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Hungary

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Cockroaches, stained linens, and maybe flashbacks to the film Hostel might have come to mind when you read this headline. Sometimes, there is such a thing as too cheap, right? What do hotels that offer up rooms at less than $10 per night year round — not just for special promotions — really look like?

It’s easy to brush off hostel-style accommodations as subpar, but many of them have more amenities than you might expect, with nicer lodging options to upgrade to (that still end up being a fraction of the cost of standard hotel rooms). The catch, of course, is that these hotels aren’t smack dab in the tourist-heavy destinations — which could be good or bad, depending on your travel style. Pricing is also heavily location-based; most of these properties are found in Asia, South America, and Africa. And, because the savings tend to attract younger crowds, these lodgings tend to be less quiet.

Still, having to spend less for a hotel room than a McDonald’s lunch for two has an obvious appeal to the savvy spenders among us. Here’s a look at what’s out there at these incredibly low price points.

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Four Seasons Gresham PalaceI have been to Budapest several times and, on each visit, I adore staying at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace. In the off-season (winter, or shoulder season in fall or early spring), rates are quite reasonable relative to other 5-star properties in Paris, London, or New York City. (Think $280-$320 per night, compared with $500+.) The Gresham Palace is, in many ways, in a league of its own when it comes to Budapest’s hotel offerings. In fact, it was just named the number three hotel in the world in Travel + Leisure‘s 2014 World Best Awards. The majestic old-world structure was originally designed to be an insurance company before it became a hotel.

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bregenz festival - seebuhne - austria - 2014 - anja kohler - 620What’s better than getting cultured with a round of opera in Europe? Doing it en plein air. Whether you prefer soaking up some sun during the day or catching the sunset in the cool evening, summertime brings a boon of theater and music festivals all over the region. Here, four open-air celebrations worth battling the crowds and heat.

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Paris and London are dazzling places to visit, but these popular European cities can drain a bank account as assuredly as they can entertain. If you’re willing to travel a bit further afield, and step away from the comfort of the dollar-like Euro, a more affordable Europe still exists – in Budapest. This city teems with attractions and culture, and at a fraction of the cost of its more populous European sisters. Here’s a peek into what you can see and do in this Eastern European mainstay, and for very little money.

1_Budapest_CathedralVisit the cathedral: Budapest’s largest church is free to visit and offers opulent interiors, as well as an eye-popping relic: the withered hand of the church’s namesake, St. Stephen, inside a gold box. You’ll need to pay a small donation to light it up so it’s visible, but for the photo op, it’s worth it. You can also climb the dome for views of the city for about $2.

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Flickr/Adam Jones, Ph.D.Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus suddenly have a new reason to be at the top of travelers’ bucket lists – especially those with an interest in Jewish historical sites. Earlier this month, it was announced that a new EU-funded project will create a virtual passage through 60 Jewish towns along the Poland-Ukraine and Poland-Belarus borders that existed before World War II. Dubbed the “Shtetl Route,” visitors will be able to make use of guidebooks, dedicated tour guides, and an interactive website starting in 2015. Until then, here are a few important Jewish historical sites worth checking out… Read more

New York City flipped over the cronut – a sweet cross between a croissant and a donut created by pastry chef Dominique Ansel.  But the Big Apple isn’t the only city that that has a signature sweet. (Or a series of signature sweets ; we remember when people in New York waited around the block for cupcakes, too.) Here’s a look at some other tasty treats that are satiating sweet tooths around the world.

1. Australia
Flickr/Reuben Hills Ice Cream SandwichWhen looking for an unusual brunch treat in Sydney, try the Dogg’s Breakfast at Reuben Hills in Darlinghurst. This hand-crafted ice-cream sandwich is served with salted caramel sauce. (The whole Reuben Hills menu follows suit, with some salty language.)

If you’re looking for a more traditional Australian treat, keep an eye out for lamingtons.  The spongy yellow cake covered in coconut and chocolate is available at most bakeries and cafes.

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New Train Routes to TehranIran doesn’t have the best reputation for welcoming foreign tourists, yet signs point to that changing – slowly. From 2004 to 2010 tourism to the country grew by 12.7 percent, and while most of these visits were for reasons of religious pilgrimage, a good number made the trip to see Iran’s ancient sites, to hike and ski in the Alborz mountains, and to paraglide (like these unlucky Slovak tourists who have just been released after charges of spying).

The case of the Slovak paragliders suggests that Iran still has a way to go if it wants to shake off foreign travelers’ negative perceptions of its touristic potential, but a brand new private train service may help. Read more

Madeira Lava PoolsIs the summer heat getting to you yet? There’s relief to be found at one of these public pools in Europe. Whether it’s panoramic views of the Mediterranean, or a 295-foot-high bungee jump you’re after, these 10 municipal water parks are guaranteed to add a little excitement to your summer getaway.

1. Lava Pools, Madeira, Portugal

Naturally-occurring volcanic rock has formed a series of tiny, stunningly beautiful pools on the northwestern coast of Madeira in Portugal. These ocean-filled ‘lava pools’ are the main attraction in the village of Porto Moniz, located about an hour north of Madeira’s capital, Funchal. Despite the wild geography, the area around the pools contains tourist-friendly amenities like changing rooms, lockers, showers, a restaurant, and a team of lifeguards. Entrance fee: $2.60. Read more

Great European Train TripsEurostar recently tested service between London and Aix-en-Provence. Later this year, the TGV will begin running a direct service between Paris and Barcelona, and, starting in 2016, a new Deutsche Bahn route through the Channel Tunnel will link London to Amsterdam, Cologne, and Frankfurt. Ditching Europe’s budget airlines in favor of its railways is beginning to look more attractive. Not only is rail travel throughout Europe often as quick as, if not quicker than flying, it also has the bonus of spectacular scenery along the way.

Our favorite European rail journeys are not necessarily the fastest, but they are some of the most memorable.

The Bergen Line: Bergen to Oslo, Norway

Traveling along the 231-mile-long highest mainline railway line in Northern Europe offers you a front row seat for some of Norway’s most spectacular landscapes; think dramatic fjords, lush forests, and crystalline waterfalls. If you have the time, take the branch line that runs from Myrdal to Flåm, a village at the inner end of Aurlansfjord, an arm of Sognefjord, Norway’s biggest fjord. This 12-mile route takes around one hour and climbs more than 2,838 feet making it the steepest standard-gauge railway in Europe. Read more

A Good Day to Die HardConfession: I’ve never watched any of the Die Hard films. It’s understandable as the movies are in no way marketed to me (or my gender, for that matter). Sure, every once in a while I’m as game as any guy is for a high-adrenaline action film, but I’ve never felt compelled to watch them. But, with the newest installment, A Good Day to Die Hard, the allure of having it set in Russia (a place I’m eager to visit), and filmed in Budapest, Hungary (a city I’ve heard amazing things about), makes me think twice about catching the film. Below, three reasons I’m reconsidering skipping the action-packed flick. Read more

Rokusfalvy wineryMany people have heard of Hungary’s Tokaj wine region – famous for its sweet wines – but did you know there are a total of 22 wine regions in the country? For an easy day trip from Budapest, head to Etyek, just over 30 minutes west of the city. Etyek is one of Hungary’s youngest wine regions, with a viniculture that dates back to the 18th century. Originally, Etyek produced sparkling wines, and it wasn’t until the 1980s and 90s that wineries began making the switch to other varieties.

Today there are about 30-35 wineries in Etyek. Many are small operations whose vintages rarely leave the region, let alone wind up exported to the U.S. On my recent trip to Budapest, I visited the Rókusfalvy winery (www.rokusfalvypince.hu). The winery – with just 13.5 acres of vineyards – started as a hobby for its owner in 1999 but expanded production in 2006. The majority of grapes grown are whites, including Chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and pinot gris.

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