Travellers tend to forget there's more to Hungary than Budapest. While the capital continues to dazzle visitors with its art nouveau architecture, thermal baths and ruin pubs, it’s well worth taking a few day trips to get to know a bit more of the country.
The following destinations can be easily reached from Budapest by bus, train, car or even boat. Whether you’re into history, art, wine or the outdoors, they offer attractions to rival the Hungarian capital – so get your walking shoes on and start exploring.
Szentendre has a cool, laid-back vibe thanks to its stint as an artist colony © Milan Gonda / Shutterstock
The artists’ colony of Szentendre
As you wander through Szentendre’s cobbled streets, with church towers peering above the baroque houses in a kaleidoscope of colours ranging from wine-red to honeydew, it’s easy to see why this has become Budapest’s most popular day-trip destination. Szentendre had a thriving Serbian community back in the 18th century, before it became better known as an artists’ colony in the late 1920s. After checking out the Serbian Orthodox Blagoveštenska Church on the main square, browse the museums and galleries scattered about town, and visit the open-air ethnographic museum on its outskirts. But also take some time to explore Szentendre’s side streets, like the Váralja steps leading to the Catholic St John the Baptist Church, where you’ll find a hidden lángos (fried savoury dough topped with sour cream and cheese) stand.
Getting there: Take the HÉV 5 suburban train from Budapest’s Batthyány tér to the end of the line (around 40 minutes), or a local bus from Újpest-Városkapu train station (25 minutes). From April to September boats also go up to Szentendre from Vigadó tér (one hour and 30 minutes).
A giant lion statue greets visitors to the baroque-style Gödöllő Royal Palace © vitfoto / Shutterstock
Habsburg grandeur in Gödöllő
Once the summer residence of Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Elizabeth (aka Sisi), Gödöllő Royal Palace, in the small town of Gödöllő, carries all the hallmarks of Habsburg grandeur. This winged baroque palace, accented with flecks of gold on the facade, houses a network of rooms decked out with walls of upholstered silk that match the drapes in burgundy, turquoise, indigo and lavender. Golden chandeliers drip from the stuccoed ceilings above velvet-covered chairs, Caucasian knotted carpets and painted ceramic stoves. The grounds stretch out into lawns surrounded by an arboretum of ordered trees, statues and botanical curiosities. Don’t miss the Baroque Theatre for an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes of a working 18th-century playhouse.
Getting there: Take a direct train (25 minutes) from Budapest’s Örs vezér tere station (accessible via the city's metro system) or the hourly bus from Stadion bus station (40 minutes).
Come to Eger for the famed castle, stay for the wine © Elena Pavlovich / Shutterstock
Eger’s blood-red wine
Its castle has gone down in legend as the bastion that held out against the Turkish invasion, but the relics of eventual Ottoman conquest including the 40m-high minaret and Turkish baths still pepper Eger’s baroque streets. Apart from the legacy of the siege, Eger is known for its wine – most notably the Bull’s Blood, believed by the Turks to have given the Hungarians superhuman power in battle. Today, you can try Eger’s wine straight from the barrel in the Valley of Beautiful Women (Szépasszony-völgy Hétvége) on the outskirts of town, where you’ll find wine cellars carved into the rock. If you have time, pay a visit to the city’s historic Lyceum, with its wood-clad baroque Archdiocesan Library, and the Great Tower housing an astronomy museum filled with vintage instruments as well as a camera obscura overlooking the city.
Getting there: Either take a bus from Budapest’s Stadion station (one hour and 50 minutes) or a train from Keleti station (one hour and 50 minutes).
The green promenades of Balatonfüred make a lovely alternative to the bustling streets of Budapest © andras_csontos / Shutterstock
Balatonfüred lakeside resort
In summer, Lake Balaton (the largest in central Europe) becomes the go-to destination for Budapest citizens. The elegant and historic resort of Balatonfüred is ideal for a taster, being only a couple of hours’ train ride away from the capital. It was once frequented by artists, writers and scientists – you’ll find the names of Balatonfüred’s illustrious visitors inscribed on the placards embedded into the wall of the Pantheon, which overlooks the collonaded Kossúth Lajos Spring and the white walls of a famous cardiology hospital. Today it’s still a popular resort loved for its lakeside promenade where you’ll find yachts docked in the small marina with hazy views over to the Tihany peninsula in the distance. Make sure you take a boat trip around the lake from the jetty.
Getting there: You can either take a train from Budapest’s Déli station (two hours) or a bus from Népliget station (two hours).
It's worth the tough hike to Visegrád castle for the superb views on offer © trabantos / Shutterstock
Visegrád castle on the Danube
Visegrád is a small town set on the tight curve of the Danube Bend. Its 13th-century citadel, rising above the town, is worth the intense hike up the rocky woodland path for the views over the bend in the river and the Börzsöny Hills beyond. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can also take the City-Bus taxi van service from the ferry pier up to the historic castle. Down in Visegrád town, go for a ramble around the romantic ruins of the Renaissance palace once belonging to King Matthias (a warmongering king who ruled Hungary in the 15th century) or learn all about how Hungary’s famous pálinka (fruit brandy) is made – and how it tastes! – in Visegrád’s small pálinka museum.
Getting there: While you can arrive by bus from Újpest-Városkapu (one hour and 15 minutes), it’s much more romantic to travel by boat up the Danube Bend (one hour by hydrofoil, three hours and 20 minutes by boat) from April to September. Another option is to take the train from Budapest-Nyugati station to Nagymaros-Visegrád (one hour) and then the hourly ferry across the river.
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This article was originally published in November 2017 and updated in June 2019.