Hungary Travel Guide

Hungary Travel Guide

Even though Hungary’s natural attractions may look less overwhelming on paper, with its tallest peak reaches just over 1,000 m (3,280 ft) and the absence of sea coast, the country has got Balaton, one of the Europe’s largest lakes and the nation’s very own “inland sea”. As well as the magnificent Danube river, which makes a dramatic turn to the north of Budapest. Apart from the endless Puszta, or the Pannonian Steppe, where csikosok – Hungary’s sturdy cowboys – still ride, Hungary possesses a number of charming cathedrals, renowned spa culture, medieval castles and numerous cities, which boast some of the finest Baroque, Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture in Europe.

Hungary has always been at the crossroads of both trade and culture. That explains why it has so many lively festivals held in towns and villages around the country each year. Hungarians are friendly people. You may even see senior men kissing women’s hands on meeting and close friends shaking hands when they get together.

While the Hungarian language isn’t the easiest one to study, it is definitely worth learning at least several phrases. English isn’t widely spoken in Hungary, especially in rural areas. Hungary is like a melting pot where different cultures and religions interchanged each other. Thus, Turkish traces can be found, most strikingly in the mosque at Pecs, converted into a Christian church in the early 18th century, and in the towering minaret at Eger, as well as in the handful of wonderfully preserved 16th-century thermal bath houses in Budapest.

Despite the fact that Hungary has some of the most charming landscape in Eastern Europe, the country is usually overlooked by travelers. It is a great destination for backpackers and those on a tight budget. Hungary offers cheap food and drinks, affordable accommodation and transportation. With so many Medieval sites to visit, Hungary has (and strives to have even more) all of the conveniences of the rest of Europe. Don’t limit yourself to just visiting Budapest, go off the beaten track and discover what else Hungary has to offer.

Getting Around Hungary

Hungary is a relatively small country with the well-developed urban transport system. Train travel in Hungary is slow but it is reliable and cheap. Most train lines in Hungary set Budapest as their hub and run from there.  Usually, it is much more convenient to go back through the capital to reach the point you need rather than using routes in the outlying areas.

For example, Budapest to Debrecen takes 3 hours, but only costs 15 EUR. Buses are less comfortable in villages and towns, but allow to reach further flung places. You can reach Budapest from Ferihegy airport for less than 2 EUR while using the bus. Budapest can be explored on foot, so you can save some money by skipping public transport.

Food in Hungary

Some typical Hungarian dishes to try are Porkolt (stew with boneless meat, paprika, and some vegetables), Chicken Paprikash (chicken cooked with great amount of paprika), Goulash (a soup of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices), Halaszle (hot, spicy paprika-based river fish soup).

Food in Hungary is really cheap. You can get a decent local meal in an inexpensive restaurant for less than 6 EUR. A meal with a drink in a mid-range restaurant will set you back around 15 EUR. Expect to pay around 5 EUR for an ordinary fast food meal. Expect to spend on average 50 EUR weekly depending on your preferences, by cooking your own meals you can save even more.

Accommodation in Hungary

Accommodation in Hungary is really cheap compared to the countries in the Western Europe. Belvaros-Lipotvaros or the fifth district, where I stayed during my visit to Budapest is great and it has lots of cheap hostels and numerous sites to visit. Most hostels typically range between 6-17 EUR per night for a dorm room. For private rooms in hostels expect to pay around 23-27 EUR. Rooms at budget hotels start from 30 EUR and usually offer free Wi-Fi. Airbnb is great as you can find really awesome studio apartments averaging around 23-45 EUR per night.

Top Free Things to Do And See In Hungary

Attend a Free Walking Tour in Budapest

A free walking tour is a great way to get acquainted with the history of Budapest. While you can attend any of these four tours: general tour, Jewish quarter tour, communist tour and the afternoon tour, there is no better chance to learn the history than hearing the story from the local. A brief excursion into Hungarian history, jokes and an insider’s view of historical events can be found and learned while on this tour. The meeting point is on the Vorosmarty square.

Enjoy the day in Varosliget

This beautiful park is among the top attractions in Budapest and is located near the Hosok tere subway station. The park is famous for its Vajdahunyad Castle, Szechenyi Baths, the statue of Anonymus and the city zoo. Despite the fact that some attractions charge fees, you don’t have to pay to enjoy the beauty of the park. Meet and watch people, feed the ducks and swans.  A great park to hang out in Budapest for free.

Margaret Island (Margitsziget)

Just half an hour’s walk from the bustling Budapest center there is an oasis of silence and peace – Margaret Island. With several spa baths and a swimming pool, the Margaret island is a great spot for hanging out in the afternoon. You may also visit the ruins of a Franciscan church and the Dominican nunnery, where the grave of St. Margaret is located. A running track is laid along the Margaret Island. For cyclists, there are many convenient trails and several rental points. At the park entrance, there is a musical fountain, surrounded by benches. Music is played four times a day, the fountain is beautifully illuminated at night.

Visit the Central Market Hall (Kozponti Vasarcsarnok)

The Central Market is the largest and oldest grocery market in Budapest. Located in the Ferencvaros district, it has become very popular among tourists after the reconstruction, while the locals still come here to get some food for dinner. You can get virtually any food here. The second floor is filled with Hungarian folk costumes, dolls, painted eggs, embroidered tablecloths and carved hunting knives. Should you buy something from this? Absolutely not. Just hang around, watch people and their busy life and maybe nibble free samples of delectable sausage and cheese.

Gellert Hill (Gellert-hegy)

The main reason to climb up the Gellert Hill is the gorgeous panoramic view of the hilly Buda, the flat Pest, Fisherman’s Bastion, and the handsome Danube river wriggling like a snake. Not far from the mid-19th-century citadel you can find a 40 meter high Liberty monument. Carved in the form of a female figure with a palm branch in high-raised hands, the monument was created by the Hungarian sculptor Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl in 1947. By descending down to Gellert’s baths, you can get to the Catholic cave church with a Saint Istvan monument at the entrance.

St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika)

This is the most important Catholic church in Hungary. Since you have to pay a symbolic fee to get up to the observation deck near the dome, you don’t have to pay to enter the church. With its great architecture and stained glass windows, the Basilica is totally worth visiting. Once inside, you can find the glass case with the mummified hand of Saint Istvan.

Castle District and Buda Hill

No visit to Budapest is complete without a trip to Castle Hill. The entire place differs markedly from the stuffy and dusty streets of Pest. There is an admission fee for using funicular. However, you can go up on foot that makes this trip absolutely free. While museums on the Buda Castle Hill charge entry fees, most of them keep really reasonable prices. Street performances, charming monuments, fountains and panoramic views are the reasons why put this place on your bucket list. As Castle Buda Hill available around the clock, the slopes look even greater at night when the lights are lit.

Ruins of Aquincum in Budapest

The Romans first came here in the beginning of the first century AD and founded the city of Aquincum. Reminders of their presence can be found throughout the city, that are the ruins the Aquincum fortress, military and civilian amphitheatres. These are the most well-preserved Roman ruins on the territory of Hungary. While admission to Aquincum museum is less than 6 EUR, thermal spas, the early Christian chapel and the amphitheatres are available for everyone for free.

Top Things To See and Places to Visit in Hungary

Relax at Lake Balaton

The lack of access to the sea is offset by the presence of Lake Balaton, which is often called the Hungarian Sea. Balaton is the most important resort area in Hungary with mineral and thermal springs. Located around 100 km (62 mi) from Budapest, it is the largest shallow lake in central Europe with picturesque green hills, turquoise water and white swans in quiet backwaters. Apart from historic sites like Festetics Palace near Heviz and the Benedictine abbey on the Tihany peninsula, there are Szigliget fortress ruins that offer a great panorama of Lake Balaton and well-preserved Sumeg Castle. Be sure to visit a balneological resort in Heviz, which is known for its treatment methods and great spas.

The northern side of Balaton is a quiet area for a relaxing holiday with mountains, forests, vineyards and beautiful old towns like Tihany. The southern side is a buzzing resort area offering various accommodation options, beaches, Hungarian csarda and great nightlife in Siofok. However, if you head just outside Siofok, you can enjoy quiet walks in nature or do active sports on the beach.

Explore the Pannonhalma Archabbey

The Benedictine abbey of Pannonhalma located to the southeast of the city of Gyor is one of the oldest monasteries in Hungary as well as the second largest Catholic abbey in the world. Founded in 996 it has served for centuries as the country’s educational center as evidenced by the image of the book on its coat of arms. The abbey was rebuilt several times, so now it boasts features of the Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles.

The cornerstone of the abbey is the St. Martin basilica, which was supplemented with the crypt in the 12th century, and the bell tower in the 19th century. Concerts of organ music are regularly held in the Basilica. An impressive abbey library possesses some of the largest book collections in Hungary. Baroque abbey refectory isn’t to be missed there as well. The most popular part of the abbey is the wine cellar and a factory. Wine tours are available to try Tokaj wines.

Stand in awe of The Hungarian Parliament

You certainly won’t want to miss the Parliament building. It offers the most iconic and recognizable view in Budapest and should be visited by every architecture junkie out there. While it is one of the most important institutes in Hungary, Orszaghaz building is enclosed by the Danube embankment from one side and Kossuth Lajos square from another. Such relics as the Holy Crown, a silvered saber, and a gold mace can be enjoyed here. This mix of architectural styles is available for travelers during the parliamentary holidays and is filled with frescoes, lush painting, and red carpets. Sadly, it is no longer free for EU citizens to enjoy the interior. To make awesome images of the exterior take a boat ride or get to the opposite Danube bank. Make sure to get tickets online to avoid the lines.

Learn History in House of Terror (Terror Haza)

Located on Andrassy Avenue in former State Protection Authority building, the House of Terror may seem bleak and heavy at first glance but filled with documents and photographs that give some idea of how it was like to live under totalitarian regimes in the mid-20th-century. With a Soviet tank in the atrium and a wide visor with the inscription “Terror” carved in it, the museum offers a chance to go down to the basement to inspect the cells, which were used to break the will of their prisoners. Make sure to spend some time here to feel the spirit of that time. It might be a tough task, though.

Take a Stroll Over The Szechenyi Chain Bridge

The Szechenyi Chain Bridge became the first suspension bridge laid across the Danube in Budapest. The bridge has become a symbol of the Hungarian capital as it connects Buda and Pest. Usually called the “Old Lady” it saw many political turmoils, wars and suffered greatly during the WW2. However, regardless of what happens, the locals are so fond of the bridge that the annual summer festival with street performances and fairs is held here from June to August.

Visit Veszprem

A charming city with a rich history where coronations of the Hungarian kings took place. Take a stroll through the Fortress quarter to see the Archbishop’s Palace, St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Petofi Theater surrounded by a beautiful park. You can also climb up the Fire Tower at the top of the Fortress Hill to enjoy a spectacular panorama of Veszprem and its surroundings from an observation deck.

Wander through the green alleys of Tihany Benedictine Abbey

Although places like this one are touristy and a bit overcrowded during the day, Tihany Abbey is steeped in history and has an amazing Baroque architecture. The red-shingled church looks very impressive. Inside the church frescoes and carved wood sculptures can be found. By visiting the local museum one may find out that the last Hungarian king lived here for some time before being expelled from the country in 1921. The museum regularly hosts exhibitions, concerts and cultural events. If you find yourself here, make sure to visit one of the local csardas to get a taste for the local cuisine.

The Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galeria)

The Hungarian National Gallery is the most significant art museum in Hungary with a great collection of Hungarian art that covers the period from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. With more than 100 thousand works of art displayed there, part of the exhibition belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, city museums, and private collectors. You can find medieval and Renaissance sculptures, Gothic wooden sculpture and wood painting of the 14th-15th centuries on the ground floor. The first floor is for Gothic triptychs, canvases of Austrian and Hungarian painters of the 17th and 19th centuries. On the second floor, you will find modern Hungarian painting and sculpture.

Spend some time in Aggtelek National Park

The Aggtelek national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. It shouldn’t be missed while in Hungary, because of picturesque meadows, beech forests and a Baradla Domica cave system. You can reach the Baradla cave through three entrances. Hiking trails of short and medium length start from the Josvafo and the Red Lake visitor center and go down along the illuminated concrete pavements. Long-distance tours last for up to 7 hours and, except for the Hungarian, cover the Slovak part of the caves, called Domica. With the fantastic acoustics inside, Baradla cave is the place for frequent classical music concerts. Make sure to get a sweater or jacket and proper shoes as it rather cool in the caves and many stairs to climb and descend.

Relax in Thermal Baths

Hungary is famous for its thermal springs and spas. It is really cool to chill out in these natural pools while enjoying the beautiful architecture and pictures of nature around you. In Budapest, there are several thermal baths like Szechenyi, Rudas, Gellert and Kiraly. Another good spot outside Budapest is Miskolctapolca, which is located to the southwest of the city of Miskolc. Thermal baths and spas can be found almost in every Hungarian town and even in some villages, while quality and service are quite the same as in Budapest.

Visit Szentendre

Also known as the city of artists, Szentendre boasts some charming church spires, art galleries, colorful baroque houses and narrow cobblestone streets. Szentendre is easily accessible from Budapest by train. It has numerous art museums, galleries and lovely gardens, while the city offers well-aged wines and delicious marzipan. Perhaps after visiting Vienna or Szekesfehervar, it might seem a bit provincial, but that’s the charm. The town is usually overcrowded on summer weekends.

Check out the Great Plain

Make your way into the heart of the Great Plain, start from the Lake Tisza where you can try your hand at some boating or birdwatching – or just chill out on the beach. After a picnic lunch, head east to Hortobagy National Park, classic Puszta territory, with its diverse range of wildlife (water buffalo, corkscrew-horned sheep and wild boar). It’s also home to the renowned csikos (the Plains cowboys) and their thrilling displays of horsemanship.

Explore the Tapolca Lake Cave

Discovered in 1902 the lake cave is actually a network of karst caves located under the Kisfaludy street in Tapolca. To reach the cave just go down the stairs and take a boat ride through the well-lit underground halls. These halls are sometimes replaced by narrow arches and a low ceiling that can be touched by the hand. According to the researchers, there is a hidden part of the cave that is only accessible by professional scuba divers. Part of the lake cave network breaks to the surface in the center of Tapolca to form a Malom-to lake. This picturesque lake is surrounded by a tiny park and traditional buildings. The place has its own museum can be found nearby.

Head to Vac or Eger

When you find yourself on the Danube’s east bank, enjoy the Baroque splendor of Vac, and the charming National Botanical Gardens. Make sure not to miss Holloko, where you can also learn about the customs of the local Paloc people. Spend an afternoon exploring the rich and diverse landmarks of Eger. Especially, its astonishing castle that can also be explored underground and graceful 16th-century minaret. “Bulls Blood” or Egri Bikaver red blend is a must while in Eger.

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