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Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe. It is bordered by Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia.
Despite its relatively small size (about a third of the size of the UK), Hungary is home to nine World Heritage Sites, the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Balaton) and the largest remaining grasslands in Central Europe (Hortobágy). In terms of man-made structures, Hungary is home to the largest synagogue in Europe, the largest medicinal bath in Europe, the third largest church in Europe and the second largest Baroque castle in the world.
The capital Budapest, also known as “The City of Baths,” is a major tourist destination in its own right. These sights, coupled with Hungary’s great accessibility and vivid culture make this country a destination not to be missed.
Despite frequent tragic upheavals which spared nothing and nobody in its long and eventful history, the country boasts a heritage that attracts people from far and wide. Here are a few highlights of what Hungary has to offer:
UNESCO declared the capital Budapest
("the Pearl of the Danube") a World Heritage site largely due to its unparalleled panorama and historic buildings.
After Iceland, Hungary has the world's largest reserve of surface thermal water: hundreds of springs help thousands in recovering from illnesses or simply offer a unique way of relaxation to many.
Lake Balaton, the largest (and warmest) freshwater lake in Central Europe', is often referred to as the "Hungarian Sea". It is relatively shallow along the shore (especially on the southern side) with a sandy bottom, making it an ideal place for family and beach holidays. The temperature of the water is around 20-26 C from mid-May to mid-September making it even more attractive. The picturesque towns and villages, the beauty of nature and the famous wine regions in the Balaton area attract a huge number of visitors. It is not only a favourite get-away for families with young children but it is also a hit with fans of sailing, yachting, windsurfing, waterskiiing and of course beach lovers.
2000-year-old Roman ruins and 400-year-old Turkish monuments can be found side-by-side, not to mention the beautiful churches from the Romanesque period in Ják and Pannonhalma, or the medieval fortresses in Eger, Sümeg, and Siklós.
The rich Hungarian folk art and the horse shows that depict the lifestyle and traditions of the puszta (Great Hungarian Plain) attract tens of thousands.
- Liszt, Bartók and Kodály are the best known Hungarian musicians who rank among the international greats of music. With its lively musical life and internationally renowned ballet, opera, concerts and international music festivals, the country has a lot to offer to music lovers whatever the genre they like.
Hungarian folk songs bear no resemblance to those of other nations. The origin of the Hungarian language is one of the mysteries that are associated with the history of the Hungarians. Yet, the Hungarian people have been living in the centre of Europe for over 1,100 years.
Hungary is a small country in terms of population but it has earned a lot of respect and recognition in the scientific community. Over the course of the 20th century no less than twelve Hungarians were awarded Nobel Prizes.
You don't have to be a conosseur to appreciate traditional (and often spicy) Hungarian food that goes much beyond "Gulyas" (which is a soup by the way)
And if you like wine you'll have a chance to sample a range of quality wines that come from nearly two dozen wine regions many of which are little known beyond Hungary's own borders. White wines range from the famous "Tokaji" (perhaps best known for its desert wine variant called the "Aszu") to the more main stream varieties of Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and many others. Among the reds perhaps the most famous is the full bodied "Egri Bikaver" from the North East of the country (the name translates to Bull's Blood in English). But don't leave Hungary without trying drinks of a more potent kind: Unicum a herbal liqueur that was used for medicinal purposes in the first part of the last century, and "Palinka" the Hungarian version of whisky made from one of many fruits e.g. pear, plumb, cherry, sour cherry, apricot etc.
There is a wealth of other activities available, including a range of watersports, horse riding, cycling, hiking, fishing, bird watching, golf, just to name a few.
If you like car racing or airshows then the Formula 1 Budapest Grand Prix and the spectecular Red Bull Air race are not to be missed.
And there's something else that keeps bringing visitors back to Hungary - the legendary Hungarian hospitality.
Useful Facts about Hungary:
Area: about 93 thousand square km (little over a third of the UK)
Population: about 10 million (about a sixth of the UK's 61 million)
Density of population: 110 per square km (less than half of the UK's 244 per square km)
Form of government: Republic (parliamentary democracy - 4 year election periods)
Capital: Budapest (2 million inhabitants)
Climate: Continental with Mediterranean and Atlantic influences
Average temperatures: January -2C (28F), July 23C (73F)
Spoken languages: English, German
Currency: Hungarian Forint - HUF or Ft
Local time: GMT+1 hour
Public holidays: January 1, March 15, May 1, August 20, October 23, December 25, 26
International country phone code: +36
Highest peak: Kekes 1014m (lies in the Matra mountains in the North East - about the same height as Snowdon but less rugged)
Danube - Hungarian stretch 417 km
Tisza - Hungarian stretch 598 km
Balaton 598 square km surface area
Velence lake 26 square km surface area
Ferto lake 322 square km surface area (Hungarian part 82 square km)
Hungarian Embassy in London:
35 Eaton Place, London SW1X 8BY
Tel: 020 7201 3440
Fax: 020 7823 1348
Hungarian Embassy in Dublin:
UK Embassy in Budapest:
6 Harmincad utca, Budapest, 1051
Tel.: +(36) (1) 266-2888; in Hungary dial 06 1 266 2888
Irish Embassy in Budapest:
Bank Center Granite Tower, 7th floor, 7 Szabadság tér, Budapest, 1054
Tel.: +(36) (1) 302-9600; in Hungary dial 06 1 302 9600
Fire Department: 105
International Emergency Centre: 112
Electricity: 230V 50Hz (you need a European plug with two circular metal pins)
Tourist Guides and Other Useful Web Sites:
Hungarian National Tourist Office:
The Lonely Planet Travel Guide says: "Budapest is more cosmopolitan than Prague, more romantic than Warsaw and more beautiful than both". And rightly so.
Budapest is steeped in history, culture and natural beauty, a place where East meets West. Get ready to explore the Roman ruins of Aquincum, Heroes' Square and Statue Park, resting place for the statues of fallen Communist leaders. You shoudn't miss the 300-foot dome of Szent Istvan (St. Stephen) Basilica, the iconic Lanchid (Chain Bridge) or a ride up the funicular railway to the medieval Varnegyed (Castle Hill). Or for a complete change of pace, take your time in the city's many museums, picnic at Margitsziget (Margaret Island) or relax in one of the historic thermal baths.
"Surveying Budapest from the embankments or the bastions of the Vár (Castle Hill), it's easy to see why the city was dubbed the "Pearl of the Danube". Its grand buildings and sweeping bridges look magnificent, especially when floodlit or illuminated by the barrage of fireworks that explode above the Danube every August 20, St Stephen's Day (a national holiday).
Since the fall of Communism, Budapest has experienced a new surge of dynamism. Luxury hotels and malls, restaurants, bars and clubs have proliferated. The city hosts a wide variety of events ranging from festivals, concerts, opera and ballet performances, exhibitions, sport and cultural events including the Formula 1 Budapest Grand Prix and the Red Bull Air Race among many others.
The thermal resources of Budapest are unique in the world. It has 118 natural springs with water temperatures of 21 to 76 °C and yields of 30,000 cubic metres a day. Already the Celts and Romans used the warm springs of the Buda-hills. According to memos during the Roman times there were 14 baths in the city, whilst during the Turkish rule there were 8. The baths dating back to Turkish times are still operating. Nowadays Budapest has 24 thermal baths, swimming pools and open-air pools, from which 10 are thermal baths.
The River Danube determines basic orientation, with Buda on the hilly west bank and Pest covering the plain across the river." (Source: The Rough Guide to Hungary)
You can't miss Várnegyed (Castle Hill) in the centre of Buda
. This is a UNESCO-designated neighborhood that boasts narrow cobbled streets and some of the city's most stunning sites (with Budapest Hilton
nested right in the middle of Halaszbastya or Fisherman's Bastion) including the Royal Palace (Budai Var) and the Matthias Church (Matyas Templom). The latter two were originally built in the 13th century. Castle Hill seems serene now, but it has been the site of 30 devastating sieges: most recently, in the winter of 1944-45, when the Nazis took their last stand here. As a result many of the buildings had to be reconstructed but they are stunning nonetheless.
The area south of Várnegyed (Castle Hill) has a number of historic attractions like the Citadella on the top of Gellert Hegy (Gellert Hill) with the Hungarian Statue of Liberty at the peak. To the north lies the 16th-century tomb of Gül Baba and the 2,000-year-old Roman ruins of Aquincum as a reminder of the illustrious past. To the west is Szobor, the Soviet statue park that takes us back to the not so distant communist past and the Soviet occupation.
However, the most memorable sites on the Buda side are made by nature. They are the beautiful Buda hills where you can enjoy the views, discover the labyrinth of caves, hike, ride a bike, travel on the railway operated by children on top of Szechenyi Hegy (Szechenyi Hill), or even ski in the winter. Buda also offers baths including the Gellért, Rudas, Rác, and Király baths, if soaking in the thermal waters is your thing.
In the middle of the Danube lies Margitsziget
(Margaret Island). Anchored by bridges at both ends (Arpad Hid in the North and Margit Hid in the South), this tranquil 250-acre parkland has gardens, paths, pools, an outdoor theatre, and two classic hotels (including the Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget
formerly Danubius Thermal Hotel). It is a traffic free zone and yours to explore.
On the Pest side lies Hungary's Parliament, a neo-Gothic structure with heavy ornamental stonework, dominating the Eastern bank of river Danube (Duna). Its direct vicinity is home to the government and ministries (a bit like Whitehall in London). But the tone changes farther south, where the sacred and the secular collide. St. Stephen's opulent basilica is here; as are Budapest's oldest sanctuary (the 12th-century Inner City Parish Church) and Europe's largest synagogue (the 3,000-seat Nagy Zsinagóga). Yet at this point you are right next door to Budapest's most famous and admittedly quite touristy pedestrianised shopping street, Váci utca runnig from Vörösmarty tér in the North right down to the Vásárcsarnok (indoor central market) in the South. This area is home to a number of hotels (many lining the river bank with stunning views) and great restaurants.
Once you leave the heart of Pest there is a belt within Nagykorut (Large Ring Road) with a number of cultural attractions such as the Holocaust Memorial Center, the new National Theater (Nemzeti Szinhaz) and the adjacent Palace of Arts (home to the National Concert Hall, Festival Theatre, and Ludwig Contemporary Arts Museum). You can also discover older cultural gems like the Opera House, the Erkel Szinhaz (Budapest's "other" opera house) and the Vígszínház Theater.
Starting near the Basilica, Andrássy út extends over a mile to the North East, getting grander, greener, and less commercial the farther you go. Like much of Pest, the boulevard was constructed in the late 19th century, and its pedigree shows. Europe's first metro line lies underneath (which opened in 1896). Andrássy út ends with a bang at Hösök tere (Heroes' Square). Just behind it is City Park, which contains the Széchenyi Baths, the glorious Museum of Fine Arts, Vajdahunyad Var (Vajdahunyad Castle) and a lake where you can hire a boat in the summer and part of which transforms into an outdoor ice ring in the winter. You can also find the city's top children's attractions here such as the Vidampark (Amusement Park) and the Budapesti Allatkert (Budapest Zoo).
To find out more please click on the travel guide links listed under the pictures.