Beautifully illuminated bridges, Turkish baths, thermal water springs, spas, gulyás (a meat and vegetable stew or soup), divine confectionary, and even cowboys can all be found in landlocked Hungary. As one of the oldest European countries, its famous University of Pécs dates back to 1367 and still serves as a significant education establishment today. Although surrounded by Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine, Hungarian is the official language and distinctly different from the other languages spoken in neighbouring countries.
Take a journey into the past, showcasing the grandest and most opulent cities of old Europe. From Prague to Budapest, marvel at the spirit of former empires and regal grandeur.
The freshwater Lake Balaton – the biggest lake in Europe – is lovingly referred to as ‘The Hungarian Sea’ and a highly popular destination for visitors and locals alike. Everyday inventions that we likely take for granted were masterminded by Hungarians, with the Rubik’s cube, ballpoint pens, binoculars, and Microsoft Word and Excel programmes being among them. Thank you Hungary!
As Hungary’s capital, Budapest is undoubtedly a destination that needs exploring. With Buda on the west bank of the River Danube and Pest on the east bank, Budapest became a unified city in 1873 and is a vibrant hub for business, design, art, culture and entertainment. Within Budapest’s Castle District, you will find the majestic Matthias Church, which is a great place to start your adventure. Steeped in a rich history, this 700-year-old building is both a church and a museum, that has seen numerous coronations and royal weddings. Adding to its beauty is the stunning view across the River Danube.
The House of Parliament is another beautiful structure that enhances the Danube panorama. Here, it is possible to see the grandeur of the Main Staircase and the spectacular Hungarian Crown Jewels. If you have an appreciation for architecture, then the Budapest Opera House is a must, as one of the most beautiful Neo-Renaissance buildings in Europe. Cruising on the Danube and heading on to Gellért Hill will give you sweeping views of the city and surrounding stunning scenery.
When dining in Hungary, expect big flavours, hearty meals and a cultural experience that locals take pride in. Paprika plays a major role in numerous dishes. A few authentic savoury dishes that you simply must try include: the aforementioned ‘gulyás’ or goulash; a deep-fried flat bread known as ‘lángos’, which is usually topped with cheese, garlic sauce, sour cream or meat; ‘töltött káposzta’ (cooked cabbage leaves with a spicy filling of rice and minced pork); and ‘túrós csusza’, where the savoury version consists of pasta accompanied by a type of cottage cheese and crispy bacon bits, while the sweet take on this dish swaps the bacon for powdered sugar and cream.
Sweet pastries and layered cakes are highly popular with Hungarians. ‘Kürtőskalács’ or ‘chimney cake’ – a spiral-shaped bread, coated in all manner of delights such as cinnamon, sugar, coconut, or cocoa, is aptly names as it looks like a chimney but is also baked over charcoal. Other divine desserts that must be tried are: ‘rétes’ – the Hungarian take on strudel where a log-shaped pastry is covered with powdered sugar and packed with rich fruit fillings; ‘Dobostorta’ also known as Dobos cake (taking the name of its creator – the famous confectioner József Dobos) which is a chocolate-lover’s dream; and ‘gesztenyepüré’ – a chestnut, sugar and rum purée, served with whipped cream. Sometimes the line between main meal and dessert becomes blurred with dishes like ‘meggyleves’ - a pink-coloured soup made of sour cherries, sugar and cream that could be a dessert but is so satisfying, it also can be considered a full meal.
Hungary boasts an exciting array of wines, fruit brandies and liqueurs. ‘Pálinka’ is a fruit and water blend with a 40% alcohol content and can be made by combining all sorts of fruits; there are consequently hundreds of different varieties of this drink. Meanwhile, the dessert wine ‘Tokaji Aszú’ is so highly regarded that the Tokaj grape fields from where it originates get a special mention in the lyrics to the Hungarian National Anthem!
For those who enjoy a glass of red, ‘bikavér’(literally meaning ‘bull’s blood’) is a red wine that is so loved, it has festivals dedicated to it. Unicum is a herbal concoction, typically drunk as an aperitif or digestive as it is a distinct, bitter-tasting drink containing herbs and spices. In the late 60s, prior to Coca-Cola and Pepsi being introduced to Hungary, the orange-flavoured soft drink named ‘Bambi’ was adored. Today, it can only be found in the retro-themed café Ibolya Presszó. Given that limited quantities of Bambi are produced each year, should you be presented with the opportunity to try it, you will be taking a nostalgic step back in time.
Landscape and wildlife
With 10% of its total land area being protected, Hungary has ten National Parks and over 140 conservation areas. Inside Aggtelek National Park lies the Baradla Cave – Europe’s largest stalactite cave. Together with impressive caves, mountains, peninsulas, forests, rivers, wetlands and basins all feature in Hungary’s landscape. Not surprisingly, this creates diverse habitats where fauna and flora can thrive. Wildlife photographers will be in their element in this stunning country, with its abundance of brown hares, red foxes and white storks. Wolves, weasels, badgers, bats, boars, deer, beavers, lynxes, and around 400 species of bird are among some of Hungary’s natural wonders.