Hungary Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Hungary, a landlocked gem nestled in the heart of Central Europe, boasts a rich tapestry of history, culture, and natural beauty that beckons travelers from around the world. This enchanting country, with its capital Budapest often referred to as the “Pearl of the Danube,” offers a captivating blend of historic charm and modern sophistication. From the stunning architecture of its thermal baths and historic castles to the vibrant folk traditions and delectable cuisine, Hungary is a captivating destination for tourists seeking a unique European experience. Whether you’re exploring the picturesque countryside, indulging in world-famous wines, or immersing yourself in the vibrant arts scene, Hungary promises an unforgettable journey that celebrates both its storied past and dynamic present.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? đź“…

The best time to visit Hungary as a tourist largely depends on your preferences and the type of experience you’re seeking. Here’s a breakdown of the different seasons and what they offer:

  1. Spring (March to May):
  • Spring is a wonderful time to visit Hungary when the weather starts to warm up, and nature awakens from its winter slumber.
  • The countryside bursts into bloom, making it ideal for outdoor activities like hiking and exploring historic towns.
  • Budapest is less crowded, and you can enjoy attractions without long lines.
  1. Summer (June to August):
  • Summer is the high tourist season in Hungary, especially in July and August.
  • The weather is warm and sunny, perfect for outdoor activities, festivals, and enjoying the famous thermal baths.
  • However, expect larger crowds and higher prices, particularly in popular tourist destinations like Budapest and Lake Balaton.
  1. Autumn (September to November):
  • September and early October are fantastic for travel, as the weather remains pleasant, and tourist crowds begin to thin out.
  • The fall foliage in Hungary’s countryside, particularly in the wine regions, is stunning.
  • Wine enthusiasts can partake in the grape harvest and wine festivals.
  1. Winter (December to February):
  • Winter can be magical in Hungary, especially during the Christmas season when the cities are beautifully decorated.
  • Budapest’s thermal baths are especially inviting during the colder months.
  • If you enjoy winter sports, the Hungarian Alps in the west offer skiing opportunities.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Hungary depends on your interests and tolerance for crowds and weather conditions. Spring and early autumn are often considered the most pleasant times, offering a good balance between favorable weather and fewer tourists. However, if you want to experience Hungary’s vibrant festivals or enjoy winter activities, other seasons may be more suitable.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Hungary as a tourist is relatively easy, thanks to its well-developed transportation infrastructure. The best way to explore the country depends on your preferences and the destinations you plan to visit. Here are some of the most common ways to get around Hungary:

  1. Public Transportation:
  • Budapest: In the capital city, Budapest, public transportation is excellent. The city has an extensive network of trams, buses, trolleys, and a metro system. You can purchase single tickets or travel cards for various durations.
  • Outside Budapest: Public transportation options like trains and buses connect Budapest to other major cities and towns in Hungary. The train network, in particular, is efficient and can take you to many destinations.
  1. Rental Cars:
  • If you plan to explore more remote areas or rural regions of Hungary, renting a car can be a convenient option. The road network is generally well-maintained, and signage is in both Hungarian and English.
  • Keep in mind that parking in central Budapest can be challenging and expensive, so consider using public transportation or parking in less congested areas when visiting the city.
  1. Taxis:
  • Taxis are readily available in Budapest and other urban areas. Ensure that you use licensed and reputable taxi services to avoid scams. It’s a good idea to ask the driver to use the meter or agree on a fare before starting the ride.
  1. Bicycles:
  • Many Hungarian cities, including Budapest, have bicycle rental programs, making it easy to explore urban areas on two wheels. Hungary also has several scenic cycling routes in the countryside.
  1. Domestic Flights:
  • While Hungary is a relatively small country, if you need to cover long distances quickly, you can consider domestic flights. However, this is usually not necessary for most tourist itineraries.
  1. Boats:
  • In Budapest, you can explore the Danube River by taking a river cruise. It offers a unique perspective of the city’s landmarks, especially during the evening when the city is beautifully lit up.
  1. Walking:
  • Many of Hungary’s towns and cities, especially Budapest, are pedestrian-friendly. Walking is an excellent way to explore historic districts, markets, and attractions at a leisurely pace.

When planning your transportation in Hungary, it’s a good idea to consider the specific destinations on your itinerary and choose the mode of transport that best suits your needs. Public transportation is often sufficient for most tourists, but renting a car or using taxis may be more convenient for exploring remote areas or traveling on your schedule.

What’s the Official Language?

The official language of Hungary is Hungarian (Magyar). Hungarian is a unique and distinct language with its own grammar and vocabulary. While many Hungarians in urban areas, especially those working in the tourism industry, speak English or other foreign languages, it can be helpful to know a few basic Hungarian words and phrases to enhance your travel experience and show respect for the local culture. Here are some essential words and phrases for tourists:

  1. Hello: HellĂł (pronounced “heh-loh”)
  2. Good morning: JĂł reggelt (pronounced “yo reh-gelt”)
  3. Good afternoon: JĂł napot (pronounced “yo nah-pot”)
  4. Good evening: JĂł estĂ©t (pronounced “yo eh-shtayt”)
  5. Goodbye: Viszontlátásra (pronounced “vee-sont-la-tash-ra”)
  6. Please: KĂ©rlek (pronounced “kehr-lek”)
  7. Thank you: Köszönöm (pronounced “kehr-seh-nehm”)
  8. Yes: Igen (pronounced “ee-gen”)
  9. No: Nem (pronounced “nehm”)
  10. Excuse me / I’m sorry: ElnĂ©zĂ©st (pronounced “ehl-neh-zesht”)
  11. Do you speak English? BeszĂ©l angolul? (pronounced “bes-zayl ahn-goh-lool?”)
  12. How much does this cost? Mennyibe kerĂĽl ez? (pronounced “men-yee-beh keh-rool ehz?”)
  13. Where is…? Hol van…? (pronounced “hohl vahn…?”)
  14. Restroom / Toilet: MosdĂł (pronounced “mosh-doh”)
  15. Food: Étel (pronounced “ay-tel”)
  16. Water: VĂ­z (pronounced “veez”)
  17. Beer: Sör (pronounced “shuhr”)
  18. Wine: Bor (pronounced “bor”)
  19. Menu: Étlap (pronounced “ayt-lahp”)
  20. Cheers: EgĂ©szsĂ©gedre (pronounced “eg-esh-sheh-geh-dreh”) – when toasting

Learning a few basic Hungarian phrases can go a long way in enhancing your travel experience and showing respect for the local culture. Most Hungarians appreciate it when tourists make an effort to communicate in their language, even if it’s just a few words. However, you’ll find that many people in Hungary, especially in tourist areas, are accustomed to speaking English and other common languages.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Hungary offers a wide range of accommodation options for tourists, catering to various preferences and budgets. Your choice of where to stay in Hungary depends on the cities or regions you plan to visit, your budget, and your travel style. Here are some popular options:

  1. Budapest: As the capital and largest city, Budapest has a plethora of accommodation choices, including luxury hotels, boutique hotels, budget hostels, and vacation rentals. Districts like District V (Belváros) and District VII (Erzsébetváros) are central and well-connected to major attractions.
  2. Hotels: Hungary boasts a range of hotels, from luxurious 5-star establishments to comfortable mid-range options and budget-friendly hotels. Some famous luxury hotels in Budapest include the Four Seasons Gresham Palace and the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus.
  3. Hostels: Budapest has numerous hostels that are popular among backpackers and budget travelers. They offer dormitory-style and private rooms at affordable rates. District VI (Terézváros) and District VII (Erzsébetváros) are known for their hostel options.
  4. Vacation Rentals: Websites like Airbnb and Booking.com offer vacation rental apartments and homes in Hungary. These can be a great choice for families or travelers looking for more space and a homely atmosphere.
  5. Guesthouses and Bed and Breakfasts: In smaller towns and rural areas, you’ll find charming guesthouses and bed and breakfast accommodations. These can provide a cozy and authentic experience.
  6. Resorts: Hungary has several spa resorts and wellness hotels, particularly around Lake Balaton and the thermal spa towns like HĂ©vĂ­z. These are ideal for relaxation and pampering.
  7. Countryside: If you plan to explore Hungary’s countryside, consider staying at countryside guesthouses or agritourism accommodations for an authentic rural experience.
  8. Budget Chains: International budget hotel chains like ibis, Motel One, and Premier Inn also have a presence in Hungary, offering consistent quality at reasonable prices.

When choosing your accommodation, consider factors such as location, budget, and the type of experience you desire. In Budapest, staying in the city center allows easy access to most attractions, while in the countryside, you can opt for accommodations that suit your interests, whether it’s wine tasting in Eger, exploring historic villages in Transdanubia, or enjoying the thermal baths in SzĂ©kesfehĂ©rvár. Make reservations well in advance, especially during the peak tourist season, to secure your preferred lodging.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Hungary is known for its rich and flavorful cuisine, which reflects a blend of influences from Central Europe, the Balkans, and the Middle East. As a tourist, here are some must-try Hungarian dishes and foods that will give you a taste of the country’s culinary heritage:

  1. Goulash (Gulyás): This iconic Hungarian dish is a hearty soup or stew made with tender chunks of beef or pork, paprika, onions, and various spices. It’s often served with a side of bread or noodles.
  2. Paprikás Csirke: A classic comfort food, paprikás csirke is a creamy chicken stew made with paprika, sour cream, and served with dumplings or pasta.
  3. Lángos: A popular street food, lángos is deep-fried dough, often topped with garlic, sour cream, cheese, and other toppings. It’s a delicious and indulgent snack.
  4. Töltött Paprika: Stuffed peppers filled with a mixture of ground meat (usually a combination of pork and beef) and rice, cooked in a tomato-based sauce. Vegetarian versions with rice and vegetables are also available.
  5. Pörkölt: Similar to goulash but thicker and less soupy, pörkölt is a meat stew seasoned with paprika and served with various side dishes, such as potatoes or dumplings.
  6. Hortobágyi Palacsinta: Savory Hungarian pancakes filled with a mixture of meat, typically chicken or veal, and served with a rich paprika sauce.
  7. HalászlĂ©: Known as “fisherman’s soup,” this spicy fish soup is made with freshwater fish, paprika, and served with bread or noodles. It’s a specialty in regions near rivers and lakes.
  8. Kolbász: Hungarian sausages, available in various flavors and often served with mustard or sauerkraut. The Csabai and Gyulai varieties are popular choices.
  9. TĂşrĂłs Csusza: A comforting dish made with noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, and crispy bacon. It’s a delightful combination of sweet and savory flavors.
  10. Dobos Torte: A classic Hungarian dessert, Dobos Torte consists of layers of sponge cake and chocolate buttercream, topped with caramel. It’s known for its distinctive caramel layer on top.
  11. Strudel (RĂ©tes): A pastry filled with sweet or savory fillings, such as apples, cherries, cheese, or cabbage. It’s often served with a dusting of powdered sugar.
  12. Hungarian Wine: Hungary has a long history of winemaking, and you must try some Hungarian wines, including Tokaji (sweet white wine) and Egri BikavĂ©r (Bull’s Blood, a red blend). Wine regions like Tokaj and Eger offer excellent wine-tasting opportunities.
  13. Unicum: A traditional Hungarian herbal liqueur, Unicum is often consumed as an aperitif or digestif. It has a unique and complex flavor.

Don’t forget to explore local markets and restaurants to discover even more regional specialties and street foods. Hungarian cuisine is known for its bold flavors, and trying these dishes will be a delightful and memorable part of your visit to Hungary.

What to See? 🔍

Hungary offers a diverse range of attractions and destinations for tourists to explore. Here are some must-see places and attractions in Hungary:

  1. Budapest: Hungary’s capital and largest city, Budapest, is a treasure trove of historic and cultural landmarks. Some of the must-see places in Budapest include:
  • Buda Castle: Explore the historical castle complex, which includes the Royal Palace and Matthias Church.
  • Chain Bridge: Admire this iconic suspension bridge that connects Buda and Pest across the Danube River.
  • Parliament Building: Visit one of Europe’s most impressive parliament buildings, beautifully lit up at night.
  • St. Stephen’s Basilica: Marvel at the stunning architecture and panoramic views from the dome.
  • Fisherman’s Bastion: Enjoy panoramic views of the city and the Danube River from this Neo-Gothic terrace.
  • SzĂ©chenyi Thermal Bath: Relax in the famous thermal baths, which are an integral part of Budapest’s culture.
  1. Danube Bend: Just north of Budapest, the Danube Bend is a picturesque stretch of the Danube River, surrounded by lush hills and charming towns. Highlights include Esztergom, Visegrád, and Szentendre.
  2. Lake Balaton: Known as the “Hungarian Sea,” Lake Balaton is Central Europe’s largest freshwater lake. It offers opportunities for swimming, sailing, and exploring charming lakeside towns like Tihany and Keszthely.
  3. Eger: This historic town is famous for its beautiful Baroque architecture, thermal baths, and the Eger Castle. It’s also known for its wine, particularly the red wine called Egri BikavĂ©r (Bull’s Blood).
  4. Hortobágy National Park: Hungary’s first national park, Hortobágy is a vast expanse of grasslands and wetlands known for its unique ecosystem, traditional Hungarian shepherd culture, and birdwatching opportunities.
  5. Tokaj Wine Region: Located in the northeastern part of Hungary, the Tokaj region is renowned for its sweet Tokaji wines. Visit vineyards and cellars to taste these world-class wines.
  6. Aggtelek National Park: Explore the breathtaking underground world of the Aggtelek Cave System, a UNESCO World Heritage site with impressive stalactites and stalagmites.
  7. PĂ©cs: This historic city in southern Hungary boasts a rich cultural heritage, including Roman ruins, Ottoman architecture, and the early Christian Necropolis, a UNESCO site.
  8. Debrecen: Hungary’s second-largest city is known for its Great Reformed Church, Hortobágyi National Park nearby, and a vibrant cultural scene.
  9. Hollókő: This beautifully preserved traditional Hungarian village is a UNESCO World Heritage site, offering a glimpse into rural life and folk traditions.
  10. Sopron: Known for its charming Old Town, Sopron is close to the Austrian border and features well-preserved medieval architecture.
  11. Tihany Peninsula: Explore this lovely peninsula on Lake Balaton, home to the Tihany Abbey, lavender fields, and hiking trails with stunning lake views.

These are just a few of the must-see places in Hungary. Whether you’re interested in history, natural beauty, culture, or relaxation, Hungary has something to offer every type of traveler.

What to Do? 📸

Hungary offers a wide range of activities and experiences for tourists to enjoy. Here are some must-do things to make the most of your visit to Hungary:

  1. Explore Budapest: Spend time exploring Hungary’s vibrant capital city, Budapest. Wander through the historic districts of Buda and Pest, visit iconic landmarks like Buda Castle and the Parliament Building, and soak in the healing waters of the city’s thermal baths, such as SzĂ©chenyi Thermal Bath.
  2. Take a Danube River Cruise: Enjoy a scenic cruise along the Danube River to admire the stunning architecture of Budapest, including the Hungarian Parliament and Buda Castle, illuminated at night.
  3. Visit the Hungarian Countryside: Venture beyond Budapest to explore Hungary’s charming countryside. Discover picturesque villages, lush vineyards, and historic towns like Eger and Szentendre.
  4. Indulge in Hungarian Cuisine: Try traditional Hungarian dishes like goulash, paprikás csirke, lángos, and chimney cake. Don’t forget to savor Hungarian wines, including the famous Tokaji and Egri BikavĂ©r.
  5. Attend a Folk Festival: Experience Hungarian culture by attending a traditional folk festival, where you can enjoy folk music, dance performances, and artisan crafts.
  6. Explore Castle Ruins: Hungary is dotted with castle ruins, each with its own unique history. Visit historical sites like Visegrád Castle or the ruins of Hollókő Castle.
  7. Relax in Thermal Baths: Hungary is renowned for its thermal baths and spa culture. In addition to the famous Széchenyi Bath in Budapest, visit other thermal baths like Gellért Bath and Hévíz Thermal Lake, the largest natural thermal lake in Europe.
  8. Sample Hungarian Desserts: Satisfy your sweet tooth with traditional Hungarian desserts such as Dobos Torte, tĂşrĂłs csusza, and strudel. Pair them with a cup of Hungarian coffee or a shot of Unicum liqueur.
  9. Wine Tasting: Explore Hungary’s wine regions, including Tokaj, Eger, and Villány, by going on wine tours and tastings. Learn about the country’s wine-making traditions and sample its diverse wine offerings.
  10. Visit Festive Markets: If you’re in Hungary during the holiday season, explore the charming Christmas markets in Budapest and other cities. Shop for handmade crafts, enjoy seasonal treats, and soak up the festive atmosphere.
  11. Hike or Bike in National Parks: Hungary has several beautiful national parks and nature reserves. Go hiking or cycling in places like BĂĽkk National Park or Aggtelek National Park to appreciate the country’s natural beauty.
  12. Learn About Hungarian History: Visit museums and historical sites to gain insight into Hungary’s rich history. The Hungarian National Museum and the House of Terror Museum in Budapest are worth exploring.
  13. Attend Classical Music Concerts: Hungary has a strong tradition of classical music. Attend a performance at venues like the Hungarian State Opera House or enjoy open-air concerts in Budapest’s parks during the summer.
  14. Participate in Thermal Mud Treatments: Experience the therapeutic properties of Hungary’s thermal mud by trying spa treatments, mud baths, or mudpacks in designated spa resorts.
  15. Discover Traditional Crafts: Visit artisan workshops and markets to see traditional Hungarian crafts like pottery, lace-making, and woodcarving being created.

These activities and experiences will allow you to immerse yourself in Hungary’s rich culture, history, and natural beauty, ensuring a memorable and fulfilling trip.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to Hungary, it’s important to understand and respect the country’s culture and ensure your safety. Here are some key aspects of Hungarian culture and safety considerations for tourists:

Culture:

  1. Greeting: Hungarians typically greet with a firm handshake, accompanied by direct eye contact. When meeting someone for the first time, it’s customary to use titles (Mr./Mrs.) followed by the person’s last name.
  2. Punctuality: Punctuality is important in Hungarian culture. Arriving on time for appointments and meetings is a sign of respect.
  3. Respect for Elders: Hungarians have a deep respect for their elders, and it’s customary to address older individuals with proper titles and to show deference in conversations.
  4. Dress Code: In urban areas like Budapest, people tend to dress fashionably. However, when visiting churches or certain formal venues, it’s advisable to dress modestly and cover your shoulders and knees.
  5. Language: While English is widely spoken in tourist areas and hotels, learning a few basic Hungarian phrases can be appreciated by locals and enhance your experience.
  6. Tipping: Tipping is customary in Hungary, and it’s common to leave a tip of around 10% in restaurants. In other service establishments, such as cafes and bars, rounding up the bill or leaving small change is customary.

Safety:

  1. General Safety: Hungary is considered a safe country for travelers. Violent crime is rare, but like any destination, be cautious in crowded areas and watch out for pickpockets, especially in tourist spots.
  2. Healthcare: Hungary has a good healthcare system, and medical facilities in major cities are of high quality. Make sure you have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies.
  3. Emergency Numbers: In case of emergencies, dial 112 for general assistance, or 104 for ambulance services. For police, call 107.
  4. Currency Exchange: Be cautious when exchanging currency. Use reputable banks or exchange offices, and avoid street vendors who may offer unfavorable rates.
  5. Transportation: Public transportation in Hungary is generally safe. Just be aware of your belongings on trams and buses, especially during rush hours.
  6. Scams: Be wary of common travel scams, such as overcharging in taxis or being approached by overly persistent street vendors.
  7. Respect Local Laws: Familiarize yourself with Hungarian laws and regulations, including traffic rules, to avoid any legal issues during your stay.
  8. Water: Tap water is safe to drink in Hungary, so you can refill your water bottle from the tap.
  9. COVID-19 Precautions: As of my last knowledge update in September 2021, the COVID-19 situation may still require precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Check for the latest travel advisories and follow local guidelines.
  10. Travel Insurance: It’s always advisable to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers not only health emergencies but also trip cancellations, lost luggage, and other unforeseen events.

By respecting the local culture and customs, staying aware of your surroundings, and taking common-sense safety precautions, you can have a safe and enjoyable experience when traveling to Hungary. However, it’s a good practice to check for any updated travel advisories or safety information before your trip, as conditions can change over time.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to Hungary promises a delightful blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. With its captivating cities, enchanting countryside, and rich traditions, this Central European gem offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience. Whether you’re exploring Budapest’s grandeur, savoring Hungarian cuisine, or soaking in thermal baths, Hungary’s warm hospitality and diverse attractions make it a must-visit destination for tourists seeking a rich and immersive European adventure.