Confession: When we first flew into Hungary, I wondered what I had gotten us into. By the end of that first night, however, I had discovered the best tours in Budapest and I was obsessed. By the end of our second day (and tour), I was hooked on this fantastic city. When we went back in December, I immediately booked more tours and was delighted when our tour guides remembered us from our April trip!
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Best Tours in Budapest – Introductory Tours
This was our first tour of Budapest, and it was a great introduction to the Pest side city. (Buda is better but Pest is best!) George was our guide and he was fantastic! George has a deep knowledge of his city and the events that have shaped the present-day Budapest. He understands much of the history and how it has influenced politics, and he is eager to share his passion. His energy was contagious, he encouraged questions (both of him and those he asked of the group), and he gave us a great overview of the city. The tour started around twilight, and we watched the city come alive as we explored the main historical sites, which were extraordinarily beautiful as evening descended onto Budapest. This tour helped us determine the places we wanted to revisit later on our trip.
We were definitely sad to leave George when we boarded the Danube cruise, but he encouraged us to stop by the shop if we had any questions about what to see. The Danube cruise was beautiful and the video wasn’t nearly as entertaining as George. I even found it distracting with the beautiful sites right outside the window. This tour is a great overview of the city to begin any trip to Budapest and the cruise is a great way to rest your feet after a long day of walking.
When we returned to Budapest with my mom in December, I booked the Danube river cruise independent of the walking tour. This particular cruise leaves from a dock that is quite a bit further down from the main part of the city. It covers the same route, offers outdoor seating, and is generally a good value, though it is approximately a 20 minute walk from public transportation. This boat moved quite a bit faster than the first one we took, so I found it a little difficult to take great shots from the boat, but it’s still a beautiful way to experience the skyline! I would suggest the walking tour and cruise if you have time to better get a sense of the history of Budapest, but this is a great tour if you don’t have much time.
Best Tours in Budapest – Historical Perspective
When we walked into the tour office on our second day, George was happy to introduce us to his colleague Tomas. We were the only people on the tour and Tomas really took a lot of time to answer our questions frankly and candidly. He was more than willing to tailor the tour to our specific interests. The tour starts with a surprise and a step back to communist Budapest using primary sources and artifacts! We learned about the Austro-Hungarian Empire from the beginning to the end, Hungary’s role in World War II, and the rise (and fall) of communism in Hungary. Tomas’s passion for Budapest and history was palpable, and there was not a single question that stumped him.
When we finally emerged from communist Budapest, Tomas took us on a walking tour of the city (with different sites from the ones we experienced with George), and he shared more about current events and modern-day Budapest. Our only regret when we finished the tour was that we didn’t have more time in Budapest. I think a visit to the Terror Museum would further underline the concepts covered by Tomas and this tour.
Best Tours in Budapest – Christmas Markets
Obviously, this was not one of the tours we took in April, but rather one that we booked when we returned in December. I booked it specifically hoping that Tomas or George would be our guide. Lucky for us, Tomas was waiting for our group and we greeted each other like old friends who hadn’t seen each other in six months. Since we were in a much larger group, we weren’t able to monopolize his time the same way, but he was great. We explored St. Stephen’s Basilica, tried wild boar sausage, warmed up at the delicious Strudel House (try the sour cherry!), enjoyed wine tasting and good conversation, and the headed out to several more markets before finishing up with mulled wine. Tomas did a great job balancing history and culture with the holiday festiveness of the Christmas markets. There was plenty of conversation, lots of laughs, and my mom enjoyed learning from Tomas as much as we did!
This is another great introduction to the city of Budapest if you’re looking for a great way to cover quite a bit of ground with a little bit of history mixed in. I still think the night walking tour and cruise is the best way to familiarize yourself with Budapest, but if you’re looking for holiday cheer, this tour gets it done, too.
Best Tours in Budapest – Final Thoughts
If I were to return to Budapest for a third trip, I’d book a market tour (which did but it didn’t work out), head out to Monument Park with a guide, explore Castle Hill and the Buda side of the city, but these are some of the best tours in Budapest for an overall view of the city. You really can’t go wrong. Overall, I can’t tell you enough – don’t skip Budapest. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever been to and I really loved the people we met! It’s worth every adventure.
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