Hungary is situated in Central Europe, sharing borders to the north with the Slovak Republic, to the northeast with Ukraine, to the east with Romania, to the south with Croatia and Serbia and to the west with Austria and Slovenia. There are several ranges of hills, chiefly in the north and west. The Great Plain (Nagyalföld) stretches east from the Danube to the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in the CIS, to the mountains of Transylvania in Romania, and south to the Fruska Gora range in Croatia. Lake Balaton is the largest unbroken stretch of inland water in Central Europe.
Hungary does not regard itself as a Balkan or a Slavic country, and the Magyars who settled there from central Asia have always identified with western values. The country has survived the devastations of the Tartars, Turks, Habsburgs and Russians, retaining its unique language and culture. In Hungary, admitting that you’re a tourist is positive and people will often want to meet, talk and help visitors to enjoy their country. For the purpose of this guide the country has been divided into six regions: Budapest, The Danube, The West & Lake Balaton, The Great Plain Area, Southern Hungary and The Northern Highlands.


The capital city was originally two cities on each side of one of the most beautiful stretches of the Danube river – Buda, the older, more graceful part, with cobbled streets and medieval buildings, and Pest, the commercial center. The ‘Pearl of the Danube’ is a lively city which has long been a haven for writers, artists and musicians.


In Buda, Gellért Hill gives a wonderful view of the city, river and mountains. On the hill is the Citadella, a fort built after the unsuccessful 1848 uprising, and a number of thermal baths including the great Gellért Baths adjoining the hotel of that name. The Royal Palace, fully reconstructed after being bombed during World War II, houses the National Gallery, with collections of fine Gothic sculpture and modern Hungarian art, and the Historical Museum of Budapest, containing archaeological remains of the old city as well as furnishings, glass and ceramics from the 15th century. Also on this side of the Danube is the rampart of Halászbástya (Fisherman’s Bastion), so called because it was the duty of the city’s fishermen to protect the northern side of the Palace during the Middle Ages, and the great Mátyás templon (church) with its multicolored tiled roof.


On the Pest side are the Parliament; the Hungarian National Museum, containing remarkable treasures ranging from the oldest skull found in Europe to Franz Liszt’s gold baton; the Belvárosi Templom, Hungary’s oldest church, dating from the 12th century, the Museum of Fine Arts housing European paintings and the Ethnographic Museum. Margaret Island, connected to both Buda and Pest by bridges, is a park with a sports stadium, swimming pool, spas, a rose garden and fountains. Budapest has about 100 hot springs.
The West & Lake Balaton


Sopron, close to the Austrian frontier, is built on old Roman foundations, and reminders of the region’s history are still very much in evidence in the town’s 240 listed buildings. Among the sights here are the Firewatch Tower, Storno House showing Roman, Celtic and Avar relics as well as mementos of Franz Liszt, the Gothic Goat Church and the gargoyled Church of St Michael.


27km (17 miles) away is the Baroque Esterházy Palace at Fertőd, designed to rival Versailles; Josef Haydn was music master here at the end of the 18th century. Nearby is the spa town of Balf. The walled town of Kőszeg and the riverside town of Győr, on the main Budapest-Vienna highway, Szombathely (which claims to be the oldest town in Hungary and has some excellent Romanesque stonework) and Zalaegerszeg are also attractive towns to visit. Located between Budapest and Lake Balaton, Székesfehérvár boasts a Baroque Town Hall, as well as the Zichy Palace and the Garden of Ruins – an open-air museum. Fertő-Hanság National Park, the main areas of which are Lake Ferto, the westernmost steppe lake in Eurasia, and the Hanság, an area of wetlands, adjoins the Austrian National Park Neusiedlersee-Seewinkel. Birdwatching, cycling and hiking are popular, and there is a permanent wildlife and ethnographic museum at Öntésmajor.

The Great Plain Area

This region covers more than half the country and contains thousands of acres of vineyards, orchards and farmland. Kecskemét, 85km (53 miles) southeast of the capital, is the home town of the composer Zoltán Kodály. Although an industrial town in many respects, there is still an artists’ colony and a center for folk music there. It also has some fine examples of peasant architecture and of crafts in the Native Artists and Katona Jozsef Museum. Outside the town the Kiskunság National Park preserves parts of the Danube Tisza Floodplain of Central Hungary in seven disconnected areas including swamps, alkali plateaus and lakes. The famous Bugac Puszta stretches out here as well. Szeged is the economic and cultural center of this region, housing Hungary’s finest Greek Orthodox (Serbian) church. Baja is a small, picturesque town on the banks of both the Danube and Sugovica rivers with many small islands, old churches and an artists’ colony. Further east is the Hortobágy National Park, the ‘Hungarian Puszta’, the alkali plains which begin the Asian steppes.

Southern Hungary

Pécs, one of Transdanubia’s largest towns, was colonized by the Romans, and has the fifth-oldest university in Europe (1367) and the finest Hungarian examples of Ottoman architecture from Turkish occupancy (1543-1686). Important tourist sites include the Cathedral, the Mosque of Gazi Kasim Pasha, and the Archaeological Museum. The Danube-Drava National Park encompases the area between these two rivers and includes Mohács on the Danube, with the battlefield – now a memorial park – where, in 1526, the Turks gained control of the country, and Kalocsa, noted for its folk museums. South of the town is the attractive Forest of Gemenc which can be explored by boat or narrow-gauge train.

The Northern Highlands

Miskolc, Hungary’s second-largest city, is situated near the Slovak border. Primarily industrial, the city nevertheless has several points of interest, including medieval architecture and the warren of manmade caves in the Avas Hills near the city center. Nearby are the beautiful forested Bükk National Park, part of the Northern Hill Range, which is also an area of karst topography including the country’s deepest caves at Lillafüred; many traces of Neanderthal man have been found here. North of Bükk, the Aggtelek National Park is part of the Gömör Torna Karst area of cave systems which extends into the Slovak Republic. Caving, fishing and riding are popular, and there are many cultural monuments, masterpieces of folk architecture, ruins recalling the atmosphere of the Middle Ages, old churches, graveyards and locally surviving farming techniques. Eger, one of the country’s oldest and most colorful cities, has nearly 200 historical monuments including its 14-sided Minaret; just west of the town are the vineyards of the Szépasszony Valley where visitors can sample the famous Bikavér (Bull’s Blood) wine. Due east is Tokaj, the equivalent of Champagne as a wine-producing area. Halfway between Tokaj and the Slovak border is the spectacular Sárospatak Castle, one of Hungary’s greatest historical monuments.


Budapest alone has over 100 thermal springs and around 50 swimming pools and medicinal baths. The culture of bathing has been established since Roman times, and today a wide variety of therapeutic treatments, both ancient and modern, is on offer. Some of Hungary’s bath houses are also of great architectural interest: the Kiárly Medicinal Baths, for example, date from the Middle Ages, while the Rudas Medicinal Baths feature a fine dome dating from the 16th century. Outside Budapest, notable spa resorts include Debrecen in the far east; Hévíz, near Lake Balaton; Harkány in the south; and Eger, northwest of Budapest.


With its long tradition of equestrianism, horseriding is particularly good in Hungary. Long-distance riding in areas such as the Great Plain with its wide open spaces is popular, and riders are well catered for. Hungary is the only European country, apart from Ireland, which places no restrictions on riders. There are many riding schools all over the country which can organize all types of excursions. The Great Plain contains several famous stud farms, and horse shows take place regularly. Carriage driving is also popular, and tourists can arrange to have tuition in this art through riding schools. Cycling is a good way to see the country. Local tourist offices can assist in the organization of cycling tours by providing bicycles, transporting luggage and arranging picnics and sightseeing. Although bicycles can be hired in many places, those planning to do longer tours should bring their own.