A regal city in Northern Hungary, Eger stands out for its thermal waters and opulent Baroque mansions and churches.
This architecture dates to the city’s revival in the 18th century after it was liberated from the Ottoman Empire, which had been in charge throughout the 1600s.
In the 1700s Eger’s bishop Eszterházy Károly established the city as a centre of higher learning and founded the Lyceum, now a university, with a library stacked with invaluable books and manuscripts.
The Lyceum belongs in that catalogue of Baroque wonders in the city, while Eger’s other trademark is its strong red wine, Egri Bikavér.
The story goes that this robust wine was laced with bull’s blood and helped a small defending force defeat more than 30,000 Ottoman invaders in 1552.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Eger:
1. Eger Castle
Ruling over Eger from a hill east of the Eger Stream, Eger Castle has stood in some form since the Mongol invasion of the 13th century.
In the 15th century a Gothic palace was constructed for Eger’s bishops and a defining moment came a century later in 1552 when the castle repelled an enormous Ottoman army.
The site has a complicated and enthralling history, and the different buildings in the complex house museums.
The Gothic Palace details the history of the castle and the famous siege of 1552, while the Dobó Bastion has an exhibition of weapons.
You can go on a guided tour of the defensive casemates beneath the castle, browse a minting museum with historic coins and peruse the art gallery with works by prominent Hungarian painters like the Realist Mihály Munkácsy.
Founded by the Bishop Eszterházy Károly, the main university building was designed by József Gerl and Jakab Fellner and built between 1765 and 1785. The Lyceum is held as a masterpiece of the understated Zopf Baroque style and is renowned for its three stunning ceiling frescoes.
The only one visible to everyday visitors is in the library and was painted by the Austrian Johann Lukas Kracker in 1778, depicting the Council of Trent which spearheaded the Counter-Reformation in the 1500s.
The library has more than 130,000 rare books, Medieval manuscripts and incunabula on its fine oak shelving.
One intriguing curio is the only letter written by Mozart on Hungarian soil.
The Lyceum’s observatory is also worthwhile, and has a 53-metre tower containing a small astronomical museum and a camera obscura.
3. Town Under the Town
After Eger was retaken from the Ottomans at the end of the 17th century the bishop György Fenessy went about building himself a new palace.
The stone for this residence was quarried from the city’s tufa stone, and before long a four-kilometre network of tunnels had been burrowed beneath Eger.
These galleries were used for storing wine from the 1700s up to the Second World War.
There was no shortage of wine to fill this space as in Eger people could pay their tithe (taxes to the church) with wine instead of money.
There are multilingual tours of these cool tunnels all year round, starting on the hour.
Look out for the Escher-esque pillared room, at the confusing nexus point in the cellar system where 14 galleries intersect.
The Ottomans had control of Eger from 1596 to 1687, and during this period they built ten minarets in the city, of which only one survives today.
This 40-metre red sandstone tower stands by the Church of St Sebastian, the site of a former mosque, and dates to the beginning of the 17th century.
It is one of only three surviving minarets from the Ottoman period and is the northernmost Turkish minaret in Europe.
From far off the minaret looks circular, but when you get up close you’ll see that it actually has 14 flat sides.
There are 97 steps to the balcony for a bird’s eye view of the city if you don’t mind braving the extremely tight spiral staircase.
5. Valley of the Beautiful Woman
The local wine in Eger is bold Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood). This name is believed to come from the Ottoman siege in 1552 when the Turks believed that the strength of the town’s defenders came from mixing bull’s blood with their wine.
Although the quality can vary from grower to grower, Egri Bikavér is consistently robust and goes well with red meat and spicy food.
It is normally composed of a blend of grapes including, but not limited to, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Blaufränkisch and Syrah.
Now, the place to go wine-tasting in Eger is the Valley of the Beautiful Woman, a 15-minute walk from the centre of the town and hosting more than 40 wine cellars side by side.
These can be fancy, serving gourmet food and first-rate wine, or very rough-and-ready.
Head here during the harvest in autumn and many of the establishments serve fresh grape juice.
6. Dobó Square
Eger’s sumptuous main plaza is named for István Dobó, the captain who led the defence of the city against the Ottomans in 1552. There’s an homage to Dobó and this battle in the form of a dramatic bronze sculpture cast by Zsigmond Kisfaludi Stróbl in 1968. Another imposing work, by Alajos Stróbl from 1907, shows István Dobó with his sword aloft.
The outstanding monument on the square is the Minorite Church, built according to a design by the Bohemian architect Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer.
We’ll talk about the church a little later, but if you come by at 11:00, 15:00 or 18:00 you’ll hear the carillon chime.
Complementing the church to the right is the town hall (Városháza), built in the Eclectic style at the end of the 19th century.
7. Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle
Standing opposite the Lyceum, Eger Basilica is the only Neoclassical monument in the city and is Hungary’s third-largest cathedral.
It was raised between 1831 and 1837 during the bishopric of János László Pyrker.
Built to inspire awe, the cathedral’s eastern main portal is approached from the Lyceum via three sets of stairways and has a temple-like portico with eight Corinthian columns.
Above the pediment are statues of the saints Peter, Paul, Stephen and Ladislaus sculpted by the Italian Marco Casagrande.
Inside, what grabs you is the magnitude of the cathedral and its three soaring frescoed domes.
The first two in the nave are most impressive, and were painted by 20th-century artist Takács István, depicting the ties between the See of Rome and Eger, and the Revelation of St John respectively.
Both works are interwoven with Hungarian folk art motifs.
8. Minorite Church
On the east side of Dobó Square, the splendid Minorite Church was built for a branch of the Franciscan order between 1758 and 1771. A fun piece of trivia about this exuberant monument is that the Father Superior got in trouble when the church was completed as it was deemed too lavish for the normally austere Franciscans.
It is the only Baroque church in Hungary with a curved facade and has two 57-metre towers capped with wrought iron crosses.
You can also make out the coat of arms of the Franciscan order.
The glorious frescoes on the ceiling were painted by the Bratislavan artist Márton Reindl in 1769-70, while there are seven theatrical Baroque monuments to be wowed by.
The most imposing is the main altar, with marble columns and sculptures of St Bonaventure and St Ludwig flanking a painting of the Education of Mary in the Temple also by the Austrian Johann Lucas Kracker.
9. Szent Miklós-templom
Eger received an influx of Serbian and Greek refugees in the 17th century, fleeing the advance of the Ottoman Empire.
They settled in the northern part of the city and were initially allowed by the bishopric to worship in a former Augustine church.
Later, in the 18th century the wealth members of the Serbian and Greek community were given permission to build a new Orthodox church on the proviso that it was outside the city walls.
The magnificent late-Baroque St Nicholas’ Church has a striking portal carved by the Italian mason Giovanni Adami.
The best bit is the glorious iconostasis, with 60 panels of icons that were painted from 1789 to 1791. Just in front of the iconostasis to the left is an Rococo pulpit with marble effect and gilding.
A curious fact about this fitting is that it was never actually used for services.
10. Small Provost’s Palace
On Kossuth Lajos Utca, this refined monument is considered the best expression of Baroque architecture in Eger.
The Small Provost’s Palace was completed in 1758 for the provost count Ignác Batthyány.
In 1849, during the Hungarian War of Independence the palace was where the commanders of the Hungarian army convened before the decisive Battle of Kápolna.
The palace’s has a fine stuccoed facade that stands out for the dainty wrought iron window grates and balcony produced at the prestigious ironworks of Henrik Fazola.
11. Archbishop’s Garden
Spreading out over 12 hectares on the east bank of the Eger Stream is the city’s main public park.
For centuries this was an episcopal property, used as a hunting ground from the 1200s, and only opened to the public in 1919. In the 18th century the space was turned into a formal garden under Erdődy Gábor Antal and during the bishopric of Eszterházy Károly in the second half of the 18th century the space was walled off.
On the north and west sides you can still see the ornamental iron gates designed by Henrik Fazola.
The park has a man-made lake crossed by an 18th-century stone bridge and is laid out in the French formal style of the 1700s.
Classical concerts are given at the bandstand next Klapka Utca in summer.
12. Eger Thermal Bath
On Eger’s outskirts is a top-notch outdoor water attraction, appealing to grown-ups who want to bathe in Eger’s therapeutic waters as well as kids out for fun.
There are seven pools in total, counting three therapeutic pools with safe amounts of naturally-occurring radon in the water, and a warm thermal pool with slightly sulphurous water at 37°C. You can head for the main swimming pool if you want to get some laps in, or just float around in the “entertainment pool”, which is partly covered with a dome.
Kids on the other hand can run wild in their own pool, which has an imaginative castle with waterfalls and slides.
13. Egri Road Beatles Múzeum
Coming to northern Hungary you may not have counted on visiting a museum to the Fab Four.
But that’s just what awaits you at the Hotel Korona, where two lifelong Beatles fanatics, Gábor Molnár and Gábor Peterdi, have put their collections on display.
These have been assembled over decades and include playable reproductions of the band’s favoured instruments, posters, clothing, toys, limited edition records and newspaper cuttings.
The museum has a timeline for the band, from Quarrymen to breakup, and an interactive area where you can see a movie and listen the Beatles recordings through headphones.
14. Bükk National Park
Eger is 10 kilometres from the southwestern edge of Hungary’s largest national park.
Mountainous and coated with large tracts of beech and oak woodland, the Bükk National Park is famed for its karst rock formations in the shape of caves (the longest and deepest in the country can be found here), ravines and sinkholes.
The park’s caves were inhabited for tens of thousands of years, and Neanderthal tools and bone remains have been found in many.
For days out you could ride the narrow gauge Lillafüred Forest Train, see the cascades at Szilvasvárad, browse the outdoor folk museum at Hollókő or hike in Nagy-Mező (Great Meadow), bright with wildflowers in early summer.
15. Kopcsik Marcipánia
The master confectioner Lajos Kopcsik has won just about every prize possible during his illustrious 60-year career.
One of his crowning achievements is a museum where almost everything you see is made of marzipan and painted with tempera.
This could be an opulent Baroque salon with marzipan carpet, wallpaper, stucco, paintings, furniture and other ornaments, all composed over three years.
There are also nods to Eger’s culture, like a marzipan reproduction of its famous minaret and a wine bottle two metres high.
Kopcsik is still going strong, and his most recent creations are an enormous still life and the “dream of butterflies”, with 62 individual marzipan butterflies.