When I arrived at my hotel in Budapest, my tour group already finished their introductory meeting and was headed into the hotel restaurant so I missed all their introductions and review of the itinerary and optional excursions. Luckily, my parents had arrived in the morning so they got all the information otherwise I would have been pretty confused. If you do join a tour, I recommend you get there in time for the meet-up so you can meet the other people in your group and get all the initial information. In my case, I was originally supposed to have arrived in time but my second flight was changed so that I missed the meet-up.
Before I move on, let me back-track a bit. For our two days in Budapest, we would be staying at the Courtyard Budapest City Center.
Courtyard Budapest City Center
Budapest, József krt. 5, 1088 Hungary
The rooms here were pretty large and I had an excessive amount of space all to myself. I was in a corner room with lots of windows with a decent view of the streets surrounding the hotel. Getting from the elevator to my room was a bit of a walk though as I seemed to be in an opposite corner of the building.
The hotel is on the Pest side of the city. Next door to the hotel was a small “mall” with various stores including a grocery. Across the street was a McDonalds. The hotel was also a short walk to the Danube river and St. Stephen’s Basilica. It was also a short walk to a few of the Christmas markets in the city.
About Our Tour Group
As I said earlier, I missed the meet-up but made it just in time for the group dinner. After making a quick run to my room to drop off my luggage, I joined my parents and the rest of our tour group for dinner in the hotel restaurant, Oléo Pazzo Mediterranean Bistro. Though it was a group dinner, we were seated first come, first serve at the various tables in the dining room so my parents and I sat at our own table. Food was set up as a buffet and wine was included. The buffet was very good with a mix of hot and cold foods as well as fruit and desserts.
During dinner, my parents reviewed what was discussed during the meet-up. First off, so many people booked the tour that we were split into two groups and two buses. In Budapest, both groups were staying at the same hotel but this would not be true for all the cities. Our group had about 40 people and we would rotate seats on the bus. At least this was what was stated, in practice our bus was not full and most people did not really care about the seating so it was not a true rotation unlike my parents tour with Gate 1 Travel where the tour director actually labeled the seats each day.
The tour director for our group was named Davor and he was originally from Croatia though he now lived in Vienna. Coincidentally, our bus driver was also named Davor and from Croatia. Davor would be our tour director for Budapest, Vienna and Prague but then the other group’s tour director and bus driver would take those of us who chose to extend the trip to Berlin.
During the meet-up Davor had gone over the itinerary, the audio sets we would use for walking tours, what to do with our luggage when we were moving on to the next city and also the optional excursions. More urgently is we needed to decide if we would be join the optional excursions the next day. The optional excursion was a 2 hour dinner cruise up and down the Danube River. During the cruise, a buffet dinner of traditional Hungarian dishes would be served and a guide would point out the various sights. Apparently, Davor really sold this to my parents and they wanted to join but wanted to ask my opinion. I was fine with it so we let Davor know to sign us up. Payment would be taken care of later in the trip so that we could pay for any optional excursion we joined all at once.
After dinner, my parents and I decided to go out and explore. My parents had already gone out during the day but walked opposite of the Danube so we decided to head towards the Danube which was perfect because we came upon two Christmas markets. The first one was on the small side but the second one by Fashion Street was quite large. There were lots of booths both selling food and crafts and we walked around a bit. Unfortunately, we had already eaten dinner because the food looked very enticing. Instead I settled for a mulled wine and stopped by the Hard Rock Cafe to pick up a pin.
The next morning we had break had the included breakfast in the hotel restaurant which was buffet-style and full of various options and one of the better breakfasts on this trip. There were hot and cold items, lots of different breads and overall tasted very good.
After breakfast, we met up with our tour group and got on our tour bus to start our included morning tour. A local guide joined us on the bus and began to tell us about the history of Budapest. Our first stop was at Heroes’ Square where we got off and followed our local tour guide. We all had little audio devices and earphones so we could hear everything our local tour guide was telling us about the square.
Afterwards, we got back on the bus and headed over to the Buda side of the city where we stopped by Matthias Coronation Church. We did not go inside the church but instead walked around the outside with the local tour guide. She then showed us over to the Fisherman’s Bastion with a beautiful panoramic view of the Danube River and city and then left us on our own for about 30-45 minutes of free time. My parents and I took that time to walk along Fisherman’s Bastion and then walked around the area and stopped by a small grocer for water though we also picked up some Hungarian chocolate bars that were pretty cheap but with interesting flavors such as tiramisu and apricot.
Matthias Coronation Church was our last stop for the morning tour and we could either be dropped off near the Christmas markets area or back at the hotel. Later, we would be joining the dinner cruise at night but had free time between the morning tour and the cruise which was perhaps about 5 hours or so.
During the morning tour, the local guide had mentioned that St. Stephen’s Basilica was not far from our hotel and that one of the more highly ranked Christmas markets was located there. Apparently this was only a few blocks from Fashion Street where we had been the previous night but we had not walked that far and did not see it. We decided to be dropped off by the Christmas markets and the drop-off point was near the one we had been to the previous night but in the other direction was St. Stephen’s Basilica.
We were too full the previous night to try any of the food options but now we were dropped off around lunch time with empty stomachs. The first thing we decided to try was a chimney cake. We had seen them at the other market but there was always a long line. But this time we came out on the earlier side and there were less people (though this changed the longer we were there). Chimney cake or Kürtőskalács is a sweet yeast dough that is wrapped around a cone-shaped baking spit, rolled in sugar and then roasted over charcoal. It can also be topped with different ingredients of which we chose ground walnut. It is actually really good; sweet but not too sweet and a pretty big portion that can be shared (or not).
After starting with dessert, we decided to check out the more savory options and there were plenty of delicious looking and smelling options to choose from though we were not entirely sure what everything was. I did do some research the night before after our first venture through the Christmas markets so I would have a better idea for the next day.
What we ended up getting was a cabbage roll and a meat and potato dish on top of Hungarian potato pancakes. There was a lot of flavor packed in the dishes but overall I found it to be overly salty (which I did with most local dishes throughout the trip). It’s a good thing we also bought a few bottles of water. The potato pancake was good but a little on the greasy side. While we enjoyed our first few bites, it eventually got to salty and greasy so I would recommend eating a little bit and sharing what are fairly large portions. As you can see in the photos below the filled the plates up.
After eating lunch, we walked from St. Stephen’s Basilica over to the Parliament building and then back before heading to our hotel. On the way back, we even ran into an unexpected sight: a naked Santa run! Definitely respect those who ran because it was COLD and most of the men had shirts off and were running in shorts or boxers and women in very little clothing as well.
As I mentioned earlier, we decided to join the optional excursion that night which was a Danube River Dinner Cruise. It was a 2 hour cruise including dinner and drinks for €69 per person. Originally, our morning local tour guide was going to join us but she ended up feeling unwell and sent a friend who was… an interesting guy. He was a bit unorganized and drove our tour director and bus driver crazy.
Those who joined from our tour group got on the bus and we were driven over to the dock where our boat was. When we got on board, we were greeted with sparkling wine and chose our seats for dinner. It was a private cruise so it was only people from our tour group. They had set up a buffet of Hungarian dishes and had a bar. We ate first while the local guide described the buildings outside but really no one was paying attention as we were all focused on dinner. After most people had finished, they started trickling outside and taking in the illuminated buildings along the river. It was quite beautiful. The boat traveled back and forth along a short stretch of the river so if you missed something in the beginning, you would see it later.
After the cruise, we hopped back on the bus and back to the hotel. We would be leaving for Vienna the next day in the morning. Davor, our tour director, reminded us to leave our suitcases outside for the hotel to collect and deliver to our bus.
Budapest was a beautiful city and I would love to visit it again as I believe two days is not nearly enough to really see everything there is to see but is a good introduction. There is a lot of old world charm and history and most of the locals we interacted with had a good enough grasp of English that we were able to order food and drinks at the markets.