Travel to Hungary

Travel to Hungary

Fascinating and multicultural Hungary connects Western and Eastern Europe, offering outstanding sightseeing opportunities and delectable food.

Budapest, Hungary’s ancient capital and by far its biggest urban center, is widely regarded as one of the globe’s most outright beautiful cities. From the 13th-century Buda Castle to the neo-Renassaince Hungarian State Opera House, Budapest’s architecture (much of it protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) takes your breath away. The capital also boasts hundreds of top-class museums and art galleries, such as the Hungarian National Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts. Hungary’s smaller cities provide their own charms: Debrecan, for example, is well-known for its Great Church and the Aranybika Hotel. Rub shoulders with the locals while partaking in classic Hungarian cuisine, from goulash (a mouthwateringly spicy soup) and vadas (a wild-meat stew) to a glass of pálinka brandy.

Hungary's cultural heritage has triumphed in the fields of music, literature, art, dance and architecture. Budapest in particular is home to rather amazing architecture, and while there you'll see a wonderful mix of Gothic, Moorish Revival, Neo-Renaissance, Art Nouveau, and Bauhaus Modernist styles. The city also has a multitude of terrific museums to visit including the National Museum, the Miksa Roth Memorial House, the National Gallery and the Museum of Applied Arts. Art fans visiting Budapest often make a daytrip to Szentendre, a lovely town located 14 miles north of Budapest; it has long been known for its artistic community and is home to many worthy museums and galleries.

Having produced the likes of Franz Liszt, Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, Hungary also has a tremendous tradition of classical and folk music. (The genre verbunkos is a particularly famous Hungarian musical export.) Vacationers can choose to check out a traditional Hungarian folk show, or those who fancy attending an opera or ballet can consider Budapest's magnificent Hungarian State Opera House, which is located on Budapest's beautiful Andrassy Avenue, a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.

Another interesting cultural aspect of Hungary is the Hungarian's love for thermal spas. Hungary is blessed with an abundance of hot springs that "visitors" have been enjoying for a couple millennia. The Romans and the Ottoman Turks were all avid spa goers, and some of their bathhouses still stand today. Hungary is home to the largest thermal lake in Europe, Lake Heviz, and there are literally hundreds of public baths located all over the country – many of them right in central Budapest. In the event that you want to relax after a day of sightseeing, some of the most popular spas in Budapest include the Gellert Baths, the Kiraly Baths and the Rudas Baths (the last two date from the 16th century).

Are you wondering what kind of food you'll feast on while on vacation in Hungary? We're happy to report that Hungarian food is delicious. It is hearty (much like other food you'll encounter in Central Europe). On Hungarian restaurant menus you will likely see a great variety of roasted meats, sausages and stews; one Hungarian meat soup in particular – goulash – is known throughout the world. Hungarians also eat a lot of veggies like cabbage, peppers, and eggplant and dishes with pasta, rice, potatoes and dumplings. They also have excellent cheeses and soups. If this all sounds like boring, cold-weather food, you'll be happy to know that Hungarian dishes are often deliciously-seasoned! The reason: those Ottoman Turks. They introduced a lot of spices – like paprika – to Hungarian cuisine.

The Ottomans also introduced the Hungarians to Turkish coffee and a variety of sweets, which are still very popular in Hungary today. But Hungarian cuisine wasn't solely influenced by its Ottoman occupiers. It is often calling a melting pot – and for good reason! Austrian, German, Slavic, Italian and Turkish influences all played their role in shaping Hungary's yummy cuisine. Hungarians have a strong cafe culture, so when in Budapest, be sure to go to a local coffeehouse. Equally important – treat yourself to a Hungarian pastry or two; they are delicious.

Hungarian wineries also produce some truly top-notch wines for you to enjoy while on vacation. The country has twenty-two wine regions, with its most famous being the Tokaj Wine Region, an official UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site.

Aside from its fascinating capital of Budapest, Hungary's spectacular landscapes remain unknown to many visitors traveling to this Central European country. While its northern lands are mountainous – and its West is enduringly hilly, Hungary is often defined by the beautiful, fertile grasslands that reside east of the Danube River in the storied Great Hungarian Plain. In addition to its meadows, vineyards and sandy steppes, Hungary is also home to incredible karst landscapes, thermal lakes and vast cave systems. And despite being roughly the same size as Indiana, it has ten national parks and over 100 nature reserves. Two of its magnificent national parks are official UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Aggtelek National Park and Hortobagy National Park.

As Hungary borders many countries – Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Slovakia, Serbia, Ukraine and Romania – it is very well located to combine with other countries on an itinerary to Europe. Its dazzling capital city of Budapest is consistently rated as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and it is increasingly popular to visit it along with the capitals of Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic: Vienna, Bratislava and Prague.

Most visited cities: Budapest, Visegrad, Szentendre, Szeged, Pecs, Gyor, Vac, and Esztergom.

As Hungary lay behind the Iron Curtain for much of the 20th century, North Americans have only been traveling to Hungary for the past twenty-five years or so – and for many, its fascinating history remains unknown. Jumping back to over a thousand years ago... Before a confederation of Hungarian (Magyar) tribes showed up and established the Principality of Hungary in the late 9th century, the lands that form the present-day country of Hungary were inhabited by many groups. Romans, nomadic Huns, Germanic barbarians, Avar invaders and Slavic tribes all invaded, conquered or settled the area, which is known as the Carpathian Basin.

The Hungarians, who gained considerable territories throughout Central Europe, thrived during the Middle Ages. Despite persistent attacks from the Mongols, their Roman Catholic kingdom served as the eastern outpost of Western civilization at the time. However, in the 16th century the Kingdom of Hungary eventually met its match: the powerful Ottoman Turks. For over 150 years, the Hungarians were at war with the Ottoman Empire, and many of their lands – including the city of Buda, one of the founding cities of Budapest – along with much of central Hungary were under the rule of the Sultan. The Hungarians suffered immensely as a result of the long-lasting war and occupation. Throwing oil on the fire were the internal disputes between the Hungarian nobles and the dominating Hapsburg dynasty, which ruled the western part of Hungary from Vienna – with an iron grip. After the eventual defeat of the Ottomans, Hungary remained connected to the Austrian Hapsburgs right up until the end of World War I.

During the late 19th century the largely rural country of Hungary became more industrialized as a partner in the newly-formed Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its wonderful capital city was born when three separate cities – Buda, Obuda and Pest – were united in 1873. At the end of World War I, the defeated Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and the Hungarians were punished with the loss of roughly 70% of their lands. In the hopes of regaining their former territories, the Hungarians sided with the Axis Powers during the Second World War, and the country suffered a horrific loss of life – including hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust victims. At the conclusion of the war, Soviet Russians moved in, and for the next forty years Hungary was concealed from Western travelers behind the Iron Curtain. Since transitioning from communism to a democracy in 1989, Hungary has been a rising star of European tourism. It joined the European Union in 2004.

Interesting historical attractions to consider visiting in Budapest include the Buda Castle Quarter, the Parliament building, Matthias Church (Matyas Templom), the Budapest Holocaust Memorial and the Roman ruins of Aquincum in Budapest's Obuda district. Outside of the capital, popular historical attractions include the royal castle and palace in Visegrad, the medieval castle fort in Esztergom, and the village of Godollo.

Best of Central Europe
Budapest at Its Best
Budapest, Vienna & Prague
Eastern European Panorama Escorted Tour