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Tucked in the corner of Eastern Europe, the oft-overlooked Hungary is a wellspring of unexpected grandeur and glorious contradictions. From the gently rolling hills and trickling rivers of the countryside to the stately bridges and boulevards of Budapest, Hungary enchants visitors with its fairytale architecture and vibrant folk traditions. This small but fiercely proud nation warms both the body and soul: take a dip in one of Hungary's rejuvenating thermal baths, or tuck into a piping hot plate of the country’s famed national dish, goulash.
A glance at Hungary’s recent history, however, proves more chilling: Large swaths of the country were decimated during World War II, and liberation by the Soviets from Nazi rule brought only a decades-long foray into communism. Countless bread lines and protests later, communism’s grip upon this Bohemian country was relinquished, and in 1989 Hungary became an independent democracy, free to forge its own path into the future.
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With its grand buildings, elegant architecture, and lavish spas, Budapest oozes old world glamor. This Hungarian capital is strung along both banks of the Danube River, whose waters cleave the city neatly into Buda and Pest.
Budapest is best seen on foot: Take a stroll across one of the city’s ornate bridges, or admire the UNESCO-protected fin de siècle architecture, an opulent blend of Art Nouveau and neoclassical styles. The brilliant dome and stately spires of Parliament command attention on the Pest Embankment; on the Buda side, historic Castle Hill affords some of the best views in the city.
Budapest - City of Light
Soar over the city of light, passing the most magnificent cathedrals, bridges, and castles of Budapest.Produced by Daniel Barna
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The Hungarian culture of “taking the waters” dates back 2,000 years to Roman times. The country sits on one of the richest geothermal resources in the world and draws visitors seeking the healing powers of its medicinal waters.
Budapest, with its 125 thermal springs and plethora of public bath houses, is nicknamed the “City of Spas.” Its baths feature a series of thermal pools progressing from warm to hot, and many also include saunas, steam rooms, and massage treatments. Most are now mixed gender and, as evidence of their integral place in Hungarian life, are popular gathering spots on weekend nights. Visit the Szechényi Baths, the largest in the city, during free time or take a dip in the Gellért Baths and admire the decadent Art Nouveau décor while you bathe.
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Europe’s second longest river and the longest in the EU, the Danube flows through the heart of Hungary.
A visit to Budapest will bring you in close contact with this ancient waterway. A series of handsome bridges spans the Danube, connecting the city’s two halves and creating the Hungarian capital’s signature skyline. The magnificent Szechényi Chain Bridge was the first to link Buda and Pest; it is the most famous (and most photographed) bridge in the city, and was considered a wonder of the world at the time of its construction. Visit at night to see the floodlit Szechényi in all her glory as the Danube sparkles below.
In sharp contrast to Szechényi’s classic splendor, Elizabeth Bridge stands as a hallmark of modernism. Originally built at the turn of the century, this former emblem of elegance was destroyed during World War II and was replaced with a sleek silhouette during the post-war period; it is now one of the busiest bridges in the city.
Nearby, the diminutive Liberty Bridge is known for its distinctive green color and ornate wrought ironwork. Budapest’s shortest bridge is also its most patriotic: Two turuls, the mythological birds of prey and national symbol of Hungary, sit atop Liberty’s spires, looking out proudly over the Danube.
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Known as the City of Meetings, Gyor sits at the meeting point of the Danube, Rába, and Rábca rivers, and has been an important regional hub since Roman times. Today, Gyor is lauded for the beautiful assemblage of Baroque and neoclassical architecture that lines the city’s pedestrianized streets; in 1989, Gyor was even granted the Europa Nostra prize to preserve its architectural heritage. Visit the recently renovated City Hall for a stellar example of neoclassicism, or soak up the leisurely pace of Hungarian life outside Budapest as you stroll through the city’s picturesque squares.
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Most Popular Films
Films featuring Hungary from international, independent filmmakers
Budapest, Belvárosi, Nagyboldogasszony, Plébánia
Enjoy a stunning aerial view of Budapest, Hungary, as you fly past the towering spires of its many cathedrals.
Produced by Andras Deak
How to Make Hungarian Goulash
Watch this professional chef pepper up the perfect Hungarian goulash made from veal and mushrooms and more.Produced by Epicurious
Prague and Budapest
Join travel expert Rudy Maxa to discover the Old World splendor on display in Prague and Budapest.Produced by Small World Productions
Immerse yourself in Hungary with this selection of articles, recipes, and more
Hungry for a Hungarian meal? Traditional goulash is the perfect main dish, followed by sweet Rigo Jansci for dessert.
Let writer Albert C. Doyle guide you in navigating Prague’s pristine streets—including where to find the best beer.
Hungarian Cuisine: Going Beyond Goulash
by Laura Graff, from Insider
When you think of Hungarian food, goulash and paprika are likely the first things that come to mind. But did you know that Hungary has thriving viticulture and pastry-making traditions as well?
Gulyas, the Hungarian word from which “goulash” originates, means herdsman, and this dish originated with the cowboys (csikos) who roamed the Great Hungarian Plain (puszta) with their cattle. Originally slow-cooked over an open flame in a cast-iron pot called a bogracs, traditional goulash consisted of onions fried in lard, paprika—a spice made of dried, ground capsicum pepper that first arrived in the Hungarian city of Szeged in the 17th century—meat, water and potatoes, along with perhaps some carrots and parsnips, if they were available.
As this hearty dish made its way back to the towns and villages, different variations were born. Goulash morphed into two popular dishes: a soup, leves, and a stew, porkolt. These days, goulash typically refers to a beef and potato soup, flavored with paprika and onions. Sometimes tomatoes are included but in traditional recipes, there are no tomatoes—the reddish hue comes from paprika alone. The most common variety of paprikash (a variation of porkolt, distinguished by the presence of sour cream) is paprikas csirke, chicken cooked in paprika sauce, and typically served over galuska (pasta dumpling) or noodles.
The “is it a soup or is it a stew?” debate rages on in another of Szeged’s signature dishes: Szegedi halaszhe. In restaurants, it’s called fish chowder, soup, or stew. Among the locals, it’s known as fish goulash, since the flavors of sweet and hot paprika— there are at least six different varieties—are an integral component of this much-loved dish. Since Hungary is completely landlocked, the fish soups of Hungary are made with fresh water fish, such as carp, pike, sturgeon, and catfish from the Danube and Tisza rivers and Lake Balaton, near the Croatian border.
In the vineyards near Lake Balaton grow grapes used to make a nectar-like dessert wine called Tokaji Eszencia. This extremely sweet wine was favored by composers like Beethoven, Haydn, and List, as well as numerous members of European royalty during the 18th and 19th centuries. Another wine for which Hungary is famed is Egri Bikaver, a hearty red wine from the north widely known as “Bull’s Blood.” The legend of this wine dates back to Suleyman the Magnificent’s invasion of Hungary with his Turkish troops. The townspeople of Eger were able to defend their home with such gusto, a rumor spread among the Turks that the wine they drank was mixed with bull’s blood, which gave them strength to fend off the attacks. Typically served with game dishes, Bull’s Blood also pairs well with goulash and paprikash.
And for dessert? You’ll find two of Hungary’s favorites, Dobos torte and Rigo Jansci, in the coffeehouses of Budapest, Hungary’s capital city which straddles the Danube River. Steeped in culinary lore, each confection traces its origins to the end of the 19th century. Dobos torte is a five-layer sponge cake, interspersed with chocolate buttercream (likely a Parisian-inspired innovation), and topped with caramel. It was created by Hungarian pastry chef Jozsef Dobos, and presented Budapest’s National General Exhibition, where Franz Joseph I was among the first to taste it. Dobos kept the recipe a secret for more than 20 years, until he retired.
Rigo Jansci was created by, and named for, a violin-playing Hungarian gypsy who wooed an American heiress away from her husband, the Prince of Belgium. According to the story, he collaborated with a pastry chef to create the cake— spongy chocolate layer cake with rich chocolate cream in the middle—for her.
From the savory to the sweet, and the shores of Lake Balaton to the banks of the Danube, Hungary’s culinary delights are deeply rooted in its traditions—and ultimately delicious. Jo etvayat! (Bon appetit!)
Prague: The Preservation of Perfection
by Albert C. Doyle, from Insider
The citizens of Prague didn’t feel very lucky on the morning of March 16, 1939. In prior months, Britain and France had agreed to Hitler’s demands to cede the Sudetenland, southern Slovakia, and several northern Czech towns. The Czechs had strong fortifications along these frontiers, a well-equipped army primed to fight, and no taste for rolling over. But the Munich accords gave away the very lands where their fortifications stood; they’d been abandoned by the West and were left defenseless. By March 15th, with the Luftwaffe poised to launch an all-out aerial assault on Prague, the Czech army capitulated. Hitler flew to Prague the next day and announced the annexation of Czecho-Slovakia from the top of Prague Castle.
While it was surely as dark a day as any country should suffer, luckily, it did provide posterity with one bright silver lining: namely, the exquisite old city of Prague was never touched by a single bullet or bomb throughout the war, and is now the best preserved of all the great European capitals. We can count it as an unqualified blessing that this lovely wedding cake confection of a metropolis has been conferred down to us with such care.
Today, Prague impresses on a grand scale, not with the granite pomp of Hapsburg cities, but with a Gothic fairy-tale élan. The visitor is constantly charmed by twisty little cobblestoned alleys, crumbling ancient arches, and dusky medieval windows. And unlike many old towns that seem more theme park than genuine, Prague has integrated its centuries with the greatest of ease—its modern incarnation thrives with tremendous verve, arm-in-arm with its evocative timeworn ghosts.
Not many countries can boast a playwright/president (Vaclav Havel) whose best known work is an autobiographical satire of his years working in a communist brewery. Which reminds me: It’s a very strictly enforced law—so I’m told—that all visitors to Prague must drink a pint of pilsner within ten minutes of arrival. So before we start our virtual tour, let’s quickly set about finding ourselves a pivovar, or beer cellar.
I’m not a beer drinker, but I’m not an idiot, either. With respect to the heady sweet suds of the Belgian abbeys, the best beer in the world is Czech—a must-try. Pilsner Urquell is ubiquitous, and deserving of its international fame. But Staropramen, Budvar, Kumburak, and a variety of other ancient logos beckon to the weary-footed traveler from signs above the doorways to many old pivovars that have served beer for the better part of a millenium. A few, such as the endearing U Fleku, are theatrically engaging, but heavily touristed. Try U Sudu, well up into the Nove Mesto (New Town). It is an unforgettable journey into a smoky, subterranean honeycomb of interlocking hobbit holes which cannot possibly have changed much since the city’s most renowned bum’s rush, The Defenestration of Prague.
With beer comes students, and Prague never lacked for them. It was Europe’s greatest city in the late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, the most populous city on the continent, with as many citizens then as it has today. At its heart was the finest university mankind had ever developed, but later intrigues between schismatic popes and the Holy Roman Empire signaled its demise as a burgeoning academic center. In a power play, 25,000 foreign scholars were recalled, and sent instead to the newly formed University of Leipzig. Prague University never recovered its standing, but its relative obscurity may ironically have saved it from being enlarged, rebuilt, redeveloped, and otherwise swallowed up.
Begin your exploration of Prague by stepping out onto the Carolus (Charles) Bridge, connecting the Stare Mesto to Hrdcany (Castle District) and Mala Stana (The Little Town). The castle looming into the dark skies, the movie set detail of the Stare Mesto, the neoclassical grandeur of the great palaces stretching along the Vltava, the quirky monastic feel of the low-slung medina riverfront of Mala Strana hugging the far bank—perfection!
Prague is called the “City of 100 Spires,” and you can visit a substantial number of them during daylight hours, and quite frequently, in the evening, when string quartets and other classical ensembles will perform works by Chopin, Liszt, Czerny, and Dvorak as well as Mozart, Vivaldi, Brahms, and Beethoven. The modest fees to see the very talented ensembles play in medieval settings are directly responsible for the quite remarkable facelift that the city has undergone over the last 15 years.
I’ve taken you from a pint of pilsner in a subterranean pivovar out to one of the greatest bridges in Europe, and now we have five choices of which way to go. The first impulse might be to turn right back around, admire a few more of the dozens of statues lining the bridge, pass the glorious old Bridge tower, and re-enter the Stare Mesto. The former marketplace now sparkles as the Starometske Namesti, or town square. It is dominated by the extraordinary twin Gothic spires of Our Lady Before Tyn. They, too, are particularly vivid and haunting at night. The Church of St. Nicholas, flanking the square’s north side, also impresses, inside and out. The Town Hall boasts a magnificent belltower with its famous Orloj (Astronomical Clock) on it. Nearby, the Powder Gate, the Municipal House, and the Church of St. James are all worldclass attractions.
Whichever path you take, you’ll see all of these, and more. You can’t miss them. You’ll also see the Castle District of Hrdcany, with the single most prominent feature of the Prague skyline, St.Vitus’s Cathedral, soaring over an impressive suite of palaces and museums. Just across a cobblestoned square, the Loreto Palace is an obvious side visit, with its medieval art and its truly bizarre house of the Virgin Mary (they claim it to be her house, imported from Palestine). The Strahov Monastery and St. George’s Convent are both worth a look as well. And the stroll back down to Mala Strana is unforgettable.
At this point, most tours might conclude. The Old Town, the Bridge, the Castle—we’re done! Unless you slow down—say, wait, not so fast … Aren’t there three other riverside districts? Do yourself a favor and don’t rush back to the bridge too quickly. Instead, perhaps after refreshing yourself with another pilsner, continue wandering up into Mala Strana, Prague’s least explored delight. Peek in a tiny church or two. Meander through some gardens, grab a bite to eat, see the city’s other St. Nicholas church, very nearly as fine as the one on Starometske Namesti. Most importantly, stroll the riverbank a bit. Any New Yorker can tell you that the only way to see Manhattan is from the Brooklyn Promenade—similarly, the finest views of Old Town are from the banks of Mala Strana.
You can then cross the Legli Bridge into the Nove Mesto. The influx of western capital these past 15 years has really burnished the New Town’s former reputation for seediness. For a dozen or more blocks in from the river, the neighborhoods have become quite fashionable, with a great many of the fine Art Nouveau buildings lovingly restored. The dealers and prostitutes have moved elsewhere, and the high-end Hermes-Cartier-Chanel boutiques have found their home. You must also turn to the Nove Mesto for Wenceslas Square, the National Museum, the National Theatre, and the State Opera.
“Some people say a man is made outta mud,” sang Tennessee Ernie Ford. So it is for the infamous nightstalker of the Josefov district, the Golem. According to Jewish legends, the Golem—was made of mud and clay in 1580 by Rabbi Judah Loeb a supernatural (but hard to control) protector against anti-Semitic violence—The Golem’s body is said to lie hidden in an attic of the Old-New Synagogue, though some say it still roams. So behave yourself ‘round there at night. And in the daytime see the Old-New Synagogue, Europe’s oldest, and its excellent Judaica museum. Then you must also visit the disturbing and memorable Jewish cemetery, which was never allowed by either Catholic or Protestant rulers to expand, and which thus shoehorned 12,000 graves into an area the size of a suburban living room, under which well over 100,000 Jews are buried, going down many levels, across many centuries.
There’s still so much more to see … You can admire the gracious Belle Epoque boulevards radiating out from the Synagogue, in a sweeping arc between Starometske Namesti and the river. Ponder the odd sway of the modern Dancing House office building (also called “Fred and Ginger”). If the Orloj (Astronomical Clock) has got you ticking, get your rhythm right at the Metronome, a giant functional metronome occupying a plinth where a statue of Josef Stalin once stood. The views are as dizzying as the young daredevils skateboarding off ramps in the adjoining park. Secret discoveries beckon form every corner of the city, so what’s next? We could go back to where we started, and—aw, geez, look at the hour! Time for another pilsner. Na zdravi!
There are pros and cons to visiting a destination during any time of the year. Find out what you can expect during your ideal travel time, from weather and climate, to holidays, festivals, and more.
Hungary in January-February
Hungary’s core winter months, January and February are the coldest months of the year—and often the wettest, too. Luckily, traditional Hungarian cuisine, which leans toward heavy foods and strong drinks, is the perfect antidote to the season’s chill: Sip traditional mulled wine and Pálinka, a Hungarian fruit brandy, to warm up, or dig into heartier fare like harcsa paprikás (a paprika fish stew) or hurka (a type of liver or blood sausage).
As this is the low season, many tourist attractions can be closed, and it’s wise to call ahead. But the Hungarian theater season is in full swing during the winter months, making this the best time of year to see an opera or show.
Holidays & Events
- January-Mid-February: From the last day of Christmas celebrations on January 6 through Ash Wednesday, Hungary enters a festive, colorful period known as Farsang. Similar to Carnival in other countries, Farsang features masquerade balls, lively parades, and lots of loud noise to scare off winter and welcome spring.
If you’re in Budapest during the winter months, be sure to make a visit to the City Park Ice Rink. This massive open-air ice rink in front of the Vajdahunyad Castle is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike to take advantage of the season’s activities.
Hungary in March-April
Spring is one of the best times to visit Hungary: the weather begins to warm up, flowers are in bloom, and many outdoor markets and tourist attractions reopen after the winter’s inactivity. At the same time, fewer tourists mean less crowds, less expensive rates, and more room to explore.
Spring festivals, such as the Budapest Spring Festival, are common throughout the country during March and April and are a joyful way to greet the new season.
Holidays & Events
- March 15: Hungary has three National Holidays each year, of which the March National Holiday commemorates the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Celebrating Hungary’s struggle for freedom and democracy, the holiday is marked by free entrance to Hungary’s national museums, a ceremonial speech by the Prime Minister, and pins in the national colors that Hungarians proudly display.
- March 20: Each year, Budapest dedicates a day to celebrating the art of French patisserie. On what's known as Macaron Day, bakeries throughout the city display their finest sugary creations, and visitors can learn to make the finicky pastry during an event in Elizabeth Square.
- Late March-April: Hungary’s largest cultural event, the Budapest Spring Festival celebrates the arrival of spring with a host of musical performances. Over three weeks, take in performances of opera, jazz, folk, and classical music in some of the city’s most vaunted performance venues.
Hungary has a proud and storied tradition of folk art, and at no time is this more visible than at Easter. Colorfully dyed and intricately patterned, Hungarian Easter eggs make beautiful decorations for this spring holiday.
Hungary in May-June
Warm, mild weather continues in May, when many Hungarians can be found taking advantage of the season at outdoor cafes and bars. While June marks the start of summer, it is also the rainiest month of the year—pack a rain jacket and take in the country’s lush vegetation and colorful blooms, which benefit from frequent seasonal showers.
Holidays & Events
- Mid-June: The Danube Carnival is a two-week celebration of all things dance, taking place along the banks of Hungary’s most famous river. The festival features an international dance competition, a Carnival Parade down the Danube promenade, and an elegant evening gala, as well as performances by contemporary and Hungarian folk dancers.
- Late June-early July: Beer lovers won’t want to miss this one: Sample the finest Czech (and Hungarian) brews at the Czech Beer Festival, which features both internationally known brands and craft beers from local microbreweries. Egészségére! (That’s cheers in Hungarian.)
Hungary in July-August
The summer months bring plenty of sunshine—and crowds—to Hungary. To celebrate the good weather, many festivals and special events—like live music concerts at City Park and the Budapest Summer Festival on Margaret Island—take place throughout the country. This is also a great time of year to take advantage of Hungary’s abundance of outdoor thermal baths and pools.
Holidays & Events
- Early July-early August: Each summer, the Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest hosts a summer music festival in its fairytale-like setting. Performances range from classical to Hungarian folk music.
- Mid-August: The Sziget Festival is one of the hippest music festivals in Hungary today. Held on an island in the Danube, the week-long festival has become one of the biggest rock parties in Europe, featuring more than 1,000 performances and nightly firework displays.
- August 20: The greatest public holiday of the year, St. Stephen’s Day celebrates Hungary’s founding with patriotic events and a spectacular fireworks show over the Danube.
Hungary in September-October
Fall is a pleasant time to visit Hungary: the days are still warm, but the crowds of summer are long gone. And Hungary is often the lucky recipient of “Indian summers,” when the weather becomes summer-like again after a cool spell. This is an excellent time of year to explore the country’s outdoor activities: Take a hike around Lake Balaton (central Europe’s largest lake) or stop by a local plein-air market to sample the fall harvest’s bounty.
Holidays & Events
- Mid-September: For three days each year, Heroes’ Square in Budapest is transformed into a giant racetrack for the National Gallop Festival, a celebration of Hungary’s equestrian tradition and the famed Hussar culture.
- Early October: Eat, drink, and be merry at one of Hungary’s Oktoberfest beer festivals. While smaller than Munich’s original Oktoberfest, these festivals have plenty of food, performances, and, of course, beer to keep festival-goers entertained. Events are held throughout the country, but the largest Oktoberfest is in Budapest.
- October 23: This National Holiday commemorates the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, when Hungarians overthrew Stalin’s oppressive communist regime and appointed Imre Nagy as a liberal prime minister in his place. All shops and public institutions are closed on this day.
Hungary in November-December
With shorter days and colder temperatures, November and December mark the beginning of the low season in Hungary. Snow and rain are frequent in these months, but the country’s festive Christmas markets and seasonal good spirits make up for the gloomy weather.
Holidays & Events
- November 1: Like many Catholic nations, Hungary celebrates All Saint’s Day on the first of November. On this day, Hungarians visit the cemeteries where their deceased family members are buried, decorating their graves and lighting candles in their honor.
- November 11: Known as St. Martin’s Day, this traditional feast day is celebrated by drinking wine from the new harvest and dining on goose. Many restaurants offer goose specials throughout the month of November, and proudly display their new wines.
- December 6: The Christmas season officially begins on December 6 in Hungary, when Mikulás (the Hungarian version of Santa Claus) leaves presents for children in their boots.
The highlight of the holiday season in Hungary is undoubtedly the nation’s elaborate Christmas markets. Two of the best: Budapest Basilica’s Christmas markets and the Christmas markets at Vörösmarty Square, which are both known for their elaborate market stalls and bright, cheerful string lights.
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Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.
Activity Level 1:
Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 2:
Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.
Activity Level 3:
Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.
Activity Level 4:
Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.
Activity Level 5:
Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.
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