20 Top-Rated Day Trips from Budapest
Hungary, while not one of Europe's largest countries, has one of the continent's highest densities of historic sites and tourist attractions, as well as stunningly beautiful scenery. Given the location of Budapest - close to the center of the country on the banks of the Danube River, the capital is the perfect place from which to venture out and explore. Across the country, countless cities, towns and villages have preserved their historic roots, reflecting a tremendous variety of influences, from the Romans to the Ottoman Empire. And all of them are worth visiting, whether on a day tour or, if a little further afield, as part of an overnight stay in one of Hungary's unique accommodation choices.
1 Eger's Baroque Heritage
The town of Eger, 140 kilometers east of Budapest on the southern slopes of the Bükk Mountains, is one of the most beautiful small towns in Europe, with 17 Baroque churches, thermal baths and a Turkish minaret. The lovely Eger Basilica, built in 1837 in classical style, has twin towers and a wide stairway leading to its portico, as well as great views. Other highlights are the Dobó Castle Museum and the Baroque Lyceum, with its 53-meter-tall tower and revolving dome with more fine views.
Be sure to explore the narrow lanes of the Old Town, where there's a large central market place and the impressive church of St. Anthony, built in 1773. Finally, no sightseeing visit would be complete without seeing the medieval Castle of Eger. Built in the 11th century, it was expanded numerous times over the ages.
2 The Danube Bend and Vác
Between Esztergom and Szentendre, in western Hungary, the Danube River makes a sharp turn south before flowing through Budapest. Vác, in the middle of the bend region on the left bank, 34 km north of Budapest, has retained the charm of an attractive little Baroque town. You can admire great views of the town's silhouette, with its characteristic church towers, from a river cruise or from Danube Island, accessible from Vác by car ferry. The town's historic center is dominated by the huge Cathedral of Mary's Ascension and St. Michael as well as Március 15 tér (March 15th Square) to the north, lined by fine old merchant homes. The road from Budapest crosses the twin-arched 18th-century bridge with its fine statues and spans the Gombás River. Other landmarks easily explored on foot are the 1745 Piarist Church of St. Anna, with its narrow towers and pointed spires, and the Baroque triple-naved Franciscan church, built using stone from the medieval cathedral.
A good way to view this most scenic portion of the Danube is on a Danube Bend Day Trip from Budapest, a full-day guided tour that begins with a scenic drive through the countryside, stopping with your guide to see the medieval fortress of Visegrad, the cathedral of Esztergom and the handicraft shops of Szentendre before cruising back to Budapest along the romantic Danube River.
3 Gödöllő Palace
About 30 km northeast of Budapest stands one of Europe's largest Baroque palaces, the favorite summer retreat of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Queen Elisabeth (known as Sisi). The 250-year-old palace is a masterpiece of Hungarian Baroque architecture, built in the 1700s as the estate of the Grassalkovich counts and later owned by the Hapsburg monarchs. You can take a guided tour of the palace, learn its fascinating history and explore its extensive park, gardens and royal stables on a four-hour Godollo Castle Day Trip from Budapest.
Address: Gödöllő, Grassalkovich-kastély
4 Nagytétény Castle and the Museum of Applied Arts
Nagytétény, the most southerly district of Budapest and just a few minutes away via car or public transit, is on the Buda side of the Danube in a largely agricultural region once favored by the Romans. Here, you'll find the lovely old Baroque Nagytétény Castle, built in the 18th century on the remains of a 15th-century palace. It was rebuilt after WWII and now houses the Furniture Museum of Budapest's Museum of Applied Arts. Of particular interest are fine German and Hungarian furniture from the 15th to 19th centuries, along with a collection of stoves, artwork, china and Roman artifacts.
Address: H-1091 Budapest, Üllői út 33-37
5 The Hungarian Open Air Museum
The Hungarian Open Air Museum, just 23 km from Budapest, faithfully recreates the rural architecture and lifestyle of ten different 18th-century Hungarian settlements. Buildings typical of the region are scattered throughout the gently rolling landscape and linked by pathways. In addition to visiting the quaint houses, you'll see various working quarters, mills, stables, barns, a forge, a weaver's workshop and a village church.
Address: 2000 Szentendre, Sztaravodai út
6 Aggtelek National Park and the Baradla Cave
Covering nearly 200 sq km, much of it protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Aggtelek National Park sits astride the Slovak-Hungarian border some 2.5 hours by car from Budapest. In addition to unique flora and fauna, the park is famous for an excellent network of marked paths attracting walkers from across Europe. The chief attraction here, however, is the Baradla Cave. Over 25 km long and extending into Slovakia, it's one of the largest and most impressive stalactite caves anywhere in Europe. The main tunnel stretches 7 km, with several wide passages formed over thousands of years as rain and melting snow penetrated cracks in the limestone. The water dripping through the chalk has carved bizarre shapes, with stalactites like giant icicles hanging from the roof and stalagmites in all colors of the rainbow towering up from the floor. A variety of cave tours are available.
Address: Aggtelek National Park Directorate, H-3758 Jósvafő, Tengerszem oldal. 1
7 Pécs and its Picturesque Precincts
Pécs, a small town just a two-hour drive south of Budapest, is a popular tourist destination due to its mild climate and location on the slopes of the Mecsek Mountains. Its many first-rate historical and cultural attractions range from Early Christian burial chambers to Turkish mosques, medieval buildings and contemporary art galleries. The most popular destinations in the fortified Old Town are the Cathedral Precincts surrounding the lovely Cathedral of St. Peter. Built between the 11th and 12th centuries with many later alterations, the church also served as a mosque during the Turkish occupation. Below the cathedral square and in the courtyards of the old houses are graves dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries, the most important surviving examples of Early Christian culture in Hungary. Be sure to explore Szénchenyi tér, a lovely medieval market place in the heart of the Old Town.
8 Szentendre's Slavic Influences
This small town on the hilly right bank of the Danube 20 km north of Budapest is one of the most popular getaways for people from the capital. Highlights include Blagovescenska Church, a Serbian Orthodox place of worship built in 1752. The doorway is a focal point, with its Baroque curved balcony and a fresco above the side entrance depicting the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena with the cross of Christ. Visitors can also admire Fő tér, the main square, with its Merchants' Cross built following a plague, and the lovely old Church Square with architectural influences from the Catholic Croats of Dalmatia who settled around the church.
9 Gyor's Vienna Gate Square
Gyor, 123 km west of Budapest, sits at the confluence of the Mosoni-Duna (Danube), Rába and Rábca rivers, in the middle of the Little Hungarian Plain. The Old Town, with Cathedral Chapter Hill and the Royal Town, is one of the most beautiful Renaissance and Baroque townscapes in Hungary and includes 170 listed buildings and monuments. The town's most famous feature is its Vienna Gate Square, a lovely Baroque square surrounded by well-preserved 17th- and 18th-century homes, as well as the impressive Carmelite Church.
Other things to do include visiting the Bishop's Castle, with its museum and 14th-century tower and later residence of Bishop Kálmán (his coat-of-arms still adorns its front). Look also for the 11th-century Cathedral of the Virgin Mary; the eight-meter Ark of the Covenant Monument built at the request of Emperor Charles III and depicting two angels holding the Ark of the Covenant; the famous Iron Cockerel atop the bank of the Mosoni Danube, the town's emblem; and Széchenyi tér, the 17th-century Hungarian Old People's Home still in use today.
10 Esterházy-castle Fertőd
Fertőd, 180 km west of Budapest, near the borders with Austria and Slovakia, is where you'll find Eszterházy Palace, the largest and most beautiful mansion in Hungary. Often called the "Hungarian Versailles," this Rococo residence was built between 1760 and 1767, an impressive estate with a magnificent wrought-iron gate and courtyard fountains, as well as its splendid two-story side wings linked to the main building, which is dominated by a central tower. A highlight is the spectacular view from the garden balcony overlooking the estate's remaining parkland. Inside, the Chinese Salon, the Green Salon and the Maria Theresia Chamber are all decorated with fine Rococo furniture and fireplaces. One of the estate's most famous guests was composer Joseph Haydn, who spent much time here as a court musician for the Eszterházy family.
Address: 9431 Fertőd, Joseph Haydn út 2, Hungary
11 Kecskemet and the Puszta Great Plains
Hungary's southern Great Plains region is a scenic land of rivers and lakes, wheat fields and grassland marked by rustic farms. At the heart of it is the small city of Kecskemet, known for its colorful Art Nouveau architecture. After a scenic ride to Kecskemet and a guided tour of its landmarks, guests on the Puszta Great Plains and Kecskemet Day Trip from Budapest continue to Lajosmizse, where Puszta horsemen perform in a show. Following a carriage ride through the Puszta, a traditional Hungarian meal is served in a country tavern with Gypsy music.
12 Székesfehérvár's Royal Basilica
Few towns are as closely linked with the beginnings of the Hungarian monarchy as Székesfehérvár, which also possesses the former sepulchral and coronation church of the Hungarian kings. Situated between the foothills of the Bakony Forest and the Velencei Mountains and just 45 minutes southwest of Budapest, Székesfehérvár has a well-preserved inner town. Highlights of a visit include Városház tér and the Bishop's Palace, the Town Hall and Hiemer House, all built between the late 17th and 18th century. Another must-see is the Romanesque Royal Basilica, a triple-naved church with a semicircular apse, founded by King Stephen in the 11th century and rebuilt several times since.
13 The Castle of Diósgyor
It's believed the invading Magyars erected the first fortress on the site of the present Diósgyor Castle near Miskolc, 180 km northeast of Budapest. Built in 1340 and modeled on the castles found in southern Italy, it's flanked by four towers and protected by an outer ring of fortifications. Although largely ruins, the outer foundations have been uncovered, and parts of the inner fortifications reconstructed, and visitors can now see the size of the great Knights' Hall in the north wing and the castle chapel in the east wing. Three of the four corner towers have been reconstructed, and in the southwest tower, the Late Gothic vaulting of the corner room has been rebuilt. Some of the stone-masonry and other castle finds are on display in the castle museum in the northeast bastion. Open-air events are held in the castle courtyard during the summer months.
Address: 3534 Miskolc, Vár St 24, Hungary
14 Historic Castle Hill - Esztergom
Esztergom is one of the oldest towns in Hungary and lies about 60 km northwest of Budapest where the Danube breaks through the Hungarian Central Uplands. It's an area that's easily accessible from the capital either by car or public transit, and is well worth the effort. Highlights of the town's historic Castle Hill area adjacent to the Danube include the ruins of the 10th-century Hungarian Royal Palace, the imposing Cathedral with its entrance marked by two tall towers and several Corinthian Columns, and the adjacent Christian Museum with its collection of works of Hungarian Italian Renaissance artists. If visiting Esztergom by car, be sure to venture into the Pilis Mountains. Located in the loop formed by the Danube Bend, this chain of mountains, an official nature reserve, is well known for its caves and fossils. Add to the mix its mountain slopes covered mainly in forests of beech and oak with steep and picturesque chalk cliffs, and it's a popular area to explore on foot.
15 Hortobágy National Park and the Puszta
Between the Tisza River and the eastern Hungarian town of Debrecen stretches the Hortobágy, or Puszta, a lowland prairie of grass-covered steppes and pasture famous for its cattle, sheep and horses. Much of the area has been preserved in the Hortobágy National Park, an area of 690 sq km, in order to safeguard its varied fauna and flora and to preserve the traditional farming methods employed here since the 14th century. As a result, it's the perfect place for a driving tour and to explore the area's many small villages and towns. It's also very popular amongst birdwatchers, traveling from afar just to see migrant birds such as various species of heron, spoonbills, white geese, reed-warblers, waders, rare black storks, falcons and eagles. A variety of domesticated animals are also unique to the area, including the Hungarian Steppe cattle, long-horned sheep, the nonius horse and the komondor and puli dogs so beloved by the shepherds.
16 The Medieval Reformed Church of Nyírbátor
In the Middle Ages, this rural town 260 km east of Budapest on the Romanian border belonged to the Báthori family - princes from Transylvania who become great feudal lords. As a result, Nyírbátor boasts two magnificent medieval churches of which St. George's Church, now the Reformed Church, is one of the major late Gothic Hungarian edifices. The Báthori coat-of-arms can still be seen above the west door, with a projecting tower at the side, while the main Renaissance-style door is on the south side. Inside, the eye is immediately drawn to the filigree reticular vaulting. The tomb in the choir is that of the writer István Báthori, who died in 1605, and the founder of the church is interred under a marble gravestone in the crypt.
17 Pannonhalma Archabbey
Visitors travel to Pannonhalma largely to see the famous Abbey of St. Martin, the focal point of the Benedictine order in Hungary. Monks still live here, and since 1997, the monastery, together with the Lady Chapel, the Calvary and the surrounding cultural region, has been on the list of World Cultural Heritage Sites. This huge complex sits on a high point of land known as St. Martin's Mount and can trace its roots as far back as the 10th century. It's also a very popular destination for cultural programming, including jazz festivals and organ recitals. For those looking for a fascinating place to stay, accommodation packages are available.
Address: 9090 Pannonhalma, Vár 1, Hungary
18 The Savaria Museum in Szombathely
Szombathely, about 220 km from Budapest on the eastern edge of the Alps, is home to the excellent Savaria Museum with its outstanding collection of Roman antiquities. The lapidarium in the basement is of particular note and contains statues and mosaics from Savaria as well as ornaments from the church in Ják. On the upper floor are extensive exhibitions of archaeology and the natural history of the Szombathely region. Afterwards, be sure to explore the area around the Iseum, a reconstruction of the ancient Roman temple that once existed in the city.
Address: Kisfaludy Sándor utca 9, Szombathely, Vas 9700, Hungary
19 Koszeg and the Church of St. James
The most important historical building in Koszeg, 220 km west of Budapest, is the Church of St. James, built in Late Gothic style in 1407 using the remains of a Romanesque Minorite church. The front and furnishings were redesigned in Baroque fashion in 1758, while the tower is 15th century. The interior of the triple-aisled edifice is Gothic, and the keystone of the groin vault in front of the choir bears the arms of the founder, Miklós Garai. Along the south side of the choir are niche-seats with pointed arches, and a Gothic Madonna and Infant Jesus above the tabernacle date from around 1500. Also Gothic are the wall paintings on the end wall of the south side-aisle depicting the Magi, an outsize St. Christopher and a protective Madonna. The heart of the Old Town, the well-proportioned Jurisics Square containing the Town Hall, two churches and medieval town houses with characteristic enclosed gables, is also worth a visit.
20 Nádasdy Castle and Museum in Sárvár
Built on the site of a 12th-century fortress, Nádasdy Castle - named after the wealthy family that owned it for centuries - was designed in a pentagonal Renaissance style. In Sárvár, about 200 km west of Budapest, its Renaissance tower has been preserved in its original style of 1598, and inside is an impressive palatial room with stucco-framed frescoes decorating its walls. The ceiling paintings portray the Nádasdys as commanders in the Turkish wars, and on the walls are scenes from the Old Testament. The allegorical paintings in the tower room offer a continuation of the frescos from the palatial room. Also of interest is the Ferenc Nádasdy Museum devoted to the history of the family, regional folk art and the town's history.
21 Castle Quarter, Veszprém
The walled castle quarter of Veszprém, 120 km west of Budapest - known as Várnegyed by locals - includes a number of historic sites worth visiting. One highlight is the Neo-Romanesque Heroes' Gate, erected in 1936 on the site of the former medieval gate, and home to a small museum chronicling the history of Várnegyed. Another highlight is Gisela Chapel. Built in 1230, it served as a private chapel to the bishop as well as the queens who resided here, and its small interior contains fine cross-ribbed vaulting with original paintings and notable keystones. On the north wall, original frescos were exposed during its restoration depicting six apostles and ghostly floating figures suggesting Byzantine influence. Another highlight is St. Michael's Cathedral, built on the foundations of a bishop's church founded by King Stephen and first documented in 1001.
22 St. George's Church in Ják
The village of Ják, 230 km west of Budapest, is a treat for those interested in art and church architecture. One of Hungary's outstanding Romanesque churches, the impressive St. George's Church has a history dating back to the early 1200s, and although extensively restored in the late 19th century, elements of the past can still be seen. Opposite the west front of the church, on a quartered ground plan, stands the small, two-story St. James' Chapel built in 1260. The rounded decorations on the double-windows of the upper floor complement the motifs on the windows of the abbey church, and the relief on the tympanum above the south door depicts the Lamb of God between two Dragons. The interior furnishings of the chapel are Rococo, and the mid-18th century altar is also of note.