THINGS TO DO & SEE
Located in central Europe, Hungary is bordered by seven countries: Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia.
Apart from its quality wines (red, white and rosé) and Baroque towns, its strategic location on the continent also attracts thousands of tourists to the country.
This city on the Danube is different from the other great capitals of Europe in a pleasant old-fashioned way that fills it with authentic charms. Two thousand years of invasion, liberation, re-occupation, devastation and rebirth, played out over and over again in a cycle of history, have somehow produced this unique culture. Lack of money has prevented that squeaky-clean modernization machine to roll through town, the way it has recently glistened up so many other cities on the continent. As a result, some buildings are run-down, plaster is peeling and roads are bumpy, but the beautiful reward for the intrepid traveler is a genuine city filled with real character.
A wide variety of architectural styles are on display, sometimes combined in the unique Hungarian Eclectic that blends elements of Classical, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau in a single building.
Hungary is slightly larger than Ireland. North to south, the greatest distance is 268km; east to west, its 528km. The landscape consists mostly of plains in the east, low hills to the west, and small mountains to the north. Kékes Mountain (the blue mountain), the country’s highest point, is a modest 1014m. The major rivers are the Danube and the Tisza. Since May, 1st 2004 Hungary is a member of the European Union (EU). The currency is the Forint.
Originally the Magyars came from the Ural mountains and belongs to Finno-Ugric language group. These people swept over the plains to Europe in the ninth and tenth century. Finally they settled in the country they liked the best. During this period there were Slavonic, Hunnish and Avar tribes in the Carpathian Basin. These tribes merged to form the Hungarian nation. When you come to Hungary you can imagine why: the endless puszta plains are everything a horseman and a farmer could wish for. On these plains there are many beautiful cities, the greatest of these is the capital city: Budapest.
Budapest is a beautiful metropolis with a lively nightlife. The city is known as the Paris of Eastern Europe because of its monuments. The main downtown railway station called the Western Station (Nyugati Palyaudvar) was even designed by the renowned Gustave Eiffel who built the tour Eiffel. Budapest is famous for its broad avenues and well-laid parks, and is best explored on foot. The Castle District and the Royal Palace are frequented by travelers almost year round, while the Óbuda area has some Roman ruins and the Kiscelli Museum. A cruise along the Danube is a wonderful option as well, especially if you are in Budapest.
Lake Balaton, situated about 100km from Budapest, is the largest in Europe and has several high-rise hotels and beaches along its shore. The sea is about 77km long and at the widest place about 14km. At his most tall place a ferry moves between Tihany and Szántod. This ferry acts for people and vehicles. An important city lying between the Danube and the Dráva rivers is Pécs, known for the paradoxically named Mosque Church built by the Turks.
Though summer is the main tourist season, Hungary is best visited during spring and autumn when the climate is neither too hot nor too cold. The temperatures in July and August sometimes reach up to 40°C!
In the northwest of Hungary, close to the Slovakian and Austrian borders, Győr (turizmus.gyor.hu) has cobbled pedestrian shopping streets and an attractive baroque city centre. Just an hour and a half by train from Budapest, the city makes for a pleasant day trip from the capital.
En route to Szeged from Budapest, Kecskemét (www.kecskemet.hu) is an attractive town with several museums and a fine selection of Hungarian art nouveau architecture. At the centre of Hungary’s fruit growing region, the town is well known for its many varieties of pálinka (fruit brandy).
Sóstói Open-Air Museum
Get a taste of the rural Hungary of old at the Open-Air Museum (www.muzeumfalu.hu) at Sóstói, a suburb of the city of Nyíregyháza in eastern Hungary. The architecture here preserves the rural traditions and culture of the region and the museum also holds several festivals each summer.
The Hungarian capital has a wide range of things to see and do. Explore Buda's elevated cobbled streets and take in the spectacular view of the Danube from the Fisherman's Bastion. In Pest, admire the Hungarian Parliament and Museum of Applied Arts, or unearth the treasures at the Hungarian National Museum. Fans of socialist-era statuary can take a trip out to the suburbs to visit Memento Statue Park (www.szoborpark.hu). For information on attractions in Budapest, visit: www.budapestinfo.hu.
Relax at one of Budapest's thermal springs (www.spasbudapest.com) (there are over 100 in the city) and medicinal baths. The elegant Gellért Baths, with a domed hall and frescoed ceilings, are probably the city’s most famous. But other options include the Király Medicinal Baths, which date from the Middle Ages; the historic Rudas Medicinal Baths; and the splendid outdoor pools of Széchenyi Baths.
Caves of Aggtelek
The Caves of Aggtelek are located in the Aggtelek National Park in northeastern Hungary, bordering Slovakia. Aggtelek was the country's first national park that was set up to protect its geological formations. Formed in shallow seas during the Triassic Period over 200 million years ago, the park lies on limestone bedrock that is prone to karstification - the natural creation of caverns and sinkholes. There are over 260 caves that have been formed in this way in the park. The Aggtelek National Park also contains the ruins of the Háromhegyi Pálos church and monastery near Martonyi village. The Caves of Aggtelek were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
Travel along the Danube Bend to visit the historic towns of Szentendre, Visegrád and Esztergom. Szentendre is famous for its south European atmosphere, large artists' colony and numerous museums. Visegrád has a small castle and the remains of an early Renaissance palace. Esztergom is home to the impressive Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St Adalbert, Hungary's tallest building.
Pay a visit to Eger in northern Hungary, one of the country's oldest and most colourful cities, which boasts around 200 historical monuments that include a castle and a 14-sided Ottoman minaret.
Explore Hungary’s wine regions
Spend time exploring the Szépasszony Valley, one of the country’s numerous wine regions, where Hungary’s famous Bikavér (Bull's Blood) wine can be sampled at various vineyards. Some of the country's very best reds can be found in the area around Villány in the far south, whilst Miskolc in the northeast – the Tokaj region (www.tokaj.hu) – is famous for its distinctive dessert wines.
Fish in the River Tisza
Fish in the River Tisza, widely regarded as one of Europe's premier angling spots. Accommodation for anglers is readily available, and guides can be hired if required. Species such as carp, bream, pike, trout and tench are abundant.
Great Plain horse riding
Try horse riding in Puszta, part of the Great Hungarian Plain, which is home to several famous stud farms. Excursions along horse riding trails here can be arranged through riding schools all over the country.
Hévíz thermal lake
Soak away the stress in the large thermal lake at Hévíz (www.heviz.hu) near Lake Balaton. The soothing waters, which rarely drop below 23°C (73ºF) in winter and 33ºC (91ºF) in summer, are considered to have health-giving properties.
Hiking in the mountains
Go hiking in Hungary's mountainous northeast region. The Zemplén, Bükk and Mátra ranges northeast of Budapest are popular, with the latter containing Hungary's highest peak, Kékes (1,014m/3,327ft). For easier terrain, head to the hills north and south of Lake Balaton.
Travel back in time at Hollókő, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed ethnographic village, northeast of Budapest that has around 60 wattle and daub houses and the substantial remnants of a 13th-century castle.
Hortobágy National Park
Go birdwatching in Hortobágy National Park (www.hnp.hu), a vast area of grassland in eastern Hungary. Designated a World Heritage site in 1999, around 350 species have been spotted here, including storks, warblers, eagles, herons and rare great bustards. Motorised vehicles are not allowed in some parts of the park and some areas require a guide.
Lake Balaton resorts
Lake Balaton (www.balaton-tourism.hu) in Hungary’s Transdanubian region is Central Europe’s largest freshwater lake. Visit one of the resorts that surround the lake’s shores such as Siófok, popular with young people for its beaches and nightlife; or the more sedate market town of Keszthely, with its elegant Festetics Palace. Lake Balaton also has plentiful sandy beaches that can become quite crowded in summer.
Pécs (www.pecs.hu), the fifth largest city in the country, is also home to the fifth-oldest university in Europe and has many fine examples of architecture from the Ottoman period, most notably the 16th-century mosque of Gázi Kászim Pasha. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Early Christian Necropolis is also located here, alongside many fine examples of Habsburg period buildings. This rich cultural heritage contributed to the city being selected as one of three European Capitals of Culture in 2010.
Visit the delightful medieval cities of Sopron (www.sopron.hu) and Kőszeg in the west of the country, close to the Austrian border. Sopron boasts 240 listed buildings, including the 12th-century Firewatch Tower, Storno House and the Gothic Goat Church, while Kőszeg's Jurisics tér contains a treasure-trove of baroque, renaissance and Gothic architecture. Sopron is also well-known for having more than 300 dental clinics, making it the self-proclaimed ‘dental capital of the world’.
Visit Hungary’s third largest, and its sunniest city, the lively university town of Szeged. This cultured city, home to many fine churches, sees its main square transformed into a large open-air theatre each summer.