Things to do in Hungary
Budapest is the epicentre of Hungary in terms of size, beauty and action. The twin cities of Buda and Pest are easily explored by foot or public transport. Highlights include lush green parks like the romantic Memento Park, the majestic riverbanks of the Danube, old-school churches and castles like St Stephen’s Basilica and Buda Castle, underground thermal spas and the ruin pubs (romkocsma) that occupy abandoned buildings in the city’s centre. Location and accessibility makes Budapest a handy base for exploring the rest of the country.
The second most popular tourist destination in Hungary is Pecs due to the Necropolis of Sopianae, a UNESCO World Heritage Site rich in Turkish architectural monuments and studded with museums. To the southwest, the vast Lake Balaton is a fun party hub. Here, drink the ‘sour water’ in the small resort town of Balatonfured for its alleged healing properties or partake in the myriad watersports on offer.
Whether you believe in the magic of Hungary’s water or not, it’s still worth enjoying a medical, health or wellness treatment at an affordable price in one the hundreds of spas and thermal baths scattered across the country. A spa treatment can be a rich cultural experience with many places featuring ancient techniques in Roman, Greek, Turkish architectural surrounds.
In Budapest, the annual Spring Festival, held each March to April, features more than 200 separate opera, ballet, classical and other musical genre performances throughout the city’s iconic grounds. The Autumn Music Festival in October is also a treat as are the city’s Christmas markets. Lake Balaton hosts some 800 events for the Valley of Magic Festival each June and the south plays host to the bizarre masquerade festival, Busójárás, where the locals re-enact scaring away Turkish armies. For more must-see sights in Hungary, here’s our checklist.
One of Europe’s most iconic bridges, Széchenyi Chain Bridge is one of 9 river crossings in Budapest. The stunning suspension bridge offers amazing views of the Pest and Buda sides of the city and really flourishes at night – best seen via a cruise down the Danube River.
With an enviable position along the Danube River, the eclectic and imposing Buda Castle is one of Budapest’s most popular attractions. Home to museums, galleries and a library by day, these palatial buildings are even more impressive lit up at night.
A sobering but nonetheless must-see museum is the former Communist secret police building in Budapest – now known as the House of Terror. The interactive and highly informative museum showcases the life of detainees and Hungarians under the country’s ‘double occupation’.
Parties, watersports and towns rich in culture enliven the banks of the silky yellow waters of Lake Balaton in landlocked Transdanubia. Over 70 kilometres long, the ‘Hungarian Sea’ is Central Europe’s largest lake and one of its most popular tourist destinations.
Hotels and skiing pistes are scattered throughout Hungary’s highest peak Kékes, which translates to ‘bluish’ due to the 1,014 metre-high mountain’s colour. Located in the Mátra mountain range, it’s also a picturesque location for amateur mountaineers, climbers and scenery lovers.