Hungary boasts much more beyond Budapest. Visitors willing to explore this small but picturesque country beyond its capital will discover many fabulous, lesser known gems. From painted medieval cities and lakeside resort towns to traditional villages and lush rolling vineyards, much of Hungary’s greatest treasures can be found scattered throughout its countryside. Here are just a few of the best highlights.
Situated on the west bank of the Danube River, this enchanting town was founded in the 14th century by Serbian refugees fleeing the Turkish advance. In the 18th century, after liberation from the Turks, the town enjoyed a rebirth with Mediterranean leanings, as Serbian, Croatian, Slovak, German and Greek newcomers moved in. Today, Szentendre is characterized by a south European atmosphere with baroque architecture, churches of various faiths, contemporary art galleries, and cobblestone streets. Just a few miles from the town is Hungary’s largest open-air village museum, which displays rural life in the region.
Esztergom is Hungary’s most sacred city having served as the country’s first capital from the 10th till the mid-13th century. The city was also where Hungary first converted to Christianity and is home to Hungary’s largest basilica, which was built over a 47 year period from 1822 to 1869. Besides its mighty cathedral, the town also has the remains of 10th century castle, a picturesque Old Town, an eclectic Watertown and Hungary’s finest collection of liturgical and royal art.
Eger is a charming Baroque town that dates back many centuries. Conquered by the Turks in 1596, it was liberated by the Habsburgs in 1687, but only really came back to life in the 18th century. The town’s main attraction is its medieval complex, which contains several underground corridors, an art gallery, ruins of a 10th century Romanesque cathedral, as well as a tower offering panoramic views. On the western edge of Eger lies the Valley of the Beautiful Women, which is famous for its Egri Bikaver, a robust red wine and its 1,000-year-old cellars.
Nicknamed the “Hungarian sea”, Lake Balaton has long been a popular spot for locals looking to escape the summer heat. Most of the southern side of the lake is very shallow with an average depth of 3-4m (10-13ft), making it ideal for bathers and families. A number of modern lakeside resorts are scattered along the shores as well as restaurants and nightclubs. One of the most beautiful towns for sightseeing is Keszthely, which contains the Neo-Baroque Palace of the Festetics family. The area is also a natural gem with many opportunities for hiking, cycling and horseback riding.
Pécs, located on the slopes of the Mecsek mountains, is regarded for its Mediterranean atmosphere, vivid art life, festivals and sidewalk cafes. Perhaps, the most distinctive feature of the city is its well-persevered Turkish monuments including the mosque of Pasha Qasim the Victorious and the ruins of Memi Pasa’s Baths. Pécs is also renowned for its National Theater, a late 19th century Rococo building that hosts several first-class opera and ballet performances. In addition, the Zsolnay Museum displays some of the best examples of Zsolnay porcelain, produced locally since 1852.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, Hollóko and its surrounding area is an ethnographic village of thatch-roof peasant houses and dwellings mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries. The village is currently home to 400 residents who are a Palóc ethnic minority group in Hungary. At Easter, everyone in the village wears richly decorated folk costumes while participating in traditional Easter customs like water pouring, egg painting, and folk dancing.
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Suzanne Urpecz, creator and editor of The Hungarian Girl. Click on my About page for more info.