Hungary has a fascinating history and the country is full of rich and varied cultural traditions. Ever since the country emerged from the shadows of Communism at the end of the 1980’s, it has been a popular destination with travellers. With a mixture of natural, historical and cultural sites to visit, tourists are certain to be able to find something to peak their interest!
Let’s explore the best things to do in Hungary:
1. Great Market Hall, Budapest
Although there are thousands of markets in Hungary, the Grand Market Hall in Budapest is probably the most well known of them all.
This multi-storey market is situated in an impressive neogothic building, close to the banks of the Danube.
Inside you will find local farmers and traders selling a huge variety of produce.
As a rule, you will find fresh fruit and vegetables, and meats on the ground floor, touristic souvenirs (including Hungarian chess sets) and cafes in the upper floors, and fresh fish and miscellaneous shops in the basement, although many visitors prefer to just get lost in the hustle and bustle of the market.
The market is open every day except Sundays.
2. Dohány Street Synagogue, Budapest
The Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest is one of the largest synagogues in the world outside of Israel.
The original synagogue was bombed and appropriated by Nazi Germany during World War II, and the synagogue was only formally restored during the 1990’s.
Visit the garden to see the beautiful silver weeping willow memorial, whose leaves bear the names of some of Budapest’s deceased or missing Jewish population.
You will also find a touching memorial to Swedish diplomat Roual Wallenberg, who saved the lives of hundreds of Hungarian Jews during World War II. Large bags are not allowed in the synagogue and small bags may be searched on entry, so it is worth bearing this in mind when you are planning your visit.
The synagogue is open most days, except Saturdays.
3. Cave Bath, Miskolc-tapolca
The Cave Bath at Miskolc-Tapolca is a must see attraction for anyone who enjoys relaxation and pampering.
This thermal spa bath is located in a natural cave system, which can only be explored by wading in.
The water, which is rich in minerals and sits at a constant temperature of 30C, is reportedly good for the health.
The thermal waters here have been drawing in visitors since the 17th century, but they only gained widespread popularity after a new bathing complex was opened in the 1940s.
As well as a variety of different pools, there are also spa treatments available on site.
The baths are open all year, except January.
4. Lake Balaton
Lake Balaton is Central Europe’s largest lake and is one of the country’s top tourist attractions.
During the Summer season, the majority of Hungarian families will try to take a trip out to the lake to spend a few days enjoying the hot, summer sun by its shores.
Attractions include swimming, fishing and sailing on the lake.
If you don’t have your own boat, there are plenty of places to hire small vessels for a reasonable price.
During the Winter, visitors to the lake can go skating or ice fishing.
5. Busójárás, Mohács
The Busójárás festival takes place in the six days leading up to Ash Wednesday.
The townsfolk dress up in traditional masks with demonic faces, and then parade through the town.
Depending on who you listen to, this tradition either stemmed from a historic attempt to scare away invaders, or it is part of the pagan tradition of scaring away winter.
As well as a wide array of unusual masks, you will also be able to enjoy traditional folk music and local delicacies.
The festival moves according to the date of Easter, so make sure that you check dates in advance.
6. Danube River Cruise
For centuries, the Danube has been considered to be the lifeblood of Hungary, and many of the other states in Central and Eastern Europe.
Taking a cruise along the Danube is a fantastic way to see many of the best sites from a different perspective.
Whether you choose to take a stunning night cruise through Budapest, or whether you choose a longer all-day cruise around the Danube Bend (taking in Visegrad, Estergom and Szentendre), you marvel at what you can see from your boat.
Cruise run almost every single day of the year, and boat companies can be found along the banks of the Danube.
7. Eger Wine Region
Although Hungary is most famous for its sweet dessert wines from Tokaj, you should not miss out on a visit to the Eger wine region.
In the region you will find a large number of vineyards and wine cellars where you can sample the local wares.
The “Bulls Blood” variety comes highly recommended.
In a bid to boost tourism, many cellars put on special wine tasting nights where visitors can enjoy traditional foods and dancing, as well as trips into the cask cellars.
8. Mosque of Pasha Qasim, Pécs
This fantastic building was originally erected in the latter half of the 16th Century whilst the country was under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
Although it was designed as a mosque (the minaret was removed from the building by Jesuits in 1766), it is now in use as a Roman Catholic Church.
It is one of the finest examples of Turkish architecture in the whole country.
Despite its current use, it is still possible to see inscriptions from the Koran in certain sections of the building.
The Christian symbolism in the church is also well worth looking at.
Visitors are not permitted in the church during religious ceremonies.
9. Hungarian Parliament Building, Budapest
The Hungarian Parliament Building is an amazing example of the Gothic Revival style of architecture.
Sitting on the banks of the Danube, the building is currently the largest in Hungary and the tallest in Budapest.
Hundreds of spires and arches sit around an impressive central dome, which looks out across a large square, where political rallies often take place.
Thanks to creative lighting, the building looks even more impressive at night.
Tours around sections of the interior run daily, and are available in a wide variety of different languages.
Check times online to find a suitable session.
10. Gödöllő Palace
The magnificent Gödöllő Palace was originally built in the 18th century as a home for an aristocratic Hungarian family.
When the last member of the family died in the mid-19th Century, the palace was bought by royalty.
Franz Joseph I (the ruler of Austro-Hungary) and his wife Elisabeth (also known as Sisi) used to spend every summer at the palace.
During the Communist era, much of the building fell into disrepair, although some wings were used as an old people’s home during this time.
Restoration work has since been completed, and the palace has now reopened to visitors.
The park and grounds are open daily, although sections of the grounds may be closed in bad weather.
11. Hortobágy National Park
Hortobágy National Park is part of the Great Plains of Hungary, and is the largest area of protected landscape in the country.
As well as magnificent vistas, the area is also well known for its rich cultural heritage.
There is a strong agricultural tradition in the area, and most visitors will take the opportunity to find out more about how farming in the region has evolved over the years.
Many of the herdsmen in the area still farm rare breeds.
Elsewhere in the National Park, it is possible to see a huge array of wildlife and plants, including a small population of rare, semi-wild Przewalski Horses.
12. Necropolis of Sopianae, Pécs
The Necropolis of Sopianae is one of Hungary’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
In the 4th Century, Pécs (then known as Sopianae by the Roman Empire) was an important Christian stronghold, and this Necropolis displays a mixture of Christian and Roman influences.
The painted frescos and sarcophaguses which can be seen at the site are very interesting examples of early Christian artworks.
As the city of the dead expanded, other collections of tombs sprung up around the city but these have less cultural importance than the main Christian works.
13. Caves of Aggtelek Karst
The Caves of Aggtelek Karst National Park are one of 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country, but it is the only natural site of this number.
Enter the caves to see an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites, including some of the largest stalactites in Europe.
Due to the rich and varied mineral content of the ground above, there are also some wonderfully patterned rocks.
It is possible to do special tours which allow you to also see the Slovak Karst caves (across the border) including one of the most impressive ice caves in Europe.
14. Esztergom Basilica
This basilica is one of the largest buildings in Hungary outside of Budapest, and inside the building it is possible to see the largest painting in the world on a single piece of canvas.
This masterpiece by Girolamo Michelangelo Grigoletti portrays the Assumption of the Virgin.
The huge crypt in the Basilica, which was built in the 19th Century in an Old Egyptian Style, contains the remains of several archbishops and other high ranking members of the clergy, including Cardinal Mindszenty, who famously spent 15 years living in the American Embassy in Budapest after getting political asylum there during the Communist Era.
15. Pannonhalma Archabbey
The Abbey at Pannonhalma was founded in 996 and has continued to grow and thrive since then.
At present, there are around 50 monks living at the Abbey, and there is also a theology college and boys boarding school on site.
The archives at the abbey contain some of Hungary’s oldest documents, including the oldest known written Hungarian text.
Monks at the abbey have been making wine since the abbey was founded.
Despite the fact that the Communist authorities confiscated their vineyards (and other land) during the 1940s, the monks have recently resurrected their wine-making traditions.
16. Visegrád Castle
The remains of the castle at Visegrád sit atop a hill overlooking the town, but it is well worth the climb to explore the ruins and admire the view.
The earliest parts of the castle were constructed in the 13th Century by King Béla IV of Hungary as an attempt to strengthen fortifications along the Danube in the hope of preventing further invasions from the river.
The castle later became a summer palace for King Matthias Corvinus, who Hungarian’s often consider to have been one of the country’s greatest rulers.
17. Sziget Festival, Budapest
Every year, Hungarians and international tourists flock to Budapest for the Sziget (island) Festival, which takes place on the Óbudai-sziget island in the middle of the Danube.
The festival hosts a variety of different musical acts from a wide array of different musical genres.
Major world-renowned acts that have previously appeared at the festival include; The Killers, Iron Maiden, Prince, Blink 182, Macklemore and 2 Many Dj’s.
Tickets regularly sell out shortly after the acts are announced, so keep your eye out for line-up announcements if you wish to attend.
18. Hollókő Village
This village has been given UNESCO status because of unique architecture, cultural heritage and traditions.
The inhabitants of the village belonged to an ethnic group called the Palôcz, who had inhabited the area for centuries, and who had preserved many of their traditional ways of life.
Visit the village to see some prime examples of rural life from before the agricultural revolution.
Almost all repair work, maintenance and farming which is done in the village is still done in the same way that it would have been done in the 18th or 19th century.
19. Great Church, Debrecen
This iconic church stands as a symbol of Protestantism in Hungary, and is the country’s largest Protestant house of worship.
The Church was constructed in the early 19th Century in a neoclassical style, with Baroque elements being added in later on the tower roofs.
Visitors who climb to the top of the West Tower (210 steps!) will be rewarded with spectacular views of the city.
The Rákóczi Bell which sits in this tower weighs over 5 tonnes, and is the largest bell in Hungary.
20. Gate of Faith, Sopron
The Gate of Faith (or “loyalty gate”) is the Baroque door frame and sculpture at the bottom of the 12th century Firewatch Tower, which depicts the people of Sopron paying homage to the anthropomorphised figure of Hungaria.
The sculpture was created to commemorate the fact that the local population refused to cede to Austria following a request which was made as part of the treaty of Trianon.
The majority of citizens who took part in the vote choose to remain loyal to Hungary, and therefore the town remained part of Hungarian territory.
21. Memento Park, Budapest
This fascinating museum park in the outskirts of Budapest is dedicated to the numerous Communist monuments and statues which used to stand around the city.
Many of these statues were brought down by the general public after the Communist Regime fell in 1989, or were removed and put in storage, as nobody knew what to do with them.
The park was opened in 1993, as a way to showcase these statues as an important part of the history of the country.
As well as the statues, there is a small museum, which includes information about life under the communist regime.
22. Tokaj wine region
Tokaj is the most famous wine-making region in the whole of Hungary.
Wine has been produced in the area for over 1000 years, and Tokaji wine is well known around the world.
Emperor Fraz Josef would frequently send out wine from this region as a gift to other European leaders.
The most popular wines from the Tokaj region are sweet wines, which have been made from grapes which are affected by a non-harmful type of fungus, which is often called “noble rot”.
23. The Caves of Lillafüred
There are three famous caves within walking distance of the spa town of Lillafüred, which can all be explored as part of a long walk.
At the Petőfi Cave it is possible to see the fossilised remains of long dead plant species, as well as an assortment of interesting limestone formations.
Moving on the István Cave, it is possible to see some impressive stalactites and stalagmites.
Unfortunately some of these age-old natural sculptures were damaged during World War II. The Szeleta Cave is much further away and less touristic.
A number of prehistoric artefacts have been found here by archaeologists.
24. Eger Castle
Eger Castle, which was inspired by the designs of a number of Italian fortresses, was formerly one of Hungary’s first lines of defence in the north of the country.
In 1552, an army of 40000 Ottoman Turks attacked the castle, but the defences held, and the majority of the inhabitants survived.
Unfortunately a subsequent siege by the Turks in the 1596 resulted in a Turkish victory.
Visitors to the castle today will be able to see many of the Turkish influences on the building, however a section of the fortress was later blown up by Austrians.
25. The Buda Hills, Budapest
The Buda Hills, which lie in the western half of the city, are some of the greenest, cleanest areas of the city.
You will find numerous biking and hiking trails to follow, which all have an easy-to-medium difficulty level.
Alternatively take the Children’s Railway, which is (almost) entirely staffed by children aged 10-14. Travelling to the highest point in the hills will give you a great view across the city, and will give you the opportunity to see things from a different perspective.
Take a picnic with you, so that you will be able to treat yourself when you make it to the top.