9 Things To Do In Tokaj Besides Wine Tasting

Winery visits should be on the top of your agenda, but there are fun things to do in Tokaj even if you aren’t an oenophile.

Use this map to find all places mentioned in the article below.


#1 - Hike up to the Christ statue on the Tarcal hilltop (Tarcal; Kikelet winery: [email protected])

After a 25-minute uphill climb, sweeping views of the wine region await you with the expansive Hungarian Plain as the backdrop. There’s a quarry lake in the side of the hill, proving that not only wineries but also mines value the mineral-rich soil of Tokaj (observe the cross-sectional view of volcanic layers). The trail sets off and terminates by Kikelet winery, one of the best in Tokaj, so you can combine the hike with a tasting.


#2 - Spend a few hours in Sárospatak (all locations)

Today a sleepy little town near the Slovakian border, Sárospatak was a thriving city under the dominion of the Rákóczi dynasty in the 16-17th centuries. It was dubbed the “Athens by the Bodrog River“ thanks to the renowned prep school — Sárospatak Reformed College — founded here in 1531 (it's still among the best in Hungary). The school has a lavish library and they provide short English-language tours for foreign visitors between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day (until noon on Sundays).

Sárospatak's medieval castle — showing Gothic, Renaissance, and Romantic elements — is a piece of architectural history. The permanent exhibit of the Rákóczi Museum, inside the castle, is heavy on Hungarian history so it may not be for everyone.

Save your appetite for Vár Vendéglő, an old-school Hungarian restaurant with excellent traditional fare. If you also have time to visit a true garage winery, drop in to Tamás Vincze (+3620 511 8942), a talented young winemaker.


#3 - Spend a few hours in the city of Tokaj (all locations)

Despite what many people think, the city of Tokaj isn't as known for its wines as for its strategic position near the Tisza river. Historically, the Tisza was an important transportation route and it’s because of this favorable location that the whole wine region was named after Tokaj. Today, the town feels a little deserted and run-down, but the old city is worth spending a few hours in.

Start where the Bodrog and Tisza rivers meet, an arresting view from the bridge over them. The World Heritage Wine Museum features a modern exhibit about Tokaj’s wines, including barrel-making, grape varieties, and food pairings. As a testament to the town’s once-diverse population, there are five places of worship — a Roman Catholic, a Calvinist, a Greek and a Russian orthodox church, and an orthodox synagogue — all within a five-minute walk from one another.

You can fuel up on caffeine at Kávé Manufaktúra; for food, try LaBor, a slick modern restaurant also on the main square.


#4 - Visit the synagogue in Mád (Mád; open every day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; +36 30 925 1808)

From the 18th century on, Mád was home to a thriving orthodox Jewish community with many wine merchants. Only a few of them survived the Holocaust, and even they later left Hungary. Recently, the Baroque synagogue of the village was beautifully renovated and can be visited every day of the week. Behind the synagogue is the former yeshiva building, today a visitor’s center. A ten-minute walk from here, perched on the hillside at the end of town, is the Jewish cemetery, also open throughout the week.

Photo: Disznókő

#5 - Take in the architecture of Disznókő winery (Mezőzombor; open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)

AXA Millésimes, the French wine conglomerate and the owner of Disznókő in Tokaj, hired Dezső Ekler, a disciple of the legendary architect Imre Makovecz, to design Disznókő's new winery. The 1993 commission turned out to be a resounding success. There's a timelessness to both the sculptural tractor storage and the three elegantly converging winery buildings. If you go inside, you can also appreciate the postmodern elements and the dramatic wooden roof.

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#6 - Take in the architecture of Ferenc Bán's Tokaj house (Tokaj; observable from the road outside)

Architecture fans will get a kick out of the summer home of Ferenc Bán, a prominent Hungarian architect who hails from Tokaj. The slender steel frames of the white building, which was erected in 2000, were inspired by the industrial structure seen across the street on the river's bank. The two amorphous objects dangling from the cantilevered ceiling are the playing rooms of the grandchildren. Tokaj's old Jewish cemetery flanks the building.


#7 - Go for a hike or a run up to the Szent Tamás vineyard (Mád)

Perched on the hillside of Mád about 25-minutes from the center of town by foot, Szent Tamás is one of the most precious vineyards of Tokaj. A mound of volcanic rocks marks the highest point of the hill. Once up here, take a breather to regain your strength and enjoy the vistas. If you're visiting around harvest time, when the grapes are ripe, feel free to pick a few as you go — no one is going to call the cops on you.


#8 - See the medieval churches of Tokaj (all locations)

Medieval churches anchor many Tokaj villages, including Mád, Bodrogkeresztúr, Olaszliszka, and Bodrogolaszi. On Sunday mornings, services are still held in most of them, although the congregations are rapidly graying and dwindling.

The tombstone of Rebbe Yeshaya Steiner in Bodrogkeresztúr with a pile of wish lists his followers leave for him every year.

#9 - See the tombstone of Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner in Bodrogkeresztúr (all locations; open all day; call +36 20 353 9111 if no one is there to let you in)

Before WWII, the area near Tokaj was a hotbed of various Hasidic movements, led by charismatic rebbes with large followings. After the Holocaust, the survivors fled abroad. Now, every year, thousands of orthodox Jews mainly from the U.S. descend on the town of Bodrogkeresztúr to commemorate the death anniversary of their late leader, Rabbi Yeshaya Steiner, who died there in 1925. (They’re part of the Keristir Hasidic Dynasty, named after the village of Bodrogkeresztúr, and currently live in New York City’s Borough Park neighborhood.) The rebbe's tombstone is literally covered in wish lists that his followers have left there over the years.

My content is free and I never accept money in exchange for coverage. But this also means I have to rely on readers to maintain and grow the website. If you're enjoying this article, please consider supporting Offbeat.