As part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Budapest (just as in Vienna) developed a coffeehouse culture where people of like minds met to discuss politics, literature, or music. Each coffeehouse has its own story as to which literary movement or political circles favored their establishment. More than one claims the legend that someone stole the keys to the front door to keep their favorite cafe from ever closing. During the Communist era, these traditions evaporated into history, though a few of the coffeehouses did survive those strained times. With full freedoms returned, some coffeehouses have been restored to their previous glory. Other more modern coffeehouses have sprung up to create a new legacy of java traditions.

All the classic coffeehouses offer a variety of traditional pastries and coffee, with pastries displayed in a glass case. Some also serve ice cream, while others offer bar drinks. As in restaurants, there is no need to rush; no one will push you out the door when you finish your drink or pastry.

Tea -- Tea drinkers are finally being recognized with their own places to sit, relax, and savor a pot of tea of their choosing with a limitless variety of teas available. Just like the coffeehouses, you are welcome to unwind as long as you wish without concern of overstaying your welcome. This is just a sample of teahouses; they are cropping up all over the city.

Our Favorite Sweets

Hungarians love their sweets, as you will discover by all of the pastry shops and bakeries everywhere. There will be some type of confectionery to satisfy everyone. The cakes are much drier than most people are used to and they seem stale at first, but they aren't. Only the pastries with fruit or creams are likely to be moist.

Flódni is a central European layered pastry of apples, poppy seeds, and walnuts only available at Café Noé, Wesselényi u. 13 (tel. 1/321-7145) as far as we know. They also have a selection of diabetic pastries.

Found only in Hungary, Dobos torta is a light chocolate layer cake with a caramelized frosting. Take the topping off before cutting into the cake and then eat the topping separately. Ischler dates back to Viennese times. It is two shortbread cookies with apricot jam filling, sometimes dipped in dark chocolate.

Meggyes rétes (rétes is a strudel) comes with sour cherries and is a traditional favorite as is the Mákos rétes, Alma rétes (apple), or my favorite Szilva rétes (plum) when in season. All of them have flaky pastry and are delicious snacks. The best we have had is from Rétesvar ★★★ at Balta köz 4 in the Castle Hill district.

Somlói galuska is a national treasure in the dessert world.

Kürtoskalács is an interestingly different honey bread. You can watch them wrap the dough around a cylindrical piece of wood shaped like an oversized rolling pin and bake it in an extremely hot oven. It's not available in regular shops or cafes, but readily available at festivals and craft fairs.

If you like cinnamon, Hungarian cinnamon ice cream (fahej) is unbeatable for flavor. And if you come across the rarest of its varieties, cinnamon rice ice cream (fahejes rizs), by all means try it. Rizs alone is also common in the summertime.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.