We Have Come to Your City for Kürtőskalács
Two years ago we spent a week in Salzburg, Austria. Every day we would walk through the central outdoor market stalls, and every day we would purchase Hungarian chimney cakes (Kürtőskalács). They’re simple creations – dough wrapped around a metal cylinder, baked and rolled in cinnamon sugar – but they’re very good. Very, very good.
Fast forward to this summer. We had four days open between stops in Ireland and Venice and had all of Europe to choose from. Why not head to Budapest for chimney cakes at their source? A couple of flight bookings later (Cork to Budapest via London, and Budapest to Venice) we were set.
We LOVED Budapest. Four days weren’t enough – we would love to return, do more, see more, and try other restaurants. But we did enough that I can give you suggestions as to how you can maximize your time in the city.
Things to Do in Budapest with Kids
We started with a short walk from our base (the Aria Hotel) across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the Buda side of the city and the Castle Hill Funicular. We were foiled in our attempt to get chimney cakes at the top, as the stands we passed were closed, but we loved walking around the area from Buda Castle to Fisherman’s Bastion (the terrace and arches that appear in most photos from Budapest). A highlight was lunch near Fisherman’s Bastion at Piknik Pavilion. The service was a little disorganized, but it let us introduce our kids to Hungarian cuisine (stuffed cabbage, lángos fried flatbreads and potatoes (with paprika of course)) in a charming outdoor setting perfect for enjoying the warm weather. I wouldn’t say that our kids loved everything, but they tried everything and enjoyed enough of the dishes that they didn’t walk away hungry.
This is the main pedestrian/shopping street in Budapest. There are a lot of chain restaurants and international stores – not very exciting – but I mention it because it’s where we found chimney cakes! There’s a stand with fresh-baked Kürtőskalács just a block up from Zara, and a bakery/store with cakes closer to the Great Market Hall. They didn’t disappoint! While we had only tried cinnamon/sugar chimney cakes before, in Budapest we bought the walnut and chocolate versions as well, but didn’t like them as much. Go for the basic version.
A Hungarian Cooking Class
We love to take cooking classes everywhere we go. In Budapest we booked a class through City Discovery. We started at 9am with a tour of the Great Market Hall with our chef Anna as she purchased ingredients for the class and then headed with her to the cooking school. Over the course of three hours we cooked goulash, chicken paprikash and dumplings (spätzle) for lunch and Hungarian pancakes for dessert. This is a great kid-friendly class for anyone wanting to learn the basics of Hungarian cooking – probably better for amateur cooks than advanced cooks. Our kids thoroughly enjoyed it, and Anna was excellent with the kids.
A Day Trip to Szentendre
Szentendre is a small riverside village near Budapest, with an utterly charming central pedestrian area. We have friends who drove us to Szentendre, but there are HÉV trains from Budapest that can get you there in 45 minutes. A couple hours in town is all you need. Be sure to visit Lavendula Gelato right on the main square.
A Sunset Boat Ride on the Danube
This was probably the highlight of our time in Budapest. We thought our friends were arranging a standard, slow ride up the Danube on one of the ubiquitous tourist boats. Nope. We arrived at the marina and were taken to a private motorboat which sped us up and down the Danube for an unforgettable hour. The kids absolutely loved it! Contact the Wiking Yacht Club for options and pricing.
A Picnic in the Park
We had intended to go to the Budapest Zoo, but when we arrived the kids saw Városliget Park across the street and opted to spend half a day there instead. We had a picnic (we carry a linen picnic blanket with us when we travel), played at the playground, watched the pedal boats, got ice cream, played Frisbee, jumped on the park trampolines and, overall, let the kids be kids. Then we walked back to our hotel along tree-lined Andrássy Street, enjoying more chimney cakes along the way.
The Cat Cafe
My kids have always wanted to go to Japan to visit a cat cafe, so they were extremely excited to see that there was one in Budapest. They had a great time running around and petting the cats…for about ten minutes. Then the magic wore off, they felt a little bad for the cats who get bothered constantly when they’re trying to sleep, we quickly finished our tea and hot chocolates and we left. Even though we didn’t love it, I’m including it here as it’s undoubtedly an attraction for cat lovers. And our visit saved us a trip to Japan!
Where We Stayed
We spent four nights at the Aria Hotel Budapest and it quickly became one of our favorite hotels anywhere. What we loved: the connecting rooms perfect for a family of five; the kid-friendly touches like kid-sized robes/slippers and bowls of gummy bears on arrival; the pool at the spa; the central location next to St. Stephen’s Basilica with a pedestrian area and cafés surrounding the hotel; the rooftop patio with comfy chairs and amazing views; the breakfasts with excellent breads and fruit; and the afternoon wine and cheese with live music. The hotel arranged for airport transfers for us both ways. It couldn’t have been a better stay.
Where We Ate
We ate all breakfasts at the hotel. For lunch we dined at Piknik Pavilion (above) once, at our cooking class once, in the park once and at ÉS Bisztró. We loved ÉS Bisztró and will head back next time we’re in Budapest. For dinner we ate at TG Italiano twice, at Trattoria Mamma once (closed now) and also at Rosenstein. We chose the first two as they were close to the hotel (Trattoria Mamma is almost next door) when the kids requested Italian. Both were family-friendly. Rosenstein is a short drive away but is worth the trip – excellent game dishes, interesting Jewish/Hungarian touches, and, being family-run, very kid-friendly.
Where We Shopped
We’re not big shoppers, but we are foodies, and we loved stumbling across the Fűszerész spice store. It’s only 10 minutes or so from the Aria Hotel but hidden in a courtyard (Károly körút 10). Search it out – it’s worth it! Even in travels to 80+ countries they had spices that we’ve never seen before. We particularly liked being able to smell, touch and taste different spices. And it’s kid-friendly, with a play kitchen and play spice shop inside.
NOTE: Our cooking class was graciously provided by City Discovery, but all opinions are mine.