Hidden Budapest

My husband and I and several of our friends are taking a Danube River cruise in April and it ends in Budapest. We will be staying there for the next 3 days and are interested in finding 'special,unique,typical Budapest' type sights. The cruise company provides a city tour which 'sees' City Park, Opera House, St Stephen's Cathedral, Parliment, and Matthias Church. It also 'visits' Hero's Square, Castle Hill, and Fisherman's Bastion. We plan to take in the Szechenyi Baths, Great Synagogue and surrounding areas, Great Market, New York Cafe, and time just people watching and enjoying the ambiance. At some point we were thinking to hire a private guide to provide more insight and depth to the sights we choose. The guide will customize the tour to our interests, which are history, Holocaust, local life, and just generally 'unique to Budapest' type sights. Does anyone have any suggestions or input on specifics or anything that should be added to the list that I mentioned? Any advice would be welcome.

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
649 posts

Donna , one of the best things you can do is scroll through this section and look for posts and responses by James from Frisco . His suggestions and commentary are well worth seeking out . We are headed to Budapest this fall and I keep a close eye out for his insight !!

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
649 posts

Also , try to read " The Great Escape : Nine Jews who fled Hitler and Changed the World " by Kati Marton . The tale of some of the greats in science and the arts , all Hungarian Jews who came of age in Budapest in the twenties and thirties and had a lasting impact on the world we know today . Among other things , you will learn why The New York Café becomes Rick's American Bar in the film " Casablanca " A truly great book which has helped to prepare me for my visit and lend a perspective which will bring it to a much higher level than I would have otherwise hoped to be possible . And , a roaring good read !!

Posted by Eric
Beaverton, Oregon, USA
84 posts

My recent guide on the RS Eastern Europe tour lives in Budapest and I would highly recommend him. Here is his website: http://budapestyourself.com/ One place I enjoyed that is not on your list is Memento Park. Imagine many of the Soviet era sculptures and monuments being relocated to a park about 6 miles outside the City. I found it fascinating.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

I understand that these guys do some pretty good tours. I have done the Juice of the 8th District tour. I never did ask if they were trying to be funny or something didn't translate well but it 's JEWS of the 8th District. Fascinating if you want to pull back the covers and see deep inside the city. If the other tours are done as well they would all be worth it. http://www.beyondbudapest.hu/ Probably the best way to see or experience something "real" is to not stay in a hotel. Okay, I have to disclose that I rent a couple of apartments; but I don't make the suggestion for the business. I have a management company that keeps them full for me so I can unashamedly promote the city in general. But back to the point. There are great hotels in town but if you want to be real for a few days you might want to consider moving in next door to the locals and living their life to a small degree between sightseeing. Budapest came alive for us when we bought our first place for vacations. I think this is the single best thing you can do. Then frequent the local grocery, the local wine bar, the local retail establishments and the local sidewalk cafes. Its pretty special to be Hungarian for a few days; and these are really lovely people. A dozen years ago when we first arrived in Budapest I hired a gentleman named Andrew ILLES to guide us up to the Danube Bend. He was perfect and over the years we have come to know him well. We still hire him from time to time to see something different that would be hard to do on our own. What better recommendation! http://www.guideinbudapest.com/

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

House of Terror: Not too graphic. Very, very well done and in my mind sort of a must see if you are going to be able to understand the people. Two additional books The Forbidden Sky: Inside the Hungarian Revolution by Endre Marton. Enemies of the People: My Family's Journey to America by Kati Marton. The former is a first hand account of the trials and tribulations of a Hungarian couple who worked for the western news agencies at the end of WWII. The latter is an account of what their daughter discovered about her parents that wasn't revealed in the book of the father. Fascinating in that it is two independent views on the same subject. Both are great reads and tell you a lot about one of the factors that shaped the city.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3509 posts

I think the synagogue visit is only by guided tour, anyway that's how I visited it. Don't skip the museum if you are interested in Judaica, they have some very uncommon pieces. The Holocaust Museum is very good. I liked the Folklore Museum very much. I went to St. Stephen's during the day, when it was very crowded and poorly lit. Then I got a concert ticket (go for the middle price) which was a much better option. If you are there when they open the doors, you can choose great seats in the nave, then admire the well-lit interior (photo op) until the concert begins. Then listen to the music while you feast your eyes on the elaborate decor. The Hilton is next to Fisherman's Bastion. It's worth seeing, built on the ruins of an ancient monastery (abbey?). Down in the depths there is a wine-tasting room. Hungarian wines are really good and not expensive (though many of those in the tasting room are high end). One of my best experiences in Budapest.

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

Thank you all so much for the good info. I will look for that book and James' posts, Steven...the book does sound interesting. Re the Folklore Museum...I can't find anything in our guide books called that name....do you remember the name of it?...I love all things relating to folklore. And I will take your advice re St Stephens concert...sounds lovely and just the sort of thing we are looking for.

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

Also thank you, Eric, for the guide link. We have located a couple of guides, but I will see what this one offers. And, Chani, by Holocaust Museum are you referring to the museum at the Great Synagogue or is there another one? All very helpful information...we are so excited about this upcoming trip!!!

Posted by George
Canada
823 posts

I'll add a couple of edgy, historical fiction books covering the siege and the uprising - Under Budapest - Ailsa Kay Siege 13: Stories - Tamas Dobozy

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Geee, I feel like a celebrity. I will write tonight when I have more time.

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
671 posts

So while you're waiting to hear more from James..... Your cruise tour will give you a good orientation and help you decide what to explore further. The Great Synagogue doesn't require a tour and is well worth seeing inside as well as out. There's an older, smaller synagogue nearby that's equally interesting. The House of Terror on Andrassy ut is a very well-designed museum of Hungary's 20th century experience with home-grown fascism, Nazi occupation, and decades of Soviet occupation. The building was the headquarters of the ruling fascist party in WWII, then of the secret police during the communist era (including many of the same people who "changed clothes"). Downstairs are the cells. Unforgettable. Also the "shoe memorial" on the Danube bank just south of Parliament, where Jews were lined up and dumped into the river. We went to Budapest last summer and spent three days before boarding a cruise. We loved the city, the people, and the food. James recommends a particular private guide who I'm sure does a great job, there are others also.

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

Thank you for the book suggestions...we all love history and I'm sure these will help with 'background info'. I will anxiously await James' comments and input....I'm expecting great advice from him also!!! Thank you, Dick, the Great Synagogue is one of our 'must see' sights, as well as the smaller synagogue and the museum. The "Shoes on the Danube" is also on the list. My husband and I are both greatly interested in the Holocaust and its horrific impact on Budapest, and the rest of humanity.

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

Oh, and thank you for the mention of the 'House of Terror' and your recommendation, Dick. I'm not sure about going there, but I know my husband and several of our friends have it on their list. It sounds a bit too graphic for me, although I am planning to go to Terezin when we are in Prague, and Dachau when we are in Munich...to pay homage to the victims. What river cruise were you on? We are going on AMA Waterways, and our itinerary begins in Prague. After our stay in Budapest, some of us are going on to Vienna, Salzburg, Munich, and Bavaria on our own. So much to see!!!

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
645 posts

Donna, Sounds like you have a great trip planned! You must come back here and write a trip report when you get home! How did you come to choose AMA Waterways over the other cruise trips?

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Since I got so heavily hyped I feel a need to be useful. Jewish Budapest is one of the most interesting aspects of the city. If you are one of those people that get some sort of feeling by just being there; even when "there" isn't spectacular then there is a lot to choose from. What do I mean? At the end of the street where we live a few times a year is Kiraly utca one of the boundaries of the WWII deportation ghetto. To the best of my knowledge the wall erected by the Nazi's only remains today as one small fragment in one building courtyard but I've seen the old maps and photos and I know pretty accurately where the wall once stood blocking Kis Diofa utca from entering Kiraly utca. When I step across that threshold there is an emotion that I can't describe in the space allotted her. Throughout Budapest and much of Central Europe you will now notice below your feet from time to time small brass "stones" with names and dates on them. These are Stolperstein or Stumbling Blocks and they mark the location and the date that a particular victim of the Holocaust was last seen. Read about Wallenberg and the Glass House. Not many know that it is still there. Again, no great monument but there are photos of the crowds of Jews outside the Glass House begging for protection; and you can be there. Keep it in context and these are great lessons and don't be too sure things are totally different now. Call Andrew ILLES and he can show you synagogues hidden in building courtyards and ancient synagogues uncovered in Buda. If you are there on a Friday evening go to Spinoza's for the typical Hungarian meal and the Klezmer concert. Walk through District VIII and visit the Teleki Prayer Room.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

We can have this same sort of conversation if you are interested in great music or if you are interested in Communist Budapest. OH, MUSIC! Budapest is about the MUSIC! Get the best dang seats you can afford at either the Opera House or the Operett Theater. Unlike Vienna and Prague these venues are not about the tourists, these venues are still very much about what is important to Hungarians.

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
649 posts

James, keep this up and Rick Steves won't need to publish a " Budapest book !! The stolperstein sound particularly interesting ,and we will keep an eye out . I quite agree with your view that there are many things to be attentive to that are subtle ,not everything needs to have a " wow! " impact as Rick Blaine would say , to have a deep and lasting effect on one's personality . A quick question ; We are hoping to see a performance of " Giselle " at the Opera House while we are there , but tickets do not seem to be available for sale online . Are tickets generally available several days ahead at the Box office ? Any thoughts would be helpful . Many Thanks , Steve .

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Steven http://www.jegymester.hu/ Tickets generally go on sale 30 to 60 days prior and they generally sell out fast. Buy the front seats in one of the boxes in the center 2/3rds if possible. These will be no more than $40 generally and are worth it. Bring a sports coat and a tie please, if you cant then get a seat on the floor or the balcony. The theater is a big deal for these folks and they get dressed up to enjoy it. You don't want to lessen the experience for them. We go to the theater a lot where ever we travel and a travel wrinkle resistant blue blazer and grey trousers isn't that big a deal to pack or wear on the plane if need be.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Also check out the Operett Theater. They have a number of production subtitled in English (they project the English subtitles above the proscenium opening). Again get a box. The opera has a great intermission bar with a balcony on to Andrassy ut while the Operett sits you at a reserved table and gives you a snack and a drink. You share the table so it is a great time to meet the locals. We enjoy this very much. Again, its about being real.

Posted by Chani
Tel Aviv
3509 posts

It's the Ethnographical Museum, opposite the Parliament. The Holocaust Memorial Center is about 10 years old; it's not the memorial adjacent to the Great Synagogue. Not far from the Center is the Museum of Applied Arts, which was described thus: if you've ever wanted to know what it's like to be inside a wedding cake, you must take a few minutes to enter this building.

Posted by steven
white plains, ny, usa
649 posts

@ James ,it seems I was attempting to buy tickets before they went on sale , Thanks for the heads up . It worked out perfectly and we were able to secure tickets for " Giselle " on Sunday evening 9/22 . Having spent my career as a professional Bassoonist in NYC , largely employed in Broadway theatre , and free lance classical orchestras , I'm really excited about actually seeing one of my favorite ballets at the Hungarian State Opera , it's like a happy dream come true !! Again , Many thanks for all your help , Steve

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Steven, looks like we will be in Budapest at the same time. The most direct route from the Opera to Kiraly utca and the Jewish Ghetto will take you right past a small yellow apartment block. Wave as you go past. Don't know your exact dates but here are some ideas: 13, 14, 15 Wine Festival at the Castle in Buda. 19, 20, 21, 22 September Ghost at the Operett. About the only performance at the Operett with English subtitles we haven't seen yet. We are going on the 19th. 20, 21, 22 September: National Gallop at Hero's Square. Most of the events are free but you can buy grand stand seats to watch the races. Tickets not on sale yet.
Friday night (every Friday night) Klezmer Band at Spinoza's. Worth the time and effort if you have never heard "Jewish Jazz" music.

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

Such wonderful information from all of you!! James, I know exactly what you mean by 'there'...we have felt that in many of the places we have been and that's what we are looking for. From what I am reading on the posts and in the guidebooks, Budapest is a beautiful, exciting, and culturally rich city. You are right about the 'realness' of renting an apartment and we often do just that, but in this special case, I am arranging the river cruise and the time in Budapest afterward for a group of 12 couples (all friends of ours) who are going on the cruise with us to celebrate our 50th anniversary. A hotel seemed the sensible way to handle that many people, so I choose the Gerloczy Hotel (it had the smallness and charm that I look for in accomodations, and the managers/owners are very helpful). Also thank you for the comment re the House of Terror not being graphic..I was thinking that it would be full of torture equipment...but it does sound intriguing if that is not the case. As for music, we may decide to attend the concert at St Stephen's...do the tickets for that need to be purchased in advance? Possibly an opera, not sure yet. The trip is far enough away that I can look into that at another time. Just trying to arrange guides and the itinerary for that at this point. We are only planning on 1 or 2 half day tours so we will have some time to explore on our own. The Salperstein stones would be something that I would love to run across...are they in any particular place or area that you can pinpoint? Is there a specific book about the Glass House that you can recommend? I did just request a couple of Wallenberg books from the library...perhaps it is discussed in those? Thank you so much for all the very helpful information...it is all so appreciated!!!

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

Rebecca....I just posted a private message to you so as to answer your question re AMA Waterways......

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

I am familiar with the Gerloczy Hotel and the Café. The Gerloczy Hotel has quite a reputation. Don't get too comfortable around the hotel and once you have made your way the few blocks to the riverfront on one day focus the rest of your trip in the exact opposite direction and across Karoly krt and into District VII, the Jewish District. Here you will find better prices and a lot more "real" character and better food. I would suggest at least one walk the length of Kiraly utca to Liszt Ferenc ter and then back down Andrassy ut. The Gerloczy café has a love it or hate it reputation. Again, do it once I guess but then go to one of hundreds of great little eateries in town. One great thing is that you are close to the Auguszt Cukrászda, possibly the best pastry shop in town. Be sure to explore the courtyard of the building that it is in. You are also not too far from the Gozsdu Udvar (Courtyard) which is a pretty interesting and unique place. In the courtyard there is a Café Vian with great 10euro breakfasts. Look for a tiny little lady named Ester (one of the managers) and tell her hello from me and congratulate her on he recent wedding. She will appreciate knowing 50 years is possible. She can probably set up for you to accommodate your large group each morning. The map for the stumbling stones is at http://map.topbudapest.org/jewish/budapest-stolpersteine-map . St Stephens and the Opera can be purchased in advance and with 12 couples you might want to do that. Look at http://www.jegymester.hu/ and http://www.classictic.com/en/special/budapest-concerts/220/

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

James, thank you so much for the map of the stumbling stones and the info re the courtyard. You are such a wealth of good ideas and thoughts re Budapest and so helpful!! You don't seem to be a fan of the Gerloczy Hotel and Restaurant? The reviews were all glowing...why don't you like it, or am I reading that wrong? Breakfast is included in our room rate, but I will definitely check out the courtyard and the pastry shop....nothing like a wonderful pastry any time of the day!!! Any lunch/dinner suggestions? We will be exploring many of the neighborhoods, and we are not adverse to public transport. I don't know if everyone would go to the concerts, other than the hotel booking and the 1/2 day tour, I'm only responsible for myself and my husband....most everyone will disperse to their own points of interest. But I will look into prebooking for tickets when it is closer. If you have any café/restaurant advice, please let me know, or anything else you can think of.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

You read it correctly. I am not a fan of the hotel or the café. BUT, I have met many people who enjoyed if very much. I look at it this way, the town is so beautiful that a little thing like that wont spoil a thing. Don't just not be adverse to the public transport; enjoy it. You know how so many towns these days have hop-on hop-off busses? well Budapest has the yellow tram system that does the same thing for a fraction of the cost. I will send you some more information that might help.

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

James, thank you for all that....I was being funny...we like to take public transport...it's part of the experience of being in a new city!! Will look for the yellow tram!! Got your message...Great Info!! We are committed to the Gerloczy..but what are your objections? Even if it is not what we think or want, it will not spoil our trip, but I was hoping for quaint, charming Budapest feel there. Oh, well...

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

You will have a tremendous time in Budapest! Not to worry. It's just not my cup of tea. But its minor. You will have a tremendous time and you may love the hotel as well. Many do. I will send you a list of my favorite restaurants and things to do. I guess we have time between now and april.

Posted by wayner
stevens point, wi, usa
186 posts

Hi from Wisconsin, Do go to the Opera for a performance. Great venue, high quality performers, very low price. Do go to the Szechenyi Furdos (City baths) as they are more Hungarian (fewer tourists) than the Gellert. Try going to Kerepsi Cemetary near Keleti Train Station. Their grave markers are so different than ours. And stop at every coffee shop you see, order a drink, a dort (cake, they don't use nearly as much sugar as we do, so you actually can taste the ingredients), and enjoy the ambiance. You can ride the #4 tram from Margit Island down to the Great Market and stop at about four coffee shops, but you might die of caffeine poisoning. Go into the basement of the Great Market. Buy two pickled cucumbers. Have a stand up meal on the second floor of the market. Rent an apartment instead of using a hotel. Try airbnb to source a location. Being able to do simple cooking gives you meaning and purpose when you go to the markets. It forces you to interact with the locals, even if only for a moment or two. Take a walk on Margit Island. Bright colorful flowers, and lovers of all ages. Kiss your partner every time you see some one else kiss. This will keep you busy. If you really want to, the Children's Railroad is a bit of an experience. Seems it is a 1/2 scale railroad run by children. ENd of part 1

Posted by wayner
stevens point, wi, usa
186 posts

Sorry, The website wouldnot swallow this whole. Part 2. Avoid Vaci Utca. Pure over priced tourist shops. Sure it is pedestrianized but if you are doing this walk, do it along the Danube. If it is raining hop a tram and ride it from one end to the other and back. Buy a three day or seven day pass at Deak ter, good for most all transport within the city. Go to Vorosmarty ter, there is almost always something happening there, which usually includes food stands and local products by artisans. The coffee shop is usually full. Ride the Yellow Line subway. It goes from Vorosmarty ter to the City Park and has a stop at the Szechenyi Furdos, (city baths).
wayne iNWI

Posted by Donna
Reno, Nevada, USA
78 posts

Thanks, Wayne....all great ideas, except that the apartment is not feasible for this trip. While in Budapest, we will be with 10 other couples (friends of ours from the cruise...all there to celebrate our 50th anniversary!!)so needs to be a hotel (have booked the Gerloczy..see previous posts). Agree that the apartment concept is the best...have done that many times with wonderful results, but not this time. Thank you for all your thoughts, however. And definitely at least some of us will attend the Opera and the Baths!! Plus do many of the other things suggested.

Posted by James
Frisco
1799 posts

Wayner, I only take exception to two of your comments. FIRST YOUR CHOICE OF APARTMENT RENTAL COMPANY!!!! Just kidding. I have to pretend protest so the company that manages mine doesn't get too mad a me. Wayner is correct, get an apartment from any reputable company but get it in the right part of town. Then live like a Hungarian for a few days. This really, really opened our eyes when we started doing it. Made us more endeared to Budapest. Simply an amazing experience. Second exception is the Children's Railroad. Sorry, we've done it and just couldn't get too excited about the experience. But the concept of kids running a rail road was pretty fascinating. And this is a full size narrow gauge rail road. This is left over from a communist youth organization. But in the same area is the ski lift across the Buda hills and that really was good. Ive met very few people who have been to Budapest and haven't come back raving about the experience so no matter how you do it chances are you wont go wrong.

Posted by CL
Salem, Oregon, USA
914 posts

Ditto to Eric's recommendation for guide Peter Polczman (budapestyourself.com). He's an amazing man and even better guide. He loves his city and it shows. the only drawback is he may be guiding a Rick Steves tour while you're there - ask soon to make sure you get him booked.