Over the past couple of months, The Budapest Times has shown you how to discover Budapest by various forms of transportation – metro, tram, bus, even chairlift. With the summer season upon us, this week we look at some of your many options to Discover Budapest by Boat.
One of the most alluring attractions in all of Budapest is the Danube River itself; yes, it’s the mighty river that lends its name to one of the city’s enduring monikers – “The Pearl of the Danube”.
Europe’s second-longest waterway winds itself through the heart of the city, dividing Buda from Pest, and offers Budapesters and guests of the city some of the most scenic scenery on the European continent.
Whether you’re viewing bustling Pest from Gellért Hill, Fisherman’s Bastion or the Buda hills, or whether you’re taking in historic Pest along the Danube Promenade, Tram #2 or even the city’s iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge, the reflections of the cityscape off the Danube’s blue waters are enough to melt even the most experienced photographer’s heart.
In fact, even UNESCO recognised the value of Budapest’s panorama by adding it to their World Cultural Heritage List way back in 1987. You’ll be able to catch the entire panorama – from the Széchenyi Chain Bridge all the way to the Technical University – from any of our three tours.
Rolling down the river: Ever felt like just driving your car into the river? Well now you can – Budapest offers the Riverride waterbus – one of Europe’s first aquatic coaches – for anyone who’s ever felt like their boat should be able to drive on land. Or their bus should float.
We’ve even themed our tours to try to match anyone’s interests – from doting lovebirds looking for a little magic on the water, to those who prefer a dance and an adult beverage or two during their time off, to those more interested in the historical and cultural heritage of the city.
No matter what you’re interested in seeing on the water here in Budapest, The Budapest Times has you covered.
Tour #1: The Romance Tour
There is something extraordinary – even deliriously romantic – about being on the water. So what better place to take your special someone than on a sojourn along “The Pearl of the Danube”? There are plenty of different packages to spend an unforgettable evening with your unforgettable other.
Maybe the most popular are the “Dinner and a Show” packages that feature performances by renowned Hungarian folk dance ensembles and world-class orchestra musicians paired with exclusive dinners featuring fine Hungarian cuisine prepared by some of the top chefs in the nation.
You can either stay on ground to see the show – allowing you more time to enjoy the city’s scenery as it passes by while on the cruise – or you can catch a performance right on the ship.
Tours typically last about 90 minutes, although some go for 2.5 hours, and cost EUR 30-50. Some shows even include a special candlelit dinner option.
If you’re looking for an alternative that is just as romantic, but a little easier on your wallet, most tours offer a drinks-only option. In this case, why not pair your cruise with a late-afternoon picnic on the relaxing, garden-filled Margaret Island?
Many ships offer service to-and-from the island, or you can get there on foot by Tram #4 or #6 (See our article on Seeing Budapest by Trams #4 and #6). You’ll need at least a few hours to discover the island’s romantic walkways. You may want to stroll through the island’s Japanese garden and small zoo, but we recommend checking out the views of the city from the UNESCO-recognised water tower.
You’ll also not want to miss the Zenélő Szökőkút, or Musical Fountain. Also recognised by UNESCO, the fountain’s jets are timed so as to dance to the lights and classical music that accompany the show.
Save your $$$: While the cuisine offered on many of the cruises is top-notch, it also tends to be on the pricey side. Why not combine your cruise with a romantic Hungarian picnic on Margaret Island and forego the meal option to save yourself a few euros?
Of course, if you are looking to relax after a mellow afternoon with your love, then maybe a wine-tasting tour is just right for you. While most tours offer this possibility, we recommend a more intimate semi-private tour of six to 10 individuals.
It is not only a calming way to see the city but you’ll be able to learn about different Hungarian wine-growing regions at the same time. A 1.5-hour tour should cost about EUR 65, which includes a sampling of several different Hungarian wines.
If you’re looking to treat your significant other to a more exclusive experience, then a private limousine service is the way to go. You just can’t go wrong with the elegant mahogany exterior and luxurious interior, closed indoor cabin and outdoor patio area, and a fully-stocked fridge and bar. The two-person crew of captain and chauffeur speak both English and German and will cater to you and your special someone’s every need.
Finally, as Budapest is known for its thermal spas, it is worth considering adding a romantic spa package onto your tour. Many companies will offer special cruise rates if you include a spa package with romantic perks such as chilled champagne, fruit plates and private massages. An elegant way to spend the day in one of Europe’s most romantic cities!
Now that’s relaxing! A cruise down the Danube is a relaxing way to end a romantic day. Many tour companies will give significant discounts on cruises if you buy a package day that includes the thermal spa, massages and other romantic goodies.
Tour #2: The Party Tour
No matter whether you’re in town for a bachelor or bachelorette party (stag or hen do), a quick drink-up on your tour through Europe or just a thirsty local looking for a unique party spot in Budapest, then the “Booze Cruise” is just what you’re looking for.
There are all kinds of party tours: from dance parties where you can dance ‘til you drop with locals, to wine tours where you can sip shiraz or chardonnay with your crew, to private parties featuring VIP treatment or adult entertainment, you can be sure that Budapest has you covered.
Need for speed: If you’re looking for something a bit more adrenalin-charged than a meandering float down the river, why not rent a speedboat? For EUR 325, you and six of your best friends (and one English-speaking tour guide) can race back and forth around the Danube like it’s your own personal river track!
Among the most popular, of course, is the traditional “Party Cruise”. Your EUR 12 ticket will get you aboard a rocking 90-minute tour that includes one drink token (and, of course, the possibility to purchase more).
The “Party Cruise” offers all of your standard party fare – full bar, people, lights, music and dancing – all while you cruise along one of the most beautiful night-time skylines in Europe. Best of all – you can join your fellow merrymakers as they head to the city’s coolest clubs after the tour is over.
Variations of this theme are the so-called “Cocktail Tours”, which offer guests a nice afternoon or early-evening cruise down the Danube with several drink tokens included in the price of the tour.
Of course, there are more adventurous ways to tour the Danube. In fact, the city has a well-earned reputation as being one of the most popular bachelor and bachelorette locales in Europe.
If you’re looking at getting a bit rowdier, or just prefer the company of your own crowd, you can always rent a personal aqua-limousine. The ultra-luxurious boat comes with a fully stocked bar and personal butler.
Some companies have gone even further and directly tailored their services to the bachelor/bachelorette crowds. With cruises that last anywhere from one to 12 hours, these companies will arrange for a full array of wild party services, including topless bartenders, strip shows and even erotic buffets.
Now there’s a tour that goes all-out to ensure that you have a night never to forget – right down to the “cherry on top”.
Fireworks: August 20 is the biggest national holiday in Hungary. Called St. Stephen’s Day, it recognises the foundation of the Hungarian state. There are plenty of festivities throughout the day but the fireworks are a real treat. There’s no better place to watch them than right on the Danube. Locals know this too – so be sure to book your tickets early.
Tour #3: The Cultural Tour
There really is no better way to see Budapest than by river cruise and it’s also a great way to get your bearings in the city. The river takes you past many of the city’s most famous and popular sites.
Most tours start in the city centre near the Hungarian Parliament building, directly across from Budapest’s famed Castle District that includes the statuesque Matthias Church, the imposing Buda Castle and the regal Fisherman’s Bastion. From here you’ll be able to see the famed Széchenyi Chain Bridge as well as the summer hangout of Margaret Island.
The cruise will then take you downriver towards Gellért Hill and its Citadella. You’ll continue upstream past several universities and beneath many of the city’s bridges to the National Theatre and the Palace of Arts, before returning to either the Central Market Hall or back to the Parliament.
For those who are interested in learning about the sites as they go along – either as a primer before you visit the destinations yourself or in case you didn’t have time to see them all – perhaps the finest way to get to know more about the city’s rich history and culture is by hopping aboard the Danube Legend Tour.
Low on $$$?: If you’ve already spent most of your budget on other sites around the city and are still hoping to go for a cruise on the Pearl of the Danube, catch the BKV riverboat from Boráros tér, Petőfi tér or Bathhyány tér. If you’ve already purchased a metro pass on one of our other tours, this will get you on the boat for free. If not, the price is minimal for a one-way ride.
This cool tour forgoes the need for a tour guide by having televisions on board that recite the history and interesting stories behind the sites as you pass by. Sit back, relax with a beverage and learn about the royal heritage of the city, its legends and treasures, and its heroes and historical figures in any one of 30 languages.
Tickets cost about EUR 18 and include one free drink token.
Of course, you could always hop on the Hop On, Hop Off Tour boat, which also picks up passengers near the Parliament building. This tour features English- and German-speaking guides and is the aquatic sister to the omnipresent bus tour of the same name.
It’s a great way to include the city’s popular land-based attractions. Either hop right on the bus and pay the EUR 20 to see the city’s landlocked sites, or grab any one of The Budapest Times’ “See Budapest by Public Transport” tour guides to get there on your own at a fraction of the cost.
Better yet – maybe begin your tour of the city with one of our guides and finish with a pleasant float along the “Pearl of the Danube”. What a wonderful and relaxing way to finish your day of sightseeing.