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Beautiful architecture, exquisite folk paintings, and thermal baths are best to describe Hungary. Step into the fairytale world of Hungary where castles and rivers are as majestic as caves and hillsides. You will forever feel as though you have stepped into a majestic blend of traditional villages and modern cities where festivals reign throughout the year, riverbanks blossom, and cobblestone paths and serene countryside are never far away. Stunning architecture, vital folk art, thermal spas and Europe's most exciting capital after dark are Hungary's major drawing cards.
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River Danube Cruising
The Danube once divided, but it is now the heart of Budapest. Hungary’s capital is often the heart of an Eastern European cruise. With two weeks you can travel in different directions. Follow the Danube down from Vienna and Bratislava to Budapest. Cruise south and east through Hungary towards Belgrade, Bucharest, and the Black Sea. Start in Budapest, and follow different rivers westward, into Austria then onto the Main and Rhine through Germany and eventually Amsterdam. These luxury cruises connect Europe’s great cities, and Hungary is often the most memorable highlight.
Hungarian Wine Tasting
France, Spain, Italy...and Hungary? In the revered list of European wine countries, Hungary does not get the recognition it deserves. Vineyards were introduced during Roman times, although it was Magyar warrior and national icon Arpad that carpeted the land with grapes. That was in the ninth century, and successive civilizations have brought new cultivars to volcanic soils. For wine lovers, it is a chance to taste old-world varietals rarely seen outside Hungary, such as the sweet dessert Ezerjó, dry white Hárslevelu, and the famous Bull’s Blood that is based on Kekfrankos.
Navigating Budapest’s Maze
At first, it is easy to orientate yourself in Budapest. Essentially you have two cities divided by a river. Cobbled lanes snake uphill while grand boulevards lead to leafy parks. Contradictions line every vista, from the architectural juxtapositions to the mix of communist grit and charming old-world splendor. Everywhere you go you pass somewhere that you want to remember for a later day on the vacation. Every journey you take makes the city more complicated, eclectic history balanced with modern-day styles and the hip face of Hungary. Spend two days and you may think you have seen it all. But spend a week and you will know that it is impossible to see all of Budapest. So take a private guide and take your time, for Hungary’s most unique experience is immersing yourself in the capital. Staying Overnight in Historic Towns Budapest, understandably, receives the large bulk of visitors to Hungary. The city absorbs visitors calmly, mainly because there are many different paths people can take. Beyond the capital, tourism is surprisingly light. Coach tours are popular from Budapest; they spend a day hopping quickly between historic towns and attractions. But the appeal of places like Pecs, Sopron, and Eger is found from late afternoon onwards. Spend the night, and you discover so much more, local life playing out in the old part of town and iconic architecture illuminated after dark. When hopping between these beautiful towns you should not rush. Simply allow a day in an old town builds, an excellent picture of both eclectic heritage and a convivial present.
You are never far from a spa in Hungary. Budapest’s thermal springs are exotic architectural attractions, and that is before you get in the water. Started by the Romans, improved by the Ottomans, then made glorious in the 19th century, these springs are an iconic way to rest the feet when you have spent days in the city. Therapeutic bubbles come up elsewhere in the country and you will find spa hotels scattered across the west, some hidden in forests, others perched above a historic town. Travel north of Budapest and cave baths like Miskolc-Tapolca are another way to soothe the muscles.
Hungary is wonderful for seven months of the year. Then it gets cold and grey, with most nights dipping below freezing throughout winter. Provided you have a good warm coat, Budapest can be visited all year round; the cold weather is balanced by the complete lack of other tourists. The rest of Hungary looks drab through the winter, and the tourism industry grinds to a standstill. Throughout summer you can almost guarantee eight to ten hours of sunshine every day, just with the odd thunderstorm in between. June to August are glorious, May and September are not bad either. Just note that July and August is peak tourist season so it is worth getting out of Budapest so you are not only in places where crowds can congregate. Travel during the fall, and you should get out into the countryside, especially the forested north, where blankets of ochre and orange fill the panoramas. Budapest has cultural festivals in September and October, another highlight for this time of year. March to May is more than warm enough, even if rain clouds can roll in randomly. Like fall, local festivities and a lack of other visitors make this an excellent time to visit.
The places you stay are part of the Hungarian attraction. Hungary’s grand accommodation dates to the late 19th-century, when Budapest and other towns underwent significant renovations. Particularly in the capital city, you will enjoy a choice of period buildings and hotels. Some are in the boutique bracket, owner operated and big on charm. Larger hotels are both Hungarian and internationally owned, in townhouse buildings that sometimes fill an entire street. Travel beyond the capital and historical towns have a similar appeal, period architecture transformed into superb upmarket accommodation. High ceilings, baroque fittings, grand breakfast rooms; most of these hotels are described as elegant, enchanting, and romantic. Many are well suited for families: these magnificent buildings are typically in the heart of a city or town, minimizing travel time to attractions. As tourism increased in the late 20th century, the old hotels renovated, and most of the larger ones are now equipped with interconnecting rooms.
Outside urban areas you can stay in castle hotels, a romantic accommodation that feels like an escape from the world. Accommodations offer incredible spas, along with the bounty of nature extending from the front door. Many spend the night on a boat as they travel through Hungary on a cruise. Note that this is not always particularly convenient in Budapest, as you may have to dock a long way from the heart of the city. When starting or ending a cruise in Hungary’s capital, it is worth extending the trip with a night or two that is more central. When picking a Budapest hotel, it is easy to become preoccupied with choosing a location in Buda or Pest. Instead think about proximity to one of the river bridges in the heart of the city, or a well-connected metro line – Budapest has an excellent underground.
Hungary is a member of the European Union and Schengen Area. U.S. and Canadian nationals do not need a visa to travel here. EU nationals do not need any visa to live or work in the country. Planning a Hungarian vacation almost always revolves around Budapest. It is the primary destination and the transport crossroads. Budapest is also where the country’s main international airport is located. The next question: just Budapest or Budapest plus more of Hungary. There is a well-trodden tour of grand European capitals that combines Budapest with its relatively nearby neighbors: Vienna, Prague, and Berlin among others. From Hungary, you are not far from Poland’s historical cities. You can also choose to travel south into the Balkans, with Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia, just a hop across the border. Combine Budapest with more of Hungary, and you quickly go off the beaten track. It is always surprising how other destinations receive hardly any visitors, even during peak season. With the capital city being geographically central, it is easy to loop through western or northern Hungary, then return to Buda or Pest and travel onwards. Hungary is yet to adopt the Euro but has a well-developed banking system. ATMs are abundant in towns and cities, almost all of them accepting international cards. They are slowly making the once plentiful exchange bureaus obsolete.
Hungary is a safe and welcoming country. It is rare that visitors encounter any problems. Many leave feeling healthier than when they arrived, thanks largely to the soothing hot springs. Ever since the Romans, this land has been revered for its therapeutic qualities. Laying back in springs and spas also provides downtime on a busy vacation. Tap water is safe to drink in Budapest, although some visitors avoid it. Drinking tap water is not recommended outside the capital. Violent crime is infrequent in Hungary. Like most of the world, there is an element of the petty crime, particularly in the capital. This is mostly restricted to pickpocketing on public transport, and taxis or touts cheating visitors on prices. There has been increased animosity towards immigrants, both politically and on the streets. An old law requires everyone to carry their passport or ID card with them at all times, and it is essential to fall in line with this as checks have increased exponentially.
Immersing yourself in Hungarian culture is part of the experience, and it is not something that is hard to do. Travel beyond the middle of Budapest, and you will find the country to be big on promoting tradition and folklore. A day in a spa or hot spring is one way to start. The locals spend whole days in the baths, taking their chess boards and going for a natter with old friends. Food is another easy custom to explore, with goulash just the start of heavy local meals that are big on flavor. An old-world Csarda, a tavern is the best place to taste the classics, like trout with almonds, chicken with paprika, game meat, and halaszle, hot fish soup. All towns have their Cukraszda, local confectionary for grabbing a coffee and a sweet pastry. There’s plenty of beer to drink, especially in a Sorozo (pub), although the distinctive highlight is tasting in a Pince (wine cellar). Hungary has 21 wine regions, and there are a great number of varieties to try.
Folk traditions show you something from Hungary’s eclectic past. Performed everywhere, but mostly in smaller villages, the peculiar dancing styles have an exuberance and energy that’s quick to whisk you away; just admiring the embroidered costumes is a highlight. The further you travel from Budapest, the more you can enjoy odes to the Magyars, including costumes ceramics, horseback games, and folk music.
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