Hungary Travel Guide
Historical grandeur, hot spring heaven and mouthwatering food & wine
Travel Guide to Hungary
At the crossroads of Central Europe is Hungary, one of Europe’s most alluring countries with one of the most exciting capitals in the world. But Hungary is a lot more than just Budapest, and outside its charismatic capital awaits a land of riches to be explored. With an abundance of natural beauty, architectural treasure, mouthwatering food and wine, and distinctive folk art, Hungary is arguably one of the most underrated countries to visit in Europe.
Just like its language, Hungary is quirky and different, and has impressively become highly cosmopolitan whilst remaining uniquely Hungarian at the same time.
In Budapest, classical music is revered, as is its elegant Viennese style coffee houses, lively ruin bars and diverse foodie culture. A few hours travel beyond Budapest however, and you will find other charms such as “Hungary’s playground” – Lake Balaton, the lush wine-growing region of Badacsony, and the summer party district in Siófok.
Founded by the Romans, the ancient city of Pécs is also worth seeing, as is Eger, a relaxed town famous for its Bull’s Blood wine. Further out, you can discover the great plains where old traditions and cowboy culture are yet to be tamed by 21st century living.
Hungary is affordable and accessible, its people are friendly, and there are little tourists outside its capital. Put Hungary on your experience list and give the country the attention it deserves, ensuring you also venture outside of Budapest for the most authentic travel experience.
Budapest, bedrock of the Magyars
Budapest is an imposing city with subtle charms. Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Danube”, this is one of Europe’s most fascinating and rewarding destinations. Sprawled across the banks of the Duna (Danube) river, the city is comprised of the hilly, aristocratic Buda in the West, and lively, commercial Pest in the East. With a long and colourful history, its location as a gateway in Europe has formed a cultural fusion of Hapsburg opulence and Communist grit. As a result, Budapest has flourished as a cosmopolitan masterpiece which is elegant, animated, relaxing and challenging, all at the same time.
Besides its intriguing history, Budapest is known for dazzling art nouveau buildings with richly decorated interiors and imperial-era boulevards. Explore these as you wander to acclaimed theatres, museums and concert halls dotted around town.
Likewise, Budapest buzzes with culture and is home to major festivals and events, as well as a world-class classical music scene where you can experience top performances in one of Europe’s best Opera houses – at bargain prices! Budapest boasts plenty of relaxation too: soak in Ottoman-era thermal spas, hike in Buda’s forested hills, or stroll around Margaret Island, the city’s “green heart”.
If nightlife is more your thing, you’ll be glad to know the city has an eccentric party scene. With quirky pop-up bars in derelict buildings, and some of the wildest clubs and pub crawls, Budapest is quite possibly Europe’s most exciting capital after dark.
Thermal Hot Spot
Hungary is a land of hot springs, with over 1,000 thermal water sources bubbling beneath its surface. With more medical spas than any other country in Europe, these mineral packed waters are used for therapeutic and recreational purposes across the country. Locals swear by their healing properties, with doctors regularly prescribing subsidised treatments for soaking in the water.
Since Roman times, thermal bath complexes have been erected in many different styles around the country and are at the very least, a sight to see in of themselves. Each one is unique; some are lavishly decorated in classic European art nouveau whilst others date back to Ottoman times, built by the invading Turks.
Bathing culture is huge here and the options are endless. By day you can enjoy a hot water massage, play chess with locals, swim laps, or revitalise in steamy saunas and icy plunge pools. At night, you can take the plunge into an eccentric sparty (spa party) and dance and swim the night away in a massive bath of foam with fellow revellers.
Regardless of what you do, it is certain that if you spend enough time here, you’ll likely not want to leave. If you’re after a rich cultural experience then Hungary’s spas are the destination for you.
Lake Balaton – Hungary’s Sea
Lake Balaton is one of the most prized treasures in Hungary. Extending roughly 80kms, it is the largest lake in Central Europe, and only an hour’s drive South-West from Budapest.
Surrounded by a national park, family-run wineries, volcanic hills and thermal spas, Lake Balaton attracts sun seekers, foodies and water sports enthusiasts from around Hungary. Yet despite its popularity, it is largely unknown outside the country and retains a quaint rustic charm that is intoxicating.
Explore further and you’ll encounter little known treasures such as tiny villages offering gastronomical delights made from organic produce, a hilltop fairy-tale fortress, and some of Europe’s loveliest lavender fields rivaling those of France (with a fraction of the tourists).
Fine Old World Wines
There was once a time when a bottle of Hungarian wine would be found in almost every royal court in Europe. But like with many European countries affected by both war and communism, wine production declined. With quantity being a priority in a command economy, many notable varieties were either forgotten about or planted in unsuitable areas.
Fortunately, Hungarian wine has bounced back with countless small estates replanting and cultivating the very same grapes which produced some of the old world’s finest wines. Similar in latitude to France’s top wine regions, Hungary’s rolling hills are rich in limestone and volcanic earth which makes perfect soil for excellent winemaking. As a result, there are 22 wine regions with countless varietals to be explored. The most notable include the big-bodied “Bulls Blood” of Eger, reds from Villány, white Olaszrizling from Badacsony, and honey-sweet dessert wines from Tokaj.
To locals, Hungary’s wine is something to be incredibly proud of and more wine lovers are putting Hungary on their sip-and-travel list as producers become increasingly open to visitors.
Venture out to the wine growing regions of Hungary and you will likely be invited into an array of vineyards and cellars, which often host fantastic wine tasting nights combined with traditional food and music. These outings are especially fun given they are mostly full of Hungarians! Just like the country itself, much of Hungary’s top wines are relatively undiscovered by outsiders. This creates the perfect opportunity to taste while you travel, a superb combination resulting in an immersive cultural experience.
Official Language: Hungarian
Population: 10 million
Currency: Forint (HUF)