Apart from its architecture, Hungary is also known for its natural beauty. Although it is a relatively small country, one tenth of Hungary’s territory consists of national parks – some of them are even World Heritage Sites! These unparalleled landscapes preserve Hungary’s most important heritage: nature. Nature is not only key to our survival as humans but it also brings beauty into our lives. Visiting these parks gives us a chance to observe rare wildlife and plant species and to appreciate the loveliness of our environment. National parks are also great destinations for Ecotourism. In order to preserve nature for future generations, it’s important that we protect it every way we can. In this article, we have listed the most beautiful national parks in Hungary.
Hortobágy National Park
With more than 800 km2 in territory, Hortobágy National park is Hungary’s largest protected area and its very first national park. Situated in eastern Hungary along the Great Hungarian Plains, it was elected as a World Heritage Site in 1999. Hortobágy is a land of steppe where a unique shepherding culture has evolved over the centuries. It’s a place where Hungarian grey cattle and horses are tended by herdsmen and many unique animals – among them hundreds of rare bird species – have their homes. Attractions include the National Park’s Visitor Centre, a large Wild Animal Park, the Herdsmen Museum, the Hortobágy Great Fishponds, the Nine-Hole Bridge, and the Lake Tisza Bird Reserve. An ideal time to visit Hortobágy is during the Hortobágy Equestrian Days in July, which is organized to demonstrate the traditional Hungarian herdsmen culture. To explore the natural values of Hortobágy, start at the National park’s Visitor Center; it features an interactive exhibition about the natural history and wildlife of the region. At the Hortobágy Courtyard for Handcrafts, visitors can get acquainted with old crafts and buy local handcrafted goods. There is also a children’s playground and a souvenir shop offering products from local craftsmen and various other souvenirs.
How to get there: The visitor center is located in the center of Hortobágy, along route 33, next to “Hortobágy csárda”. By car, take the highway M3, then route 33 at the nr. 114 exit towards Tiszafüred/Füzesabony. Trains leave daily from Budapest Keleti (Eastern Train Station) to Hortobágy, which involves one transfer at Füzesabony. You can also take a direct bus to Hortobágy from Debrecen.
Kiskunság National Park
With a little more than 500 km2 in territory, Kiskunság National Park is Hungary’s second largest national park. It’s situated in the middle of Hungary, between the river Danube and the river Tisza, and was opened in 1975. Similar to Hortobágy, this landscape also preserves the memories of many centuries of coexistence between man and nature. Valuable areas of the national park include the sand dunes of the Danube valley, the lakes, the plains of the Danube-Tisza area and the swamps of lower Tiszavidék. The salt lakes located between the rivers Danube and Tisza are internationally acknowledged resting places for several goose, duck and shorebird species. The area can be explored via various tourist trails, study trails and lookouts. The northern gate to Kiskunság, the area of Kunszentmiklós, is an ideal exploration point for tourists on foot and on bike, while people interested in aquatic fauna should consider visiting the village of Apaj as well. The reconstruction of the former fish ponds outside the village resulted in the creation of a large wetland. While walking along the Réce nature trail, various bird species can be observed. Excursions are organized for individuals as well as registered groups at scheduled times.
How to get there: There is a train from Budapest-Nyugati (Western Train Station) to Kiskunság National Park (Kecskemét) every 4 hours. Alternatively, Volanbusz operates a bus from Budapest Népliget Bus Station to Kecskemét as well. The journey takes about 1,5-2 hours.
Aggtelek National Park
Established in 1985 and situated in Northern Hungary in the Gömör-Torna Karst Region, Aggtelek National Park is Hungary’s fourth biggest national park. It is aimed specifically at protecting geological assets such as superficial land formations and dripstone caves. The caves of the Aggtelek Karst and the Slovak Karst have been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1995. One of the most significant treasures of the National Park is the emblematic Baradla Cave, which stretches across the border to Slovakia. The total length of Baradla-Domica cave system is about 25 km. Due to its length and activity, it’s very rich in various cave formations and colorful stalactite columns. Hungary’s tallest stalagmite of 19 meters, called the “Observatory’, can also be found here. Other highlights include the Dragon’s Head and the cave’s largest chamber, the Hall of Giants. Apart from the Baradla Cave, various smaller caves can also be visited. Besides the cave tours, the park also organizes guided tours on bicycles and foot. An ideal time to visit is during the “Gömör-Torna Folk and Art Festival” in August, when the Aggtelek National Park offers the unique experience of philharmonic and chamber music in the Baradla Cave while various folk programs are organized as well.
How to get there: Take a train from Budapest Keleti Pályaudvar (Eastern Train station) to Miskolc, then the train going in the direction of Tornanádaska. Get off at the Jósvafő-Aggtelek station, then transfer to a regional bus which will take you to the Cave entrance. By car, take the M3 highway to Füzesabony, through Eger–Szilvásvárad–Kazincbarcika–Szuhakálló–Felsőnyárád–Aggtelek–Jósvafő.
Balaton Uplands National Park
One of Hungary’s most beautiful national parks runs along the northern shore of the Hungarians’ beloved “Hungarian sea”, the lake Balaton. With the creation of this national park, an old dream of Hungarian nature conservation came true: finally, the six already protected landscape areas were combined. These are Kis-Balaton, Keszthely Mountains, Tapolca Basin, Káli Basin, Pécsely Basin and Tihany Peninsula. The national park is rich in natural heritage as well as geological assets that are only characteristic of this area e.g. the volcanic remnant hills with unique shape; the hot spring cones and caves sinkholes. Hundreds of protected plant species and numerous rare, protected animal species found their home in the Balaton Upland National Park. The park stretches along many charming little villages and the whole landscape is picturesque. Some of the attractions include the Lavender House Visiting Centre in Tihany, the Pannon Observatory in Bakonybél, the Tapolca Lake Cake Visitor Center in Tapolca, the Lóczy Cave in Balatonfüred, the Csodabogyós Cave in Balatonederics, the Buffalo Reserve in Kápolnapuszta and the Hegyestű Geological Visitor Site in Monoszló.
How to get there: The Balaton region is easiest to reach via train leaving from Budapest Déli Pályaudvar (Southern Train Station). Depending on which sight you want to visit, check the train schedule for the various destinations.
Bükk National Park
Hungary’s highest mountain range is the Bükk Mountains in northern Hungary. This is where the Bükk National Park was founded in 1976 as the third national park of the country. Located between Szilvásvárad and Lillafüred, the Bükk National Park is mountainous and forested, providing excellent opportunities for walking, hiking and relaxation. Significant geological features include various karst formations within its limestone mountains, particularly caves, swallow-holes, and ravines. There are two caves in the Bükk that are open to visitors as well, the Szent István Cave and the Anna Cave. The country’s longest and deepest cave, Istvánlápa, is located in the park as well, just like Hungary’s most extensive network of forest cycle paths. Other attractions include the Village Museum of Hollókő, the Arboretum in Erdőtelek, the Szarvaskő Geological Study Trail, the Village Museum in Boldogkőváralja and the Szilvásvárad Kalapati Observation Tower.
How to get there: The Bükk National Park Directorate is located in the city of Eger; the national park however stretches along the whole mountain range and is therefore hard to reach by train alone. To get to Eger, take a train from Budapest Keleti Pályaudvar (Eastern Train station). The ride is about 2 hours.
Őrségi National Park
Located in the southwestern corner of Vas county, the Őrség National Park was established in 2002. It consists of 44 settlements, including the Őrség and Vendvidék regions, the Rába Valley and the vicinity of Szentgyörgy Valley. As the region is close to the Austrian-Slovenian border, the Magyars who occupied the land installed watch posts to defend the western gate of ancient settlement from the enemy. This is where the region got the name Őrség, meaning ‘watch post’. No wonder this region is also being referred to as “Guardian Country”. This land is also recognized as one of Hungary’s most ancient Magyar lands as the descendants of the original watch guards, indicated in the historical royal patents about a thousand years ago, are still alive here today. Őrség is not only an ancient Hungarian region, but also a picturesque, hilly area covered by forests and shaped by rivers and brooks, providing a wonderful opportunity for hiking and relaxation. The average altitude of the area above sea level is about 250 to 300 m, with the highest point being Hármashatár Hill (387 m). The region has great botanical value and is home to more than a hundred protected plant species. Local attractions include Őriszentpéter, the charming village which was built on seven hills and is also the centre of the Őrség, and Szalafő, the oldest settlement of the region.
How to get there: Take a train from Budapest Déli Pályaudvar (Southern Train Station) to Zalaegerszeg (3 h 40 min), then take a regional train to Őriszentpéter (40 min). You can also take a bus from Budapest Népliget Bus station to Zalaegerszeg (3 hours).