Throughout its long history, Hungary has absorbed the cultural influences of many peoples – the Romans, the Slavs, the Magyars, the Ottomans, and the Austrians, and its territory has been enlarged or reduced following waves of invasions, occupations, or liberations. The majestic capital Budapest straddles the mighty Danube and until the 19th century when the famous Chain Bridge was built, there were actually two separate towns – the historic Buda with its hilltop castle and medieval quarter, and the modern and commercial Pest across the river. Nowadays, the city is famous for its grand imperial architecture and lively, progressive culture.
Just a short drive southwest of Budapest, the beech forests and azure waters of Lake Balaton have been offering an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city for centuries. This is a great choice for some watersports or a hike in the Balaton Uplands National Park and a stop at a winery to try some local vintages while enjoying the views over the lake. From Budapest, the Danube bike trail winds its way through the Visegrad mountains and past quaint villages and lush vineyards to the historic Esztergom.
You can base yourself in Budapest from three days to a week in order to visit the capital’s main historic and cultural sites on the Buda and Pest sides of the river and to take day-trips to the Danube River Bend (to tour the small towns of Visegrad, Szentendre, and Esztergom), to the Lake Balaton and the Herend Porcelain Factory, or to the historic town of Gyor and the UNESCO-protected Pannonhalma Abbey.
Looking to extend your stay? Head through the highlands east of Budapest to the Holloko village to learn about the traditional customs of the local people. Continue to Eger and explore its imposing medieval castle and taste the local Bull’s Blood wine, then on to the UNESCO-listed Tokaj region world-famous for its desert wine.