10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hungary
From beautiful Budapest - the city of lights - to its many quaint villages and fantastic scenery, Hungary evokes a strong sense of history and tradition at every turn. Yet while Budapest, justifiably compared with cities like Prague and even Paris, is by far the country's biggest tourist draw, be sure to spend time traveling beyond the capital. Cities and towns of all sizes have preserved their classic old historical attractions, many of which exhibit influences from various cultures, including Turkish invaders and Italian Renaissance designers. And Hungary's countryside includes some of the most beautiful scenery to be found anywhere in Eastern Europe. In fact, wherever you are in Hungary, you're never far from spectacular mountains and lakes, beautiful river scenes - the awesome Danube runs right through the country - and lush valleys, all providing great opportunities for hiking and other fun outdoor activities.
1 Buda Castle
When you first set eyes on spectacular Buda Castle in Budapest, you'll appreciate why so many people consider the city the "Paris of the East". This spectacular historic landmark - now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - ranks right up there with Versailles in terms of its majestic proportions and wonderful design. Built on the site of a palace destroyed during the Siege of 1686, this newer structure was rebuilt in the 18th century for the Habsburg monarchy and includes more than 200 rooms. Its spectacular symmetrical layout focuses on the lovely 61-meter-high central dome facing the Danube, from where amazing views of the castle can be enjoyed. Parts of the original medieval building have been reconstructed, including the Buzogány Tower and the impressive 15th-century South Tower.
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2 The Danube
The spectacular Danube River flows through Hungary from north to south, and as it passes through Budapest splits the city in two. One of the best sunset views of both Buda and Pest is from the lovely Freedom Bridge, a favorite spot among locals. Other great places from which to view this majestic river is at the Danube Bend, one of the country's most popular recreational and excursion spots. This is where the river winds its way through the heavily wooded Visegrád Mountains before turning sharply south (the river's "knee") towards Budapest. The area is popular with hikers and nature-lovers, and is included in the many excellent river cruises that travel the Danube from as far as neighboring Austria.
3 Historic Spa Towns
If you're looking for a vacation that combines some down time with a rich cultural experience, Hungary delivers. There are many historic spa towns and facilities throughout the country offering everything from simple bathing in regenerative waters to longer stays in lovely spa resorts. Hungary's reputation for its hot springs and baths dates back more than 2,000 years to the Romans, who highly valued the healing effects of Hungarian thermal waters. Then, in the 16th century, it was the turn of the Turks who built the many Turkish Baths still in use today. All told, more than 1,000 springs provide medicinal and thermal water to natural and medical spas, one of the most popular being Lake Hévíz with its 25°C yearly average water temperature, the largest biologically active thermal lake in Europe. In Budapest, excellent spa packages are available at the lovely Szechenyi Bath and Spa, and numerous other locations across the city.
Tihany is one of the most popular holiday resorts on Lake Balaton. Originally an island, this tiny peninsula - covering just eight square kilometers - boasts some of Hungary's most extraordinary scenery. Designated a nature reserve, the southwestern section is closed to traffic and is wonderful to explore on foot along the well-marked trail network. A must-visit landmark in the town itself is the beautiful 17th-century Benedictine Abbey with its spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding area, a particular treat in spring when the region's almond trees are in bloom, and again in summer when the fields are a sea of deep-blue lavender. From the abbey, be sure to walk to the lovely old Inner Harbor with its moorings for passenger ships and pleasant lakeside promenade.
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5 The Caves of Lillafüred
Lillafüred in the Bükk Mountains is another very popular spa destination in Hungary. It's also famous for its many spectacular caves, all within an easy walk of the town. Some of the most interesting to explore are the István Cave with its fantastic stalactite formations, and the Petofi Cave, famous the world over for the impressions of extinct plant species left in the limestone walls. For a more adventurous hike, take the trail to the Szeleta Cave with its relics from the Ice Age, including skillfully made arrows and spears. When you're done with all that exploring, take a ride on the old narrow-gauge railway through one of the most rugged part of the mountains.
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Sopron, just 64 kilometers south of Vienna and eight kilometers from the Austrian border near the eastern foothills of the Alps, is a popular destination for day trippers. Much of its allure stems not just from its attractive surroundings, but also from its many well preserved medieval and Baroque buildings. All told, the town boasts 115 officially-listed monuments and 240 protected buildings, one of the largest such collections in Europe. All the buildings in the Old Town are found within the confines of the medieval town wall built on Roman ruins. Many of these buildings are of particular interest as they contain features added from other historic periods, so you'll never know quite what to expect as you explore this town's many delights.
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7 Eger Castle
Hungary has many delightful historic forts, castles, and palaces, each steeped in history. One of the best known is Eger Castle. Located in the lovely spa town of Eger on the southern slopes of the Bükk Mountains, Eger Castle once protected the gateway into northern Hungary. Extended in the 16th century, the new design was based on contemporary Italian fortresses, and was again added to after the Turks took over in 1596. Visitors today can explore the remaining towers high above the town, as well as many ruins, all of them providing a sense of the size and strength of this once great fortress. It also serves as a convenient place from which to explore the old medieval and Baroque architecture in the lower town, with its excellent restaurants and cafés.
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8 Cathedral of St. Peter
Dominating the northwest corner of the fortified Old Town of Pecs lies the Cathedral of St. Peter. Built on the site of an ancient Roman burial chapel, the cathedral, like so many historic attractions in Hungary, shows influences from many different cultures. Founded in 1009, the original church lasted well into the 12th century, was rebuilt, and then suffered even more damage due to Mongol attacks. After years of neglect - including a spell as a mosque and arms store - the church was completely rebuilt in 1891, creating the splendid structure you see today. Inside, many unique religious artifacts from throughout Hungarian history have been collected and are on display, as are a number of graves from the Early Christian cemetery. Afterwards, take a walk over to the nearby Mosque of Yakovali Hassan Pasha with its 22-meter-high minaret and museum.
9 Visegrád Royal Palace
Located above the beautiful old town of Visegrád in the Danube Bend, just 40 kilometers north of Budapest, the ruins of Visegrád Royal Palace and the old citadel make for an easy day trip from Hungary's capital. The first Royal Palace was built under Charles I after he and his court moved to Visegrád in 1316, and was extended a hundred years later with many Italian flourishes, gaining it a reputation as one of the finest palaces in all of Europe. While now largely ruins - the legendary palace was only rediscovered in the 1930s - the palace impresses with its dimensions and incredible views over the Danube and the surrounding area, and is fun to explore as you try to recall what it must have looked like in its heyday (be prepared for plenty of walking).
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10 The Buda Hills
There's so much to like about beautiful Budapest, and so much to explore, including its numerous open spaces and parks. The Buda Hills, on the western outskirts of the city, is one of the most popular of these areas. Rising to heights of more than 518 meters, the hills are crisscrossed by a comprehensive system of trails, perfect for walking or biking (numerous bike rental operations can be found throughout the city; better still, have a driver take you to your starting point from the city center in a rickshaw made from a converted Fiat). Once there, you can explore numerous caves, and afterwards take a ride back to town on the classic Cog-wheel Railway. Alternatively, stop for a picnic, take the fun narrow-gauge Children's Railway for a nearly 13-kilometer jaunt through the countryside, or see the some of the city's best views from the famous Budapest Chairlift.