An industrial city in northeastern Hungary, Miskolc has endless beech-clad mountains in its backyard at the Bükk National Park.
In Medieval times, Diósgyőr Castle, now inside Miskolc, was an retreat for the Kings and Queens of Hungary, and the newly restored monument puts on Medieval fairs and re-enactments in summer.
Further west, the resort of Lillafüred is couched between tall hills in the national park and has a plush lakeside hotel from the 1920s at the top of hanging gardens.
Back in the heart of the city are art museums and Orthodox and Gothic Medieval churches, while the Miskolctapolca spa resort in the suburbs has thermal pools inside a real limestone cave.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Miskolc:
1. Castle of Diósgyőr
Eight kilometres west of the centre of Miskolc, the Castle of Diósgyőr is on a spur in the foothills of the Bükk Mountains.
This stronghold was adapted by Louis I of Hungary in the mid-14th century, coinciding with the castle’s greatest period.
Over the 150 years up to 1526 it was handed down a line of six different queens, which is where the nickname “Castle of Queens” comes from.
The Castle of Diósgyőr is constructed on a square plan and has a soaring tower on each corner.
The remainder of the complex has now been restored and decorated up to its second level, apart from the southwestern wing, which has been left in a ruined state since it was hit by lightning in the 1800s.
Visit in May and August for the “Castle Games”, a festival with Medieval tournaments, markets and re-enactments of pivotal events in Hungary in the Middle Ages.
A bit further west, in the mountain environment of the Bükk National Park, Lillafüred is an elegant resort developed at the turn of the 20th century.
Above the finger-like Hámori Lake is the Palace Hotel, designed in a resplendent neo-Renaissance style in the late-1920s by the architect Kálmán Lux.
Flowing down the slope is a sublime terraced garden, which we’ll talk about next.
There are natural limestone caves a short way from the hotel, massive swathes of oak and beech forest, a narrow-gauge railway and a small museum for the polymath Ottó Herman.
3. Terraced Gardens in Lillafüred
The hanging gardens below the hotel are laid out on themed terraces between the Szinva and Garadna streams.
This is also the site of the tallest waterfall in Hungary, at 20 metres high and also manmade.
Those terraces on the way up to the Palace Hotel have names like “Terrace of Youth and Meetings”, where there’s a children’s playground and outdoor entertainment space, and Terrace of Flowers, which has cheerful flowerbeds throughout the summer.
The Terrace of Sculpture meanwhile is an open-air exhibition area with sculpture and public art installations, while at the foot of the waterfall is the “Anna Lookout”, posted above the Anna Cave.
4. Lillafüredi Vízesés (Lillafüred Waterfall)
When you regard the idyllic waterfall beside the terrace, it’s hard to believe it’s not natural.
These falls only came about in the late-1920s, as the Szinva had to be redirected to make way for the Palace Hotel.
Either way, at 20 metres high it’s the highest waterfall in Hungary, and changes with the seasons.
In spring there’s a roaring discharge, come August there’s not much more than a gossamer trickle, while in mid-Winter the waterfall will freeze all together.
On the terrace next to the falls is a bronze statue of the renowned 20th-century poet, József Attila, whose work has reached an international audience.
The terrace here is dedicated to the poem, “Ode”, which he wrote after spending time in Lillafüred.
5. Hámori Lake
Like a lot of Lillafüred, the lake at the resort is the result of human intervention, and was formed when the Szinva and Garadna streams were dammed in the early 19th century to provide an iron furnace with a steady water supply.
The lake is 1.5 kilometres long, bending between the high wooded valley sides.
On the eastern shore by the resort there’s a scenic promenade and you can hire a bike in the summer, or rent a rowboat or paddle boat for a brief voyage.
Hámori Lake normally freezes over in winter, when people go ice skating in January and February.
6. Ottó Herman Múzeum
Named in honour of the 19th-century polymath Ottó Herman, this multi-branch museum is the largest in the city and its collections have been assembled across the Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén County.
The main building is the grand hall on Görgey Utca, with galleries dedicated to Hungarian painting from Baroque to Art Nouveau, exhibited in chronological order.
You’ll begin with 17th and 18th-century masters like Jakab Bogdány and Ádám Mányoki and work your way through Romantics such as Viktor Madarász and Mihály Munkácsy.
Finally you’ll witness the birth of Modernism in Hungary, through the works of artists like József Rippl-Rónai and János Nagy Balogh, active at the turn of the 20th century.
7. Pannon Sea Museum
Under the same umbrella, the Pannon Sea Museum was revamped in 2013 with two new exhibitions, and takes you on a journey back to the days of the prehistoric Pannonian Sea.
Most of modern day Hungary was submerged beneath this body of water in the Miocene and Pliocene Epochs up to two million years ago.
With a fun but educational tone, the museum tells the story of the fossilised seven million-year-old cypress trees found half an hour south of Miskolc in Bükkábrány.
In showcases are more fossils of prehistoric plants and animals, including the remains of a rudapithecus, a large ape and possible human ancestor that roamed the region around ten million years ago.
8. Greek Orthodox Church
Raised at the turn of the 19th century in the late-Baroque Zopf style, Miskolc’s Orthodox Church has the largest Iconostasis in Central Europe.
This remarkable creation, trimmed with marble and gold Solomonic columns, is 16 metres high and has 88 paintings from the Life of Jesus.
All but four of these were painted by the Austrian Anton Kuchelmeister, while the frame was produced at a workshop in Eger.
In the churchyard is a cemetery with gravestones dating back three centuries, and from here you can enter the Orthodox Museum.
The first room is a recreation of the sort of small chapels where Hungary’s Orthodox creations worshipped before larger churches were built.
The second room has vestments like a sticharion, while the third is furnished with goldsmithery and a collection of icons.
9. Gothic Protestant Church of Avas
Miskolc’s oldest monument is a Reformation church on the lower slopes of the Avas Hill in the centre of the city.
The church was founded in 13th century, and that first Romanesque building was enlarged as a late-Gothic German-style hall church in the 15th century.
Decades later the church lost its roof during the Ottoman occupation in 1544. As this was a protestant church, the catholic owner of the Diósgyőr estate refused to supply the timber necessary for a rebuild, and the church was open to the elements for two decades before it was reconstructed.
The carillon in the belfry has a version of the Westminster Quarters every 15 minutes since 1941. Close by is a 10-hectare cemetery with gravestones going back to the 17th and 18th centuries, resting place of a number of prominent citizens like Bertalan Szemere, the prime minister during the Hungarian Revolution of 1848.
10. Miskolc Cave Bath
Fed by thermal waters filtered through the karst stone of the Bükk Mountains, this bathing complex is inside a natural cave and belongs to the larger Miskolctapolca spa resort.
There are seven indoor pools, including a hydro-massage pool, enclosed by the cave’s bare limestone walls and with naturally heated water at temperatures ranging between 29 and 35°C. In summer you can also use the outdoor pools, and there three for children to play in.
To completely de-stress, the Sauna Park has a steam cabin, an array of Finnish saunas with different capacities, three “infrasaunas” as well as an immersion pool at a chilly 16-18°C to cool off.
11. Wooden Church
A great source of affection in Miskolc, this church is newer than it looks, and was only completed in 1999. Its predecessor went up in 1938 but was destroyed in an arson attack in 1997, and this had replaced another wooden church that had been here since the 18th century.
A quirky story linked to the church is that a 19th-century citizen of Miskolc, István Bató, bequeathed it a large amount of money, stipulating that it had to be rebuilt if it ever burns down.
Like the church before it, the current building has intricately carved spruce decoration by artisans from Transylvania, while the body of the building is made from larch and pine.
12. Lillafüred Forest Train
From May to September, this timeless narrow-gauge railway is a tourist favourite, but when it was built in the 1910s its purpose was purely industrial.
Linking Miskolc with Garadna, the train was designed for freight, carrying lumber down from the Bükk Mountains.
Within three years of the line opening a passenger service was introduced, and there’s no better way to get to Lillafüred from Miskolc.
The line traverses gorges and sudden drops and from the carriage you can ponder picturesque vistas of the mountains.
These engines are still diesel-powered and make plenty of noise, while the route can be bumpy, but this is all part of the fun.
The ticket inspector will shuffle along the outside of the carriages, which can be a strange sight.
13. Miskolc Zoo
King Louis I kept his royal menagerie at this spot near Diósgyőr in the 14th century, which makes the zoo there now the oldest in Hungary.
You could come before striking out for the Bükk Mountains as the zoo holds many of the species that inhabit the range, like brown bears, wildcats, buffalos and a variety of deer and goats.
Some of the exotic animals from Asia, Australia, North America, South America and Africa include kangaroos, kookaburras, racoons, pecaris, macaques, camels, a tiger, patas monkeys and a Persian leopard.
The attraction also has an eco-park where you can scale a nine-metre platform in the forest canopy and cross a suspension bridge 32 metres over the forest floor.
14. Miskolc-Avas TV Tower
Capping the Avas Hill to the south of Miskolc’s city centre is an eye-catching piece of Soviet-era design.
This space age structure went up in 1966 and was conceived by the Hungarian architects Miklós Hófer and György Vörös.
It took the place of an observation tower built in 1934 by Bálint Szeghalmy, also responsible for Miskolc’s Wooden Church.
That previous structure was named in honour of the national hero Francis II Rákóczi, who led the uprising against the Habsburg Empire at the start of the 18th century.
It was partly burnt down in 1934 and then destroyed in 1956, supposedly by a Russian tank during the 1956 Revolution.
The current tower has seen better days, but merits the demanding climb up the Avas Hill for the best view of the city.
15. Kocsonyafesztivál (Meat-Jelly Festival)
Every February or March there’s a folk festival in Miskolc to mark the end of winter.
The event takes place over a weekend in the centre of the city at Hősök Tere (Heroes’ Square) and Városház Tér (Town Hall Square). And as you’ll tell from the name, the Meat-Jelly Festival is all about aspic, a prized local preparation.
There are aspic sculpture competitions, stands with aspic to sample, cooking competitions, culinary demonstrations, live music and all kinds of activities for little ones.
The symbol for the whole event is a frog.
And this is based on an old legend about a frog that accidentally jumped into a bowl of aspic and wore a look of befuddlement when it was served to a customer still alive and blinking inside the jelly.
This led to a popular Hungarian idiom to express surprise: “Blinking like a frog in Miskolc meat jelly”.