Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Top 15 Places to Visit in Hungary

Hungary is a nation that never fails to surprise me - I've visited the country countless times, yet it still has a strong scent of the exotic about it for me. Perhaps it's the language, which seems completely bizarre to most other Europeans (Finnish and Estonian are mutually-unintelligible cousins), or the cuisine, full of spicy, meaty creations that stand apart from the foods of neighbouring countries due to the very liberal addition of paprika. Then there are the Hungarians themselves, who often refer to their people as 'aliens' in the European ethnic tapestry. Their ancestry lies among Central Asian horsemen and nomadic warriors such as Atilla the Hun (Atilla is a common name given to boys in Hungary even today). Here are some of my favourite destinations Hungary has to offer, from the backstreets of Buda to the tranquil village life of Takos.

1. Budapest - Everything in Hungary begins and ends in this city on the Danube, a place that seems to re-invent itself every time I visit. Tour the main sites of Buda Hill, walk the riverfront by night, and be sure to visit Margaret's Island and the Communist Sculpture Park.

2. Eger - A wine lover's paradise, with copious amounts of the famous 'bull's blood' red wine available in the many wine cellars that line the sides of the Valley of the Beautiful Women. A castle that resisted the Turks sits above an old town centre full of lovely Baroque buildings, and the Bukk hills are nearby for excellent hiking.

3. Esztergom - You can see the massive Basilica on the hill from 10km away in each direction, and it doesn't disappoint when you arrive. For over 1000 years this has been the seat of the Catholic church in Hungary; the nation's first king, St. Stephen, was born here in the year 975 and he introduced christianity to his subjects following his coronation in Esztergom in the year 1000. The basilica and castle complex sit on a hill above the Danube and the old town composed of baroque and neo-classical buildings.

4. Pecs - A city in the south of the country that has a feel of the Balkans about it. A number of Turkish monuments have been preserved from the time of the occupation, and UNESCO-listed mosaic-covered early christian burial tombs feature frescoes of Adam and Eve and Daniel and the Lion from the year 350 AD.

5. Holloko - A village with UNESCO status in the Cserhat hills near the Slovak border. The village is made up entirely of traditional wooden cottages with thatched rooftops and has preserved many elements of its traditional culture. The impressive ruin of Holloko castle sits on a small hill near the village.

6. Visegrad - The site of a castle high above the river Danube along one of the river's most beautiful stretches. Excellent walking routes lead in both directions from the Citadel to view the sharp bend made by the Danube as it passes below Castle Hill.

7. Sopron - A small city on the Austrian border with an old town packed with some of the finest medieval buildings in Hungary. The Turkish armies never conquered the town, so much of the centre remains as it appeared centuries ago. In 1921 the people of Sopron had to vote on whether they wanted to become part of Austria or Hungary, and they overwhelmingly voted in favour of remaining Hungarian. This has earned Sopron the nickname 'The most loyal city'.

8. Szentendre - A small town north of Budapest with lots of art galleries and cultural attractions, as well as an excellent skansen (outdoor museum) of historic folk architecture gathered from all over Hungary.

9. Kecskemet - A major city of the Great Plain, Kecskemet offers plenty of art-nouveau architecture, apricot brandy, and day-trip access to Kiskunsag national park on the Puszta (Great Plain).

10. Szeged - The largest city on the Great Plain and a major university centre, Szeged is famed for being the source of the nation's finest paprika spice, which is used heavily in the creation of Szeged Goulash and Szeged Halaszle (spicy fish soup).

11. Gyor - A city in the Transdanubia region with a well-preserved historical centre and a number of excellent restaurants serving the national cuisine. Baross Gabor street and the surrounding cobbled lanes of the old town are a pleasant place to stroll about and to sit outside in a cafe on one of the squares. The Turks only held the city for four years before being ousted in 1598, so Hungarians refer to the city as the 'Dear Guard' which has always been able to watch over the nation's well-being.

12. Sumeg Castle - A large and impressive ruin north of Lake Balaton, which sits on a high round hill of limestone. In the town beneath the castle the Church of the Ascension contains brilliant frescoes which have given the church the nickname 'sistine chapel of the rococo'.

13. Pannonhalma - A village south of Gyor featuring the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma high above on a hilltop. The abbey has been in continuous operation since the 10th century - it celebrated its millenium year in 1996, the same year it became a UNESCO listed site. The abbey is a mix of many architectural styles as a result of being rebuilt many times throughout history; during the Turkish occupation the abbey was turned into a mosque.

14. Takos - A village in the remote northeast, Takos contains the wooden Calvinist Church, which was constructed using the technique known as wattle-and-daub. The floor of the church is made of beaten earth, and above this is a ceiling beautifully painted with red and blue flowers. Next to the church is a wooden bell tower, considered one of the finest in the country. The church is called 'The Barefoot Notre Dame of Hungary' by the local villagers.

15. Koszeg - A small town near the Austrian border which is referred to as 'the nation's jewellery box' due to its collection of gothic and baroque buildings. The town's castle repelled the army of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1532, with just 50 Hungarians fending off 100000 Turkish soldiers. The town's main square, Jurisics ter, is one of the country's most beautiful.


  1. Really great blog. Spot on with descriptions and really nice images as well.

  2. Hi Steve, thanks for the kind words. All the images on the site are photos I've taken myself on countless trips across the region.

  3. Thank you for a nice list. Ican really agree with your top 3. Budapest might be to obvious. But both Eger and Ezstergom is really nice places. :)