Hungary — Attractions
Both in Budapest and the rest of the country, there are enough attractions and landmarks to keep visitors happily engaged for the majority of their stay. Favorites are the castles, palaces, fine basilicas and churches, the natural beauty of the region and the thermal lake and spas at Heviz. Wine tours around the Valley of the Women are the source of many of Hungary’s famous vintages, and a visit to the Szentendre open-air museum is also popular.
Castle Hill, Budapest
The most historic area of the city, Castle Hill was settled in the 13th century and contains most of Budapest’s premier landmarks. Buda Castle, its fortification and the Royal Palace are the most-visited attractions, with its huge expanse holding three museums including the National Gallery. Other notable structures are the Mary Magdalene Tower, the last remnant of a 13th century Franciscan church, the Vienna gate, the Matthias Church with its sumptuous interior decoration, the White Tower of the Fisherman’s Bastion and the tall column carved with figures, a plague monument erected by thankful Hungarian survivors.
Address: Castle Hill district, Budapest
O’Buda Roman Ruins
Set in the oldest park in Budapest, O’Buda, the Roman settlement of Aquincum saw a leading role in the administration of Pannonia, the Roman name for its Hungarian province. Excavations date back to the 2nd century AD, although only a third of it has as yet to be uncovered. The ruins of an amphitheater, statues, tombstones, mosaic floors and a water system can all be seen.
Address: O’Buda, Budapest
The magnificent dome of the Hungarian Parliament Building towers over the city from its premier position on the banks of the Danube. Built in the late 19th century, its exterior walls are ornamented with statues of famous patriots and kings, and its impressive interior can be visited when parliament isn’t in session. Inspired by the Palace of Westminster in the UK, it’s even larger and more splendid and is illuminated at night.
Address: Central District, Budapest.
Hevis Thermal Lake
Two hours by train from Budapest, the geological rarity of Hevis Thermal Lake is Europe’s largest lake with warm, mineral-rich waters set on a peat bog. The famous spa town of Heviz was built around its natural healing properties, and the lake and town are both a conservation area and UNESCO World Heritage site. The spa building is over 100 years old, set in the center of the lake and approached by a causeway. Visitors can swim either outdoors or indoors in the sulphur-rich, mildly radioactive waters while admiring the lotus plants floating on the surface. Hevis town is one of the largest thermal spa centers in Europe, with luxury resorts across the country utilizing the mud from the bottom.
Address: Heviz, Hungary
The magnificent Festetics Palace was constructed outside the town of Keszthely over a period of 100 years from 1745. The first residence of Austro-Hungarian Empress Elizabeth, the great lady spent little time there. Its Baroque style is reminiscent of French grand palaces of the period, and its 100 rooms are lavishly decorated and furnished. The palace is now home to the Helikon Castle Museum and is used as a venue for classical concerts and other entertainments. Its lovely landscaped grounds are well worth exploring.
Address: Keszthely, Hungary
Once the Royal heart of Hungary, Visegrad Citadel sits atop a hill overlooking the town. It dates back to 1250 AD and was built in three stages - the fortress itself, the Lower Castle and the Water Bastion on the banks of the Danube. Many historic royal occasions took place here in the Middle Ages, and the splendid residential rooms on the Citadel’s western side are open to the public. The highlights are the spectacular views from the ramparts over the Danube and the Borzsony Hills. Close by is the Royal Palace and Solomon’s Tower.
Address: Visegrad, Hungary
Hungarian National Museum
Set in an imposing neoclassical style building dating from the mid 19th century, the Hungarian National Museum tells the history of the country from the Middle Ages to the present day, ending with the fall of communism. Given the almost permanent state of conflict during the time span covered, it’s not surprising that the militia takes a front seat in the displays. Other sections describe prehistoric times through the medieval era, where the Crown Jewels of the Hungarian monarchy are found. Lapidary, the carving of precious and semi-precious stones, is well represented with examples from Roman to Early Modern times.
Address: VIII 1088, Budapest
A picturesque, charming town with baroque Balkan-style houses and winding cobblestone streets, Szentendre draws a huge number of visitors to its Hungarian Open-Air Museum. Ancient buildings have been brought and reconstructed from all regions of the country, displaying farming villages complete with churches, barns and outhouses. Many are traditionally furnished and folk events and festivals are held here throughout the year.
Address: Santendre, Hungary
Valley of the Women
Eger is the traditional wine-making area of Hungary, with its Szepassony-volgy valley home to over 200 wine cellars carved into the region’s tufa rock hundreds of years ago. The wine from the vineyards is stored here to mature, with noble moulds and mosses creating a unique atmosphere to achieve its fragrance and mellowness. Individual families own the cellars, and visitors are welcomed with tastings. If you bring your own container, you can purchase wine directly from the barrels, a unique souvenir of a place where an ancient art is thriving and the old ways are best.
Address: Szepassony-volgy Valley, Hungary
House of Terror Museum
Set in the former headquarters of the feared AVH secret police, the House of Terror Museum’s black history is a place where torture and murder are recorded with all their horrors. Not for the faint of heart, this museum tells of the partisan heroes who were imprisoned and died terrible deaths in the name of freedom and democracy. The walls were constructed at double thickness to muffle the screams, and a plaque at the entrance commemorates the country’s everlasting memories of the victims.
Address: Andrassy ut 60, Budapest
A hidden gem, the traditional village nestled in the Cserhat Hills, Holloko is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its perfectly-preserved, vibrant, ethnic Paloc lifestyle and architecture. Isolation has kept its 400 inhabitants true to their roots, and their distinctive, colorful costumes are worn at festivals such as Easter.
Address: Holloko, Hungary
Museum of Ethnography
Opposite the Parliament building in Budapest is the fascinating National Museum of Ethnography, a must for those needing to know more about the Hungarian people and their history. Set in a sprawling, splendid heritage museum, its displays introduce the visitor to all aspects of life over the ages with mock-ups of ancient settlements and priceless artifacts from the Transdanubia region. Don’t miss the ceiling frescoes or the temporary exhibits on the second floor.
Address: V Kossuth Lajos ter 12, Budapest
The world’s second-largest Jewish temple, the Great Synagogue can hold over 3,000 worshippers at any one time. Set in an imposing Romantic/Moorish-style architectural building, it was originally constructed in 1859, but recently renovated with private donations bearing the entire cost and a $5 million grant from Estee Lauder. Adjacent to the synagogue is the Holocaust Memorial, built over mass graves of the thousands of Budapest’s Jews murdered between 1944 and 1945 by the retreating Nazis. The leaves of the bronze tree of life show the engraved names of the Holocaust victims.
Address: VII Dohany utca 2-8, Budapest