Sitting at the crossroads of Europe, quirky Hungary has managed to become cosmopolitan while remaining perfectly Hungarian. Classical music is revered here, and Hungarians have revived their elegant, Vienna-style café culture. In the countryside, even older traditions live on — and a renewed passion for winemaking thrives. Dive into a bowl of spicy goulash, then while away an afternoon over a delicate dessert at a genteel coffeehouse. Sip a sweet local wine as you try to wrap your head around Hungary's colorful history…and your tongue around its idiosyncratic language. Everything's a little different from the rest of Europe in this one-of-a-kind country — making its culture a joy to discover.
At a Glance
▲▲▲ Budapest Huge but easy to manage capital, stuffed with elegant cafés, rich architecture, and great sightseeing.
▲▲ Eger Appealing mid-sized town with gorgeous Baroque architecture, one of Hungary's most historic castles, quirky museums, excellent wines, and relaxing thermal baths. Doable as a day trip from Budapest, but worth an overnight.
▲▲ Pécs Medium-sized city in southern Hungary featuring a rich history, surprisingly good museums, and beautiful buildings slathered with colorful local tiles.
▲▲ Gödöllő Otherwise-humble town on the outskirts of Budapest that's home to Gödöllő Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. Lázár Lovaspark, with its entertaining demonstration of traditional Hungarian equestrian arts, is nearby in the village of Domonyvölgy.
▲▲ Esztergom Unassuming town that's worth a visit only to see Hungary's biggest and most important church: the 19th-century Esztergom Basilica, which looms above the Danube Bend.
▲ Szentendre Colorful, Balkan-feeling Danube Bend artist colony — the easiest (and most touristy) small town to visit from Budapest.
▲ Sopron Sleepy, picture-perfect little Baroque town that makes a great half-day stop-off between Budapest and Vienna, with a a charmingly well-preserved Old Town peppered with dusty museums and historic buildings.
▲ Hollókő Intriguing village-meets-open-air-folk-museum hiding in the middle of nowhere 1.5 hours northeast of Budapest (visit only if you have a car).
Visegrád The least engaging of my recommended Danube Bend stops, but offering a small riverside palace museum and a hilltop castle with fine views over the Bend.
Great Hungarian Plain Hungary's "Big Sky Country," boasting cowboy shows, the bustling cultural capital of Szeged, colorful Kecskemet, the wild Organic architecture of Makó, and an easy side trip to Subotica, Serbia.
Lake Balaton Freshwater "Hungarian Riviera," with lots of beach resorts, the historic hill-capping town of Tihany, the unique thermal lake of Hévíz, and the Herend porcelain factory.