Discover medieval castles and baroque palaces in Hungary

Tucked away in the heart of central Europe, Hungary boasts one of the most beautiful capitals in the world. While perhaps not Europe's most famous city Budapest wasn't named "the pearl of the Danube" for nothing. To tell the truth as far as we are concerned that nickname should be applied to the whole country not only its capital. The Renaissance and Baroque castles, Art Nouveau cafés, medieval fortresses, mosques, pastries and oriental spices, not to mention its hot springs create such an unforgettable atmosphere that those lucky enough to visit Hungary shall cherish their experiences for life.
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  • Hungary
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Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination Hungary

A complex capital

Few people know that Hungary's capital city - Budapest is composed of three ancient cities: Buda, Pest and Obuda. The city is split into two parts by the mighty Danube, which means that it is common practice to refer to things as either being located on the "Buda" or on the "Pest" side. On the Pest side of the city you will find the most popular shopping areas as well as stunning examples of Neo-Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings. Also here you will find the Parliament, Andrassy Avenue, Heroes' Square and castle Vajdahunyad. The Buda side gives a more "bourgeois" flavour to the capital. Important sites to not miss while exploring this part of town include the Royal castle, the museum of contemporary history, the Hungarian National Gallery, the National Library and the History Museum.

Lake Balaton

There are a number of reasons why Lake Balaton should be on your list of places to visit in Hungary. Firstly it is the largest and shallowest body of water you will find in all of Europe. Secondly the magnificent scenery that surrounds it, here you will find vine-filled forested hills, a national park and even a peninsula that nearly cuts the lake in half. Thirdly Hungary's most famous porcelain producer is located here inside what can only be described as a hilltop fairytale fortress. Fourthly there is the Southern Transdanubia region, where whitewashed farmhouses dominate a countryside that hasn't changed in centuries. And finally the remarkable city of Pécs which boasts a dizzying number of remarkable museums as numerous relics of Hungary's Ottoman past.

Famed thermal baths

Hungary is world famous for its thermal baths; in fact we would go as far as to say that no trip to this marvellous country would be complete without at least visiting one of the many magnificent bathhouses. The abundance of bathhouses in the capital stems from its location on the geological fault separating the Buda Hills from the flat Great Plain, and more than 30,000 cubic metres of warm mineral water gush daily from the 124 thermal and more than 400 mineral springs. Today Budapest's bathhouses come in all shapes and sizes, from the authentic Turkish ones which date back to the Ottoman occupation to Art Nouveau palaces and even clinical sanatoriums.

Hungary: the key figures

Surface area : 93030.0 km2

Population : 10083000 inhabitants

  • The cost of living is noticably lower than in the UK.
  • Budapest is one of the most beautiful capitals in the world.
  • The incredibly rich natural, cultural and gastronomic heritage.
  • Cost of accommodation has been increasing in the last few years.
  • Certain parts of the infrastructures badly need a "face-lift".

Hungary: what to visit?

Hungary: what to buy?

Gastronomy or objects of folkloric art, you can find numerous souvenir ideas in Hungary. The embroidery of Kalocsa or the region of Matyo, the black ceramic of Nadudvar, the wooden sculptures, pottery, "Michka" jugs, the material from Sarköz and the porcelain from Zsolnay, Hollohaza and Herend are just as good ideas. As for food, there are Pick and Hertz salamis, goose liver, red chilli, morello cherries with cognac, wines and cherry and apricot brandy. The shops are generally open from Monday to Friday, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm and on Saturday from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm.

Hungary: what to eat?

From starter to desert, Hungarian cuisine alone is worth the trip to this magnificent country. The roots of Hungarian cuisine can be traced back to Asian, Turkish and Austrian influences. Perhaps the country's most famous dish is goulache - a beef and vegetable-based stew which was originally prepared by shepherds from the Great Hungarian Plain however has become a national dish in over the course of the 20th century. Other local delicacies include pörkölt, which is braised meat (pork, beef, veal or chicken) flavoured with paprika and crčme fraîche, csirkepaprikas (the famous paprika chicken), vad (roasted game), halaszlé (fish soup) and "libamaj" (goose liver). Hungary is the second biggest producer of goose liver in the world after France, and the goose liver is generally served grilled with fried onions. For dessert, indulge yourself with a hearty piece of cheesecake, apple tart from Taban, peach doughnuts from Barbacs, rétes (puff pastries), doughnuts from Füred, mille-feuilles and apple or poppy seed cake.

Hungary is also known for its world class wine, which some same even rivals French wine. Today there are 22 wine producing regions in Hungary which produce some 450 varieties of excellent wine.

Hungary: main cities

Hungary: what are the cultural particularities?

Hungary has a very strong national identity and a very connected population, the vast majority of which (around 90%) are the Magyars. The population speaks a Finno-Ugric language which is quite distinct and unique in that it has no similarities with other Eastern European languages.

In general, traditions are still very much a part of daily life in a good number of Hungary's regions and villages. For example Hungarians would never toast with a beer mug, today this is more of an unspoken rule followed without necessarily knowing its origins, and in fact the refusal to toast with a beer mug dates back to Hungary's defeat at the hands of Austria over a century ago.

Due to Hungary's history being often stained by military conflicts and invasions, Hungarian intellectuals, artists, musicians and artisans have attempted to preserve and develop the Magyar culture throughout centuries. Magyar culture shines brightest in popular art that stems from the country rather than big cities. The 20th century, with the widespread migration of farmers to industrial cities and later the "normalization" of the Soviet era, was perhaps when local culture was most vulnerable. However despite the historical obstacles Hungary's traditional centuries old culture is alive and thriving even today. Over the last twenty years the development of Hungary's tourism industry has also led to the preservation and further reintroduction of local traditions.

Hungary: travel tips

Budapest is at its most spectacular when explored via its waterways, our personal favourite is travelling from Vienna down the Danube to Budapest. There is also a ferry service available from Bratislava, however be advised that cruises down the Danube from both Vienna and Bratislava only operate between May and September.

Regarding taxi fares there is a simple tip: upon your arrival to Hungary, especially if you are flying in to a big airport such as Ferihegy in Budapest, do not take the first taxi you are offered, and trust us you will receive plenty of offers, instead ask around to find the best price. Sometimes independent drivers can raise the price of the fare when they see that you are a tourist, to avoid having to pay more than you must it is simpler to just organize your ride through one of the big taxi companies which are usually represented at airports and train stations.

Hungary is known for small time crime, especially car theft, so if you intend to drive in the country be sure to be vigilant in regards to where you park. We would recommend large car parks that boast 24hour surveillance. Also it is best not to leave your vehicle unattended at service stations as there have been instances of cars being stolen like that. One final bit of advice regarding driving in Hungary: the country is known for its zero tolerance to alcohol when it comes to driving, so if you had that one glass of wine at dinner we recommend you let someone else take the wheel.

We would recommend taking the usual precautions when it comes to your identity papers, as in it is best to keep photocopies on you at all times while keeping the originals at your hotel safe.

If you are going to purchase one travel card we would recommend investing in the Budapest Card, which will allow you to significantly economize on your stay in the capital. With the card you are given free access to public transportation as well as numerous museums and even certain baths. The Budapest Card can be purchased at tourism offices, travel agencies, hotels and museums.

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