Sziasztok from Magyarország!
I made it to Hungary. During COVID. And closed borders.
Actually, I crossed the Austrian/Hungarian border without anyone noticing me entering the country. Beware of the infamous illegal immigrants from Germany. But now I’m officially registered here – promise!
Why am I here? That’s a long story with a lots of different layers. It all started when…Well, we don’t want to get into that, do we? But while I’m here, I thought why not spend time traveling around Hungary and surrounding countries. There are a lot of countries which have been on my bucket list for some time now. Romania, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Slovakia, Bosnia…and many more. Actually Budapest may be the ultimate basecamp for travelling around Eastern Europe. Not to mention that it is one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the world.
Somewhere between my not so legendary “Relo Road Trip” through Bavaria, Austria, Slovenia and Western Hungary in June and my weekend madness to Transylvania in September I managed to see most parts of this beautiful country. You don’t need to spend three months here to explore everything. Except if you want to, I definitely won’t hold you back from that…. Actually, you`ll be able to see a lot in way less time. I thought why not squeeze everything I saw in the past three months into a seven day itinerary across Hungary. Of old castles and colored bridges, huge lakes and silent waters, high mountains and illuminated cities, ferris wheels and ruin pubs, trendy restaurants and Hungarian food specialties. Indulás!
Day 1 – Budapest City Tour
Out starting point and basecamp for the week will be….surprise, surprise: Budapest. There is no universe in which I can cover all sights and places to go in Budapest within one blogpost. So let`s keep it superficial. (I`m adding further links in the future here)
After two shortterm visits in 2019 and 2020, three months of living in my own flat in district XIII. and hosting four city tours for friends and family, I`m proud to call myself a true Budapest local. And of course I figured out the perfect walking route through the city to see everything in one day. It`s around 25 kilometers by foot. Don`t be afraid if you`re not that much into walking as I am. Most of the route can be covered by tram and metro.
Our tour starts in the XIII. district, for no other reason than that`s where I live and usually start. The best way to discover the city is by tram and metro – a day ticket for around 4€ will allow you to take all transportation systems within the city for 24 hours. Before we take our first ride of the day we will grab breakfast from the JM6 bakery at the Jaszai Mari ter. We take the tram across the golden Margit hid which presents us with a sunrise panorama on todays playground. From here you can spot most of the iconic Budapest sights – The Parliament, The Chain Bridge, The Palace, The Gellert Hill, The Fisherman Bastion and the MSS Budapest (aka Margit Sziget (Ship)).
We cross the Danube for the first time and jump out after the bridge. We go for a walk along the Danube to Batthyany ter and take pictures of the picturesque Parliament building on the Pest side. We pass three churches. At the Szilágyi Dezső téri templom we cross the street and on cobbles streets we climb up to the Fisherman Bastion. Don`t miss the colored Glücklich Vilma stairs on the way up. At the Fisherman Bastion it`s time to take some iconic Budapest panorama photos and visit the Matthias church.
Just a quick walk from the Fisherman Bastion we arrive at the Buda Castle and Royal Palace. On the way down we can decide between taking the cable car or decending through the castle gardens. There are several ways down, I have not discovered all of them yet. My favorite descend includes a steep escalator and ends at the Varkert Bazar. From here we jump on the tram to the Gellert Hotel. At the hotel you can find one of Budapest famous steam pools. We turn right and walk up to the Gellert Hill. Inside the maze of paths you find the church in the hills and great spots for a Danube panorama with the Szabadsag hid.
After we conquered the Gellert Hill we cross the Danube again via the Szabadsag bridge and enter the great market hall for some grocery shopping. Just a brief detour from the Great Market Hall we arrive at Kalvin ter. This is one of my favorite foodie places – Raday utca. Time for a second breakfast. My recommendations are the waffle or donut places just at the entrance of Raday. Close to Kalvin ter is the Metropolitan Ervin Szabo library and the Hungarian National Museum.
We walk further into the city center through the vaci ut – an endless road of small stores and shopping opportunities. We arrive in the heart of Budapests shopping area (Fashion Street). At Vörösmarty ter we take another tram ride. Actually it is a tram/metro hybrid ride. Below the Andrassy utca the tram/metro takes us all the way up to one of the biggest parks in Budapest – Varosliget. We visit the Hero Square, the Vadjahunyad Castle and grab a sweet cinnamon Chimney Cake from one of the food huts. The most famous steam bath in the world can be found here – the Szechenyi fürdo.
On our way back to the city center we stop at Oktogon and jump back on tram 6. We arrive at the Margit Sziget, closing our first circle for today. On Margit Sziget we take a walk through the Rose Garden and visit the music fountain. There are nice pubs to grab a cool lemonade or cocktail on a hot day.
The last part of our city tour takes us into the hearth of the city. With the iconic tram 2 we arrive at the Parliament and the government district. The Kossuth Lajos ter is huge and surrounded by impressive government buildings and tall statues. However, nothing compares to the Partliament buildung, illuminated at night circled by hundreds of seabirds.
It is time for dinner. From the Kossuth Lajos ter we walk alongside the Danube to see the Shoes at the Danube and the Chain Bridge (once it is not under construction anymore, maybe in 2023/24). On the way to the Basilica we stroll through the pedestrian area with many restaurant options left and right. We don`t want to spend that much money (beware of the growling Bestia), so let´s eat in the Jewish district. We cross the Ersebeth ter between the azure ferris wheel and aquarium.
The Jewish district is called party district for a reason. It is a vibrant mix of small corner pubs, street food courts, rooftop bars, beer gardens, fancy restraurants and ruin night clubs. If you like plants, my recommendation for dinner are 26 Budapest and Mazel Tov. Or try a langos and goulash soup at the street food karavan.
After dinner we will have a beer at Kölveles kert and visit the most famous ruin pub in Budapest – Szimpla kert. Do you like long nights? Try Instant-Fogas. A maze of multiple night clubs, dancefloors and music flavors. We have some more traveling coming up, so no all-nighter for us.
On our way back we take pictures of the illuminated city – someone once said Budapest at night looks like a jewelry box. Up to this day, this is the best description of Budapest I`ve ever heard. Pure magic.
Day 2 – Szentendre – Visegrad – Esztergom – Tatabanya
Day Two – We are staying close to Budapest and will explore a bit the mountaneous area north of the city. Szentendre is a small town just outside of Budapest. Thirty minutes drive by car or one hour by bike. The famous Eurovelo 6 connects Budapest to Szentendre. The center is next to a sidearm of the Danube with a lovely promenade and beaches. From the promenade we do a quick tour through the old town. We follow the Eurovelo 6 to Visegrad. High above the city thrones the Visegrad castle which presents us with wide views over the Danube Bend.
Next stop is Estzergom and the roman-catholic Baszilika which reminds us a bot of the capitol in Washington. From the Esztergomi castle hill we have a beautiful view over the city, the Danube and to Slovakia. We walk down the path into the city center and cross the Maria Valeria bridge to cross off another country from our travel bucket list (just kidding, we will do some Slovakia tours when it`s time). Back in Hungary we grab lunch and a coffee in one of the many Kavehaz.
During the afternoon we visit two small lakes. The Tata lake next to Tatabanya and the Bokodi Öreg lake. The floating village at the Bokodi Öreg lake during sunset gives us a picture-perfect postcard objective. Back in Budapest for dinner. This time we go for a fancy place at the Basilica – my recommendations are the Bestia (#1), Akademia Italia and Tom George. For dessert we have an icecream stuffed chimney cake with whipcream chocolate topping at Kató Néni Finomságai. Yummy!
Day 3 – Szeged – Pécs
Today we will gain some miles. We are heading South. There are two university cities to discover: Szeged and Pécs. Szeged made the list as my favorite Hungarian city next to Budapest. I don`t know how many have heard of Szeged yet. It might be a true hidden gem here in Europe. While it is in the southern part of the country it`s flair and style of buildings reminded me of the nordic cities. Stockholm, Riga, Tallinn, St. Petersbourg. Similar to so many other Hungarian cities it was built at a river, has lots of churches and colorful houses. What surprised me most was the scope of the city center and its unique, diverse charm.
We start our tour at the Szegedi dom surrounded by old university buildings and long open hallways. The red-brick church towers in the background, the ivy strings hanging from the buildings. The setting reminds us a bit of Harvard in Boston. I always dreamd of stuying in Harvard, maybe I should have gone to Szeged instead?
We walk alongside the Tisza river with its wooden boat houses and restaurants on the riverbank – like gazing at the Mississippi in the US. We pass the Mora Ferenc museum and cross the Szechenyi ter park with its tall statues in each direction. From the park we take the tram – do you remember the tram rides from Budapest? This is something different. The railways are covered in grass here and there. We feel like flying through the city on a magical green carpet. The Szeged trams have their own style – blue and gold. Through small alleys, the sun shines, we suddenly feel teleported to Lissabon.
Time to eat – from the tram station we walk through the pedestrian area to see the Millenium Fountain. A tall building with a red dome on top stands out. The art nouveau dome of the Unger Mayor house looks like a giant red crown. Again we feel a bit like strolling through Moscows or St. Petersburgs historical city centers. We almost forgot about the food. My recommendation – the fish soup. If have not tried it yet, but I have very good sources. Trust me.
Last but not least we do a little detour to the synagogue. The synagogue is majestatic and definitely worth a visit – don`t get me wrong. But my highlight here is the surrounding residential area. In particular – The Gutenberg utca. A neat, tidy, cobbled street with trees and colorful houses to the left and right. I`m back in the US again – Boston or West Village is my best try of comparison.
This was the last stop in Szeged, another city awaits. I hope I was able to express why this city conquered my traveller heart. It feels like a capital city, a best of out of other beautiful places around the world. A must visit for sure – one day is not enough here.
We have quite a transfer to our second city of the day. The distance between Szeged and Pécs is only 100 kilometer. But there is not highway connecting both cities, so our transfer takes a while.
In Pécs we climb up to the Church of Our Lady of the Snows and the Misina hills. Back in the city center we visit the Pécsi Bazilika and one of the many mueums. It`s already time for dinner. Another city, another Szechenyi ter. We pass the Mosque of Pasha Qasim and the Saint Sebastian’s Church. Those are the ones I kept in my memory. It is impossible to list out all oft he many churches and relgiious buildings this city has to offer.
We arrive back in Budapest late at night, but we are still dreaming of Harvard, the Mississippi, Lissabon, magical green carpets, St. Petersbourg, Boston…I mean Szeged.
Day 4 – Matra – Bükk – Lillafüred – Szilvasvarad – Eger
Another long day ahead. My favorite countryside of Hungary – The Matra and Bükk mountain area and national parks. Our first stop is the highest mountain in Hungary – the Kekes. From here we take a short hike and let us inspire by the endless views on the flat countryside south. On winding roads we pass dense forests and broad vineyards. Then we are climbing up again. The road through the Bükki Nemzeti National Park connects two major Hungarian cities: Eger and Miskolc. Just a few kilometers before reaching Miskolc we stop at Lillafüred. A small town in the forest at a beautiful mountain lake. The highlight of Lillafüred is the Palota hotel which looks like a Disney castle and its endless castle gardens. We explore flower fields, waterfalls, tiny caves and several layers of castle walls. We take a brief boat trip to get the best views and take photos of the castle hotel mirroring in the green waters of the mountain lake.
One hour drive from Lillafüred through the canadian-esque landscape we arrive at Szilvasvarad. A long valley with various sights to see. You can climb up to the Millenium Tower for the best view, take the old train through the valley or try some trout fresh from the trout farm onn the path up to the turqouise green lake hidden at the valley-end. Close your eyes. Are you still in Hungary or hiking in the Alps? For me it felt like a day trip to Austria. The Szilvasvarad area is huge – you can spend days here hiking. But we have another stop on our plan today.
An hour ride down south we arrive at our final destination of today – Eger. By now you are familiar with the classic set up of Hungarian cities, so you will recognize a lot. We climb up to the fortress to get sunset shots of Eger. In the center we visit the Egri Páduai Szent Antal-templom and the Egri Bazilika before we sit down for dinner in one of the outdoor restraurant spaces at the Dobó István ter.
There is no large river here, but of course it would not be a true Hungarian city without a riverbank and bridges. The Eger-patak stream which runs through the center feels more like a canal in Amsterdam, Ljiubjana or Straßbourg. Once we spot the large ferris wheel at the horizon we are reminded of the fact that we are in Hungary still.
Day 5 – Györ – Pannonhalma – Szekesfehervar – Lake Velence
Today we discover the western part of Hungary. We start at Györ which forms the middle point of the route between Budapest and Vienna. Also Bratislava can be reached from here easily. While Györ has some similarities to other Hungarian cities, such as a river (a conjunction of the Raab river and a Danube side-arm) running through the center and the usual style of religious buildings, there are also city parts which make Györ very much unique.
You can feel the influences from Austria in the architequeture. What surprised me the most were the small alleys in the historical part of the center. I remember these kind of tiny, cobbled streets flowing though the city merging into larger open courts from mediterranean cities like Rovinj, Zadar or Primosten. We visit the cathedral of Györ and have our breakfast at one of the many cafes at Szechenyi ter.
Our next stop takes us to Pannonhalma. A benedictarian monastery on a hill with gotic church and large library. While we are here we take the chance to walk through the Arboretum to see one of Hungarians iconic lavender fields. We will see another one tomorrow in Tihany, but the Pannonhalma one is my favorite. After a quick hike we get to a wooden platform to take shots of the surrounding countryside.
Two more stops for today. We visit Szekesfeher and Velence. On the drive to Szekesfehervar we cross the Bakonybel national park which is a perfect hiking destination for a long weekend and many old castle buildings indicating the long history of empires and invasions. At Szekesfehervar we visit the Bori-var. Another Disney-lookalike castle which architecture reminds us a bit of the medieval castles in Granada and Sevilla.
It`s summer, 34 degrees, sometimes we feels a bit like spending holidays in Spain. Time to visit a beach! As we reserve The Lake for tomorrow, our last stop will be at Velence, next to Szekesfehervar. We close our day at the strand bath with a beautiful sunset, csirke paprikasch dinner and a pálinka at the cocktail bar.
Day 6 – Tihany – Szigliget – Keszthely – Siofok
Last but not least – of course no Hungary itinerary would be complete without the famous Balaton. Today we will circle the lake – around 200 kilometers. The easiest way is by car…but you can also cycle or run around the lake if you are crazy enough, or swim through it.
We start our day at Tihany. Before entering the small town we stop at the huge lavendar field at the entrance of the peninsula. It is probably the most famous one of Hungary and all across Tihany you will find lavendar merchandise.
The best view on the Balaton comes after a short hike to the Tihany abbey. From here we can gaze across the azure-turqiouse shimmering lake to other shoresides and the bay of Balatonfüred. After a quick breakfast we take the scenic road along the Balaton shoreline back from the peninsula.
We move down the westside of the Balaton, through vineyards and pointed mountains with similarities to the pyramids in Egypt and the table mountain in South Africa, to arrive at Szigliget. Here we take a long climb up to the fortress which opens up beautiful views on the landscape and sea. I reminds us how huge the Balaton actually is. The castle is in a very good shape and functions as a medieval museum. We don`t spend too much time here, as it is getting hot already. On the way down we grab some refreshments and jump back into our car.
Next stop is the capital of the southern Balaton: Keszthely. In the city center we walk through the palace gardens of the Keszthely Festetics Kastély and visit a puppet museum. Close to Keszthely we stop at Lake Heviz. As we did not have time to visit one oft he thermal baths in Budapest, we now get to experience a real thermal lake covered in sea-roses.
Now that we are rested well we get on the long ride back up the eastern shoreside up to the eastern capital of Balaton: Siofok. On our way to the strand bath we see an upside down house next to the road and a huge watertower. A beautiful sunset at the Balaton Lake rounds up our Seven Days in Hungary.
Viszlát és találkozunk!
I hope you had as much fun reading though the itinerary as I had writing. And I hope I was able to provide some inspiration for your travels to Hungary. In those seven days we have not just seen one country. It feels more like we travelled through time and history, went to different countrysides and landscapes all across the globe and had a summer beach vacation. All in one trip.
I´m far from having seen everything this country has to offer, so I leave some space for a part II. But for now, this is my ultimate intinerary to visit Hungary. I dare you to come up with a better one!