Budapest is one of the most interesting and affordable cities in Europe. But to really appreciate all that Hungary offers, turn your gaze away from the capital and explore these unique destinations.
With its terracotta and ochre houses, cobblestone alleys and Mediterranean-style churches, Szentendre is in danger of becoming a victim of its own charm. Located on the majestic Danube river, its beauty and proximity to Budapest attracts crowds of summer visitors.
Explore the town by horse and carriage, and get a feel for rural life at Skanzen, the outdoor exhibition of traditional peasant homes and mills. Stop for lunch at the picturesque main square, where a memorial cross commemorates the town being spared by a plague.
History buffs and pleasure seekers will find solace at Visegrád on the banks of the Danube river, which winds through the magnificent Börzsöny and Visegrád Hills. King Charles I commissioned a royal palace in the 14th century, and King Matthias updated it to the Renaissance style in the latter half of the 15th century. The best time to visit is during the Royal Palace Festival, which takes place annually during the second week of July.
The town was strategically important and includes many fortifications. The Soloman Tower forms part of the Lower Castle, and the striking 13th century Citadel is part of the Upper Castle. Outside town, Lepence Spa soothes weary travelers with thermal waters.
Esztergom’s basilica was built on the site where Hungary’s first king, Saint Stephen, was baptized more than a thousand years ago. It’s the biggest building in Hungary and should not be missed.
Esztergom is one of Hungary’s oldest towns and has a wonderful variety of districts. Víziváros is the most vivacious, known for colorful houses, churches and museums. The Danube Museum has hands-on exhibit that is a surprise hit with families.
Relax at the thermal pools east of the Little Danube river, where grassy beaches offer a respite from the crowds. Combine rest and recreation at Termál Sörkert, a thermal beer garden, where music plays loudly to throngs of young people.
Step back in time to a world before the Industrial Revolution in the preserved village of Hollókő, deep in the Cserhát Mountains. Literally translated as “Raven-stone,” the village, which was awarded world heritage status in 1987, is home to around 400 residents living in traditionally built thatched-roof cottages. Villagers speak a unique dialect and uphold folk customs and crafts in their long-established way of life.
Visit during Easter to experience the conventions and costumes or in October for the Vintage Parade, which celebrates the end of the grape harvest. For those who want a taste of the simple life, it’s possible to rent a thatched-roof cottage with shared facilities, but be sure to book ahead.
Looking at the turquoise water of Lake Balaton — the largest lake in Central Europe — it is hard to believe that its name is derived from the Slavic word for “swamp.” The lake’s shallow, silt bed makes it ideal for bathing. This has led to an increasing number of resorts springing up around its edges, particularly on the southern shore. Fishing and sailing are available in the summer months, and swimming is a joy in the wonderfully warm waters, reaching 25°C on a good day. When the cold sets in, ice skating and sledging take over.
Siófok, known as the capital of Balaton, remains the most popular resort. Keszthely, to the west, offers the beautiful Palace of the Festetics. The young crowd might want to visit Zamárdi, which plays host to the Balaton Sound festival each year.