate and they work for trips.

If they're offering a pub or nightlife tour that night, we'll take it. Most often, you'll end up with a very lively group of strangers from all over the world.

And you'll see places of interest that you can later go back to on your own.

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508 posts

Am loving the detailed information for a future trip. You all are so helpful!

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10984 posts

Not too long winded?

@traveltime We arrive back in Budapest in two weeks. Wave hello if you see us on the street.

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11 posts

We had a wonderful visit to Budapest and really appreciated all the suggestions for our time there. We contracted a great guide, Sylvia, who took us to Heroes Square, the baths, the Opera House ( managed to score Nutcracker tickets-another highlight) and lots of interesting commentary. I have to say that a real highlight was the Klezmir -sorry if it is mis-spelled-concert. Not too great on the food, but the music was exceptional. I'm sure we would not have found it without your suggestion, James!
We loved the Christmas Market. Probably the most diverse of the cruise, and we were happy to have extra days there. I think we would enjoy a return trip, and even better, we're happy to have people with personal experience help us have a great time. The Viking cruise was a definite success and I would recommend it without reservation. All of our stops were very busy, which makes me wonder of I would enjoy a different season, though.
Thanks again for your advice!!

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10984 posts

Travel time, I should have warned you about the so/so food with the concert. Sorry I didn't. What other Christmas markets did you visit on your cruise?

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6543 posts

In just about every major European city, they have "free walking tours" where licensed tourguides operate on tips. We took that tour in Budapest, and they were very good. And you can pay what you think the tour's worth.

Most "free" tours also have nightlife or pub crawl tours. They're also worth going to around 6:00 p.m., as the people that take such tours are often from all over the world. They're very enjoyable tours, too.