Posted on

Everything You Need to Know Before Traveling to Hungary

From architectural landmarks, neoclassical gems and mineral spas, Hungary is the confluence of Turkish, Roman and European influences. Hungary is a paradise for nature lovers, history buffs and architecture enthusiasts alike. Here are is your all encompassing travel guide to Hungary.

Top Highlights of Hungary

Throughout its history, Hungary has seen various occupations, rulers and territorial conflicts. This is reflected in the Mosque of Pasha Qasim, one of the most striking examples of Turkish architecture in Hungary. Located in Pécs, this stunning building was constructed in the late 16th century by the Ottomans. It was later converted into a Roman Catholic Church by the Jesuits. Even today, the building is a beautiful fusion of faiths, that of Christian symbolism and Islamic motifs.
Hungary is home to natural treasures such as the Caves of Aggtelek Karst National Park. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the cave systems are to this day, a secret and mysterious world. Visitors can admire the various rock formations including some of the largest stalactites in Europe, courtesy the rich mineral content in the region.
Lake Balaton is a popular destination for Hungarian locals. Central Europe’s largest lake, Lake Balaton offers visitors many activities including swimming, fishing, sailing, ice skating, as well as spa services in nearby Hévíz.
When you travel to Hungary, be sure to stroll through the streets of central Budapest at night. Against the backdrop of the night sky and the swiftly flowing Danube, visitors can behold the brightly illuminated spires of the majestic Hungarian Parliament, the towering Buda Castle atop Castle Hill, and the iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

Geographical Landscape

Hungary is a landlocked country, that shares its borders with seven nations: Slovakia, Ukraine, Austria, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia.
The topography of Hungary is largely a result of the Great Hungarian Plain which lies east of the Danube. Nearly 56 percent of the country’s terrain is flat or rolling plains.
Toward the north, near the Slovakian border, the plains rise up to form hills and small mountains. The highest point in Hungary is Mount Kekes, situated 3,300 feet high in the Matra Hills. Other mountain ranges include the North Hungarian Mountains and the Transdanubian Mountains.
The Danube is one of the major water bodies in Hungary and actually divides the country in half. Other notable rivers are the Drava and Tisza. The lowest point in Hungary at 77.6 meters above sea level sits along the Tisza River near Szeged.
Hungary is home to Lake Balaton, the largest freshwater lake in central Europe, as well as many hot springs and spa towns. The lake measures 78 kilometers long and as an area of 592 square kilometers. Lake Balaton is so large that it is often called the “Hungarian Sea.”

Things To Know Before Visiting

Best Time to Visit

The best times to visit Hungary are from March to May and September through November. During these months, the weather is pleasant, and there are far less crowds.

Weather

Hungary has a European continental climate characterized by warm, dry summers and cold winters. Showers occur during the spring and summer months, while heavy snowfall during the winters is rare and limited to the mountains.

Languages Spoken

The official language of Hungary is Hungarian, while English and German are the most common foreign languages spoken here.

Currency

Hungary’s official currency is the Hungarian Forint, though Euros are accepted in many establishments. Restaurants and shops usually display the types of credit cards they accept. It is recommended to always check if your credit card is accepted before making any purchases.

Electricity

The electrical sockets in Hungary are of types C and F. The standard voltage is 230 V, while the standard frequency is 50 Hz. If you are traveling to Hungary from the US, you will need a combined power plug adapter and voltage converter.

Social Conventions

Like every country, Hungary has its own set of social norms and rules. So when traveling around Hungary be mindful of these things:

  • When meeting a Hungarian for the first time, it is customary to shake hands, and use your first and last name.
  • When invited for a meal, guests express their thanks by presenting flowers, chocolates or a bottle of fine wine to their host.
  • When a toast is made during a meal, it is polite to return the gesture.
  • Although prohibited in public buildings and on public transport, smoking is still prevalent in Hungary.

Traveling around

There are two main things to keep in mind when traveling around Hungary. Hungary has a toll system on some of its major roads and highways. All rental cars must have a valid motorway vignette which is usually provided by the rental company. If not, vignettes can be purchased at many gas stations and post offices.
Visitors to Budapest can take advantage of the city’s public transportation network. This includes the metro, buses, trams, and trolleys. Tickets have to be both paid and validated to avoid being fined by ticket inspectors.

Thermal Springs

When you travel to Hungary you must try one of their hot springs. With over 300 thermal springs across the country, Hungarians have been harnessing the healing waters since the time of the Romans. Whether for medicinal, therapeutic or simply recreational purposes, mineral spas continue to draw visitors to Hungary. From traditional bathhouses and art nouveau decor to bubbling pools and body treatments, the spas of Hungary are not to be missed.

Food

You cannot travel to Hungary and not taste a traditional dish. Hungarian cuisine is a blend of simple peasant food from the nomadic tribes, the spices brought by the Ottomans, and the luxurious delicacies of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hearty traditional meals helped to endure the long, cold winters. They include:

  • Gulyás: Chunks of beef and vegetables cooked with paprika. Paprika is especially popular in Hungarian cuisine.
  • Lángos: Deep fried bread topped with sour cream and cheese.
  • Nokedli: Egg noodle dumplings.
  • Halászlé: A favorite at Christmastime, the Fisherman’s Soup is made of river fish, onions, green peppers and red paprika.

In addition, desserts and baked goods are always decadent and indulgent. Local favorites include strudel, pastries, and sponge cakes like Somloi Galuska and Dobos Torta.
Hungary has always been culturally and linguistically distinct from its neighbors. With its diverse historical roots, vibrant folklore, natural beauty, rejuvenating spas, well-preserved castles and stunning architecture, it is no wonder that Hungary has grown to become one of Europe’s most exciting countries and a world-class travel destination. Whether it is hiking up the steep Castle Hill, sailing a boat on Lake Balaton, or savoring piping hot goulash, a lifetime of travel memories awaits you in Hungary. Come and discover for yourself!

Posted on

A Foodie’s Guide to Hungary

Feast Through Hungary

Hungary has a growing and bustling restaurant scene, and thanks to a few Michelin stars won by local restaurateurs, it is finally starting to get some attention. Described by the Daily News Hungry as the “perfect blend of Germanic, Italian, with a little touch of Slavic cooking traditions” Hungary is a hidden gem for any lover of food.

Food Rich in History

Situated in Central Europe between Romania and Austria, the country has a tumultuous past, with much of its history shrouded in raids and invasions. Because of the ongoing battles, the country became somewhat of a melting pot of the neighboring fare. Present day food will showcase a heavy influence of German and Italian food as well as a number of Jewish dishes.
With over 3 million residents, the Budapest metropolitan area accounts for more than a third of Hungary’s population, making it a central location for some of the country’s best food. The capital city was once two separate cities separated by the Danube river. Buda resided on the hillside, while pest was down below. The two cities have since merged, but they still retain their own unique vibes. Buda is known for being a quieter location, home to palaces and Ottoman spas, whereas in Pest, you will find a more lively scene featuring museums, art, and the Jewish District, a spot for amazing food.

Hearty Favorites

Gulyás

Hungary’s cuisine is rich with soups. It’s most well-known dish is arguably goulash, or as the locals call it, gulyás. The dish, a stew consisting of beef and vegetables is a staple in Hungary. It is given a savory, sweet taste thanks to the generous infusion of paprika. This history of gulyás goes back to the Magyars, the earliest settlers of Hungary, who would travel with dried chunks of meat and vegetables with them. They would later combine all the ingredients with water in a heavy cast iron pot and eat the stew throughout their journey.

Põrkõlt

Põrkõlt is another favorite in Hungary. The stew is made of large pieces of meat (usually beef, mutton, chicken, veal, goose, carp, or game), onions, bacon, garlic, tomatoes, and green peppers. And of course, you can’t forget the paprika. The stew is simmered down until barely a broth remains.
Although a staple, soups are not the only fare you will find in Hungary. Take a walk around Budapest, and you’ll surely stumble across somebody devouring langos. This popular street food consists of deep-fried dough topped with sour cream, topped with cheese, topped with practically anything you want. Consider it the Hungarian version of pizza. Meats, cheeses, and vegetables are popular toppings, but langos can also be topped with sweets like Nutella.

Paprika chicken

Paprika chicken (Csirke paprikás) is a bold showcase of the country’s favorite spice, you guessed it, paprika. The chicken is marinated in a creamy sauce and most often served with nokedli (dumplings). While traveling through the country, you will find paprika to be a common ingredient in the local cuisine. Paprika was introduced to Hungary during the 150-year rule of the Turks. It was initially used as an alternative to traditional pepper as the price of pepper began to rise. However, it slowly became a staple of the Hungarian kitchen and replaced pepper altogether.

Pork

Pork is the chosen meat in Hungary. The reason for this is rooted in history. During the period following the Ottoman era, the Turks took away domestic except pigs, as the Turks did not eat pigs due to their Muslim faith. You will find pork showcased in many of the local markets, where you can treat yourself to a diverse supply of local sausages and cured meats.

Sweet Tastes

While the culinary scene does not get its fair share of attention, the confections of Hungary are known worldwide. If sweets are your weakness, be sure to try a Kurtoskalaces, aptly known as a chimney cake. This treat is a towering funnel of sweet dough, topped with butter, sugar, and often cinnamon, nuts, and candies. Not sure where to find one? Like with Lángos, a walk around town is sure to introduce you to someone enjoying this dessert. The Dobos torta is another treat not to be missed. This dessert is a vanilla cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel.
When enjoying dessert, don’t forget to try some local wine. Though Hungary is not usually a name that is tossed around in the wine realm, it’s moderate climate makes it a great place to grow a variety of wine grapes. The Tokaji aszú comes from the Tokaji region of Hungary. The wine is made from hand-picked berries that have been affected by noble rot. This type of berry lends to a very sweet wine that is a favorite in Hungary.

Can’t-Miss Local Spots

The Great Hall Market, expansive, and supported by towering wrought iron, is a foodie hub in Budapest. The traditional fare of fruits and vegetables are ever present, but this market has so much more to offer. Meats and cheeses abound, but you will also find a large supply of preserved foods, such as jams and pickles. Pickled foods are a large part of the Hungarian diet and will typically have an entire section devoted to them at the markets.
Café Ruszworm is one of oldest cafes in Budapest and one of the best places to try a Dobos torta. Another delicious choice is the Ruszworm Cream Cake, which consists of a sweet vanilla cream between two delicate layers of pastry.
Gelarto Rosa delights with picture worthy servings of ice cream. The smooth, frozen dessert is beautifully formed to resemble a rose. The shop features only the best local and organic ingredients. Alongside their traditional offerings, they also provide vegan, lactose intolerant, and diabetic friendly options.
Looking for the best pancakes? Gundel is the place to visit. Here, the pancakes are stuffed with grounds walnuts, raisins, rum, and cream. They are topped with a decadent chocolate-rum sauce and a sprinkling of orange zest.
Pest-Buda is a great place to find traditional homestyle cooking. The restaurant and hotel are located within an 18th-century building in the Buda Castle Quarter.
As with every location, be sure to keep an eye on where the natives frequent. You will often discover hidden treasures that will delight your inner foodie.

Posted on

Hungary For Adventure Seekers

Adventure travel in Hungary

For those who want to escape the well-trodden tourist paths, have some excitement, and create unforgettable memories, here are some ways to get your adrenaline pumping in Hungary.

group-biking-around-hungary-worldvia
Biking in Hungary

Bike and Barge the Danube

Bike and barge tours are an increasingly popular way to experience the landscapes, countrysides, and waters of Hungary. On these tours, a barge travels along the river at a moderate pace. If your mood is to relax on deck and watch the scenery go by, you can lounge aboard all day. But most passengers choose to disembark in the morning and ride bikes along the river, with ample time for exploring nature, trekking down side paths, and pausing in little villages along the way. In the evening, meet up with the barge again at the designated port, and sleep in your cabin. These tours are a great way to combine the self-paced adventure of biking through Europe, without the hassle of securing lodging every night. These tours range from single-day excursions to multi-country journeys, and are an incredible way to explore Hungary.

cannonball-into-lake-balaton-worldvia
Lake Balaton

Explore Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton is Hungary’s answer to the Mediterranean. Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe, and is surrounded by small fishing villages, scenic drives, and gorgeous hills. In the summer, locals flock to its shores for a beachy, resort-like atmosphere. Lake Balaton offers a host of water sports, including water skiing, jet skiing, sailing, and windsurfing. The crystal-clear, fresh water of Lake Balaton is also perfect for snorkeling, scuba diving, and just swimming and diving.
Even outside of summer, Lake Balaton has a host of activities for those who love nature and the outdoors. Balaton-felvideki Nemezeti Park (Balaton Uplands National Park) has a vast nature preserve for hiking and biking, geological sites to explore the local ecology, villages and cultural centers to learn more about traditional Hungarian living and agriculture, multiple sites for caving, and even an observatory. The park has events, tours, and exhibitions year-round, with activities for solo travelers or the whole family.

Thrill-seeking in Budapest

No visit to Hungary is complete without a visit to Budapest, one of the most beautiful, well-preserved, and fascinating cities in Europe. Budapest offers a wealth of activities and sights all year long, but here are some great ways to explore the city and have an adventure.

Escape rooms

Budapest has become famous for its escape rooms and has many to choose from. Escape Rooms combine the thrills of a video game with the excitement of a competition. Work with your friends or a partner to solve puzzles, complete tasks, and explore mysteries in these attractions, relying on teamwork, creativity, and resourcefulness to escape the room. Escape rooms in Budapest have dozens of themes and atmospheres, from spooky to scientific, high-tech to medieval, and they have become an extremely popular attraction in Budapest. These rooms are a great way to challenge yourself, and to learn more about your friends as you work together under pressure.

Caving

You wouldn’t know it to look at the stately mansions and castles of the Buda side of the city, but Budapest is built atop a significant network of caves. It’s the only European capital with such an extensive cave network, with over 200 caves beneath the city. Many of these caves have been explored and expanded upon over the centuries, and the incredible cave church at Gellert Hill is a great example of how early Hungarians exploited and expanded the natural cave system. The cave labyrinth beneath Buda Castle, with its underground hospital, is well worth a visit.
Many of these caves have the thermal vents that give rise to the city’s famous thermal baths, but you don’t just have to enjoy the caves from a spa above-ground. The city also offers tours of these incredible sights below-ground. Tours range from gentle underground hikes that explore local geology and rock formations, to adventure caving with climbing, crawling, and deep exploration. For adventure caving, all the necessary equipment is provided, and you are always with an expert guide. They even give you a room to change in, so you can switch from street clothes to caving clothes and back. There are a variety of different caves and tours, so you can see incredible stalagmites and stalactites, mineral formations, and natural tunnels and caverns.

Ruin Bars

kert-ruin-bar-hungary-worldvia
Kert Ruin Bar

For a whole different kind of adventure, spend an evening exploring Budapest’s famous Ruin Bars. Ruin Bars arose in Budapest’s 7th District, in the cores of residential buildings that have been largely abandoned. A few years ago, enterprising young people started clearing out space in these buildings, bringing in furniture, and selling drinks, and a whole new phenomenon was born. Most ruin bars have little or no outside signage, and look like any other apartment building, so you never quite know what’s going on inside. They have a wide array of themes, decor styles, music, and atmospheres, often even within the same building. The most famous of these is Szimpla Kert, the longest-lasting and most stable of the ruin bars. Others open and close at odd times, change locations, and can be hard to find. But the combination of old, abandoned architecture, ad-hoc, street artist-inspired decor, cheap drinks, and good music lives on in dozens of ruin bars on the Pest side of the river.
Hungary may be an ancient country with rich history, deep traditions, and enduring culture, but it also offers a wide variety of ways to get off the beaten path, explore new sights, and have unforgettable adventures. These are just a few of the many ways to have unique and exciting experiences in this fascinating country. You need to visit incredible Hungary and create some adventures of your own.

Posted on

Romanian Holiday: The Stories Behind the Great Castles of Romania

From ancient fortresses swirling with legends to more recent masterpieces well worth the trip, picking the best castle to see can be one of the most difficult parts of planning a trip to Romania. Romania is a favorite for castle-hunters and a no-brainer for any travelers setting their sights on Eastern Europe. With plenty of direct flights from Central Europe, low accommodation costs, and sites for both adventure and relaxation, glimpsing the best castles is a great way to launch a memorable trip to the intriguing lands of Romania.

Corvin Castle

corvin_castle_romania_worldvia
Corvin Castle

With a moat surrounding an old stone structure peaked with sky-reaching red turrets, the Goth-Renaissance styled Corvin Castle (also known as Hunyadi Caslte) looks like it was pulled directly from the storybooks. But under the picturesque exterior, the inside walls of Corvin tell of a darker tale, as it is widely believed it was one of the places Vlad III of Wallachia was imprisoned as the legends of his cruelty were swelling around Romania.
Outside of its allegedly infamous connection with Vlad the Impaler, Corvin showcases overlapping eras in Romania’s fascinating history. Constructed right on top of the ruins of a fortress from at least the 14th century, the current structure was built in the 15th century by John Hunyadi and designed to be a major symbol of Hungarian military might. Complete with Transylvanian engineering features like a double wall to go with formidable towers looking down over the rich, green countryside, Corvin projected enough strength to avoid many significant military skirmishes, though it was well-known for holding prisoners in three of its main towers.
After dominating the landscape for centuries, the castle received a major facelift in the 1600s, blending the Gothic roots with Renaissance architecture and engineering to give the castle its iconic look. It was still a significant spot of military importance at this point in its history, as two new defense towers were assembled in addition to the immense palace erected on the interior. Although it did suffer from neglect for a couple of centuries afterwards, Corvin Castle reemerged in the 19th century following a complete restoration that solidified its status as a national landmark.

Peles Castle

peles_castle_worldvia
Peles Castle

Anyone who makes it to Corvin also might want to take a look at Peles Castle, a magnificent 19th-century palace about two hours from Deva. Built for the Romanian royal family under King Carol I, Peles is a visually stunning collaboration of German and Italian engineering particularly well-known for the vivid autumn colors of the surrounding countryside. Like with Corvin, Peles Castle is also about a six or seven hour drive from Budapest, Hungary.

Bran Castle

You don’t have to actually believe Count Dracula once lurked from the battlements to feel a foreboding chill known to linger in the air around Bran Castle, the most famous castle in Romania and one that regularly makes top 10 lists for all of Europe. Built to replace a fortress once held by the Teutonic Knights, Bran Castle’s red roof has been a landmark near the Wallachia-Transylvania border since it was constructed in the 14th century. While Corvin also has some mythical ties to Vlad, Bran Castle is the one regularly marketed as “Dracula Castle” to tap into the dark and mysterious legends that have arisen around the fortress.

romania_bran_castle_worldvia
Bran Castle

Though horror writer Bram Stoker never actually traveled to Romania, Bran Castle’s position high up on a hill above the neighboring region does seem to loosely match Stoker’s description of his classic story. Tall tales about a vampire that once lived there have also emerged over the generations, building a general sense of wonder in addition to the undeniable beauty of its construction. It was also a crucial strategic military base for the area, serving as the region’s chief defense against Ottoman-Turkish invaders as well as a semi-formal customs station.
But even if a little poetic license is required to attach the inspiration for Dracula to Bran Castle, there is still plenty of mystique that continues to intrigue visitors. While the restored red roof exterior gives the castle a timeless look, inside the walls visitors can inspect secret passageways and courtyards that showcase its renovated Gothic architecture. The fingerprints of Queen Mary of Romania are also all over the restoration, as she took over the property in the early 20th century and helped fully transform its former glory with a modern twist. Today, visitors have a little fun by combining real history and legend while perusing one of the premier castles in Eastern Europe.

Rasnov Citadel

Built on a clearing atop dramatic cliffs in the Carpathian Mountains, Rasnov Citadel was a matter of life and death for area occupants dating back to at least the 13th century, providing important shelter that made the region habitable. When the Tatars raided the region in 1335, Rasnov’s natural defense proved to be too difficult for the invaders to conquer, leaving the citadel as one of the only military strongholds in the region not to be overrun. A close-knit society developed within the fortress’ walls as it became a more permanent dwelling for the locals, with much of the interior architecture reflecting a simple peasant life much more than an upper-class lifestyle.

Rasnov_citadel_worldvia
View from Rasnov

Even though Rasnov was regarded as extremely difficult to successfully siege, it certainly had no shortage of challenges. The Citadel held for centuries before it finally cracked, partly because it also had a secret passageway that allowed the defenders to bring in fresh water during sieges. Eventually, it was the Ottoman army that caught on, forcing the first and only surrender of the castle in 1612. After the castle came back into local control not long after, legend has it that two Turkish prisoners were forced to dig a well over the course of nearly two decades, designed so inhabitants never had to leave the walls for water.
More recent history also contains tumultuous periods, including a nearly disastrous fire and an earthquake that both threatened to topple the medieval fortress. 800 years after it was founded by the Teutonic Knights, Rasnov Citadel has a become a major Romanian destination thanks to its stunning views of the Carpathian Mountains and the town of Rosnov, and for the cozy village hidden behind the castle walls.

Travel options

One of the reasons that Bran Castle is so popular is because it’s less than three hours by car from Bucharest, the capital and most populous city in Romania. It’s also very easy to take a train to Brasov before catching a short bus ride right to the castle, making it possible to experience Bran Castle as a day trip or an extended stay. You can also do the same with Rasnov Citadel, another place easily linked by bus through Brasov.
The more difficult castle to get to is Corvin, although it’s still easily accessible by car, train, and bus. By car, it’s about a five-hour drive northwest from Bucharest, with most visitors settling in for the night in either Hunedoara or Deva. Though the castle is technically part of Hunedoara, there are more accommodations in Deva to go with more to offer outside of the castle, which is why many consider it worth the extra 15 minutes on a bus.
Take a romanian holiday and visit one, or all, of these stunning historic castles!

Posted on

How to Experience Hungary Like A Local

Hungary Parliament

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see”— Gilbert K. Chesterton.

To get the best experience in Hungary, you really need to live like the locals. Slow down, strike up a conversation with your neighbor, and explore. Once you have experienced the culture, taken a minute to deeply inhale the wafting scents of paprika, and soaked in the thermal waters, you will come away with an appreciation that far surpasses the thrill of having another stamp on your passport.

Find your home base

Just like the locals, you will need to decide where to stay. Whether finding a room at a hotel or renting an apartment, you will want to consider your location. The most popular destination within Hungary is its capital city, Budapest. Budapest straddles the Danube river and provides some of the richest cultural experiences. One side of the river lies Buda, an area with a quiet vibe, beautiful hills and some of the city’s great architectural wonders. Pest lies on the opposite side of the river. A residence in this area will provide you with easy access to the city’s nightlife and their numerous ruin bars, as well as the Jewish District.
Hungary’s public transportation is reliable and efficient and provides an affordable option to travel throughout Budapest and to sites outside the city. Arguably, the best way to get around is through the metro system. Another great option is the trolley system. The yellow streetcars have been running in Budapest for over 125 years. If you are looking to get a broad view of the city’s main attractions, hop on tram number 2, which runs down the Danube river.
If you do choose to rent a car while visiting, be sure to stop by a local gas station or pick up a vignette (or rental car). This will save you the shock of receiving a rather large bill for all the tolls accrued throughout the city.

Pack a lunch and visit a local park

A trip to the park is a great way to meet locals and get the insight into the places only the residents know about. Begin your morning by visiting The Great Market Hall. Pick up some salami, fresh bread, pickles, and maybe a bottle of Tokaj wine. Head to The City Park, behind Hero’s Square, and enjoy a view of the lake as you relish in your market treats and do a little people watching.

Relax at one of Hungary’s thermal baths

Aside from its food and architecture, thermal baths are one of Hungary’s most popular draws. Whether you are recovering from jet lag upon your arrival or a másnaposság (hangover) after a week of visiting the city’s ruin bars, a dip in a local thermal bath is a great way to relax. Over 150 thermal spas exist in Hungary. They are packed with minerals and are said to relieve arthritis and other ailments. Be forewarned, soaking pools have become increasingly popular through the years, with many spas being overwhelmed by tourists. The Széchenyi Baths are the largest and most popular baths in Hungary featuring 15 baths, 3 pools, and 10 saunas. Try Veli Bej Baths located in district II, for a more peaceful and authentic experience.

Grab a bite

Hungary is more than goulash. Though this famous dish can be found in many restaurants throughout the country, the cuisine offers an array of options to savor. Chicken paprikash rivals goulash as a favorite among locals. Halászlé (fisherman’s soup) is great as well. Try Pest-Buda for some of the best chicken paprikash in Budapest. If you want the best selection of street food, go to Karavan. Be sure to try a langos, fried dough covered in sour cream and cheese.

Enjoy the nightlife

After a long day of seeing the sites, it’s time to treat yourself to a drink. There is no shortage of places to enjoy a refreshing beverage in Budapest. While in the city, it would be borderline criminal not to visit one of its famous ruin bars. Ruin bars often inhabit abandoned buildings throughout the Jewish District. They each are adorned with one of a kind wares, with each location providing its own distinctive vibe. Szimpla Kert is the most popular ruin bar, and though it has a high tourist draw, it is still worth your time to visit this original ruin bar. Try to include DZZs Bar and Mazel Tov as you explore.
Enjoy yourself and unwind, but be careful not to clink your glasses for a toast. Legend has it that after the failed rebellion of the 13 generals in 1849, the Austrians celebrated victory by drinking beer and loudly clinking their glasses. Because of this, Hungarians vowed not to clink their glasses for 150 years. Though this time frame has now expired, many Hungarians still find it disrespectful, so you are best to avoid this practice. Instead, a firm glance at your neighbor and Egészségedre (Cheers) are customary.
Odds are, if you are looking for the local experience, you will find yourself staring down a glass of Palinka. In fact, if you find yourself invited into a Hungarian home, there’s a good chance you will be offered a glass of Palinka first thing in the morning. Be prepared—Palinka is a strong drink. Called the moonshine of Hungary by the New York Times and Hungarian Brandy by Visit Budapest, it has an alcohol content ranging from 37% to 86%. The New York Times wasn’t far off when they compared the drink to a “slap in the face”

Take in a festival

The International Wine Festival in Budapest runs in early September. The festival features various wines from Hungary’s 22 wine regions, as well as a vast collection of wines from around the globe. Concerts run throughout the festival and food is offered as well. The festival is family friendly with a good amount of activities for kids. If you are planning on attending this event, you can order your tickets in advance online and purchase a souvenir wine glass.
If you are visiting during the winter holidays, be sure to stop by the Christmas market on Vorosmoty Square. The market runs from the middle of November to the end of December and is ranked as one of the top Christmas markets in Europe. Try a chimney cake and discover the unique gift of the region.

Escape the city buzz

Don’t be afraid to venture outside of Budapest. Though the capital city is over seven times larger than the country’s next biggest city, that doesn’t mean you have to stay in town. The city of Eger is a two-hour train ride from Budapest. Here you can enjoy the city’s baroque structures and appreciate their place in history. Stop at a local vineyard or relax at Eger’s thermal bath.
The Baradla Cave can be found on the border of Hungary and Slovakia. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the caves offer breathtaking views and a cool retreat on some of Hungary’s hotter days. Aside from the caves, there are hiking trails, a playground, and food and gift stalls.
If any country was made to be seen as a local, it’s Hungary. With architecture that will make you want to wander the streets for hours and a nightlife without compare, Hungary will have you planning your return trip before you even leave.

Posted on

A Guide to the Most Romantic Getaways in Hungary

Romantic Hungary Getaways

Balancing quaint, lakeside getaways with renowned wine regions and beautiful cities that combine the medieval with the modern, Hungary is as great of a place as any other in Central Europe to stoke a little romanticism. Here are only some of the reasons why you should consider making Hungary your next destination.

A waterfront retreat to Tihany on Lake Balaton

Couples come from all over Hungary and beyond to experience the serene brilliance of Lake Balaton, which can be best experienced from the cozy little resort town of Tihany. The emerald green Lake Balaton bursts to life beneath the red roof and sterling white walls of the Benedictine Abbey, a national icon that has was founded nearly a millennium ago and rebuilt in spectacular, baroque fashion in the mid-18th century. Visitors pick their way around the town’s cobblestone streets that cozy up to the enormous lake and there are countless little locally run shops, restaurants, and cafes to inspect along the way. Many who come to Tihany also fall in love with the reed-thatched roofs of some of the buildings, particularly the museum connected to the abbey that feels lifted directly from a different century.
Romantic backgrounds are also very easy to find at the many great places to stay throughout Tihany. Along the waterfront, there are a wide variety of cozy bungalows that are ideal for any couple seeking some a little privacy while remaining connected to all the top sites in town. It’s easy to pick up a couple bikes for a leisurely ride through the exquisite countryside or to find a variety of entertainment options that cater to couples.
Couples looking for activities are also in luck, as the lake offers an enormous slate of water options great for those from all adventure levels. The popular local beach, Gödrös, is also a great place to live like a local and sprawl out for a sunny afternoon along the lake, which will typically be peppered with swimmers during the warmer months. Hungarians also tend to come to Tihany in the spring to experience the almond trees in bloom and by summer the air turns sweet with lavender, another of the region’s staples.

Finding the romance lurking in Budapest

There are terrific little romantic havens scattered all over Hungary, but sometimes it’s best not to overthink it. Budapest is a wonderland for just about any type of traveler, and that certainly holds true for anyone seeking romance from the Danube-spanning gem in central Hungary.
A natural place to start for the proverbial lovebirds would be the Szechenyi Baths, a sprawling series of indoor and outdoor pools/baths built into a century-old Neo-Baroque palace. Although daytime can be packed with other visitors (particularly families), the baths turn into an ideal place for romance once night settles in, and they’re also very conveniently located to many of the city’s other popular attractions. As a country famous for its baths, which have been a tradition since the days of Roman occupation and later the Turks, you certainly aren’t limited to the famous Szechenyi Baths either. The Rudas baths are known for their range of therapy pools and art-deco architecture that was originally built in the middle of the 16th century. A significant renovation over a decade ago brought them into the modern era.
There are all sorts of other thermal baths in Budapest that are regularly popping with couples, but there is one caveat: some baths (like Rudas) alternate between being gender-specific and co-ed, making it a good idea to check out the details on a specific bath’s website before embarking.
While the baths can certainly spark romanticism, the same goes for finding the best places to view the Danube around the city. The views from Freedom Bridge are as spectacular as advertised (especially around sunset), as visitors capture perfect glimpses of Buda and Pest’s iconic buildings hugging the Danube. Cruising down to Budapest through the Danube Bend on a river cruise is also a naturally romantic experience, although more adventurous romantic-seekers can try renting bikes and trekking along the Danube Cycle Trail for an endless carousel of tranquil picnic spots and sublime scenery just outside Budapest. While looking for a great atmosphere, visitors come to City Park for picnics and pontoon boating beneath the Vajdahunyad Castle in warmer months, although ice skating beneath a castle can also yield an unforgettable experience in the winter.
A wonderful collaboration between the old world and a modern metropolis, Budapest is also crawling with romantically-tinged accommodations. Rooftop cocktail lounges are a natural draw for couples looking to take in the cityscape, particularly in the shadow of St. Stephen’s Basilica on the eastern shores of the Danube, just across from the also-beautiful Széchenyi Chain Bridge. While you’re looking for romantic views, Fisherman’s Bastion atop Castle Hill offers a must-see glimpse of the Danube and the Houses of Parliament on the Pest side of the city.

Eger and the Tokaj wine region

Tokaj is where the wine flows like the Danube thanks to the perfect combination of soil and sunlight, making it a haven for wine lovers for centuries. Wine enthusiasts could easily spend a romantic holiday cruising the region’s 28 villages and 27,000 acres of vineyards, which specialize in producing the aszú and eszencia varietals that the region is famous for. Much like many other Eastern Bloc countries, Hungary has been back on the rise as a major wine producer since the end of the Cold War.
The region has also exploded with great places to rest up in between trips to wineries, with standouts offering chic indoor spas, saunas, and sprawling pools to keep guests entertained in between legs of a wine tour. Anyone who loves the charms of a vintage small town might also want to consider staying right in the actual town of Tokaj, where you can find plenty of authentic Hungarian food, centuries-old wine cellars, and spend afternoons kayaking atop the Tisza River.
If you can’t make it all the way out to Tokaj wine country, fear not; a trip to historic Eger can let you tap into the best flavors of Tokaj while enjoying the comforts of one of Hungary’s major (and most beautiful) cities. Not only is Eger known for its eye-catching medieval castle and surrounding fortress but it boasts many different local wineries that showcase Tojaji wine at its best. Meanwhile, the old town section filled with hidden taverns and cafes along the curvy cobblestone streets is a favorite for romantic travelers. Eger is also a natural launching point for going directly to Tokaj.

Other experiences to consider

As with any trip to a diverse and unique destination like Hungary, researching based on your own personal vision of romance is crucially important, as there are far too many great spots for romance to be compiled in a neat list of options. While some will love what Budapest and Eger offer, others could just as easily fall for the many charms of places like Tihany or Lake Hévíz, a world-renowned spa town that touts the largest thermal lake in the world. Hiking into the Alps from medieval masterpiece Sopron – another great place for wine lovers – can also yield countless great romantic experiences, as can a trip to Pécs, a delightful city known for its mild climate and outstanding architecture. Thanks to such an eclectic set of options and the countless ways to find a romantic backdrop, Hungary is a destination not to be overlooked.

Posted on

Don’t Leave Hungary Without Seeing These 3 Places

Hungary is a country that offers many fascinating historical and cultural attractions. It’s also an underappreciated place where you can enjoy exceptional value. For example, Budapest is a world-class city where prices for food and hotels are considerably cheaper than in Western European cities such as London, Paris, or Rome. In fact, Budapest is sometimes called the “Paris of Eastern Europe.” Hungary has a culture all its own, including a tasty and nourishing cuisine and a language that’s completely distinct from its neighbors. Here are our top three choices for destinations not to miss when you visit this amazing country.

Buda Castle

Buda Castle or the Royal Palace is one of the best-known attractions in Budapest and at the top of our list of places not to be missed. In one sense, you can’t miss it if you visit the capital city as this magnificent castle is visible from almost everywhere. Buda Castle has a long and colorful history. Originally built in the 13th century, it suffered multiple sieges and was completely destroyed during the Battle of Buda against the Turks in 1686. It was soon rebuilt, however, and the new castle has been standing for more than 300 years. The palace suffered still more damage during World War II but this was repaired as well.
While you can admire Buda Castle from afar, it’s definitely worth exploring up close. One of the most distinctive features is the dome, a relatively recent addition that was created in 1961. The dome is actually part of the Hungarian National Gallery, a museum that opened in 1957 and which contains some of the nation’s most prized artwork. In addition to viewing paintings and sculptures from Hungary and throughout the world, the dome terrace is one of the best places in Budapest to get panoramic views of the whole city and the Danube river.
Buda Castle also houses a couple of other impressive museums: The Budapest History Museum and the National Library. Exploring the castle and grounds, you’ll encounter a variety of scenic views and impressive works of art, including the famous Lion Courtyard with its majestic lion sculptures, a famous statue of King Matthias. If you want to save yourself the trouble of walking up the hill to Buda Castle or if you just want to enjoy a scenic ride, take the Buda Hill Funicular, a tram that goes from the river to the castle.

Tihany

If you want to experience some of the natural beauty of Hungary, take a trip to the peninsula of Tihany, which is on the shore of Lake Balaton. The most famous attraction in Tihany is the 11th-century Benedictine Abbey that overlooks the lake. The Abbey has a museum that showcases some of the area’s long history. Naturalists and gardeners love this area for its diverse and beautiful flowers and trees. It’s especially striking in spring and summer when you can admire blooming almond trees and take in the scent of lavender. Because of its uniqueness, the area has been designated a National Park since 1952.
The Lavender House Visitor Centre is a good place to get your bearings and learn more about the area. Here you’ll find a variety of exhibits, films and a lovely lavender garden and maze to wander around. There’s also a tea shop and an opportunity to purchase unique herbal products made from local herbs, including lavender of course.
In addition to being a pleasant place to hike and explore history, Tihany has its own growing arts scene. There are several art centers and galleries as well as an annual summer arts festival called ARTplacc. Kalandsziget Tihany Forest Adventure Park is a fun family destination that has rides, obstacle courses, climbing trees and other challenging activities. Tihany has a number of great restaurants, including the famous Régi Idők Udvara Skanzen and Restaurant, which provides a complete experience of dining in the traditional Hungarian manner. All in all, the charm and natural beauty of Tihany provides a refreshing contrast to the more cosmopolitan atmosphere of Budapest.

Eger

Eger, in Northern Hungary, is one of the country’s many spa towns, where you can relax and rejuvenate in thermal baths and enjoy a variety of beauty treatments. In Eger, you can visit the famous castle in between sessions at the spa. Situated in the scenic Bükk Mountains, Eger Castle has played a crucial role in Hungarian history for hundreds of years. This castle has seen plenty of action and suffered destruction at the hands of the Mongols, Turks, and Austrians. Its most famous moment was when the town’s residents successfully fended off a much larger Turkish army in 1552.
You can tour the surviving parts and ruins of the castle, including some underground passages. Many new exhibits and features have been added in the last few years, including a 3D movie about the history of Eger Castle. While the castle is the highlight of Eger, the area also has other points of interest. Dobó Square is the center of the town and has some interesting buildings, including the picturesque Minorite Church. As noted, you can enjoy some luxurious thermal baths and spas in spots such as Saliris Resort. There’s also the Lyceum, a college built in the 18th century, which has a library and museum dedicated to astronomy. The Torok Kori Minaret, built by the Turks, is a remnant from the days when the Ottoman Empire occupied the area. If you’re game, you can climb the narrow 97 steps and get a great view of the town and Eger Castle.
Still another reason to visit Eger is to sample the region’s famous wines. The area has numerous caves, which were originally built as hideouts from invaders but are now wine cellars. Quite a few of these are open to the public. Siren’s Valley, also known as Valley of the Beautiful Women, has the largest selection of these wine caves.
Hungary is a diverse and underappreciated destination that offers all kinds of charms. If you’re planning a multi-country trip, it shares borders with 7 other nations, including Austria, Romania, and Slovakia. Budapest offers at least as many attractions as any other European capital and often at a considerably lower cost. If you’re fortunate enough to have a chance to visit Hungary, see as much as you can but make sure you don’t overlook the sites we’ve covered here.