From the perspective of a local: exploring the Hungarian capital with Budapest Underguide
From the perspective of a local: exploring the Hungarian capital with Budapest UnderguideHow else could we explore a city in a more exciting way, than ignoring the well-known routes advised by guide books? We discussed this topic with a core member of the team of Budapest Underguide, who are famous for...

From the perspective of a local: exploring the Hungarian capital with Budapest Underguide
How else could we explore a city in a more exciting way, than ignoring the well-known routes advised by guide books? We discussed this topic with a core member of the team of Budapest Underguide, who are famous for their ability to bring forth that Wow! effect from everyone.

Already the location of the interview wasn't an ordinary experience: we were chatting above the city, on the roof terrace of a beautuful hotel in Dohány utca. Next to us a rooftop pool, around and under us the city, with the sight of the roof of the Basilica, and the Statue of Liberty in the distance…

                                                        Gellért Baths in a GoLocal! way

„We have chosen this location, because we wanted to make it clear: what we think about tourism, hospitality and travel is absolutely focused around amusement. Any programme organised by us focuses on the criteria that it should be absolutely extraordinary. Our aim is – no matter wether foreign or Hungarian clients – that in the end he or she should say: „Wow, I would have never thought this!" – explains Vilma Magyar, from the beginning one of the core members of the team of Budapest Underguide; founded 10 years ago. The company is organising adventure-based tours in the Hungarian capital.   

What is your opinion about the perfect touristic programme, how do you bring forth the WOW-effect?
A good programme should be personalised, and it should show a special area of the city, which is 100% local, and can not be found anywhere else: neither in Berlin, nor in Rome or in Paris. This roof terrace for example, where we are sitting now, is just one of such places: this building has a story! This is not only a modern tower in the middle of the city, but a building transformed from an old bathhouse, Hungária Fürdő. This building is also a great example of the creative way this city can reuse it's valuable old things, giving them a new wrapping, saving them into everyday life and giving them a new function.

Hotel Aria - not only a great place to stay for opera fans, but also a dog friendly accomodation

And a few years ago exactly this hotel asked us that we should organise them an event telling the story of the building and about the special features of the hotel. We organised a game packed with detectivity tasks during which the hotel guests had to solve riddles. For exmaple, stepping in one of the rooms the TV switched on and a CNN report helped to understand the next task… Or the housemaid helped to find the special towel, needed for the next task. The guests really enjoyed it! People in general like not only detectivity games like this, but the 'out of the box'-type guided city tours too. In the begining we were looking for special hotels with extra features for our detectivity games, but surprisingly they just fit well with classic hotels too.  

So there are hotels with extras in Budapest?
 I would rather say that there are smaller boutique hotels which represent very unique art or design trends. They are sought after by those visitors who are looking for a smaller hotel but with a special atmosphere – either the result of their furnishings and interieurs, or their thematics. One of the great examples of this is Boutique Hotel Zara Budapest, on the terrace of which we are just sitting now, or Aria – the latter also having a wonderful roof terrace and the whole concept being centered around music. Absolutely adorable! They have an own movie theater where we can enjoy music-themed films, or opera broadcasts, but once for example we have organised there a James Bond film premiere for a group of friends coming from Monaco…

Do you also think that Hungary is more than expected – the opinion of many people?
This is mainly a question of marketing that we say: Hungary and Budapest are much more than you would think – and this opinion is absolutely justified. The judgement of Hungary improved a lot in the recent 10 years, and Budapest is becoming more and more trendy. Moreover, it is popular among the members of a young generation who, in the following years, will return to the country.

                                                       Rooftop jacuzzi of Rudas Baths

Ten years ago, when we have launched our enterprise, foreign tourists saw Budapest just as an exotic destination from Eastern Europe. Since then Budapest has developed significantly.

Many foreign tourists who return to the city are shocked. „OMG, is this the same city I saw 10 years ago? Everything was so grey then" – they say. And yes, Budapest looks much-much better, and by our tours (but I'm sure not only by us) the visitors get impressions that make them say: „Wow how cool it is, I would never have thought that!" They see that Hungarians are a clever and innovative nation. This whole trend of ruin pubs for example was created by chance: some young people wanted to open really new-wave bars, but as they saw that it would be extremely expensive to make it really high quality, they decided to preserve these places' original character.

                                               A small pastry café with lots of love

Or there is the example of the escape games: we always communicate that in this form it is a Hungarian invention, it was not something imported from Vienna, but – just like this ruin pub culture – two inventive guys have invented it. There is a room, an exciting story is created, the room is decorated with some vintage stuff, old telehones etc. But the main task is of course that you have to find out the code of the door.  

It came to my mind instantly that as Budapest locals you really know what are the „extras" of the city – what features are a real speciality for the foreign tourists?
Our motto is – and we have launched our enterprise with this motto 10 years ago – that we have to show them the inner, hidden world of the city. We could already see then, that if the visitors take part in something that is personalised according to their interests, personal preferences, than this programme will be much more memorable,than just walking through the city following an umbrella and being told that „And this is the Matthias Church" etc. Of course Matthias Church is wonderful, and we also show it to the tourists. But what makes the programmes really unforgettable is that the visitors can meet someone to share the experiences with, to eat together with in his favourite restaurant and they can get acquainted with some locals.

                                                          City tour with extras

For me it is extremely important that we show them the city from the perspective of a local. It can mean for example that during a city tour we visit a small manufacture producing special artefacts, that a tourist, who is not experiencing the city on a daily basis, couldn't find himself. In Budapest you can find several of these. But it can also be a home restaurant, a jeweller, a fashion designer who is not so well-known yet and is producing exetremely interesting things etc.  

These programmes are not only interesting for individual travellers, we also organise events for companies – for the latter we also get a huge inspiration from the people and the possibilities of the city.

You have mentioned that Budapest is a great destination now so even a tourist can pretend to be local. Do you think that at the same time the city has become more open, more susceptible for the personal needs of the visitors?
Yes, absolutely. Of course the development of the city in the recent 10 years was absolutely crucial to make all these things possible. On one hand it is renewing itself constantly, becoming more beautiful and cleaner. Public spaces and parks are wonderful now, and it's size and characteritics make it absolutely livable. Budapest is living a very exciting period of it, and it is extremely good to be the part of it.

                                                 A special evening in Etyek

On the other hand, it is not only renewing itself physically, but people themselves are changing. In the recent 10 years a whole generation grew up, who have absolute innovative and open minds. I mean that for example you just throw a button and you will surely hit a small new eco-café, or a new gallery. Ruin pubs have created a whole new and lively district, and from rarity these pubs became almost a mass product… Sometimes it is even too much, sometimes what you see in Kazinczy utca is almost like Sziget Festival.

You mainly focus on Budapest, but what about the countryside? Do you sometimes leave the capital?
We cross the boundaries of Budapest mainly when we organise a programme more than one day long. In this case there is the possibility to include much more, e.g. leaving the capital. And that's just what can be a real surprise! For example once we took a tourist to Noszvaj, a small village next to the city of Eger – a foreign tourists himself really rarely finds this place. We took our guest to Kaló Winery, which from the outside just looks like an ordinary house. And suddenly a grandma appeared, basicly from nowhere, saying that she was just baking us rétes (strudel)… Well, even I was shocked, it was such a pleasant surprise! I would love such experiences too if I travelled to Firenze for example.

                                                  Teambuilding in the countryside

We love Etyek too, we have explored a new generation of winemakers there. They offer really quality sevices and they are very open, very honest: this is what can make Etyek a city of festivals again.

Outskirts of Budapest are a tough question: foreign tourists are not really interested in them. Instead, we offer them guides to Szentendre, where we visit local, thematic events.


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