I took a family trip with my parents, husband and two adult siblings in late April 2015. Based on good Tripadvisor reviews, I decided to book the Trabant (3 hours) and Danube Bend (8+ hours) tours with My Personal Budapest. The tour company was very accommodating, explaining that our group would have to be split into two cars (the vintage cars in which we would be travelling understandably cannot hold many people) and that a radio connecting both cars would ensure that everyone would be able to hear the guide. In most cases, you would be picked up at your door but because we stayed in such a central area with a busy, narrow road and no parking in front of the building, our guide, Balázs parked very close to where we stayed and we walked about 2-3 minutes to the waiting cars. This wasn't a problem at all, as it was ridiculously close, the weather was glorious and the walk took us by St Stephen's Basilica, which was just behind our accommodation.
Balázs acted as our guide on both tours and his sheer enthusiasm and attentiveness was commendable. Balázs knowledge of the history and streets of Budapest (and the surrounding countryside) was impressive and he took pains to accommodate our little group's disparate interests and personalities. Whilst my siblings and I are easily accommodated, my mum has a bad hip and cannot walk far; my dad is abrupt and accentric, with a tendency to wander off on his own; and my husband has a short attention span. Balázs periodically checked to see if my mum was okay when we were walking around and kept tabs on everyone to ensure that no one got lost (people wandering off on their own, lagging behind to window shop or visiting restrooms).
The tours were mainly memorable because we had a more personal, tailored introduction to the historic city. Balázs shared some local anecdotes and jokes, told us how locals live, explained Hungarian politics, showed us the neighbourhoods surrounding Budapest and gave us a thorough yet concise run-down of Hungarian/Budapest's history. We also travelled around in beautifully restored and maintained vintage cars - a Trabant and Opel. These drew admiration from many pedestrians and drivers alike and added a different dimension to our experience. It was also clear that Balázs was married to his cars! :)
Although we were mainly driven around during the tours, we also had stops at scenic spots and places of interest, allowing us to take photos and have a closer look at various monuments/buildings/areas. It was perfect for mum especially.
Balázs' dad acted as the second driver and also chipped in with little snippets of information about Budapest etc from time to time. He was a real gem, making hilarious statements and observations as we went along. Case in point - when we pointed out the Liberty Statue and asked about it, he noted that it was the "world's biggest bottle opener". So, not a fan of it, then. He was also a real old-school gentleman, as he made a point of helping all the ladies in and out of the cars and holding the door open for us (my husband would get out of the car and skip off like a lamb in spring, happily oblivious to anyone struggling with bags and heels behind him).
Specific comments on the two different tours are as follows:
1) Trabant Tour
- At 3 hours, it's gives a brief overview of all the main sights and is perfect as a quick way to see the city, if you only have a couple of days.
- I felt that it was a little too short to cover much in a fairly spread-out city with so many sights, like Budapest. As we had 5 days, I would've booked a longer city overview tour if it were an available option. I understand from Balázs that the company is considering the provision of a full day tour of the city, which I feel would be a better option.
- Please note that you will not be entering the museums and cathedrals on this tour, so plan to do this on a different day, after you get the lay of the land from this tour. When we visited St Stephen's Basilica, we paid 200 Forints each to enter the church. We tried to see the mummified hand of King Stephen but it was housed in such a dark corner and the hand is so small that we couldn't see anything. You'll have to pay another 200 Forints to light up the reliquary for 2 minutes. Although this isn't much, we disagreed with the principle of it and just waited 1 minute for someone else to pay the fee (at which point, the group of tourists hanging around the reliquary started furiously snapping away on their cameras - no flash photography, of course).
2) Danube Bend Tour
- Simply amazing views. Highly recommended. Very relaxed trip for people who want to see very charming little towns with interesting architecture and the beautiful outdoors.
- We got to visit Slovakia (very briefly) on this tour and to take some amazing photos. We also visited the largest cathedral in Hungary (Esztergom Basilica) - another breath-taking building; we were spoiled for choice!
- There were sufficient water and restroom stops on both tours, so we never felt uncomfortable for a minute.
- Lunch is not included on this tour but Balázs suggested that we could all have lunch together at a little cafe in Szentendre (a must-see), to try langos, a popular Hungarian fast food. It's a fluffy, deep-fried bread with optional toppings of sour cream and/or cheese and garlic spread. Langos is surprisingly light and not too greasy, my entire family enjoyed it. It was simply delicious, cheap and very filling!
**Note: Although prices are quoted in Euros, this is just done as an easier reference point for tourists. Payment should be made in Forints.
**Note: The vintage cars are a fantastic way to travel but you should know that they are 2-door and small, so it may not be as easy for senior citizens or bigger-sized people to get/fit into them. My family and I are small South-East Asians and my husband is 6 ft 2 inch, of a regular build. My husband was comfortable, sitting in the front passenger seat while my dad and I sat behind. There was just enough space for us, with our various bags and professional cameras. The experience of riding in these cars is incomparable though!
Overall, I would recommend My Personal Budapest and Balázs (and his dad!) in a heartbeat. We got to know Balázs and his dad personally, while enjoying the sights and sounds of Budapest and the countryside. For us, it was the personal touch and human connection that made this entire trip memorable. We will definitely call on My Personal Budapest for future guided tours in Budapest.