Located right in the heart of Europe, Hungary is a former Eastern bloc country that has managed to shake off the curse of communism more effectively than serving up a steaming bowl of goulash. Budapest is a capital of effortless chic and one of the most-visited cities in the region, dominated by grand classical architecture that sits along the banks of the River Danube. Is it the new Prague? Go and find out for yourself!
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: River trips on the Danube, relaxing hot spas and baths, Budapest’s stunning architecture, Statue Park—a tribute to Hungary’s recent communist past, cheap Borozos or wine pubs and of course, spicy goulash.
What’s Not: Tourist traps in Budapest, dodgy exchange rates, bizarre additional charges in restaurants and cafés, abundant dog poo and language difficulties.
When to Go
Hungary enjoys a warm, continental European climate that becomes semi-Mediterranean in the south, the warmest part of the country. Hungarian summers (June to September) are generally hot, especially in Budapest and the southwest. Winters (November to February) can get cold and icy, and are generally short and very wet, especially in the south.
Getting There & Away
Air travel to the country almost always goes through Budapest, which is now connected to every major city in Europe, with an ever-increasing number of no-frills airlines operating services. There are no domestic flights given that travel from Budapest to outer-lying areas never takes more than 3 or 4 hours. Trains into the country go from all over Europe making journeys here from Austria, Germany and Italy especially convenient. Inner city travel is cheap and straightforward in Budapest by tram, bus or the metro system, but getting taxis can be expensive and confusing in comparison if you don’t know what you’re doing. Avoid the common scam of receiving your change in worthless Romanian currency, unless of course you’re Romanian or a collector of obscure coins.
Health & Safety
Hungary is a fully-fledged member of the EU, and it conforms to the safety standards required. However, the health system is certainly not the best in the world. Still, travelers are unlikely to be caught short here in the case of an emergency. The whole country including the capital does not suffer from a high crime rate, but crowded areas of Budapest are prone to pickpockets and bag-slashers, so travelers should remain vigilant.
Food & Hospitality
Splurging in Budapest, particularly in the Castle Hill area, can be an opulent but very expensive way to enjoy the finer things in the capital. For those with less to spend, hostels are available in most towns and cities, but budget travelers should beware that Hungary is no longer the paupers’ paradise it once was. When it comes to communism, and particularly the socialist pricing system, Hungarians have a short memory and expect heavy tipping. Enemies of the humble potato are in for a shock—meat dishes with the vegetable are a mainstay of the local diet, but pasta is also increasingly popular. The usual fast-food restaurants apply here, but it’s the back alleys that provide the best food at very reasonable prices, so it pays to hunt around off the tourist track.
The best of Hungary can be seen in 10 days, but there is plenty to see for those with a little extra time.
Four or five days in Budapest sightseeing and sampling the nightlife.
Two days by Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe.
Three days in Miskolc, gateway to the north and home of the unique cave baths.
Two days trying Hungarian champagne in Pecs, an old university town.
Two days exploring the extensive caves at Aggtelek, near the Slovakian border.
Two days in Debrecen, the country’s second city and capital of the Great Hungarian Plain.
Budapest: two cities for the price of one, the Hungarian capital is split by the Danube, but is united in its love for fine architecture, cuisine and raucous nightlife.
Lake Balaton: Central Europe’s largest lake is encircled by vineyards and rolling hills that are perfect for walking.
Miskolc: a town famous for its collection of caves and thermal spas located beside the Bukk Mountains.
Pecs: home of Hungary’s sparkling wine industry and a UNESCO World Heritage site of churches and museums.
Aggtelek: unique, jutting karst mountains and extensive caves draw tourists to this village near Slovakia.
Debrecen: city of parks that bursts into color every August during its annual flower festival.
Sightseeing: wandering around taking in the sights of Budapest is a must during any visit.
Bathing and spas: Hungary’s bath culture, influenced by the Turks, is a relaxing and cultural experience, not least at the Gellert baths in the capital, a chic Art Nouveau complex of steam rooms, pools and massage tables.
Caving: many of the cave networks throughout the country are well set up for tourists and definitely worth a visit.
Wine tasting: try out the local tipple in Pecs, Eger and Tokaj, Hungary’s best-known wine growing areas.
Cruise: take a trip along the mighty Danube River to or from Budapest.
Walking: Hungary’s famous plains and gentle rolling hills make it a great destination for hikers.
Festivals & Events
Hungary celebrates a host of holidays throughout the year based on the Christian calendar, with national holidays dominated by music, drinking and dancing.
February: the town of Mohacs comes alive for this six-day Croatian festival of folk music, dancing and parades.
March: National Day, marking the 1848 Revolution, is a colorful affair of music and ribbons in the Hungarian tricolor of red, white and green.
August: St Stephen’s Day, one of the most important days in the country, is celebrated with fireworks on the Danube and crowds of revelers.
December: St Nicholas Day and Christmas are magical times of the year in lit-up Budapest, which becomes postcard perfect when snow falls.