When I first visited Budapest many years ago, I was expecting more of the same Central European cuisine I’d experienced on my previous travels. But Hungary is the land of paprika, and the city’s culinary wonders blew me away. Now, whenever I return to Budapest, I make a list of all the things I want to do and experience, and food and drink adventures always top the list. From rich goulash to crisp Hungarian wine, my tastebuds are always tickled in Budapest. Here are my recommendations for the best way to experience Budapest—through food.
Bundle up if you come in January or February, but remember to pack a swim cap and robe for the thermal baths.
If you only have time for one thing, make it the Jewish Quarter, which has a rich and diverse culinary scene.
Start your day at Budapest’s Central Market Hall, where stands selling cured meat, cheese, produce, and pastries crowd inside a covered hall. Sample Hungarian salamis and make sure to seek out the local smoked paprika. Continue walking north into the Jewish District; learn about the area’s history at the Dohany Street Synagogue before sampling traditional Jewish dishes like cholent.
In the evening, stick around the area to explore Budapest’s famed ruin bars—bars housed in semi-abandoned buildings that brim with color, graffiti, plants, and people.
After an early visit to Heroes’ Square, spend the morning in Pest at one or two of the city’s historic coffee houses, such as Café Gerbeaud, New York Café, or Centrál Café. Sip on a cappuccino while admiring the ornate decor—and don’t forget to try a few Hungarian pastries and desserts, including strudel and gesztenyepüré, a chestnut purée with whipped cream. Check out St. Stephen’s Basilica before walking across the Danube to Buda’s Castle Hill, home of the iconic Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle, and vast art collections within the Hungarian National Gallery.
Spend your evening getting to know Hungary’s unique wine scene; enjoy sweet Tokaj wine and Bull’s Blood wine paired with charcuterie.
This morning, delve further into Hungary’s culinary scene with a cooking class—learn more about local ingredients and then make goulash and layered cake with a local chef. Alternatively, take a day trip to the Etyek wine country, known for its white and sparkling varieties.
In the evening, rest your legs with a dinner cruise on the mighty Danube. Enjoy traditional Hungarian food and watch the city sparkle at night.