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May 11, 2022
Budapest, Hungary: Extended Excursions

Andrássy Avenue, the “Champs-Élysées” of Budapest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Viking guests have the option to add a pre-cruise or post-cruise extension to their adventure. During our stay in Budapest, we have been able to join a few of Viking’s additional excursions. Here’s what we’ve been up to for the past few days.

Jewells of Andrássy

Budapest has several UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One is Castle Hill on the Buda side, where we are staying. Another is Andrássy út (Andrássy Avenue) on the Pest side, Budapest’s most famous street. It is often compared to Paris’s Champs-Élysées, for both its historical buildings and its world-class shopping.

Viking offers a combination bus ride, Metro ride and walking tour of this cosmopolitan street. We visited St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest’s largest Roman Catholic Church. We visited the Hungarian State Opera House, considered the finest European Opera House besides the one in Vienna. We got to ride the Millennium Underground Railway, the very first subway in Continental Europe (built in 1896, just after London’s Underground). We even got to stop in one of Andrássy’s famous coffee houses, where we enjoyed a Hungarian dessert that can only be described as “decadent.”

Outside St. Stephen’s Basilica

Inside St. Stephen’s Basilica (there was a wedding that day)

Outside the Hungarian State Opera House

Inside the Hungarian State Opera House

The royal box of the Opera House is in the center

Time for a snack! We were each allowed to pick any one item from the café display.

Szentendre & Skanzen

A Viking tour bus drove us outside of Budapest to the suburbs in the countryside. Our first stop was Skanzen, an open-air museum (“Skanzen” is a Swedish word for this type of museum). Traditional Hungarian houses from the 18th to 20th centuries have been relocated here in a reconstruction of historic settlement life. There is even a zoo, with native Hungarian animals.

At the Pub of Járokszállás, we learned how to cook traditional Gulyás soup, then enjoyed the real thing at a sit-down lunch.

In the afternoon, we visited the Baroque town of Szentendre (“Saint Andrew’s”). Walking through this colorful and festive town, we felt like we had been dropped into a fantasyland. The streets are filled with art galleries, quaint museums, cafes and shopping. If you want to do some serious shopping, this is the place to be. We must confess we made a healthy contribution to the Hungarian economy here.

Skanzen Open Air Museum

Skanzen’s zoo features the rare Racka sheep, whose spiral horns are unlike any other domestic sheep

Szentendre: a paradise for shoppers, snackers and people watchers

Highlights of Budapest

Having seen much of the Buda side on day trips from our hotel, it was nice to enjoy Viking’s comprehensive excursion on the Pest side of the Danube River. We started with a guided tour of the Hungarian Parliament Building, the largest building in Hungary and home to the Hungarian royal crown. We walked through several historic squares, including Kossuth Lajos tér and Szabadság tér (Liberty Square).

We saw numerous historic memorials and monuments which we previously wrote about. And our excursion ended at a restaurant where we enjoyed a lunch of goulash soup and Hungarian strudel.

When you see the Parliament Building from the Danube River, you are actually looking at the back of the building. Here is the front.

Inside the Parliament Building

Time for a snack! This folk restaurant houses an entire indoor museum with displays of old Hungarian domestic life.

Gödöllő Excursion

This was another chance to venture outside of Budapest. Gödöllő was the Hungarian Royal Palace during the 18th and 19th centuries. (Gödöllő is pronounced “guh-duh-luhh.”) It was the summer retreat of Emperor Franz Joseph, and the favorite residence of his wife, Empress Elizabeth.

The story of Elizabeth, also known as “Sisi,” is legendary. She was the “Princess Di” of her day: she married for love, became disenchanted with the shackles of royal life, went through depression, and ultimately died before her time. She is still adored by Hungarians for her love of their country.

Once again, our Viking guided tour was followed by a sit-down snack of coffee and cake. This time it was Hungarian dobos torta, a chocolate buttercream sponge cake topped with caramel (and named after its inventor).

Outside Gödöllő Palace

During the Soviet occupation, this beautiful palace was converted to military barracks and an old people’s home. It has only been restored since 1994. Here is an unrenovated section that is still as the Soviets left it.

Inside Gödöllő Palace

Empress “Sisi” is beloved by Hungary. Here she is at 16 years old, when she was engaged to 22-year-old Emperor Franz Joseph.

Sisi’s continued popularity is evident from this display in the souvenir shop

Time for a snack! This is dobos torta… and a good place to end this blog post.

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