8 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.

tarcal-christ-statue

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

After a 25-minute uphill climb, sweeping views await you of the wine region, with the expansive Hungarian Plain as a backdrop. There’s a gorgeous 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.


sarospatak-college-library

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

Today a small, sleepy town near the Slovakian border, Sárospatak was a thriving city under the dominion of the Rákóczi dynasty in the 16-17th centuries. Once dubbed the “Athens by the Bodrog River,“ the prep school of Sárospatak—Sárospatak Reformed College—was founded in 1531, and today, still, it’s among the best in the country. The oldest book inside its lavish library is from the 15th century. Every day, the school provides short English-language tours for foreign visitors between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (until noon on Sundays).

The medieval castle—showing Gothic, Renaissance, and Romantic elements—is a piece of architectural history (the permanent exhibit of the Rákóczi Museum 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 Tomi Vincze, one of the most talented young winemakers of Tokaj.


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

Despite the name, the town of Tokaj is not as known for its wines as it is for its strategic position near the Tisza river, which was historically an important transportation route. It’s this location that led to the whole wine region being named after the city of Tokaj. Today, it can feel 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 varietals, and food pairings. As a testament to the town’s once-diverse population, there are five churches—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.


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#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 had a thriving orthodox Jewish community consisting of many wine merchants. Only a few of them survived the Holocaust, and even those later left Hungary. Recently, the village’s striking Baroque synagogue, dating back to 1795, 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 edge of town, is the Jewish cemetery, which is also open throughout the week.


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Photo: Disznókő

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

After French wine conglomerate, AXA Millésimes, acquired Tokaj's Disznókő in the early 1990s, they tasked Hungarian architect Dezső Ekler to design new facilities for the winery. The commission turned out to be a resounding success. There's a timelessness to both the sculptural tractor storage and the three elegantly converging buildings of the winery. If you go inside, you can also appreciate the variety of building materials Ekler applied.


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

Szent Tamás is regarded as one of, if not the most precious vineyards of Tokaj. It's perched on the hillside of Mád, about 25-minutes from the center of town by foot. Your destination is the highest point of the hill, marked by a mound of volcanic rocks. Once up there, take a breather to regain your strength and enjoy the sweeping views. 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, I promise.


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

Medieval, usually Gothic-style, churches still stand in many Tokaj villages, including Mád, Bodrogkeresztúr, Olaszliszka, and Bodrogolaszi. At various hours on Sunday mornings, they hold Roman Catholic services in most of them, although the congregations are rapidly graying and dwindling.


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#8 - 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 rabbis 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.) His tombstone is literally covered in wish lists that his followers left there over the years.