|Major Tourist Areas in the Post-Trianon Hungary
The capital city was originally two cities on each side of one of the most beautiful stretches of the Danube river - Buda, the older, more graceful part, with cobbled streets and medieval buildings, and Pest, the commercial centre. The 'Pearl of the Danube' is a lively city which has long been a haven for writers, artists and musicians.
In Buda, Gellért Hill gives a wonderful view of the city, river and mountains; on the hill is the Citadella, a fort built after the unsuccessful 1848 uprising, and a number of thermal baths including the great Gellért Baths adjoining the hotel of that name. The Royal Palace, fully reconstructed after being bombed during World War II, houses the National Gallery, with collections of fine Gothic sculpture and modern Hungarian art, and the Historical Museum of Budapest, containing archaeological remains of the old city, and furnishings, glass and ceramics from the 15th century. Also one this side of the Danube is the rampart of Halászbástya (Fisherman's Bastion), so called because it was the duty of the city's fishermen to protect the northern side of the Palace during the Middle Ages, and the great Mátyás templon (church) with its multicoloured tiled roof.
On the Pest side are the Parliament; the Hungarian National Museum, containing remarkable treasures ranging from the oldest skull found in Europe to Franz Liszt's gold baton; the Belvárosi Templom, Hungary's oldest church, dating from the 12th century, the Museum of Fine Arts housing European paintings and the Ethnographic Museum. Margaret Island, connected to both Buda and Pest by bridges is a park with a sports stadium, swimming pool, spas, a rose garden and fountains. Budapest has about 100 hot springs.
The Carpathian Basin upstream from Budapest has long been a favourite summer retreat from the humid heat of the capital. Three historic towns draw most of the visitors. A few miles further upriver, Visegrád was once a royal stronghold, but is now a rather sleepy tourist resort with spectacular views over the Danube. The 15th century summer palace has been excavated and restored, and the Mátyás Museum in the Salamon Tower displays many archaeological discoveries. Esztergom, originally a Roman outpost, later became the country's capital from the 11th to the 14th centuries and remains at the heart of the country's Catholicism. Hungary's largest Basilica, the Palace ruins, the Museum of the Stronghold of Esztergom and the Christian Museum of Esztergom, containing some of Hungary's finest art collections, are all important attractions.
Szentendre is an old market town originally inhabited by Serbian refugees from the Turks. Churches had to face east regardless of their position on the streets, producing unusual layouts, and the Serbian house styles added greatly to the village's charm. Due to trade restrictions and floods, the town was abandoned, only to be rediscovered and settled by Hungarian artists in the 1920s. The Margit Kovács Musuem has a remarkable display of the work of Hungary's greatest ceramicist. The Béla Czóbel Museum shows paintings from the 1890s and the Károly Ferenczy Museum contains historical, archaeological and ethnographic collections as well as paintings. The Serbian Museum for Ecclesiastical History contains many fine examples of ecclesiastical art from the 14th to 18th centuries. The Ethnographic Museum (skanzen) is a large open-air addition from the 1960s, still being added to, of reconstructed folk villages from all over the country.
A few miles further upriver, Visegrád was once a royal stronghold, but is now a rather sleepy tourist resort with spectacular views over the Danube. The 15th century summer palace has been excavated and restored, and the Mátyás Museum in the Salamon Tower displays many archaeological discoveries.
Esztergom, originally a Roman outpost, later became the country's capital from the 11th to the 14th centuries and remains at the heart of the country's Catholicism. Hungary's largest Basilica, the Palace ruins, the Museum of the Stronghold of Esztergom and the Christian Museum of Esztergom, containing some of Hungary's finest art collections, are all important attractions.
The West & Late Balaton
Sopron, close to the Austrian frontier, is built on old Roman foundations, and reminders of the region's history are still very much in evidence in the town's 240 listed buildings. Among the sights here are the Firewatch Tower, Storno House showing Roman, Celtic and Avar relics as well as mementoes of Franz Liszt, the Gothic Goat Church and the gargoyled Church of St Michael.
27 km (17 miles) away is the Baroque Esterházy Palace at Fertöd, designed to rival Versailles; Josef Haydn was music master here at the end of the 18th century. Nearby is the spa town of Balf. The walled town of Köszeg and the riverside town of Györ, on the main Budapest-Vienna highway, Szombathely (which claims to be the oldest town in Hungary and has much excellent Romanesque stonework) and Zalaegerszeg are also attractive towns to visit. Located between Budapest and Lake Balaton, Székesfehérvár boasts a Baroque Town Hall, as well as the Zichy Palace and the Garden of Ruins - an open-air museum. Fertő-Hanság National Park, whose main areas are Lake Fertő, the westernmost steppe lake in Eurasia, and the Hanság, an area of wetlands, adjoins the Austrian National Park Neusiedlersee-Seewinkel. Birdwatching, cycling and hiking are popular, and there is a permanent wildlife and ethnographic museum at Öntésmajor.
Lake Balaton is a popular holiday region because of its sandy beaches (strands) and shallow waters. The surrounding countryside consists mainly of fertile plains dotted with old villages. Siófok, on the south shore of the lake, has some of the sandiest beaches and best facilities for tourists. Keszthely is a pleasant old town - the Balaton's best - including the Festetics Palace with its Helicon Library, and the Balaton Museum.Hévíz, Europe's largest thermal lake, is a short bus ride away. Balatonfüred is a well-known health resort with 11 medicinal springs. Tihany's Benedictine Abbey was founded in 1055; Belsô-tó Lake and the Aranyház geyser cones are nearby. Veszprém, 10km (6 miles) north of Lake Balaton, is a pretty town with cobbled streets, built on five hills. It is the home of the Var Museum, an Episcopal Palace and the 15th-century Gizella Chapel.
The Great Plain Area
This region covers more than half the country and contains thousands of acres of vineyards, orchards and farmland. Kecskemét, 85km (53 miles) southeast of the capital, is the home town of the composer Zoltán Kodály. Although an industrial town in many respects, there is still an artists' colony and a centre for folk music there. It also has some fine examples of peasant architecture and of crafts in the Native Artists and Katona Jozsef Museum. Outside the town the Kiskunság National Park preserves parts of the Danube Tisza Floodplain of Central Hungary in seven disconnected areas including swamps, alkali plateaus and lakes. Szeged is the economic and cultural centre of this region, housing Hungary's finest Greek Orthodox (Serbian) church. Baja is a small, picturesque town on the banks of both the Danube and Sugovica rivers with many small islands, old churches and an artists' colony. Further east is the Hortobágy National Park, the 'Hungarian Paszta', the alkali plains which begin the Asian steppes.
Pécs, one of Transdanubia's largest towns, was colonised by the Romans, has the fifth oldest university in Europe (1367) and the finest Hungarian examples of Ottoman architecture from Turkish occupancy (1543-1686). Important tourist sites include the Cathedral, the Mosque of Gazi Kasim Pasha, and the Archaeological Museum. The Danube-Drava National Park encompases the area between these two rivers and includes Mohács, on the Danube, with the battlefield - now a memorial park - where, in 1586, the Turks gained control of the country, and Kalocsa, noted for its folk museums. South of the town is the attractive Forest of Gemenc which can be explored by boat or narrow-gauge trains.
The Northern Highlands
Miskolc, Hungary's second-largest city, is situated near the Slovak border. Primarily industrial, the city has nevertheless several points of interest, including medieval architecture and the warren of man-made caves in the Avas Hills near the city centre. Nearby are the beautiful forested Bükk National Park, part of the Northern Hill Range, which is also an area of karst topography including the country's deepest caves at Lillafüred; many traces of Neanderthal man have been found here. North of Bükk, the Aggtelek National Park is part of the Gömör Torna Karst area of cave systems which extends into Slovakia. Caving, fishing and riding are popular, and there are many cultural monuments, masterpieces of folk architecture, ruins recalling the atmosphere of the Middle Ages, old churches, graveyards and locally surviving farming techniques. Eger, one of the country's oldest and most colourful cities, has nearly 200 historical monuments including its fourteen-sided Minaret; just west of the town are the vineyards of the Szépasszony Valley where one can sample the famous Bikavér (Bull's Blood) wine. Due east is Tokaj, the equivalent of Champagne as a wine-producing area. Halfway between Tokaj and the Slovak border is the spectacular Sárospatak Castle, one of Hungary's greatest historical monuments.