Europe Trip 2024: Day 2 in Budapest

May 8, 2024

I took a 10-day trip to Europe with my son between April 26 and May 5. We spent time in both Barcelona and Budapest. This post covers Saturday, April 27.

We had to get up very early to get to the airport for our flight to Budapest. I anticipated that this might be a difficult day having to be up so early after flying into Barcelona the day before. I was tired but the excitement of returning to Hungary powered me for the day. We were up around 5:30 am and took the Metro to a train that went to the airport.

Checking in and going through security was a breeze. We got breakfast at McDonald’s at the airport and then waited for our flight. I was able to get a bit of sleep on the flight and before I knew it, we had landed in Budapest.

Arrival in Budapest

We arrived in Budapest around 11:30. There was nothing familiar about the airport in Budapest. I am not sure if this was a newer part of the airport or had been remodeled since the last time I was in the airport 17 years ago. We walked to baggage claim and waited with a sea of people coming from different European destinations to collect our bags from the two carousels. We waited about 30 minutes.

The day before my trip, I had booked a MiniBUD mini-bus to transport us to our hotel. We had used this service many times in our past trips to Hungary. I visited their desk inside the baggage claim and was given two tickets/receipts. One was for that day and the other for the return trip when we flew back to Barcelona. We exited baggage claim and checked in at another desk. We were told to watch a monitor that would inform us when our mini-van was ready. We waited for another 20 minutes. Finally, our number came up, we loaded up and went to the hotel.

I am always amazed at how the outskirts of Budapest have the same feel as other smaller towns and villages I have visited. We saw a lot of political advertisements as we made our way into the city. I would point out different things to my son along the way.

We made it to our hotel around 1:00 pm and were able to get into our room right away. The hotel was very nice and I was delighted with the location. There was a neighborhood park right next to us. The room was very modern and they were able to accommodate our request for two twin beds. The television screen had a welcome message as we got to the room along with some complimentary bottles of water.

Venturing out into the city

After getting settled, we decided to venture out into the city. Our hotel was a block over from a main thoroughfare, Andrassy tér. The Metro 1 (or what I like to call the yellow line) runs underneath that street and we had a subway station nearby. We walked down to Oktogon and found a machine to buy tickets. We bought a 72-hour pass.

My son had mentioned wanting to get lunch. For some reason, I thought there might be some places to eat near Deak tér so we took the subway to that station. But I was wrong so I decided to start walking toward the river knowing we would hit the Vaci. We eventually made our way there and discussed what we wanted to try to get. We thought about fast food but I wanted to get some Hungarian cuisine. Most of the places I knew of were no longer there. But there was a place that I had eaten at on my first trip in 1990 and so I pulled it up on Google Maps.

Detour at the Adidas store

As we were making our way toward the restaurant, I saw an Adidas store. I decided to stop and take a picture and I told my son a story. On my first trip to Budapest in 1990, I was walking down the Vaci with my teammates. There was only one store on the street that had a large crowd lined up outside of it. It was the Adidas store. Adidas was not that big of a brand in the US but I think it was one of the few big brands at the time in Hungary. It just seemed very strange to me at the time.

The crowd I saw in front of the Adidas store in July 1990
The Adidas store in 2024. I am not sure if it is in the same location or not.


We finally made it to the Apostolok Restaurant but it was not what I expected. It looked like a bufe (buffet in English) or casual place. I remember going downstairs to the restaurant when I first visited it. So it might be that the restaurant and bufe are connected somehow but I was not adventurous enough to ask.

But right next to it was a place that advertised authentic Hungarian food. We lingered long enough that we got the attention of one of the waiters who wanted to lure us in. I asked him if they had a specific dish on the menu, Hortobágyi palacsinta. It is a savory meat pancake with a paprika sauce and sour cream on top. These are not as famous as other dishes such as gulyas and paprika chicken but it is one of my favorite dishes and was a specialty of eastern Hungary where my wife and I lived for a year.

When he told me they did, I got lured in. We were hungry and I was not sure where to eat. My son was also interested in trying some Hungarian food. We ordered our food, drank some water, and enjoyed the ambiance of the side street we were on along with the ornate buildings around us.

Lunch turned into a bit of a disappointment. My son had ordered gulyas (pronounced goulash) in a bread bowl. What they brought him looked like pulled pork along with gnocchi noodles. The waiter assured us that this was gulyas but I knew better. Gulyas is a soup. My son said he was fine with it and we were both very hungry.

My Hortobágyi palacsinta was disappointing. It was drowning in sauce and did not taste like I remembered. I was very underwhelmed with the food. Then came the big surprise. My son’s dish was about two times the cost of mine and much more expensive than what he had ordered. I did not think about it much at the time. We were also charged for the bread they put on the table, which is something that I had forgotten.

The bill was much more expensive than I would have thought. In my past trips, food was much less expensive in Hungary. But this meal was about $50. It wasn’t until later reflection that I realized we had been duped and I think they pulled a bait and switch giving us a more expensive entree with my son. I felt a bit foolish that I had fallen for a tourist trap. After reading some reviews later, I realized I am not the only one.

Culture shock

At this point in the day, I think I was experiencing a bit of culture shock. Not so much the normal shock of being in a different culture with different ways of doing things but more of a shock that Budapest did not feel very familiar to me. A lot had changed in the city and except for my ride on the subway, very little felt familiar to me. Some things had not changed. The Anna Cafe was still on the Vaci next to the Burger King that we used to frequent when visiting the city. And then being duped at lunch had left a bad taste in my mouth.

Hungarian National Museum

After our disappointing lunch experience, we headed off to the Hungarian National Museum. I had enjoyed my trips to the museum in the past and thought it would be a good place for my son to learn a bit about this country.

The Hungarian National Museum

Unfortunately, I had a disappointing experience there as well. First, they had about half of the exhibitions closed off for a fashion show. That part of the museum houses artifacts from early Hungarian history including a throne elaborately carved in wood. And when we toured the second half of Hungarian history, we had to go backward from the most recent. It confused my son a bit and was a bit disorienting to me. I was also uncomfortable because it was very warm in the museum.

I was a bit disheartened as we exited the museum. I had two disappointing experiences. We decided to walk around the gardens of the museum and sat on a park bench. My son got out his camera and took some pictures and my mood started to change.

In all fairness, I don’t think I was in the mood to engage in all the information that make a history museum experience enjoyable. I think I was more in the mood to walk around and enjoy the city.

Change of the tide

Walking around the streets of Budapest helped change my mood. My son was enjoying all of the different architecture and ornate buildings. We walked to the Jewish Synagogue, which is the largest in Europe. We enjoyed walking around and taking some pictures. I also told him some more stories from my previous trips. We also talked about the sad reality of history that this synagogue and the Holocaust memorial bring to reality.

The Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial. Each metal leaf is engraved with the name of a victim.

Walking by the Danube

The highlight of the day was taking Ryan down to the Danube. This is my favorite part of the city. We walked from around Vigado tér to Lánchíd (Chain Bridge). That is one of my favorite stretches along the Pest side. I stopped and took a picture of the Little Princess and sent it to my oldest daughter. I had taken a picture with my daughter by the statue in 2005. It was a fun way to include her in the day.

Little princess in 2024
Little princess with my little princess from 2005

Walking across Lánchíd

The Chain Bridge is my favorite bridge. It is the first bridge in Europe that I walked across. And it represents Hungary to me. We enjoyed walking across the bridge and taking pictures of the bridge but also taking pictures of the other beautiful buildings along the river like Buda Castle, the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, and the Parliament building to the north. It was so much fun to share that experience with my son because it is my favorite bridge.

After crossing the Danube on the Chain Bridge, we took a tram down to Batthany tér to catch the subway back to our hotel. But before getting on the subway, we stopped to enjoy the view of the Hungarian Parliament building.

The park

After coming back from our afternoon of sightseeing, we stopped and enjoyed sitting in the neighborhood park next to our hotel. I enjoyed people watching and reviewing the photos I had taken. There were adults having conversations on the park benches. There were boys shooting hoops and teenagers playing table tennis. I could also hear younger kids playing on a playground that was visually shielded by some small trees. I just sat there and soaked up the sights, sounds, and smells around me. I was glad to be back in Hungary.

We opted to do a lighter and cheaper dinner by grabbing some things from the grocery down the street. I enjoyed the experience because it reminded me of living in Hungary in the past. I bought some zsemle rolls and some soft cheese spread. Zsemle are hard on the outside and soft on the inside. It is one of the things I miss about Hungary every time I leave.


I ate these rolls almost every morning for breakfast the first summer I spent in Hungary. They are good with butter, honey, and sweet green peppers. It is one of those things that embodies my Hungarian experience.

Budapest at night

I wanted to take my son back down to the river to experience Budapest at night. All of the landmarks are lit up and it is a beautiful sight. Before we went to the river, we first went to Heroe’s Square. We were so close on the subway line and then we rode the subway back the other way to Vörösmarty tér. We walked to the river and enjoyed the lights.

We walked from the river to St. Stephens Cathedral. I had never seen it lit up at night and I thought it would make a good ending to our evening adventure.

We came back to the hotel and watched the end of a NBA playoff game between Oklahoma City and New Orleans with Hungarian commentary. I also enjoyed reviewing photos from the day and chatting with my wife on WhatsApp.


A lot has changed in Budapest since I was last here. After a disappointing start to the day, I started to encounter more familiar things that helped me feel more at home. A lot of familiar sights, sounds, and smells that brought me back to the Hungary I know and love.

I enjoyed the simple pleasure of walking down the street, enjoying the beautiful buildings, watching the Hungarian people interact, and enjoying simple things that reminded me of the times that I have lived here in the past. I enjoyed riding the subway and hearing the familiar announcements that I don’t understand but are etched in my memory. I was also surprised to hear some announcements in English. That was a change.

Sounds of Budapest subway

I loved being able to share the city with my son. It was a joy to hear him say that he thought Budapest is one of his favorite cities that he had visited this past five months. He liked the ornate buildings, the wide open spaces, and the feel of the city. I am glad he was able to connect with a city I love so much. I enjoyed being able to share stories with him throughout the day and I think he enjoyed being able to connect with me through them.

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1 Comment

  1. Katy Bridgforth

    May 8th, 2024

    Getting to live vicariously through you on this trip was the best part of my week. You didn’t know it, but getting that photo of the little princess statue was probably the best part of a very tiring day at a new job. Looking forward to more reflections from your trip!

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