Northeast of Great Plain & Northeast
The level plains and grasslands give way to a chain of wooded hills as you head north and east. These are the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains (in modern-day Ukraine and Romania), which stretch along the Hungarian border with Slovakia.
It’s hard to name the single thing that makes Szeged such an appealing city. Is it the the shady, gardenlike main square with all the park benches or the the abundant streetside cafe seating in a pedestrian area that seems to stretch on forever? Maybe it’s the interesting architecture of the old-town palaces.
Debrecen is Hungary's second-largest city, and its name has been synonymous with wealth and conservatism since the 16th century. Flanked by the golden Great Church and the historic Aranybika Hotel, Debrecen’s central square sets the rather subdued tone for this city.
The Great Plain covers some 45,000 sq km, encompassing half the nation's territory but only about a third of the population. The Central Plain, the smallest of the Great Plain’s three divisions, stretches eastward from Budapest to the Tisza River. The biggest attraction here is Lake Tisza, Hungary’s second-largest lake and a water-lover’s paradise.
Lying halfway between the Danube and the Tisza Rivers in the heart of the Southern Plain, Kecskemét is a city ringed with vineyards and orchards that don’t seem to stop at the limits of this ‘garden city’.
You have to look at Nyíregyháza from the inside out. Stand in the old town centre and notice the checkerboard of well-tended squares and gardens and then survey the forests, pavilions and reedy lakeshore at the park in Sóstófürdő, 5km to the north.
This may not be the ‘Lake Balaton of the Great Plain’, as tourist brochures put it, but Lake Tisza (Tisza-tó) on the Central Plain offers outdoors enthusiasts a quiet, laid-back alternative. Few visitors came to town before the 1980s, when they dammed the Tisza River and opened more than 127 sq km of lakes to holiday-makers.
A town of spas with the last remaining medieval brick castle on the Great Plain, Gyula is a wonderful place to rest before crossing the border into Romania just 4km to the east. This place was made for a holiday, but don’t think Hungarians don’t know it – even the many private rooms fill up on summer weekends.
This village, some 40km west of Debrecen, is the centre of the Hortobágy region, and was once celebrated for its sturdy cowboys, inns and Gypsy bands. You can see the staged recreation of all this, complete with traditionally costumed csikósok (cowboys) at a puszta horse show.
Kalocsa is as celebrated for its paprika and folk art as for its long and rich history. Together with Esztergom, Kalocsa was one of the two bishopric seats founded by King Stephen in 1009 from the country’s 10 dioceses. The brilliantly flowered folk art originating here – embroidery, painting and pottery – is recognised all over the country.
Thousands of visitors flock to Hajdúszoboszló, the country’s largest thermal bathing centre and water park. The small town is well spread out; from the train station or even central Hősök tere you’d never suspect the hubbub to the north. Hotels after guesthouses after apartment rentals line the streets surrounding the 40-hectare holiday spa complex.
Folksy blue and red painted flowers enliven the walls of a church in Csaroda, a kerchief-clad grandmother sits by the fence in Tákos selling her needlework, and row after row of boat-shaped wooden grave markers stand sentinel in Szatmárcseke. The pleasures of Northeastern Hungary are simple and rural ones.
About 45km south of Kalocsa on the banks of the Danube is Baja, a town best known as a holiday and sports centre. It's a perfect place to wind down during summer; beaches and flood-bank forests abound, and the city itself strikes a nice balance between repose and activity.