Sitting at the foot of the Pilis Hill on the Danube, the village of Szentendre is an ideal excursion for those staying in Budapest. A day-long Szentendre tour is the best way to get a feel for a village renowned for its well-preserved buildings and numerous galleries and museums. A hugely popular destination during the summer months, it’s during winter, when the nights draw in and the scent of cinnamon hangs in the air, that Szentendre really comes into its own. From the Marzipan Museum to the Szentendre Christmas Market, this is the essential itinerary for day trippers looking for a little old world charm to go with their mug of forralt bor.
Begin your Szentendre tour by taking the HEV train from Batthyany ter. Trains are frequent and take approximately 40 minutes. Don’t forget to purchase a Szentendre ticket as it’s beyond the Budapest zone – meaning travel cards won’t cut it. Alternatively, buses from Budapest to Szentendre leave from the Újpest-Városkapu metro station and take 30 minutes, or you can follow Route 11 if you’re going by car. The walk from Szentendre station into the centre of town takes five minutes.
Despite its small size, Szentendre is home to a number of specialist museums, meaning you’ll find plenty to entertain the most curious of minds. Begin with the Szabó-Samos Marzipan Museum, where intricate models ranging from Hungarian historical figures to the cast of Sesame Street are rendered in the traditional confectionary. With your taste buds suitably stimulated, head to the café next door to sample some for yourself. Equally intriguing is the Mikro Csodak Museum, a small museum hidden away on one of the many narrow cobbled streets. It’s not just the museum that’s bijou: the space contains a collection of microscopic artworks – including a chessboard on the head of a needle – by Ukrainian artist Mikola Szjadrisztij.
With numerous small galleries cropping up on every street corner, it makes sense that Szentendre offers two excellent opportunities to explore the country’s art history. Firstly, the Margit Kovacs Ceramic Museum explores the work of one of Szentendre’s most famous former residents. Kovacs’ striking work in pottery frequently explores biblical themes, mortality and family life while referencing Hungary’s folk art tradition. The collection, housed in a baroque merchant house, offers an engaging overview of her career. A bit further from the town centre, the Ferenczy Museum focuses on the work of Hungarian post-impressionist Károly Ferenczy, best known for being part of the Nagybánya School of Painting.
The volume of visitors to Szentendre has meant that there’s no shortage of souvenir shops lining the cobbled streets. With many of these selling traditional Hungarian products such as leather goods and wooden ornaments cheaper than in Budapest, it’s worth indulging in some quality retail therapy. The excellent Blue Land Folklor shop is an excellent choice for those looking to spend their forints on folk art and traditional Hungarian handicrafts, but for edible treats, the Marzipan Museum’s adjoining shop does an excellent line in gift-friendly confections.
No tour of Szentendre would be complete without a stroll around the Advent Market. Each year the village comes alive with the scent of cinnamon and gingerbread as row upon row of stalls sets up shop on the main thoroughfare. Considering the modest size of the city, this market punches well above its weight; joining the vendors selling traditional gifts, including glass and wood Christmas decorations, is a programme of events taking in craft workshops, wine tasting and Christmas concerts. All washed down with a warming mug of mulled wine – or forralt bor, as it’s called here. What better way to finish your Szentendre tour and fortify yourself for the journey home.