One Day Tour in Budapest: Get The Most Out Of 24 Hour

If you only have one day in Budapest, although it is not much time to really look around to see the sights and enjoy fun things to do, you can still make the most out of it in a one-day tour, and hopefully you will come back to see more. Let’s suppose you arrive late afternoon, so all you are ready for is having a good dinner, maybe a feel of Budapest nightlife, and you leave discovering the attractions for next morning.

Night in Budapest

If you plan to have a few drinks in the happening area, Pest side gives more options than Buda side (where the castle is). Here’s a great map of the pubs, bars, clubs and party places of Budapest. The different color-coded icons on the map show you different styles: e.g.

  • Green for Irish pubs,
  • Blue for Best – based on tourists’ feedback
  • Blue dot for Best alternative pubs
  • Blue pin for Belgian beers
  • Light blue for maybe good
  • Yellow for themed pubs (e.g. Western, Cuban, etc.)
  • Pink GL-friendly, etc.

Here’s the map, color-coded: double-click to enlarge, or click on an icon to get more info on the pub / bar.

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Whichever pub or bar suits your style and wallet more, one thing is sure: don’t miss the Danube river-view at night. It is beautiful: classical yet intimate beauty. Read more about the Best Restaurants in Budapest or the Best Cafes in Budapest.

Next Morning in Budapest

1, (7-9am) I would start with an early morning Széchenyi bath and wash away my headache in the thermal water: it’s for both men and women, and kids. Take your towel.
2, (9-10:30) go over to Heroes’ square & have a look at the Millennial monument, then (depending which attracts you more)
a, Arts: peep into the Museum of Fine Arts
b, Agriculture: the Vajdahunyad Castle in the City Park (hosting the Museum of Agriculture)
c, History: the House of Terror on Andrássy: tricks and tools of Nazi and Soviet dictatorship at the former HQ of the Hungarian Secret Police. Not for small kids.
d, Model trains, cars, planes etc.: Museum of Transport, Budapest
e, none: you saved 1.3 hours!

Follow your route on the Budapest Tourist Map: double click to enlarge or simply click on the view large option under the map.

View Larger Map

3, (11-12:00) take the underground to Vorosmarty ter, have a quick snack, coffee, cake in Café Gerbeaud OR walk over to Gresham Palace and have a snack there.
4, (12-12:30) walk over the Chain Bridge, get on the Funicular on the Buda side at Adam Clark square (Clark Ádám tér) up to the Castle Hill.
5, (12:30-14:00) have a quick look around the Castle District, take photos at Fishermen’s Bastion (you will see the beautiful Parliament, which is highly worth checking out but no time now) & at Matthias Church.
6, (14-16:00) take the bus (number 16) from Dísz tér to Deák tér, then the tram (number 2) along the Danube embankment up to Fővám tér – go to the Central Market Hall to do some gift shopping and or have late lunch or a quick snack (e.g. Lángos). Note: the Central Market Hall is closed on Sundays and closes early on Saturdays, so change the order if it is not convenient for your travel, please.

Alternatively,

You can do the whole thing backwards, or with variations. Start with the Castle, down to Gresham Palace (then to the Basilica or the Synagogue & the old Jewish district) or directly to Heroes’ square.
I usually leave shopping at the end to avoid having to wade through the city with bags. If you are more shopping-minded, use the Budapest Shopping Map to guide you.

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No need to rush: you can come back any time and take a closer look at Budapest. It’s well worth it: after more than 20 years I am still discovering a lot of new things to see, do, eat – it’s a city that does not let you get bored, and which always welcomes you, alone or with friends & family.

Budapest Bike Rentals: Where Can You Rent a Bicycle?

OK, so you want to rent a bike in Budapest? Make your bike rental decision informed. Riding a bike in Budapest is fun and not fun: conditions are not so much acceptable presently, although Budapest could potentially offer one of the greatest urban cycling experiences ever. Once the bike culture will be even more improved (more careful drivers, a lot more biking routes)… and cycling in Budapest will be in the top ten things to do in Budapest!

Attitude towards biking in Budapest has changed a lot in the past few years, the Critical Mass movement has grown stronger than ever, and luckily, more and more Budapest pubs and bars offer bike parking facilities, especially the so called ruin pubs. So enjoy it, but don’t expect to have conditions like in Amsterdam. Here’s a pic from Budapest Critical Mass :)

Good to know:

  • Geography: Budapest has two parts. Buda is hilly and Pest is totally flat, easy to bike. In some places there are quite good bike routes along the river Danube, mostly on the Buda side
  • Public transport with bike: you cannot travel on the metro= underground with bike. On trains you must buy a ticket for your bike (nominal fee, but a must).
  • Biking routes: bike routes are oftentimes shared with pedestrians, who are not used to speeding bikers, please be careful.
  • Cars vs. Bikes: car drivers don’t really like bikers (euphemism), and unfortunately won’t typically yield to bikers or pedestrians – again, be careful.
  • Bike thieves: unlike in the Netherlands, for instance, you should NOT leave your bike unlocked – it will disappear in a moment. Lock it safely, lock it well.

There are some bike rental places in Budapest (some ask for a deposit). The ones that are conveniently located are the following:

Bike Base

BikeBase bicycle rental offers a wide range of bikes, from MTBs to city cruisers, plus you can also rent customized biking tours in Budapest.

  • Bikes: from mountain bikes through city cruisers to children’s bikes, something to suit all ages and styles.
  • Extras: (included in the price) helmet, locks, tour tips, map, if outside Budapest: panniers, repair tool kit
  • Address: Podmaniczky utca 19, 1065 Budapest
  • Phone: 00-36-70-625-85-01 or 00-36-1-269-59-83
  • Opening hours: 9 am – 7 pm (earlier or later too, if arranged via phone)
  • Rental prices:

9 EUR (2 600 HUF) for 24h
16 EUR (4 600 HUF) for 48h
Special price for longterm rent. If you cannot pick up or return the bike to the shop, for a nominal fee, Bike Base will collect or deliver anywhere within Budapest city limits.

Budapest Bike

Besides renting bikes here, the guys at Budapest Bike also promise to take you to places you should not but might miss, to help with avoiding tourist traps while in Budapest, to point out where to go and what to see. You can also rent biking tours here for about 5000 HUF (dirt cheap in Budapest), or Pub Crawl bike tours (min 4 pubs, 4 hours) for 20 euros. Bikes can be rented for 3 or more days 2500HUF /day and you can hire tandem bikes too.

  • Bikes: Gepida Alboins (women’s & men’s)
  • Extras: (included in the price) helmet, chain, lock and limited insurance as stated in the rental contract.
  • Address: Wesselenyi u. 18. Budapest 1077
  • Phone: 00-36-30-944-5533
  • Rental Prices:

6 hours: 2000HUF
1 day: 3000HUF
2 day: 5000HUF
3 or more days 2500HUF/day

Budapest Tourist Map shows the different bike rental locations (check the green bicycle map icon)

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Bringo Hinto

BringoHinto rental offers bikes and bike carts or kids cars, etc. on Margitsziget (Margaret Island).

  • Bikes: mountain & city bikes, adult and kid bike carts
  • Address: Hajos Alfred setany 1., Budapest 1138
  • Phone: 00-36-329-2746

Free Riders bike rental, Budapest

Free Riders bicycle rental is close to Petofi Bridge, so you can take a ride to the Palace of Arts, to Rakoczi Bridge, etc. 

  • Bikes: not specified
  • Extras: helmet, lock, basket container, etc.
  • Address: Lonyay street 60. Budapest, District  IX. (close to Petofi Bridge on the Pest side)
  • Phone: 00-36-30 816 4192 or 00-36 30 816 4192
  • Opening hours: Mon-Fri 14.00-18.00, closed at weekends
  • Prices:

1-5 h 300 HUF/ hour
24 h 3,000 HUF
24+ h 2,000 HUF
Deposit is HUF 10,000

Some useful Cycling words in Hungarian:

  • bike: bringa (brin-gah), bico (bits-oh), bicaj (bi-tsoi)
  • bicycle: kerekpar (care-ache-phaar)
  • wheel: kerek (care-ache)
  • pump: pumpa (poom-pah)
  • lock: lakat (lock-ot)
  • berel (bay-rel)

Please help me to update the info. Thanks.

Special Products in Hungary: Zwack Unicum, the bittersweet herbal liqueur

If you ask a Hungarian to tell you some of the typical Hungarian products and produces, you will very likely hear of the Hungarian paprika, the Rubik cube, Tokaj wine (especially Tokaji aszú) and a kind of herbal digestive bittersweet liqueur called Unicum amongst the top Hungaricums. And Unicum means Zwack Unicum from the Zwack family, exported to 40 countries all over the world. Now unlike the magic cube invented by Rubik, Unicum is a century old product, going back to the 18th century.

What do the leading tenor Luciano Pavarotti, American icon Jacqueline Kennedy, and world famous conductor Zubin Mehta have in common? These celebrities have all shared a weakness for the Hungarian bitter liquor known as Unicum.

What makes Zwack Unicum special?
The liqueur is not only fun, it also blends the healing power of more than 40 herbs & spices to ‘cure you of all ills.’ Of course, Zwack Unicum has its own secret formula, so secret that even the master blender does not know the recipe of the liquor: “There needs to be one family member present with the master blender when the herbs are being blended, and even the master blender doesn’t know the recipe because he receives them pre-mixed,” Izabella Zwack, a sixth-generation Zwack said. In addition to the numerous Hungarian awards, it has also been the Worldstar Winner in Tokyo in 1998

History of Zwack Unicum
Like Jagermeister, Unicum has its own history. According to the Zwack family legend, the liqueur was made in about 1790 by a Zwack who was a doctor, and as he happened to be the Royal Physician of the Austro-Hungarian emperor Joseph II, he presented the unique concoction to the Habsburg kaiser. Joseph II appreciated the drink saying “Das ist ein Unikum!” (“This is a specialty!”), most probably with a bittersweet face as the liqueur is literally bitter and sweet at the same time. And more than that: you can feel the special harmony and magic witchcraft of forest sorceress’ age-old herbal knowledge.

The founder and owner of the Zwack liqueur and rum distillery, a Moravian József Zwack, set up his company in Pest during the middle of the 19th century. He insisted his spirits should be made of organic raw materials, never of synthetic substitutes. Production of Unicum bitters started in 1860; the trade mark was patented in 1883. Since then, it has been sold in a dark green spheroid glass bottle (source: Avenue Vine)

Zwack Unicum poster from 1915 shipwrecked man with a happy survival bottleUnicum is a true trademark: a long standing (or flowing) and trustworthy brand in the Hungarian market, easily recognized by the white cross emergency sign on a deep green rounded bottle (it’s as default brand for Hungarians as Coca Cola for the international market, you just cannot imagine not having it). In 1915 Sándor Bortnyik has created one of the most famous and popular poster for Zwack Unicum: a shipwrecked guy happy to find a bottle of Zwack Unicum (message in a bottle) in the stormy sea (you can buy it as a poster too).

The liquor even survived the communist period when the factory was confiscated from the Zwack family and the whole family had to escape. “My grandfather escaped with the recipe in his pocket and that was the only time when Zwack was not in the family.” says Izabella Zwack.

In the 1956 revolution in Budapest, Unicum, the bottle of which looks like a peculiar vintage bomb, was used as a case for ammunitions against the Soviet tanks. And in 1988, just a year before the silent revolution and the birth of the new Hungarian democracy, the Zwack descendants went back to Hungary and bought back the Zwack factory and facilities.From 2007, Unicum is not only exported to about 40 countries, but the mysterious concoction is currently available in limited release in Ohio and New York too.

spheroid, bomb-shaped bottles of Zwack Unicum from HungaryBomb-shaped bottles redefined, or refined
As Frommer’s guide writes, “With its memorable bomb-shaped bottle, emergency-cross logo, and unforgettable taste — it’s Uniqum.” These days it is marketed in a more peaceful style (see the picture below made by Columbus Alive in Ohio).

Further Zwack Drinks
Besides Zwack unicum, which is a polarizing drink (either you love it, or you can’t stand it), often compared to Jagermeister, Ouzo, etc., the Zwack company also offers Zwack Attacks, Bloody Hun (basically the Bloody Mary a la Zwack with 3 oz. Bloody Mary mix, 1.5 oz. Zwack Unicum, celery, pepper, salt), and Zwackstache in foreign markets. In Hungary, you will find Zwack branded as Unicum, and a similar Zwack drink (less bitter, more citrusy) called Unicum Next. Give them a try.
How to drink Unicum?
The best drinking advice comes from the producer, so let’s quote Sándor Zwack: “It’s a wonderful drink, it is wonderfully made. You can drink it room temperature if you want, with a nice cigar. You can mix it with cranberry, pineapple and orange juice. It’s great with Red Bull, but the way we market it is to be ice cold.”

Zwack Unicum gift: Essence of Hungary
You will find Zwack Unicum in all stores and gift shops (a bottle of 0.7 l [1.43 UK pints, 1.48 US pints] is approx. 3500 HUF). The Essence of Hungary is aZwack Unicum Essence of Hungary gift package with Tokaj wine, pálinka and Zwack Unicum beautiful gift package, which in fact combines all three flagship drinks of Hungary: besides Zwack Unicum, you will also get Tokaji aszú (a sweet Tokaj wine) and Pálinka (strong brandy made of flavoury fruits).

For some reason, the Essence of Hungary drink trio is only available in the Zwack Specialty Store located about a 20 minute walk from the Central Market Hall: go from Liberty Bridge (Szabadsághíd) to Petofi bridge (Petőfi híd), then straight ahead to Dandár utca 1. in the 9th district. Or you can take the blue line metro and get off at Klinikák station followed by a 10 minute walk.
Check the Zwack Specialty Store location on the Budapest Tourist Map:


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Cheers in Hungarian
When you want to say cheers in Hungarian, you need to muscle up your linguistic skills a bit: you can say egg-ace-shage-ed-rae (Egészségedre, literally ‘To your health’), or egg-ace-shage (Egészség) for short (informal). For a less neutral version, you can say Isten-Isten (ish-ten, ish-ten or God-God). The real black belt version of Cheers is when you want to say cheers to everybody in a bigger company (‘to our health’), which is Egészségünkre, say egg-ace-shagen-krae. Cheerio will be also understood by most people.

Gypsy Music in Budapest: From Restaurants Gypsy Schmaltz To Roma Folk & Jazz Musicians

Many tourists enjoy going to restaurants in Budapest where live Gypsy music is performed. If you are one of them, you will find several restaurants worth considering (usually indicated on a board outside the restaurant that Gypsy music is played). Some of the restaurants that advertise their Gypsy music are, for instance, Mátyás Pince, Százéves Étterem, Márvány Menyasszony, Nádor Étterem, etc. etc.

It is good to know that, as Frommer’s Guide writes,

“what you find in restaurants is not authentic Gypsy music, but an ersatz pop variety. If a member of the band plays a number at your table, good manners dictate that you give a tip; the appropriate amount varies with the price category of the restaurant itself (1,000 Ft-2,000 Ft/$4.50-$9 is a fair starting point). It is perfectly acceptable, however, for you to politely decline his or her offer to play for you.”

Wandering or settled Gypsies, Roma people had all kinds of jobs from trading horses, blacksmithing, through basket weaving, rope and broom making, to fortune telling, theft, faith healing, begging and even gold washing (in Transylvania). However, in all probability, the most prestigious job was being a musician for a Roma person. And this was precisely the most in demand (especially as technical development reduced the need for blacksmith jobs). Luckily, the musician life-style gave ample scope for the restless legs to wander, and Roma musicians travelled all over their regions to play for money at big family events, esp. weddings.

Old Hungarian films between the two world wars often pictured Hungarian Romas as playing the lone guest’s favourite tune in the restaurant or inn. The somewhat legendary concept of these films – featuring the Hungarian actor and sex symbol Pál Jávor – was that Hungarians enjoy themselves crying/ sobbing (“sírva vígad a magyar”) while obviously singing to the tunes of the accompanying Gypsy violin soloist (and feverishly sweating with deep emotions, occasionally pounding the candle lit table covered with red and white checked table, – or something like that). Needless to say, the mandatory part of emotional peaks was the Roma musician opening up your broken heart in love to catharsis. Here’s a cheerful version in video that may give you a hint (a scene from the All Men are Mad film):

Now you won’t see these heartbroken Hungarian lovers singing with Gypsy bands any more (if there were any), or, at least very rarely in films again, but you can still enjoy your meal while having professional Roma musicians playing for you.

If you really like Gypsy music – not just at restaurants – you may be interested in the concerts given by the Budapest Gypsy Symphony Orchestra (the 100-member Roma Orchestra in literal translation from the Hungarian ‘100 Tagú Cigányzenekar’). They play Strauss (senior and junior), Brahms, Monti Czardas, etc. See them playing in Hősök Tere (Heroes’ Square) in Budapest.

Or you can listen to excellent contemporary (Gypsy and non-Gypsy) jazz by Béla Szakcsi Lakatos (Liszt-prize winner) and the New Hungarian Gypsy Jazz Band.

More authentic Gypsy tunes are played by Bea Palya, Kalyi Jag, and Ando Drom. Here’s a song performed by the fabulous and talented Bea Palya at a popular Hungarian TV show:

And here is Kalyi Jag:

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Sources:
1, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Research Institute of Ethnic and National Minorities, Roma Report 2000 by Erno Kallai
2, The Gypsies During the Second World War by Karola Fings, Donald Kenrick

Parties at Rudas Spa Bath in Budapest in 2008: CineTrip Again!

After the great New Year’s Day party at Rudas Spa Bath, the party series continue:

“hosting musicians and DJs to re-musicalize old, mostly silent films, the unique atmosphere of Cinetrip parties that have been organized in the Rudas Baths since 1998 will be revived from December 2007 with the support of all the visual spectacles and perceptional experience that the technology of the 21st century can offer. … it will be even more special this year: as Cinetrip celebrates its 10th birthday!”(from Spas Budapest).

Here’s a user made (elroyhun) video at one of the Cinetrip parties at Rudas Spa Bath to give you an idea if Rudas Cinetrip parties are for you or not:

Phone: 00-36-20-20-20-202.
Map:

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Additional party dates in 2008 are

  • 15 January
  • 09 February
  • 08 March
  • 12 April

Check out Rudas Furdo (Rudas Spa Bath) special night parties in the Ottoman – modern atmosphere and be prepared for the dazzling audiovisual effects with VJs, DJs, and many young guys and girls.