5 Reasons I Went Back: Budapest Highlights

Why I went back to Budapest — so soon

My first trip to Budapest was in March of 2013 when Mr. TWS and I arrived for a short visit after attending ITB in Berlin (a huge international travel show). That was the business part of our trip. Then it was time to indulge in and experience the intrigue of Budapest, a city that always seemed so seductively remote and unreachable to me. But there I was. It was really happening.

"Budapest at night from Fisherman's Bastion in the Castle District"

Budapest at night from Fisherman’s Bastion in the Castle District

Nine months later in December, I felt compelled to go back, longing to revisit Budapest highlights we experienced before and to check out others that we had missed. Mr. TWS and I had already decided to return to Europe in December because of my affection for European Christmas markets, but we hadn’t committed to any specific location. My thoughts kept returning to Budapest, but I felt that we should explore cities we hadn’t visited yet first. Ultimately, I stopped fighting the urge and told Mr. TWS that Budapest was on the list.

Why would we go back to Budapest for a second time in one year?

Five Budapest highlights (but there are many more)

It’s not possible to cover everything is much detail here, so stay tuned for future posts.

The blend of beauty and history

"St. Matthias Church on Castle Hill in Budapest"

St. Matthias Church on Castle Hill

Throughout Budapest, you run into history and we touched on some of that in our posts about Budapest’s Palace Neighborhood and the Hungarian National Holiday. There’s more to be covered soon about the sites in these photos and many other places that are the essence of Budapest’s past and present.

"Chain Bridge over the Danube linking the Buda and Pest sides of Budapest at night"

Chain Bridge over the Danube linking the Buda and Pest sides of Budapest

"Hungarian State Opera, Fisherman's Bastion, Heroes' Square, Hungarian Parliament in Budapest"

Clockwise from top left: Hungarian State Opera, Fisherman’s Bastion, Heroes’ Square, Hungarian Parliament

The Baths

You might recall that I regretted that we hadn’t taken the time to try out any of the famous thermal baths in Budapest on our first trip. However, it gave me one very good reason to return. I absolutely loved the warm healing mineral water of this outdoor thermal pool at the Szechenyi Baths. With the outdoor air temperature at about 28F/-2C, steam rose from the surface of the heated pools. Surrounded by the Baroque buildings, it was a bit surreal.

"The outdoor thermal pool at the Szechenyi Baths was a must for me when I went back to Budapest"

Enjoying the outdoor thermal pool at the Szechenyi Baths

Mr. TWS has much more to say about our experience at the Szechenyi Baths in this post. You’ll find out if I was able to convince him to join me in the thermal baths — or not.

Food and Wine

I love goulash and I choose this from the menus as often as I can when in European countries where it is a traditional dish. Not all goulash is the same, however. Hungarian goulash includes plenty of vegetables and can be pretty spicy. It’s also not served with dumplings as are other versions I’ve had in places like the Czech Republic. At Grundel Restaurant (shown below), I learned that the traditional way to present goulash soup is to serve the vegetables and meat in a dish and then add the broth, as pictured below.

"Being served Goulash Soup à la Charles Gundel at Gundel Restaurant in Budapest"

Being served Goulash Soup à la Charles Gundel at Gundel Restaurant

But it’s not all about goulash in Hungarian restaurants, exemplified by the sampling of some of the delicious dishes we enjoyed as shown below.

"Gourmet dishes in Budapest restaurants"

A sampling of gourmet dishes in Budapest restaurants

Clockwise from top left: Baked Cod at Borkonyha WineKitchen, Pumpkin Soup with Saffron Gnocchi followed by Roasted Baby Duck at Four Seasons Gresham Restaurant, Pumpkin Cream Soup with Pumpkin Seed Cracker at Gundel Restaurant, Mangalica Pork at Borkonyha WineKitchen

On our first visit, we were totally surprised and impressed with the extraordinary wines of Hungary, tasting Pinot Noirs that compared nicely with the fine Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey County wines I love here in California. In March, we went underground into the caves of Budapest to do wine tasting at Faust Cellars beneath the Hilton Hotel in the Castle District. In December, I tried a few notable Pinot Noir vintages in restaurants with my favorites being Etyeki Kúria Pinot Noir served at Gundel, Pannonhalmi Pinot Noir at Borkonyha WineKitchen, and St. Andrea Pinot Noir 2011 Eger served at Pest Buda Bistro.

Although I don’t typically like sweet wines, a luscious dessert wine Oremus Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos at the Four Seasons was the right after-dinner touch to warm us before venturing out for a late night walk along the river. I recently read a quote of Voltaire’s that I found amusing. He said of the Tokaji Aszú, “This wine invigorates every fibre of my brain and, deep in my soul, produces a charming glint of intelligence and good humour”.

The Christmas markets

"Christmas market at St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest 2013"

Christmas market at St. Stephen’s Basilica

Although it was not our first visit to the city, it was our first time experiencing Budapest’s Christmas markets which I’d heard were among the best in Europe. We were not disappointed. The locations at St. Stephen’s Basilica and Vorosmarty Square, decorations, food and hot wine, crafts, music, and overall festive spirit of the markets were just right for beginning our 2013 Christmas market tour.

"Food stand at Vorosmarty Chrismas market, Budapest"

Vorosmarty Chrismas market, Budapest

The Four Seasons Hotel

"The Four Seasons Gresham Palace Budapest decorated with lights for Christmas"

Four Season Gresham Palace with holiday lights

I can’t imagine many hotels that I would include among my reasons for returning to a city. The Four Seasons Gresham Palace is one of those. I previously wrote about savoring our stay at this Budapest luxury hotel after our first visit. Our most recent stay was again in a Danube River View room, so I won’t repeat the photos or review — the quality, service, friendly staff, style and comfort have not changed. We also enjoyed the full American breakfast buffet and main dishes in the Gresham Restaurant each morning as we had in March. (I hope you’ll take a few minutes to come back to that article which is linked in this paragraph.)

On a private tour of the hotel, we were able to see several additional areas, luxurious suites, the spa (including the very inviting infinity pool), and get insights about the history behind the buildings origins, changes through years of disrepair and destruction during wars, and the major reconstruction and renovations before opening as the Four Seasons in 2004. In the previous article, I also shared a few photos of the hotel’s gorgeous design features.The next series of photos depict more of the design touches that epitomize the elegance of the hotel.

"Sir Thomas Gresham pictured in the stained glass window at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, Budapest"

Sir Thomas Gresham is pictured in the center window

Sir Thomas Gresham, a 16th-century English financier, is pictured on the center panel of this beautiful stained glass set of windows. It was the Gresham Life Assurance Company of London that purchased the property in 1872 and in 1906 built what they saw as a “jewel in the crown” to prominently showcase the company’s money and power. The grandeur of the staircase is enhanced on each landing with uniquely designed stained glass windows and other elegant decor.

"Looking up on the Grand Staircase at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, Budapest"

Looking up through the center of the main staircase at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace

In the photo above, we’re looking up through the center of the wrought iron railings of the main staircase from the ground level. The glass ceiling at the top is actually a part of the floor on the spa level which we also saw on our tour.

"Stained glass windows, lobby dome ceiling and facade details of the Four Seasons"

Stained glass windows, lobby dome ceiling and facade details of the Four Seasons

It was also a treat to see the hotel in full Christmas splendor with this year’s theme, “A Winter Wonderland”.

"Four Seasons Budapest lobby decorted for Christmas -- "A Winter Wonderland"

Four Seasons Budapest lobby — “A Winter Wonderland”

Mr. TWS and I indulged in a lovely dinner in the Gresham Restaurant where the menu includes both Hungarian and Italian fare (two of the dishes were shown above — duck from the Hungarian menu and pumpkin soup from the Italian menu). Each course was accompanied by fine wines selected by the very knowledgeable and engaging sommelier. We were interested to learn that the hotel’s chef, Chef Leonardo Di Clemente, is from the Puglia region of Italy. As you know, we fell in love with Puglia and its culinary offerings last June.

"Mr. TWS and me at dinner in the Gresham Restaurant and the Four Seasons Budapest"

Mr. TWS and me at dinner in the Gresham Restaurant

Do I have any reasons to return to Budapest again?

Of course, I do. I’ve only scratched the surface of this fabulous city. A few of those reasons are:

Ruin bars — These are cafes that have been established in old buildings that had fallen into disrepair and abandoned after World War II. They are very popular with the locals and considered a must-see in Budapest. We just didn’t have time on this trip.

Food — I’m sure that I haven’t sampled enough goulash. I also have a fairly long list of restaurant recommendations that I need to try from landmark, traditional restaurants to gourmet restaurants of various cuisine types.

Wine -– It’s time to take a side trip to Hungarian wine country such as the Tokaj wine region.

Hungarian State Opera – Although we had a wonderful tour of the Hungarian State Opera, I would have loved to see The Nutcracker there, but the tickets were sold out. Next time, I’ll get tickets in advance for a fabulous performance in that historic and gorgeous venue.

People –- We’ve had the pleasure of friendly interactions with many people — locals who helped us with directions, residents enjoying coffee in small cafes in quiet neighborhoods, vendors at Christmas market booths, Christmas market goers, hotel staff, and tour guides. I’d like to become acquainted with more of them.

See the city in a different season — Budapest’s appeal isn’t dependent on weather. I’ve been there on chilly and gray days in March and quite cold and gray December days. A bit of mist and overcast skies can even add to the mystique of such an intriguing city. But I’m ready to see Budapest in the spring, summer or fall. That gives me a reason to return at least three more times.

Perhaps I’ll never run out of reasons to come back to Budapest.

Is there a place that keeps pulling you back?

Disclosure:  A portion of our stay was hosted by the Four Seasons Gresham Palace, but our opinions are based on the high quality of service, comfort and amenities that we personally experienced.

89 thoughts on “5 Reasons I Went Back: Budapest Highlights

  1. Bonny

    This was great, I also dream of going back to Budapest! It’s possibly my favourite city in Europe but I didn’t expect it to be before I went there.

    When I go back I want to see it in summer (because I’ve already been there in the depths of winter), do some trips to smaller towns in Hungary and try out the thermal baths, which I too missed out on the first time.

    The other place that keeps pulling me back is Japan, even though I’ve lived there and travelled all over.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Sounds like we’re on the same wave length about Budapest, Bonny. I’ve never been to Japan, but it’s getting closer to the top of my list with hearing from people like you who love it so much.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      You’ll love the Christmas markets in Europe, Mike. Each country and city has their own characteristic markets and I’ve enjoyed all of those that I’ve visited. Not done yet, either!

  2. Jackie Smith

    We understand that mysterious pull that calls one back to a place previously visited. For us it is Greece. We will be returning this spring to revisit people and places and branch out and explore further. Although you have tempted us with a trip to Budapest as well; it is a place we’ve continued to talk about moving higher on the must visit list. Look forward to your future posts! Happy travels in 2014!

  3. Endre

    Oh my the Szechenyi Baths look so appealing at this time of year! I think you chose 5 excellent places but for me it would be the famous Budapest JazzClub i miss most; great drinks, great music and great atmosphere 🙂

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      OK, you just gave me another reason to go back to Budapest agan — the Budapest JazzClub. I’m a jazz fan, so it’s right up my alley.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Glad that I could convey that here, Mette. You’ll see more in future posts. And hopefully, I’ll be back there again to find more reasons to return again and again.

  4. noel morata

    I love Budapest also and for the same reasons, it’s easy to spend a longer visit just to absorb and enjoy everything, architecture, markets, food, people, art and museums, its amazing, thanks for sharing this!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Much to absorb in Budapest — as you said. Nice that you’ve had the opportunity to visit that wonderful city, too.

  5. Leigh

    I would LOVE to visit Budapest and I think it would be very interesting to explore the countryside as well. Your visit sounds memorable on so many fronts that it’s hard to imagine how you can replicate it again. Did you ever have any language issues?

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Not any major issues. The Four Seasons Hotel staff is multilingual, so there were no issues there at all. Outside of the hotel, many people knew a bit of English (much more than our knowledge of Hungarian, of course). Somehow or another, we were always able to communicate.

  6. Jeff Titelius

    I love it when I can read a post and relive my own experiences in that city!! I’ve been to most of the places you described above and I remember vividly the Four Season Gresham Palace seen from our ship on Danube. It was stunning in its holiday finest. And the Christmas market at St. Stephen’s incredible too!! Did you see the light show while you were? Amazing to say the least. Thanks for allowing me to relive my visit to Budapest last month! Finally, exquisite photography!!

  7. Mike

    I loved all of the night photos you had in this post, Cathy! Oh my gosh Budapest is sooooo beautiful! I’m so glad you described each of those delicious dishes. I’ll one of each please! I’ve heard of the Ruin bars before and I’m very intrigued by them. The picture of you and Mr TWS is absolutely spectacular, our friend! 🙂

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Well, thank you Mike! Blushing here. I’ll try to post more food pics as time goes on. We had some wonderful dishes in Budapest.

  8. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    I can certainly understand why Budapest pulled you back. It looks like a beautiful city and I’ve only heard wonderful things about it. I’d love to visit one of these days. Love all these photos! Looking forward to Mr. TWS’ post on The Baths. Bavaria Germany made such a great impression on me last summer that it’s already pulling me back. Hopefully for the Christmas market season.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I totally understand why you’re being pulled back to Bavaria — I love that area. We spent time in Munich and Prien am Chiemsee in December 2012 — would love to go back in any season, but Christmas is awesome there.

  9. Tomas Opitz

    Great experience in our lovely city ! 🙂 and there are a lot of other fantastic places and cultural programs …. next time visit us in our gallery TOBE Gallery 🙂
    Kind regards of an expat from Venezuela with Hungarian roots Tomas Opitz

  10. jenny@atasteoftravel

    For a long while now I have been hoping to visit Budapest but for one reason or another, we still haven’t made it. I like your idea of combining a visit to the city with the Christmas markets, something I would love to see this year. Thanks for the inspiration Catherine!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      I can’t say enough about how much I love the Christmas markets of Europe — and Budapest should definitely be on the list of those you see sometime. Also put a few German cities and Prague on your itinerary!

  11. Patti

    I’ve been longing to visit the Christmas Markets and your photos just feed my longing. However, traveling this winter with the wickedly cold temps has left me questioning the sanity of returning to Europe in the dead of winter. I know we happily survived the cold in Paris for 3 weeks but I’m thinking maybe every 3rd vacation should have some sun and warm air! Seriously, though, it looks lovely and I hope we make it one day!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Nice to have a mix of warm weather/cold weather vacations. But I strongly encourage you to make a Christmas trip to Europe sometime. Schedule a trip to Hawaii to directly follow it. 🙂

  12. budget jan

    I am so glad you went back. The architecture is stunning. I have always wanted to visit the Ruin Bars as well. We went in an outside thermal pool in Canada and I enjoyed that, B.H. wasn’t as keen 🙂

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      What is it with these guys and their aversions to thermal pools, spas, etc?? Anyway, I enjoyed the pool even more than I imagined I would.

  13. Neva

    The night pictures are extremely captivating. Visiting different cultures at Christmas time adds a magical touch to the trip and pictures. You’ve shown some enticing reasons to travel to Budapest – I can’t wait.

  14. Tara

    I have been to Budapest so many times and I love going back again and again. People, food atmosphere. things to see and do….so much in a very small space. My favorite place is the restaurant at the Matthias Hotel – they have live gypsy music and the atmosphere ( and food) is fantastic for the night out.

  15. Suzanne Fluhr

    I’ll be a trailing spouse to Munich in September where my husband is attending a conference. I get to plan the rest of the trip and this post has solidified Budapest’s place on the itinerary.

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Wow – what a fabulous place to ring in the new year. Maybe that gives me another reason to go back — next NYE!

  16. Jess @UsedYorkCity

    This has just bumped up on my “to travel to” list, thank you!!! I would especially love to see the Christmas Markets and the ruin bars!

    A place that keeps pulling me back is Paris…every time I go I find new things to fall in love with, as well as enjoy the old all over again!

    1. Catherine Sweeney Post author

      Ah, Paris! I am definitely ready to return. I keep thinking that I’d like to improve my French first, but I don’t want to wait that long. 🙂

  17. Nancie

    Budapest is such a fab city. I would go back in a heart beat. Maybe the Christmas markets are calling me next December! I loved walking through the lobby of the Four Seasons. I was also surprised at how good the wine was. Next time, I will definitely do a wine tour or two!

  18. Clare

    I’ve wanted to visit Budapest for such a long time and it just hasn’t happened yet. I must do something about that! Everything just looks so grand and atmospheric. So far I’ve only been to Germany on Christmas market trips, but Budapest could be an option for 2014 I think!

  19. Rhonda (Travel? Yes Please!)

    I’m just writing a post about Budapest as we speak! I agree, that one visit to Budapest is not enough. We spent four days there and I feel like we just scratched the surface. Seeing your pictures of Gresham Palace makes me wish we went in instead of admiring it from the outside. I’m curious to read Mr. TWS thoughts on Szechenyi Baths. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the greatest experience there.

  20. The Guy

    Now I want to go back to Budapest! I spent 5 days there in 2001 and had such a fun filled week exploring both Buda and Pest as well as trying the baths. I also found a magical jazz club / restaurant which I spent a few nights in. I wonder if it is still there?

  21. Sam

    I stumbled across your blog because of this post, which caught my attention because I’m in Budapest right now! I absolutely agree with everything you’ve said here: Budapest doesn’t depend on weather, but it feels very different in different seasons. I’ve been here twice before, once in spring and once in summer, and the vibe is totally different now in winter, but still very appealing. There are always more reasons to return to a place you’ve really enjoyed: after one visit, there are inevitably more things to see and do that you missed or things to do again. No doubt my partner and I will be here again in the future!

  22. Lucy @ On the Luce

    Gorgeous photos, I am well overdue a return visit to Budapest – my last trip there was almost 15 years ago and no doubt it’s changed a lot since then. Maybe a good pre-Christmas weekend for next year to coincide with the Christmas markets is in order.

  23. Aggy

    LOVE Budapest, I went there this summer for a week and I can’t get enough of the goulash and amazing sceneries. I love the Fishermen’s Bastillon – the view from there at night is amazing. Still need to go to ruin bars! I heard they are super hip. Glad you’re also loving Budapest 🙂

  24. Silvia

    This post really took me back! Love love love Budapest, and your photos capture it beautifully. Such a gorgeous city with so much to do. Hope I can make a trip back there soon as well!

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  26. Pola (Jetting Around)

    I have a Hungarian connection in the family, so it’s a shame that I’ve only briefly visited Budapest during a train layover… I’m sure that will be amended in the future, and I really hope it will be sooner, rather than later.

    There are a few cities that don’t let me forget about them, incl. Paris and San Francisco. I just have to visit them every once in a while to keep my sanity intact… What I like about your post is that not only did you give us reasons for your second visit, but you’re already planning your third. That’s the spirit, Catherine! 🙂

  27. Leyla

    The hotel looks amazing! I love this kind of architecture and decor – a lot of it looks like Art Nouveau, but not quite… The last time I visited Budapest the city was there but it was grimy, local people were unfriendly and abrupt – and a place called the Soviet Union still hovered so no wonder. This looks quite different – perhaps it’s time I returned.

  28. Monica Suma

    I’ve been to Budapest a few times and I never get tired of it. One of my favorite European capitals, such a majestic city. You can clearly tell that along with Vienna, Budapest was the capital of an empire. I want to go once and spend a few days, just one or two days is not enough. Spectacular photography!

  29. Todd

    My favorite city in Europe! Next time you go back, go in early/ mid September for the Wine Festival. I’m not a huge wine guy, but the variety, food and culture is top notch. Also, make sure to hit up the Central Market (Nagy Vasarcsarnok). The best gulyasleves I’ve had was (interestingly enough) at an English pub across from the InterContinental hotel called John Bull.

    Also, eat at Kacsa Etterem near the Castle, you will not be disappointed.

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  31. Nita

    Wow! Such a beautiful city. I’ve been to many European cities but haven’t visited Budapest yet. I shall have to make a trip there the next time I’m in Europe 🙂 Really gorgeous, especially at night!

  32. Kate

    Budapest is one of the European cities I would love to visit; even more so now that I’ve read this post. It looks beautiful and I love Christmas markets! I didn’t know about the outdoor thermal baths or the wine-tasting in underground caves which would be something I would enjoy. This has given me some encouragement to go and living in the UK, distance isn’t an excuse!

  33. Jonny Blair

    I can tell that the place is really amazing! I really wanted to try the thermal bath, and the food looks really delicious! Overall, its a place worth to visit, soon! Great post!

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