Budapest is probably one of my top 3 or 4 cities in Europe, up there with Rome, Berlin and Paris. I could easily go back again and again. And while you probably wouldn’t think of Hungary as providing an excellent culinary experience, two of my five favorite things about Budapest are food-related.
1. Ruszwurm Cafe
I visited the Ruszwurm three times during my week in Budapest. It was just that good. A historic café in the castle district, the Ruszwurm has been open since 1827. The pastries and cakes are the big draw – a great variety of buttered dough, strudel, round pastries and cakes, which are all displayed in a case or on the counter as you first walk in. My favorite (which is also one of the Hungarian favorites) was the Esterhazy Cake, which consists of pastry layers made of walnuts, whipped egg whites and sugar and cream layers made of cooked egg cream with vanilla.
Oh, and the hot chocolate was pretty darn good too.
2. Budapest History Museum
Also known as the Castle Museum, this is a real treat for history buffs. It traces the history of Buda and Pest, as well as the surrounding area, dating back to medieval times. The exhibitions feature wonderfully detailed English explanations and are mostly in chronological order, which makes the whole museum easy to navigate. While it was all quite interesting, I was particularly intrigued by the lower level, part of which consists of remains the medieval royal palace of Buda castle.
3. House of Terror Museum
I almost missed this, as it was set to close for renovations the day after I arrived in Budapest. Luckily, I snuck in a visit as soon as I got into town. The museum is the former headquarters of the AVH secret police and the Nazis. According to its website, “the House of Terror Museum is a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured and killed in this building. The Museum, while presenting the horrors in a tangible way, also intends to make people understand that the sacrifice for freedom was not in vain.” A visit to the museum is a moving and thought-provoking experience and can take several hours as each room has hand-outs in English describing the exhibits. Walking through the basement, which the Nazis used for torture and murder in the 1940s, is especially somber. I recommend it as a great way to gain some insight into a dark period in world history. (no pictures are allowed inside)
4. Danube Bend
Several small, historic towns lie along the Danube just outside of Budapest and are well worth a day trip or two. I only made it to Szentendre and Ezstergom, but Vac and Visegard are also supposed to be nice stops.
Szentendre is home to an artists’ colony of around 100 artists and with cobblestone streets and a variety of shops, churches and old homes, it is a nice town to just wander around and get lost. Walking up to the Roman Catholic Cemetery on top of the highest hill in town provides some great views of the surrounding area.
The town of Esztergom is home to the largest church in Hungary – the Esztergom Cathedral. With a red and blue interior, the cathedral features a creepy Egyptian-style crypt, stunning chapel and a treasury full of gold pieces and jewels. Next to the cathedral is the Castle Museum, which I appreciated more for its amazing views of the Danube than the exhibitions, which consisted mostly of weapons, coins and pottery with very few (if any) English explanations. Finally, I found it very cool that I could actually walk across the bridge spanning the Danube from Esztergom to Slovakia!
5. Café Kor
This restaurant came highly recommended by multiple sources and it did not disappoint. Not only was it cited in two guidebooks, but the concierge at my friends’ hotel directed them there and another friend who had been in Budapest a year before me told me it was a must. Located not far from St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Café Kor serves what we termed “Hungarian contemporary” – and apparently we weren’t alone in that characterization since I later read the same thing in a guidebook.
My entrée consisted of mouth-watering duck breast strips with apple, honey and green salad pasta (I’m assuming it was a spinach pasta). It was so good that one of my friends ordered it as a second entrée after he finished off his beef tenderloin! Of course he was so full, he missed out on dessert, which was a Gundel pancake – basically a crepe stuffed with nuts and raisins and topped with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar. It put the Esterhazy Cake to shame.
Have you been to Budapest? What were your favorite things to see or do?