At the junction of three rivers in northwest Hungary’s Western Transdanubia region, Győr is a city with a whole raft of Baroque architecture.
The centre of attention is the Káptalan Hill at the confluence of the Danube, Rába and Rábca, where landmarks like the episcopal castle and cathedral basilica have been raised and then demolished by invading armies since Medieval times.
Those two monuments today are Győr’s headline attractions, with Baroque design, and traces of far older architecture on the castle’s lower levels.
On the cycle-friendly squares and streets around the hill are Italianate churches and yellow-toned houses, many with museums worth a visit.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Győr:
1. Győr Old Town
After Budapest and Sopron, Győr is the third richest city in Hungary for historic monuments.
Most of the Old Town’s streets are on straight lines in an irregular grid system that drops you at stately squares like Bécsi Kapu Tér (Viennese Gate) and Széchenyi Tér.
The architecture is Baroque and Neoclassical, mostly from the 18th and 19th century, with regal stucco facades painted in light yellow and pastel tones.
The oldest, most tangled and most compact quarter of Győr is the Káptalan Hill, the cobblestone episcopal district at the confluence of the Rába, Rábca and Danube.
Here you’ll stumble upon the cathedral and the Püspökvár (bishops’ palace), easy to pick out for its flat-topped tower.
2. Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady
The radiant Baroque church on Káptalan Hill has had a tempestuous history since it was consecrated at the start of the 11th century by King Stephen I. That initial Romanesque monument was flattened by the Mongols in 1241, and its replacement had to be completely rebuilt from the 1630s after the city’s brief Ottoman occupation.
The man responsible for the design was the Italian Giovanni Battista Rava, and work would continue through to the 1770s.
The image of the Virgin Mary on the altar at the north side of the nave is one of Hungary’s most venerated pilgrimage sites.
The altars were carved in Vienna, and preeminent painters like Franz Anton Maulbertsch and his students were hired for their altarpieces and the dazzling frescoes on the barrel vault.
3. St Ignatius of Loyola Benedictine Church
Flanked by a connected grammar school and monastery building on Széchenyi Tér, this Italian-designed church is the earliest example of Baroque religious architecture in Hungary.
Now Benedictine, the church and its adjacent monastery were founded by the Jesuits and built between 1634 and 1641. People with an eye for Baroque architecture may be able to tell that the design is based on Rome’s Church of the Gesù, which was the prototype for Jesuit churches across the world.
There’s an inscription on the lintel confirming the date of the church’s dedication in 1641. The interior decoration is from the 18th century, with solemn trompe-l’œil ceiling frescoes that were painted by the Viennese Rococo master Paul Troger.
He also produced the altarpiece, The Glorification of St Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits), framed by marble columns and profuse gold leaf.
4. Püspökvár (Episcopal Castle and Palace)
At the crest of the Káptalan Hill sits the fortified residence of Győr’s bishops, which has a mixture of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.
At the core of the complex is the sturdy keep, with Gothic elements on its lower levels , built in the wake of the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, and a Baroque pediment and balustrade at the top.
Dating to the 15th century, the chapel connecting with east wall of the keep is a peculiar multi-level building.
A little earlier is the “runaway corridor” from the 1300s, linking to a fabulous hall with groin vaults.
The palace and castle were last restored in 1984 and there are hourly guided tours on the hour, Tuesday to Sunday.
5. Városháza (Town Hall)
At Győr’s busiest spot, the Town Hall is on the intersection between the east-west Szent István út and the north-south Baross út.
This monument is an instantly recognisable sight in Hungary, and has a neo-Baroque design conceived by the architect Hübner Jenő in the 1890s.
The building has more than 200 rooms, measures 85 metres long and the central tower is 59 metres above the little formal gardens in the square.
On the facade you can make out Győr’s coat of arms, and if you poke your head inside the lobby has life-sized Carrara marble sculptures of the 13th-century King Stephen V who granted town privileges to Győr, and the esteemed 19th-century local businessman József Bisinger.
6. Bécsi Kapu Tér (Vienna Gate Square)
Just south of Káptalan Hill this narrow plaza is lauded as one of Hungary’s most beautiful Baroque squares.
The west side of the square opens onto the Rába River where the mighty Renaissance Vienna Gate used to stand.
On the riverfront you there’s a section of the 16th-century ramparts which were mostly pulled down in the 19th century to help the city grow.
The main monument here is the Carmelite Church, which we’ll bring up below, but beside this is a tiny chapel holding an exquisite Baroque image of the Virgin Mary from 1717 by the Italian sculptor Giovanni Giuliani.
Just to the east of the Carmelite Church is the Altabak-ház, dating to 1620, built for canons, with delightful bay windows and a hefty wooden gate concealing a courtyard and loggia.
7. Kármelita Templom (Carmelite Church)
The sight that gets the most attention on Bécsi Kapu Tér is the yellow-painted Carmelite Church at the southern end, unmistakeable for its single onion-domed tower.
The Carmelites came to Győr at the end of the 17th century and this Italianate church was raised in the first half of the 1720s.
On the facade, which has the characteristic Baroque volutes and pilasters there’s a image of the Virgin Mary in pediment by another Italian sculptor, Diego Carlone.
On niches on either side of the portal are statues of the famous Carmelites, Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross.
The most valuable works inside are the altar and side altars, designed in the 1720s by the Carmelite monk Ferenc Richter.
The side altars are remarkable for their altarpieces by the Naples-born painter Martino Altomonte.
8. Diocesan Treasury, Library and Lapidary
A typically handsome 17th-century palace, one street from Káptalan Hill holds the treasury and library for the Győr Diocese.
The residence was commissioned by the bishop Széchényi György in 1688 and the diocese’s extensive book and art collections were brought here in 1992. Some of the many ecclesiastical objects to check out are 18th-century vestments, bishops’ mitres, polychrome statues, paintings and works of goldsmithery like crosses, chalices and tabernacles.
The atmospheric library abounds with incunabula, codices and early Hungarian books.
In the lapidarium are Romanesque fragments salvaged from the foundations of the episcopal complex and the basilica.
9. House of the Iron Stump
At no. 4 on Széchenyi Tér is a curious early Baroque house from the 17th century.
On one corner there’s a tree trunk studded with nails, the explanation being that every tradesman passing by the stump had to hammer a nail in for good luck.
Above it there’s a circular bay window, held up by sculpted corbels.
The house is a museum hosting the Imre Patkó Collection, notable for avant-garde art by the likes of Victor Vasarely, Béla Kondor, Endre Bálint and Lajos Kassák.
This is complemented by Chinese art and an ethnographic collection from Africa, Oceania and the Far East.
10. Esterházy Palace
This refined late-Baroque mansion on Király Utca hosts the headquarters of the municipal art museum, which has various branches around Győr.
The palace took on its current design at the end of the 18th century when it was in the hands of Count Gábor Esterházy, who transformed a set of smaller medieval properties into one resplendent house.
As for the art inside, the permanent exhibition is centred on the collection of Dr Béla Radnai, alive in the 20th century.
He picked up a trove of pieces by members of the Gresham Circle, a Budapest-based Modernist movement in the 1920s.
Some of the artists represented in the collection are sculptor Ferenc Medgyessy, and painters like István Szönyi, József Egry and István Nagy.
Across the Rába, in an industrial zone, Győr’s Neolog synagogue is hard to miss for its mighty grey dome.
This monument was erected at the end of the 1860s in the neo-Romanesque style, and testifies to the financial means of the city’s industrialists at this time.
The synagogue is a little run-down, but restorations are ongoing.
The building has real architectural significance as it was used as a template for synagogues across central Europe in the late-19th century.
Since 1990, concerts and regular cultural events like the Mediawave film festival have been hosted here, and the art collection of the 20th-century entrepreneur János Vasilescu is on show.
A small Jewish cemetery sits behind, neatly kept by the synagogue’s caretakers.
12. Xántus János Múzeum
On Széchenyi Tér, this museum is in yet another of Győr’s many delightful Baroque mansions.
The Apátur House, recognised by its mullioned bay window, dates to the early-1740s and was ordered by Sajghó Benedek, the Pannonhalma archbishop.
Founded in 1849, the museum inside is one of Hungary’s oldest public collections.
There are Roman, Migration Period (4th-6th centuries) and Pannonian artefacts, as well as coins and items relating to Győr’s Medieval guilds.
You can also view an exhibition of traditional tile stoves from the region, as well as postage stamps and an array of medical artefacts donated by the Petz family.
The museum is named for John Xantus, who was exiled from Hungary during the War of Independence in the mid-19th century and made his name as a zoologist travelling across North America.
13. Castle Casemates and Lapidarium
Also on Bécsi Kapu Tér is the entrance to the casemate in the Győr’s ramparts on the right ban of the Rába.
There had been walls protecting the episcopal palace on Káptalan Hill since the reign of King Stephen I at the start of the 11th century, but these took on added importance in the 16th century when Győr’s was the most powerful fort in a line of defences protecting the approach to Vienna against the Ottomans.
These walls were laced with casemates, and stuffed with firepower.
Only a small length of the ramparts and the Sforza-demi-bastion survives, and this corridor and courtyard hosts a neat little lapidarium.
Here you can peruse the fragments of the dismantled Vienna Gate, designed like a Roman triumphal arch, as well as a damaged chunk of the Fehérvár Gate, Roman-era steles, sarcophagi, milestones and an intriguing collection of antique bricks.
14. Pannonhalma Archabbey
The essential day out if you’re in Győr is this UNESCO World Heritage active Benedictine abbey around 20 minutes by road to the south.
This hill-top monument is counted among the oldest in Hungary, with roots going back to the end of the 10th century.
It is believed that Martin of Tours, the 4th-century bishop who became venerated on the Way of St James, was born at the foot of this hill.
Pannonhalma Archabbey is the second-largest territorial abbey in the world, and has a miscellany of architecture in its basilica, cloisters and monastic buildings, from Romanesque to Neoclassical.
Three things you simply have to experience are that early-Gothic basilica, the Baroque Refectory with profuse trompe-l’œil frescoes and the stupendous Neoclassical library stacked with 350,000 volumes.
15. Xántus János Zoo
Just the ticket for families, this small well-kept zoo specialises in animals from Africa.
There are giraffes, lions, zebras, pygmy hippos, chimpanzees, sitatungas and baboons, as well as an array of African birdlife including trumpeter hornbill and African grey parrots.
And from around the world you can stand a few feet from jaguars, white Bengal tigers, black bears, Asian small-clawed otters, anteaters and a great deal more.
The terrarium and reptile house features monitor lizards, pythons, a variety of tortoises and turtles and dwarf crocodiles, while flamingos have their own pool to wade in.