Visitors could spend a week in Budapest and not see everything. The city is one of the most stunning in Europe and after surviving around 50 years under communism, the beautiful capitol on the Danube is thriving. Even after a year of Covid, the city was vibrant and lively.
We thought we were going to have to jump through hoops to enter the country, but after researching all the protocols, the only thing we needed was our transit pass for our arrival in the EU in Spain. This we did ahead of time on Verifly. So when we arriving in Madrid, we did our EU check-in with our vaccine card and our negative Covid test. Then we made our way to our connecting flight. Once we landed in Hungary we didn’t even go through customs.
Upon arrive I had prescheduled a van through Viator to pick us up at the airport and take us the 25 minute drive to the Hilton Garden Inn Budapest. We almost always stay at a Hilton family hotel to earn the loyalty points and because of the consistent quality across the world.
Check-in was easy, and once we got settled in our rooms we headed off to our wine tasting/dinner reservation at “Wine Not” which was just a few blocks from the hotel. This was a wonderful evening where we were able to try a variety of Hungarian wines from dry whites and reds to the late harvest Tokaji. We had a charcuterie board and wonderful local bread to go along with the wine. The wine tasting room is also a retail store, so we were able to purchase the wines we had tasted to bring along on our cruise.
After dinner we walked back to the hotel and got to see St. Stephens cathedral lit up at night.
The next day, I had a few minutes before our transfer arrived to go into the cathedral and take pictures of the rich rococo interior. Then we were headed off to the Avalon ship.
Once we boarded, our cruise manage, Nancy, told us about the local market, where we headed to see the local goods and pick out a souvenir or two.
We were back on the ship for our evening safety drill and beautiful views of Budapest and the Danube river.
Then, we had our second day hosted by Avalon in Budapest. In the morning, we had a narrated panoramic tour of the city where our guide pointed out many of the important sights including Hero’s Square, the Jewish Quarter and Synagogue, the important Museum of Terror which documents the horror of political persecutions, and finally the Buda Castle Hill district. At the latter, we had a 30 minute walking tour where we learned about the history and architecture of this area and enjoyed the stunning views of the Pest side of the town from the Buda hill.
After a wonderful Hungarian lunch on the ship, we enjoyed a wine tasting tour to the Etyek region just outside of Budapest. The only mass production is for a sparkling wine, but our tour visited two small wineries who hand crafted limited runs of wine. We enjoyed wine tasting in a tasting room that was built up over a cellar right on the estate property and then we were hosted by a wine maker in the actual cellar where we enjoyed his wine and even got to do a barrel tasting. This was a great chance to get out of town and see some of the countryside as well as pass through many of the more modern suburban parts of Budapest. This was a tour at an extra cost $70 but compared to the $170 that an ocean cruise line might charge for a similar experience, we felt it was well worth the extra charge. We had originally pre-booked this tour, and then it got cancelled, perhaps because only 6 people had signed up, but we asked out cruise manager if it was possible to reschedule it if we got enough people to go. We were able to fill the tour and everyone enjoyed the experience. If you visit Budapest and want to do something different while you are there, the wine tours to Etyek are a great option.
To top off our stay in Budapest, we sailed out of the town to a beautiful sunset where we could see all the important buildings along the river. This was another highlight of our time in Budapest.