Budapest – an Insider's View
To go beyond the usual touristic experience, you'll need someone to hold your hand, naturally. The team of Imagine Budapest offer locals and visitors unusual historical tours through Budapest's less well-known parts to explore hidden treasures, while sharing legends and information that are not to be found in guide books. They will show their guests the complexity and colours of the capital by evoking the spirit of its past, through tours based on different themes, such as Secret gardens and squares downtown or Crime and history in the Buda Castle. As their philosophy says: You can only understand a place if you become part of it – if only for a few hours. One of the most important for a city built on water is 2-hour Budapest – the City of Waters tour along the Buda embankment of the Danube, where you'll see some of the fabulous domed Turkish baths, taste several kinds of local mineral water, listen to facts and legends about the Danube, as well as stories of miraculous recoveries, turn-of-the-century drinking cures, donkey-drawn water carts, and filthy fish markets. Eventually, you can try the rejuvenating thermal waters of a genuinely ‘retro' drinking hall.
Budapest Underguide is another option for those who wish to explore Budapest in another way and from another point of view. With them you can do as Budapesters do but in your lifestyle, rhythm and mood, discover the gastronomic, wellness and 'partying' culture of Hungarian inhabitants with the tour Budapest go local! If you are a gourmet, you shouldn't miss Budapest Delicatessen Tour which will surely be a memorable culinary experience, just as the Retro Budapest Tour.
Another local enterprise specialising on thematic tours: Beyond Budapest Sightseeing. They offer hand-on and personal 2-3 hour long walking tours with a strong focus on the 8th district. Luxurious palaces and time-worn backstreets of crumbling buildings – this district is one of many contradictions, and each tour focuses on a different face. The Budapest Palace Quarter Tour provides the opportunity to get a feel of the long gone world of the Hungarian aristocracy. The walk through the splendid buildings of the area complemented by stories and tales makes history come alive. The Juice of the 8th District tour takes you to hidden spots of Jewish Budapest with a strong emphasis on the special architectural heritage of the area and some gossip from the past. Beyond Budapest Sightseeing was recommended by the New York Times and was identified as ‘Good Practice' by the European Commission.
Unique Budapest will start their unique walking tours on request: we have the chance to have a look at the wonderful Classicist, Eclectic and Art Nouveau mansions, villas and schools of the aristocracy and upper middle class of the turn of the century of Budapest, for instance. Or if you didn't know that Hungary had a flourishing perfume industry at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, or about the fact that the first department store built in Budapest had an ice-skating rink on top, go for the Unique Deluxe tour. And we haven't mentioned yet the cycling tour in the city or the kayak tour on the Danube, among many others…
The guys at Budapest Scenes will be the perfect guides if we wish to go underneath. Visiting bunkers and air-raid shelters – saving thousand of lives during WW2 – will be a memorable experience with their guidance, simirarly to the adventure of exploring the largest tunnel system of Budapest, which used to be part of a brewery a few decades ago and which is now deserted… But we can also try their tour The 1956 Revolution bringing us back to a stormy period of Hungarian history.
Here is another great idea: a fascinating downtown walk organised by BUPAP showing us how the last century changed Budapest and still influences the present. There will be a visit to the city's only church built in Fascist style, then the group passes by the secret bunker of the most feared communist leader, learn how a dollar shop operated during state socialism and discover why the last Soviet Monument of Budapest is behind fences and guarded by the police.
If you'd like to take your holiday photography to the next level go for the Cityrama's Photography Tour. Discover the city through the lens, see old pics of Budapest and try to make new ones, with help of a local photographer who knows all the hidden spots. Are you into the retro-feel? Join the Dinner Behind the Iron Curtain Tour. Jump into a Trabant, enjoy a dinner in an apartment furnished in the style of the ‘70s and learn everything about the every-day life behind the iron curtain.
If you have checked all the tours listed above: here are some more tips! Absolute Walking Tours recommended by Lonely Planet (what about a Hammer Sickle Tour to discover hidden and forgotten gems of the communist era?) is a perfect choice, just as The Grand Ecseri Flea Market Tour hosted by the people at Fungarian. The team also does a tour called HUNTgarian, which is a treasure hunt team building for smaller and larger groups, an exploration of the city using clues to solve a list if diverse challenges. Last but not at least here comes Artur, which is the Hungarian Contemporary Architecture Center offering marvellous architectural walks and bikerides. If you are interested in urbanism, let us recommend you their Rehabilitation Walk leading through two historical suburbs, Ferencváros and Józsefváros, two formerly ill-famed parts of the city which have drastically changed but preserve a hint of their bygone atmosphere. One of the points to visit, the Kesztyűgyár (Glove factory) is an example for the efforts made to revive the community: the old industrial building, turned into a center for culture, is run by the designer architect himself.
Direct links to sevaral of these services can be found in this article on sightseeing tour firms.