If you’re already in Budapest and at least a little bit interested in wine, I recommend that you take the two-and-a-half-hour trip and discover Tokaj first-hand. Hungary’s most famous wine region and a Unesco World Heritage Site, Tokaj consists of hundreds of wineries that are scattered throughout the 27 villages that dot the area. For centuries, these medieval villages and picturesque rolling vineyards supplied emperors, kings, and presidents with precious wines. Following a decline in the communist era, Tokaj is now springing back to life, fueled by an ambitious generation of winemakers.
Unlike other historic wine regions, Tokaj is at present largely tourist-free and highly accessible. Use this guide, based on my multiple extended visits and dozens of interviews with experts and winemakers, to optimize your Tokaj trip or simply to learn about Tokaj's wines.
Learn about the wines
What kind of grapes grow in Tokaj? Why are Tokaj's sweet wines famous? Does Tokaj also make dry wines? What’s the best way to reach Tokaj from Budapest? Start your immersion into Tokaj by reading answers to questions people most commonly ask.
The most important: visiting wineries
You should plan your Tokaj trip around winery visits and tastings. Some wineries offer a chance to go inside their labyrinthine medieval wine cellars. At others, the head winemakers themselves run the tastings — personally, I most enjoy wines when I can attach a face to the label. A little advance planning will go a long way.
If you need a break from wines: activities
Although wine is the heart of the region, there are also other things to do: hiking up to a scenic lookout point; walking around Tokaj’s old city; going inside the medieval churches that anchor many villages; and visiting the dazzling Baroque synagogue in the village of Mád.
The best restaurants
Tokaj's restaurant scene has a way to go, but these six places will not leave you disappointed. They feature everything from homestyle traditional Hungarian fare to freshly fried whole catfish with hand-cut potatoes. The wines, naturally, come from local producers.
The most memorable hotels
Each of Tokaj’s most visited villages (Mád, Tarcal, Tállya, Erdőbénye) has a couple of low-priced bed-and-breakfasts, but there are also a few elegant accommodations including a Baroque estate that’s been transformed into a boutique hotel. See if any strike your fancy.