Budapest.  The one city that was at the top of both my husband’s and my list of travel priorities.  And a city that so many people said was one of their favorites.

I’ll blame that build up for why I was a little disappointed.  Don’t get me wrong—we had a wonderful time and it is a beautiful city.  But as one expat friend in Prague said, “Nothing will ever live up to Prague.”  (Though I guess it depends on whether you are looking for a Western or Eastern European experience.  If you love Paris, you will probably prefer Budapest to Prague.  But I am that oddball who just doesn’t love Paris.)

So what should you do if you go to Budapest?

Our Top Two:

  • Buda—Most people come over here to go to Castle Hill but while you should go through there, it’s definitely not the best part.  Much better in my opinion are Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion (they are in the same square so you will see the Bastion if you go to the church)—the latter being a particularly good area for a toddler to run around.  And even better than that, if you have the time wander down the hill and get lost in the side streets on your way back to the river.  This is medieval Budapest for you and the part that feels the most like Prague—and what I expected out of Budapest.

  • Opera House or Parliament—Hubs and I had different perspectives on these, no doubt due to the fact that Fernando was taking care of an overly tired and very cranky L during the Opera House tour.  If you are only in Budapest for a short while, you can definitely choose to just do one and most people choose the Parliament since it is the more famous of the two.  But the interior of the Opera House is even grander and in my opinion the (slightly) better choice if gilded interiors are your thing.

We also did/saw:

  • Sunset river cruise:  We got into Budapest at about 3 so decided to orient ourselves to the city with a river cruise.  We chose to go with the Legenda company and while I always used to thing these kinds of tours were too touristy, I think it was a great introduction to the city.
  • Great Synagogue: This place has been called “the most beautiful Catholic synagogue in the world” for a reason. While it is unfortunate that the adherents felt that they needed to build the synagogue in this way in order to be accepted, it is a gorgeous building and we enjoyed the free tour very much.

  • Budapest Zoo: I was a little disappointed with this one.  The Art Nouveau architecture was supposed to be the big draw, but the best part is definitely the entrance.  (If you go to Széchenyi thermal baths, you should definitely walk by the zoo entrance.)  There are definitely a few interesting buildings inside (especially if you think about them as a time capsule), but the selection of animals is small as are their enclosures (although I’ve seen much worse).

We stayed at:

  • Kempinski Hotel Corvinus:  Even though we didn’t get a suite this time, this hotel was amazing.  Easily one of my favorites so far.  Expensive, sure, but I think (hope?) we used SPG points to pay for the room.  It’s very clean, the rooms are spacious, it’s well located for tourism and toddler play (see below), and there’s a Nobu there, which I’m pretty sure is the best room service I’ve ever had.  (And when you travel with a toddler, you tend to eat a lot of room service!)

And ate at:

  • Magyar Qtr:  Having heard good things about Hungarian food and wine we found this place (sorta) near our hotel for dinner on the first night.  I’m glad we went early before Luca totally lost it, but it did not disappoint.  Indeed, we left saying that we might move to Budapest just for the food.  (Because although I actually quite like Czech food, after a few months you really want something other than dumplings for dinner.)
  • Nobu:  We mostly ate this because we (or I) figured how can you not get room service by Nobu if it is available?  It’s definitely better than the only other room service sushi I’ve had, but the black cod at Sushi Kashiba in Seattle is better.  🙂  That said, it’s not really fair to compare room service to a sit down restaurant, so the jury is out on which one is better overall.
  • Deak St. Kitchen:  More yummy Hungarian food, this time more casual than Magyar Qtr and closer to our hotel.  Located at the Ritz Carlton, Deak St. Kitchen was delicious, virtually empty at lunch time, and had a very child-friendly set-up.  (Not only did they have a baby chair, the server brought L toys to play with while we waited for our food!)
  • Four Seasons (afternoon tea): Not only do I love high tea, this was also an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.  When I sought out recommendations for our trip, two of the big ones were to go the Four Seasons for a drink (they didn’t specify it had to be alcoholic…) and to eat lots of Hungarian sweets.  I’m not sure that we’ll be taking L for tea again anytime soon but the sweets (and sandwiches) were delicious.

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Toddler Travel Tips:

  • Playgrounds are your friend!  Among the many great things about our hotel was that it was right across the street from a little playground. So when L was done sightseeing for the day but still had too much energy to go to bed, we were able to head to the playground so he could run around and climb.
  • Get a babysitter or miss out on the thermal baths.  🙁 This was a disappointment since I really wanted to go to Széchenyi. Unfortunately, kids who aren’t potty trained aren’t allowed. And while a slightly older child might be able to slip through if you were feeling daring, I didn’t think it would work with a 15 month old.

Have you ever been somewhere that didn’t *quite* live up to your expectations (even if you did enjoy the trip)?  Tell us where in the comments.

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