I have had the amazing experience of living in Budapest for a little more than one year, and I still find a moment everyday to miss it. Budapest, like many other European cities is a place of multiple wonders. The capital of Hungary, can provide entertainment for anyone: a very active cultural scene, some pretty cool museums, the most amazing nightlife, a very interesting history to be explored and even some ecotourism experiences (yes within the city).
As you will be able to read in many other guides for the city, there are many places you must visit when you are in town; I will go through them quickly so we can move into the new stuff: you will find out you MUST visit Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, Saint Matthew’s Curch, the Basilica, dive into one of the many Turkish baths that Budapest has, get on the top of Gellert Hill for the most amazing view, walk through the Chain Bridge, have a stroll in Andrassi street, visit Hero’s Square, get a look at the Parliament, take a walking tour that shows you the Danube promenade memorial shoes, etc. Yes, all of those you need to visit if you want to be an A+ tourist in Budapest and take selfies in all the right places. Still, if you want to give your visit a spin there are some other pretty cool and also unique activities you might find interesting that won’t make it to the top of Budapest’s traveling guides. Thankfully I’m here to give you a couple of new ideas.
1. Caving in Budapest.
The capital of Hungary is divided by the Danube in two parts: Buda and Pest. And guess what? It turns out that under a big chunk of Buda lies the biggest cave in Hungary, they claim it’s 120 km long. Pretty cool, huh? Well if you are in for an adventure you can get guided tours, in English, to go along the Pál-völgyi cave system. The entrance is right in the middle of one of Buda hills, so there is not even the need to get out of the city to live this experience.
I tried the Adventurous climbing-crawling tour offered in this website. What you can expect is to you gear up, wear special clothes, and a helmet with a light in order to go underground with a group of people, and a guide. Then, during about 2 hours you go around the cave, two thirds of the time utterly amazed at what you are seeing and the third wondering why the hell did you decided to put yourself down there on those slippery paths (although this can make it more exciting as well).
I must say this caving experience was one of the my most memorable days within the city. First of all what you get to see is almost movie-like. I didn’t have any caving experience, so the whole thing of being underground and even wearing the caving gear felt surreal. I don’t know if I am weird or what, but I felt pretty cool being down there, knowing the whole city lied on top of my head… but still I couldn’t hear anything of it, and no one knew I was down there either. Also, it was pretty fun, going around even having to crawl to get through some passages. A friend even got stuck after not following the instructions of the guide (don’t get scared though, he was able to get out after instructed to do some intense wiggling in order to slide out).
In all, it was something new for me, I totally recommend caving in Budapest, particularly this adventure tour. Although I must warn you it can get a bit dangerous sometimes, but rest assured that if I -the clumsiest person- and my wiggling friend made it unharmed, you will too.
2. Kayaking or canoeing in the Danube.
Another activity you might find interesting is kayaking or canoeing in the Danube. Kayaking can serve a triple purpose:
- Burn off all the calories you will get from eating delicious -but greasy- Hungarian food and Túró Rudi (keep on reading to find out what I’m talking about).
- It has certain difficulty if you are kind of weak -like me-, so you can take it up as a personal challenge.
- The real one, and most important: It will give you the best opportunity to appreciate one of Budapest’s top assets: the Danube -or Duna- river.
When I did it went like this: we started kayaking in the north of Budapest, where we rented our equipment; we went down south against the current first until we reached Szürkő sziget. There we stopped, built a fire and cooked some food we had brought along for the trip. We got back in our kayaks and went back to our starting point. Sounds simple, I know, but I still fancy doing it again when I think about it.
The whole trip took about 5 hours. Going against the river’s current was pretty intense and tiring, but it made it very rewarding when we finally reached our destination. When we went back, along with the river’s current, we barely had to row anymore and it became quite a relaxing ride instead. Also, I must say that even if the Duna is looks fairly filthy when you look it up close, being there, right in the middle of it, contemplating it’s vastness and how strong it is, the river makes a very powerful impression. All the scenery you will be able to see along the shore is amazing as well. Dare to defy the river and you will definitely be rewarded with a good memory… even if you are sore as hell the next day, it’s all worth it.
I was able to do this with a group of local friends that already knew their way around the Danube. I wouldn’t advise to do this by yourself or with just a couple of friends if any of you don’t have any previous experience, but I do encourage you to ask for information here. They have canoeing tours you might join or you can rent our own equipment if you are set for a self-guided adventure with your own group of friends as I was.
Extra things to remember: keep all your goods in well sealed plastic bags, wear sunscreen and bring enough water and food.
3. Going to whichever festival is going on when you visit.
There is ALWAYS something going in Budapest. Either a particular street is closed to have a festival, or you can find something set up in near Buda Castle, or in Hero’s Square, but trust me, there is always some festival going on where you can try the real typical Hungarian food, and get to see people selling Hungarian folk art and clothes. Sure you can find all these goods in the different markets in the city (now that I mention it, you have to visit the Great Market Hall as well), but the vibe in the festivals is different. In the street festivals the selling points are usually set up in cute wooden structures, pretty much the same you get to see if you go to Budapest in December and have a chance to watch the Christmas market (which is a must for some tourists), and also you if you are lucky you will see some artistic presentations, or try some local products as beer or wine. This festivals are often full of Hungarian people, while the market is on the other hand full of tourists and that sets up a big difference as well.
Visit here to find out any festivals going on during your stay.
Bonus: Eating Túró Rudi.
I don’t know if you have read about this anywhere else, but eating Túró Rudi is a crucial activity in Hungary. I totally made a sport out of eating Túró Rudi during my whole year of living in Budapest. Túró –a sort of Hungarian cheese- and rudi -roll, in Hungarian- is one of the things I miss the most of Hungary. This candy bar consists in a roll of this cheese covered in chocolate that you can find in pretty much any, ANY, store and there are even some expending machines that sell exclusively this, so you have no excuse not to try it. Hungarians love it – they even claim it’s healthy, being made of cheese and all that – and although it’s an acquired taste for some, it is something you NEED try when you are there. You will easily recognize it because of its white wrap with big red polka dots on it.
So there you have it: three new activities you can add to your list of to do’s in Budapest other than what every single guide out there says. Anyway, Budapest stole a big chunk of my heart, and even if you are visiting for a few days, if you take my advice or if you limit yourself to the regular tourists activities, I’m sure this breathtaking city will steal a part of your heart as well.