Debrecen is Hungary’s second largest city, but it is often known as the Capital of the Great Hungarian Plain. Although it may seem as though it is a little far away from Budapest, it is well worth making the trip to experience a different side of Hungary.
The city has also been labelled as the Calvinist Rome, thanks to the city’s strong links with this religious denomination. Whilst you will not encounter as many English speakers as you would in the capital city, you will be sure to feel the warmth and openness of the Debreceni people.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Debrecen:
1. Great Reformed Church
The Great Church is Debrecen is widely recognised to be a symbol of Protestantism in Hungary, and is the most important Protestant church in the country.
Constructed in the early 19th Century in a neoclassical style, the church is instantly recognisable.
Baroque elements were later added to the roofs of the towers.
It is possible for visitors to climb to the top of the West Tower (210 steps!) and those who do will be rewarded with a wonderful view across of the city.
The Rákóczi Bell which is housed in the tower is the largest bell in Hungary.
2. Hortobágyi National Park
Debrecen is the perfect jumping off point for a trip to the Hortobágyi National Park, which is one of the largest areas of national parkland in the country.
The park area is famous for its rich cultural heritage and strong agricultural tradition.
Many visitors come to the park to find out more about how farming evolved in Hungary, and to get the chance to experience some traditional ways of life.
Many rare breeds are still farmed in the area, and it is possible to see a wide variety of wildlife and plants throughout the park.
There is even a small population of rare, semi-wild Przewalski Horses in the park, which are being monitored for conservation efforts.
3. Nagyerdei Water Tower
The Nagyerdei Water Tower has been seen as an iconic relic of the industrial history of the region for decades, but the innovative renovation, which was completed in 2015, has served to repurpose the existing structure.
The area under the tower acts as a bar, restaurant and exhibition venue.
Concert programs are also run in this space.
The central pillar has been transformed into a cylindrical climbing wall with hundreds of holds.
Visitors can also climb the stairs to the top of the tower for the chance to take in some wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding area.
4. Flower Carnival
The flower carnival has been running in the city since 1966, and has now grown to become one of Hungary’s most well known (non-music) festivals.
For one week in August, every year, the city becomes awash with colour, as flower decorations are displayed in almost every corner.
As well as seeing some of the most beautiful flower arrangements in the world, you will also have the opportunity to see Hungarian art, dancing, music and other types of performance.
5. Déri Museum
The Déri Museum, which is housed in an impressive neo-baroque building in the heart of the city, is one of the best collections of cultural and historical pieces in the entire of Hungary.
Two of the most popular items in the museum are Calvary and Ecce Homo, which are part of the Christ Trilogy by Mihály Munkácsy.
Outside of the museum, it is possible to see four world-famous statues by sculptor Ferenc Medgyessy, who was awarded the Grand Prize at the 1937 World Exhibition in Paris for these creations.
Other exhibitions on site include a history of the city and an exhibition about the birds of the region.
6. Ferenc Medgyessy Memorial Museum
If you have been impressed by the bronze sculptures which flank the entrance to the Déri Museum, then you may be interested in visiting the Ferenc Medgyessy Memorial Museum, which is situated in an old burgher house not far from the centre.
The museum was opened to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth, and provides visitors with an interesting insight into Medgyessy’s life and works.
7. Aquaticum Mediterranean Pleasure Baths
The facilities at the Aquaticum baths are some of the most popular in the city, because they are very different from some of the more traditional styles of thermal baths in Hungary.
The domed facility is decorated with tropical plants, so that it seems as though it is summer every day of the year.
As well as adventure elements for the children, such as a wave pool and water slides, there are plenty of relaxing elements for the adults, including Jacuzzis, massage jets and a cave bath.
Spa and wellness facilities are also available at an extra cost.
8. The White Rose of the Revolution
This beautiful monument was erected in the area in front of the University Reformed Church to act as a reminder of the 1956 attempted revolution, and those who died in this struggle.
The revolution aimed to free the Hungarian population from the control of the Soviet sphere of influence; however the revolution was quashed by Soviet troops.
This sculpture was designed and created by Miklós Melocco, who is a member of the Hungarian Academy of Arts.
9. University Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens contain an array of natural flora from across Hungary, as well as some plants from further afield.
Once in the gardens, visitors can stroll amongst approximately 8 hectares of sculpted gardens, greenhouses, ornaments and natural forest.
Around 2 hectares of the “gardens” are part of the primeval Nagyerdő oak forest . One of the greenhouses onsite also includes the most varied collection of succulent plants in the whole of Central and Eastern Europe.
The gardens are open to visitors all year round, although they shut earlier during the winter months.
10. Flower Clock
The Flower Clock was first unveiled in the city in 2009, on the 500th anniversary of Jean Calvin’s birthday.
The installation also coincided with the run-up to the Debrecen Flower Carnival.
The clock hands are decorated with the wings of the phoenix, which are one of the symbols of Debrecen.
The place where the sundial now stands is the site of the house in which Ferenc Kölcsey (author of the text of the Hungarian national anthem) once lived.
11. Hajdu Folk Ensemble
The Folk Ensemble in Debrecen has been running since 1953, when it was formed as part of the Kölcsey Cultural Center.
The Ensemble is formed of seven amateur groups, containing 400 members in total, with the youngest participants just 6 years old.
They give performances about 60 times per year, and their repertoire includes a mixture of traditional and original materials.
They are also able to represent unique folk styles from across the Hungarian speaking areas of Europe.
Seeing a performance by members of this Folk Ensemble is a great way to understand more about the cultural traditions of the Hungarian people.
12. Lake Fancsika
This lake which is just outside Debrecen is a prime destination for those who want to fish for sport using line-fishing techniques.
The lake is home to a few different species, although most fishermen and women come to catch the local carp.
Besides the lake there is a log castle, a children’s playground and plenty of green space, so that the rest of the family will be able to enjoy themselves without disturbing anyone, whilst you wait for something to bite.
13. Reformed College
The Reformed College has been operating for over 450 years, and many important decisions about the fate of the nation were taken within the building’s walls.
For example, in 1849 the Declaration of Independence was adopted in this building, which sought to dethrone the House of Habsburg.
Some of Hungary’s greatest academic, literary and political figures are amongst the “Alma Mater” of the College.
There is a memorial museum on site about the college itself, and the history and religious art of Hungary.
14. St. Anna’s Cathedral
As the Reformed church has such a strong hold on the religious history of Debrecen, it surprises some visitors that there is such a prominent Catholic cathedral in the city.
The existence of this huge Catholic cathedral made even more impressive when you consider that the number of Catholic’s in Debrecen was so low that the faith almost died out here.
A history of Catholicism in Debrecen is presented as an exhibition in the church.
It is also possible to see a replica of the Turin Shroud displayed within the church.
15. Lake Vekeri
This lake lies about 13 km from the centre of Debrecen, and is the ideal place for a day out if you want to get away from the city.
The lake is a popular spot for fishermen, who are able to buy a fishing permit from the river-keeper if they want to catch anything.
It is also possible to take rowing boats out onto the lake and go horse-riding on the shore, and these are very popular pastimes for the locals over the summer.
There is a small music festival at the lake every summer.
For those who want to spend a few days there, there is a popular campsite on the shores of the lake.
16. Nine-holed Bridge
The nine-holed bridge in Hortobágy National Park is an iconic symbol of the park and surrounding areas.
Built in a classical style between 1827 and 1833, this arched stone bridge was the longest of its kind in Hungary (including all of the areas of historic Hungary which are no longer within the borders of the country). With 9 arches, the bridge measures approximately 168 metres long.
Each end of the bridge is wider than the centre, so that it is much easier for herdsmen to “funnel” their animals onto the bridge to allow them to cross safely.
17. Kossuth Square
Kossuth Square is one of the main squares in Debrecen, and is normally playing host to some sort of public event, from being the site of the City Christmas Tree every December, to gastronomic festivals during the summertime.
The square contains an impressive statue and memorial to Lajos Kossuth, who was an important revolutionary figure in Hungary during the 1848 Revolution.
18. Tanner’s House
The Tanner’s House in Debrecen is an interesting memorial to the history of traditional manufacturing in the city of Debrecen.
The house includes exhibitions about a variety of different crafts and trades which have a longstanding tradition in the region.
This includes dressmaking, bone-lace making, fabric dyeing, embroidery, pottery and traditional Hungarian szűrrátétes, which is appliqué on traditional felt cloaks.
As well as displays, there are also visual workshops which allow visitors to see tricks of the trade.
19. Kerekestelep Baths
This spa and swimming pool centre allows visitors to enjoy a calming and peaceful spa area in a safe, natural environment.
There are two main thermal pools (with temperatures up to 43C) and a cold water swimming pool of with variable depths.
The lush, greenery fringed pools are an excellent place to visit during the summer months, and the additional onsite facilities such as tennis courts, campsite and restaurant mean that many people come here for a short break.
20. Debrecen Zoopark
This 17 hectare zoo and amusement park is home to over 1500 specimens from 165 different species.
Visitors are able to see a whole host of different animals from all around the world, as well as getting the chance to see some native Hungarian species.
Highlights of any visit include a trip to the butterfly house, to see some of the world’s most colourful insects.
After you have finished admiring the animals, you can let off steam in the amusement park area, which includes rides and entertainments, including a bumper car rink.
21. Csokonai Theatre
The Csokonai Theatre is a beautiful cultural space in the heart of the city centre.
The present theatre was built in the 19th century and has played host to a number of different performance types.
Foreign visitors (non-Hungarian speakers) may be most interested in taking in an operatic performance, as these are normally performed in their original language.
22. Debreceni VSC
Since the turn of the century, Debrecen’s football team have been carving their place in history, winning the Hungarian championship 8 times and coming second or third 3 further times.
Whilst the team has not managed to progress past the group stages in the UEFA Champions League, they have still become a familiar fixture on the European stage.
Tickets to home game are inexpensive but great value for money, so see if there are any fixtures when you are visiting Debrecen.
23. Irinyi House
The Irinyi House was home to János Irinyi from 1872 to 1892. He is credited with the invention of the non-explosive match.
During a brief foray into politics, he was put in charge of munitions and explosives to assist Hungary in ongoing conflicts of the time period.
Following a stint in prison, he returned to chemistry, and is one of many famous Hungarian chemists.
24. Reformed Small Church
The Reformed Small Church was first built in the seventeenth century, but much of the original structure was damaged by a fire in the 1727. Further damage occurred to the church in 1907, when a huge storm destroyed the onion-dome which topped the tower.
This dome was never rebuilt, and the building earned the nickname “Truncated Church”. It is possible to visit the church from June to September.
25. László Holló Memorial Museum
This museum is another treat for art lovers.
Visitors can see examples of the artist’s work, as well as finding out information about his life.
Paintings by other artists are occasionally on show here as well, including paintings by surrealist artist Ernő Hrabéczy.