While Budapest continues to impress tourists with its pampering thermal baths, exciting nightlife, delicious food and stunning architecture, Hungary is much more than its busy capital. So, if you’re spending more than one or two days in Budapest, we recommend that you explore the Hungarian countryside as well. You’ll see a different side of Hungary that you won’t find in Budapest. The following places are all ideal travel destinations for a short getaway from the Hungarian capital.
Danube Bend (Esztergom, Visegrád, Szentendre)
Between Esztergom and Szentendre the river Danube makes a sharp turn south before flowing through the Hungarian capital. This area – located between Budapest and Esztergom – is called the Danube Bend, one of Hungary’s most important touristic regions, full of cultural and historical monuments. The area is perfect for a one-day excursion in Hungary. It has a number of charming settlements, the most important ones are Esztergom, Visegrád and Szentendre.
Located a few minutes from Budapest, the charming town of Szentendre is often referred to as the „City of Artists” or the „jewelry box of the Danube Bend”. The town well deserves both names and is a must-see place on any excursions to the Danube Bend. Since the 1930’s many artists and creatives wanting to escape the busy capital moved to the quiet and picturesque Szentendre by the riverbank, making it a colorful and vibrant, cultural hot spot with a Mediterranean touch. The town is famous for its art galleries, museums and handicraft shops and has many great restaurants and cafés – mostly located by the Danube bank. There is a Skanzen – an open-air ethnographic museum- located outside of Szentendre which is also well worth a visit.
Visegrád is located north of Budapest along the river Danube and is famous for its renaissance Royal Palace – the remains of the summer residence of Hungary’s favorite king, Matthias Corvinus. The best time to visit is during the Royal Palace Festival, held every year in July, when participants bring back the medieval times by dressing up in colorful costumes and knights’ tournaments are performed.
Esztergom is the heart of the Hungarian Catholic Church and seat of the magnificent Esztergom Basilica. This is where Hungary’s first king – St. Stephen was crowned at the beginning of the 19th century. The Basilica is also Hungary’s largest church and tallest building. Visit this magnificent church with its entrance marked by two tall towers and several Corinthian Columns, then admire the stunning view over the River Danube from the town’s historic Castle Hill area. Esztergom also hosts a Castle Museum and a Museum of Christian Art.
How to get there: The easiest way to explore all three cities in one day is to book a Danube bend bus or boat tour. Boats leave from Vigadó tér (Pest) or from Batthyány tér (Buda), and the ride to Esztergom takes about an hour. Trains run to Visegrád and Esztergom from Nyugati (Western) train station, while Szentendre can be reached by suburban rail (HÉV), leaving from Batthyány tér.
Located only 35 kilometers from downtown Budapest, Dobogókő is ideal for a one-day excursion in Hungary. It’s the highest point of the Visegrád hills with its 699 meters and a beloved hiking and ski resort of the Hungarians. From the Dobogókő lookout point, the panorama over the Danube Bend is simply breathtaking. No wonder that some consider it a sacred place and believe that the heart chakra of Mother Earth is located here – even the name “Dobogókő” is somewhat spiritual, it means “beating stone”. Dobogókő is also the starting point of many hiking trails. From here you can take a hike to the romantic wilderness of Rám-Szakadék (Rám Canyon) or Pilis Tető (Pilis Summit), the second highest point of Transdanubia, or walk to the lookout tower of Prádikálószék (Preacher’s Stool) and see another magnificent view of the river Danube and the surrounding mountains.
How to get there: If you have a car, take road 11 in direction Szentende/Visegrád. You can travel to Dobogókő by taking the suburban railway (HÉV) at Batthyány tér to Pomáz, then take a short bus ride from Pomáz to Dobogókő.
Located about 25 kms northeast from Budapest, Gödöllő is one of the many charming cities in Hungary. It gives home to the second largest baroque castle in the world. The Royal Palace was built at the beginning of the 18th century and was the favorite summer residence of the Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph and his Bavarian wife, Elizabeth. As empress Elizabeth preferred to be called “Sissy”, the beautiful royal palace has also been nicknamed by Hungarians as “Sissy’s castle”. The palace building has been beautifully restored to its original beauty, along with the palace gardens. The building hosts a permanent exhibition as well as seasonal art exhibits and an excellent indoor patisserie where tourists can taste the best Hungarian desserts in a royal surrounding.
How to get there: Take the metro (M2) to Örs vezér tere, then change to the suburban railway (HÉV) across the metro station. The ride to Gödöllő takes about 40 minutes.
Located 90 kms northeast of Budapest, this charming little village is about an hour drive from the Hungarian capital which makes it ideal for a one-day excursion in the Hungarian countryside. Arriving in Hollókő is like travelling back in time, as the village beautifully preserved how rural Hungarians lived centuries ago. No wonder Hollókő is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The residents of the village proudly wear their traditional folk costumes, while they also speak in a characteristic “palóc” dialect. The town hosts an open-air village museum, a folk doll museum, a weaving house, a wood carving exhibition, many folklore programs, restaurants and souvenir shops. The ruins of the Hollókő Castle are within a short walk from the town center. The castle was built during the 13th century. Springtime and Easter are the most popular time to visit, so to avoid tourist crowds, visit Hollókő in the summer or autumn.
How to get there: The easiest way to travel from Budapest to Hollókő is by car. Take highway M3 to Hatvan, then take route 21 to Hollókő. There is also a daily bus (Volánbusz) from Budapest leaving from Puskás Ferenc Stadion (M2 metro) at 08:30, arriving at Hollókő at 11:00. It leaves Hollókő at 16:00, arriving back in Budapest at 18:30 – please make sure you check the current bus schedule before taking your trip.
Situated in the southwestern region of Hungary, Hévíz is about two hours’ drive from Budapest (190 km). If you want full engagement, it’s best to stay here for a night or two. Hévíz has the world’s second largest natural thermal lake which makes this town one of Hungary’s most attractive tourist destinations. The water of Lake Hévíz breaks out from a spring cave at a temperature of 40 °C (104 °F). Even on the coldest winter days, the temperate of the lake doesn’t drop below 24 °C (75 °F) which makes bathing possible all year round. The lake’s extraordinary healing powers are known since the Stone Age, and the foundations of bathing culture have been laid by the Romans. Significant development started in the town during the 18th century financed by the Festetics family, whose beautiful baroque palace is located in the nearby town, Keszthely. Aside from the lake’s healing powers, the town’s notable medical doctors further enhanced the world-wide fame of Hévíz. Today, the lake has millions of visitors arriving to relax, heal and recharge their batteries.
How to get there: By car, take the highway M7 in direction Nagykanizsa/Keszthely. By public transport, take a train to Keszthely, and from there a bus to Hévíz. There are also buses travelling directly to Hévíz four times a day, leaving from Népliget bus station.
Tihany is the most charming village on the northern shore of Lake Balaton, the largest lake of Central Europe and the beloved “Hungarian sea” of the locals. The mountainous region of the northern Balaton shore is known for its historic character and its wine region, while Tihany – located on the Tihany peninsula – has everything a tourist can wish for: a historical abbey with two towers that can be recognized from everywhere around the lake Balaton, a beautiful lavender garden, traditional village houses decorated with paprika strings, vendors selling beautiful pottery and many other handcrafted goods, great restaurants and cafés, a regular farmer’s market and all kinds of touristic programs all year long. Tihany is also famous for its echo, existing since the 18th century. If you stand on Echo Hill and shout towards the Abbey, your voice echoes seven times in two seconds.
How to get there: Volánbusz operates a bus from Budapest to Tihany 5 times a day. The buses leave from Népliget bus station. By car, take M7 to Szántód, then take the ferry to Tihany. You can also take a train to Balaton füred, and take a short busride to Tihany from there.
Hortobágy and Lake Tisza
One of the best things you can do in Hungary is visit Hortobágy, a large flatland (Puszta) and national park located in Eastern Hungary. The park is a protected area and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 as a great example for the harmonic symbiosis between man and nature. With its unique flora and fauna, traditional herdsmen community, large animal stock and rich cultural traditions, Hortobágy is one of Hungary’s most important tourist attractions, offering various programs for visitors to experience life in the Puszta and the traditions of the local craftsmen. Attractions include a Visitors’ Centre, a large Animal Park, the Herdsmen Museum, The Hortobágy Great Fishponds and the Nine-Hole Bridge. Each year in July, the Hortobágy Equestrian Days (Hortobágyi Lovasnapok) are organized to demonstrate the past and present of the Hungarian herdsmen culture, the horse breeding activity and the fine Hungarian gastronomy of the region. In the summertime, shallow water areas of the nearby Lake Tisza become suitable for swimming while the deeper parts of the lake are perfect for water sports such as sailing, water skiing, surfing, wake boarding and Jet Ski. On the northern shore, visitors can observe dozens of different bird species at the Lake Tiszta Bird Reserve.
How to get there: By car, take the highway M3, then route 33 at the nr.114 exit in direction Tiszafüred/Füzesabony. The ride takes about 2 hours. Trains leave daily from Budapest Keleti (Eastern) Train Station to Hortobágy which involves one transfer at Füzesabony.