Getting to know Hungary
Hungary evokes a strong sense of history and tradition at every turn, from its majestic capital city Budapest – aptly nicknamed “the city of lights” – to its many small villages and stunning landscapes. Budapest is often compared to cities like Prague and even Paris. , and, as a result, has become the country’s most popular tourist destination. However, the capital city does not contain all of Hungary’s main attractions and activities. In Hungary, picturesque towns and villages of all sizes have preserved their ancient monuments. Many of them obviously show influences from a wide range of regional cultures.
Hungary’s countryside contains some of Europe’s most magnificent scenery. In fact, you’re never far from breathtaking mountains and lakes, gorgeous river landscapes (the Danube runs directly through Hungary), and verdant valleys in Hungary. All of these breathtaking backdrops offer a plethora of adventure sports opportunities, such as hiking, biking, climbing, camping, and other outdoor activities.
Buda Castle, Budapest
When you first see the magnificent Buda Castle (Budavári Palota) in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, you will understand why the city is known as the “Paris of the East”. In terms of towering grandeur and exquisite architecture, this magnificent historic relic – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is on par with Versailles in France. This new building, erected on the site of a palace destroyed during the siege of the Ottoman Empire in 1686, was rebuilt in the 18th century for the Habsburg monarchy and contains more than 200 rooms. Its symmetrical layout focuses on the majestic 61-meter-high central dome facing the Danube, from where you can admire breathtaking views of the castle and other buildings on Castle Hill.
The Danube River
The majestic Danube River flows through Hungary from north to south, dividing Budapest in two as it passes through. The Freedom Bridge, a favorite place for locals who can often be seen enjoying the show, along with passing boat traffic, from the bridge’s massive cables, offers one of the best sunset views of the river and of both Buda and Pest (though at street level).
Other excellent vantage points for seeing this magnificent river include the Danube Bend, one of the country’s most popular leisure and excursion destinations. The river winds through the densely forested Visegrád Mountains before abruptly bending south (the river’s “knee”) towards Budapest.
Historic Spa Towns
Hungary is a great place to visit if you’re seeking for a relaxing vacation with a rich cultural experience. Throughout the country, there are several ancient spa towns and facilities that offer anything from simple bathing in regenerative waters to extended stays in magnificent spa complexes.
Hungary’s reputation for hot springs and baths extends back over 2,000 years to the Roman era, when the medicinal properties of Hungarian thermal waters were highly treasured. The Turks then created the several Turkish Baths that are still in use today in the 16th century.
There are around 1,000 springs that supply medicinal and thermal water to natural and medical spas. Lake Hévz, with its 25 islands, is one of the most popular.
One of the most famous is Lake Hévíz with its average annual water temperature of 25 degrees Celsius. This wonderful place is actually the largest biologically active thermal lake in Europe.
The spectacular edifice that is Esztergom Basilica (Esztergomi bazilika), which dominates the picturesque skyline of one of Hungary’s oldest cities, is definitely worth the 46-kilometer trek from Budapest.
This majestic Catholic church, formally known as the Primatial Basilica of the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed Into Heaven and St. Adalbert, was completed in 1507 and is on Castle Hill overlooking the Danube River. With its massive dome spanning 100 meters into the air, it is not only the country’s largest religious edifice, but also the tallest.
Its gigantic altarpiece, a roughly 14-meter-long picture of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary that holds the world record for the longest painting, is a highlight. The most important collection of Renaissance-era paintings in Hungary is also on display.
Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest
When visiting Budapest, the spectacular Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház) is difficult to overlook. You will not be disappointed by its lavish aspect and scale, which is especially pleasing at night when it is beautifully illuminated, whether you take a boat trip along the Danube (highly recommended) or gaze at it from Castle Hill on the other bank. The structure is flanked by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ethnographic Museum, all of which are equally remarkable. Although you can’t spend too much time here, roaming about the grounds and taking in the details of one of Europe’s largest parliamentary buildings is a fun way to pass the time.
Tihany is a famous vacation destination on Lake Balaton. This little peninsula, which was once an island, encompasses only eight square kilometers but features some of Hungary’s most spectacular scenery. The southern half, which has been designated as a natural reserve, is closed to traffic and is ideal for exploring on foot along the well-marked trail network.
The exquisite 17th-century Benedictine Abbey (Tihanyi Bencés Apátság), with its spectacular views of the lake and surrounding surroundings, is a must-see landmark in the town itself. It’s especially lovely in the early spring, when the almond trees in the area are in blossom, and in June, when the scent of lavender fills the air.
From the abbey, be sure to walk to the charming old inner harbour. Here you will find plenty of berths for passenger ships and a pleasant promenade on the lake.
The Caves of Lillafüred
Another prominent spa destination in Hungary is Lillafüred in the Bükk Mountains. It’s also known for its numerous magnificent caves, all of which are within walking distance of the town. The István Cave, with its amazing stalactite formations, and the Petofi Cave, famed the world over for the impressions of extinct plant species left in its limestone walls, are two of the most interesting to explore.
Hortobágy National Park
Hortobágy National Park (Hortobágyi Nemzeti Park) is the quintessence of Hungary, and it is located in the country’s east. You can immerse yourself in the rich culture of the country’s people and their traditions while seeing a selection of fantastic sites and exciting things to do. The park, which was established in 1973, is part of Hungary’s Great Plain, which is protected as Europe’s largest natural meadow. Views of the diverse animal life, which includes everything from plentiful birds to herds of horses, are among the highlights of a visit. Without the glare of city lights, you can see the stars.
The Hungarian Open Air Museum
A visit to the world-class Hungarian Open Air Museum (Szentendrei Szabadtéri Néprajzi Mzeum) is another excellent option to get a taste of traditional Hungarian cultural activities. It was founded more than 50 years ago and is only 23 kilometers from downtown Budapest, making it one of the country’s most important tourist destinations.
This excellent museum is organized into eight parts that approximate different areas and time periods, giving visitors a glimpse into traditional life over the ages. Each of these is connected by a network of pleasant walking pathways (prepare to walk a lot!).
Exploring actual stables and barns, as well as workshops, including a working blacksmith’s shop, are among the highlights. There’s also a nice ride on an authentic vintage steam train for kids.
Sopron, a historic city, is definitely worth a visit. Its location near the eastern foothills of the Alps, about 64 kilometers south of Vienna and eight kilometers from the Austrian border makes it a popular day-trip destination.
Its attractiveness arises from both its beautiful surroundings and its numerous well-preserved medieval and Baroque structures. Sopron has 240 protected buildings, 115 of which are legally designated monuments, making it one of Europe’s greatest collections of its kind.
All of the structures in the Old Town are contained within the medieval town wall, which was erected on Roman ruins. Many of these structures have been modified to include aspects from earlier periods, so you’ll never know what to expect as you explore.