Must see attractions in Lake Balaton & Southern Transdanubia

  • Top ChoiceSights in Keszthely

    Festetics Palace

    The glimmering white, 100-room Festetics Palace was begun in 1745, and the two wings were extended out from the original building 150 years later. Some 18 splendid rooms in the baroque south wing are now part of the Helikon Palace Museum, as is the palace’s greatest treasure, the Helikon Library, with its 90,000 volumes and splendid carved furniture. Many of the decorative arts in the gilt salons were imported from England in the mid-1800s. The museum’s rooms, each in a different colour scheme, are full of portraits, bric-a-brac and furniture, much of it brought from England by Mary Hamilton, a duchess who married one of the Festetics men in the 1860s. The library is known for its enormous collection of books, but just as impressive is the golden oak shelving and furniture carved in 1801 by local craftsman János Kerbl. Also worth noting are the Louis XIV Salon with stunning marquetry, the mirrored dining hall, the Long Gallery with paintings, the oaken staircase and the private chapel with oratory (1804). Tastings of three to five wines are held in the Balaton Wine House (Balatoni Borok Háza) in the cellars of the palace.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Tihany

    Benedictine Abbey Church

    Built in 1754 on the site of King Andrew I’s church, this twin-spired, ochre-coloured church is Tihany's dominant feature. Don't miss the fantastic altars, pulpits and screens carved between 1753 and 1779 by an Austrian lay brother named Sebastian Stuhlhof, each a baroque-rococo masterpiece in its own right. King Andrew's remains lie in a limestone sarcophagus in the atmospheric Romanesque crypt. The spiral swordlike cross on the cover is similar to ones used by 11th-century Hungarian kings. Upon entering the main nave, turn your back to the sumptuous main altar and the abbot’s throne and look right to the side altar dedicated to Mary. The large angel kneeling on the right supposedly represents Stuhlhof’s fiancée, a fisher’s daughter who died in her youth. On the Altar of the Sacred Heart across the aisle, a pelican (symbolising Christ) nurtures its young (the faithful) with its own blood. The figures atop the pulpit beside it are the four doctors of the Roman Catholic church: Sts Ambrose, Gregory, Jerome and Augustine. The next two altars on the right- and left-hand sides are dedicated to Benedict and his twin sister, Scholastica; the last pair, a baptismal font and the Lourdes Altar, date from 1896 and 1900 respectively. Stuhlhof also carved the magnificent choir rail above the porch and the organ with all the cherubs. The frescoes on the ceilings by Bertalan Székely, Lajos Deák-Ébner and Károly Lotz were painted in 1889, when the church was restored. Admission includes entry to the attached Benedictine Abbey Museum.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pécs

    Zsolnay Cultural Quarter

    The sprawling Zsolnay Cultural Quarter, built on the grounds of the original Zsolnay porcelain factory, is divided into four sections (craftspeople, family and children, creative, and university) and is a lovely place to stroll around. Highlights include the Gyugi Collection of 700 Zsolnay pieces, the street of artisans' shops, the exhibition tracing the history of the Zsolnay factory and its founding family, and the still-functioning Hamerli Glove Manufactury dating from 1861. The dozen or so exhibitions and attractions can be paid for separately, but it's best to buy a combination ticket valid for two days.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pécs

    Mosque Church

    The largest building extant from the time of the Turkish occupation, the former Pasha Gazi Kassim Mosque (now the Inner Town Parish Church) dominates the main square in Pécs. The Ottomans built the square-based mosque in the mid-16th century with the stones of the ruined Gothic Church of St Bertalan. The Catholics moved back in the early 18th century. The Islamic elements include windows with distinctive Turkish ogee arches, a mihrab (prayer niche), faded verses from the Koran and lovely geometric frescoes. Enter via the crypt, part of which has now been turned into an interpretive centre tracing the history of the church and the town through multimedia exhibits. You'll also find a number of tombs and monuments in this maze-like basement. The painting above the gallery depicts the Turks' defeat. The mosque’s minaret was pulled down in 1753 and replaced with a bell tower; bells are rung at noon and 7pm daily

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pécs

    Széchenyi tér

    Surrounded by largely baroque buildings, Pécs' sloped main square is the city's hub, great for people-watching. With the Mosque Church at the north end, the square is anchored by the Trinity Column in the centre. At the southern end the porcelain Zsolnay Fountain boasts a lustrous eosin glaze and four bull’s heads; the fountain was donated to the city by the Zsolnay factory in 1892. The eosin creates an iridescent, metallic sheen that most people either love or hate.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pécs

    Csontváry Museum

    This museum shows the major works of master 19th-century symbolist painter Tivadar Kosztka Csontváry. Elements of postimpressionism and expressionism can be seen in such works as East Station at Night (1902), Storm on the Great Hortobágy (1903) and Solitary Cedar (1907). But arguably his best and most profound work is Baalbeck (1906), an artistic search for a larger identity through religious and historical themes.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pécs

    Victor Vasarely Museum

    This museum exhibits the work of the father of op art, Victor Vasarely. Symmetrical, largely abstract pieces are exhibited with clever illuminations that intensify the 3D experience and make it seem as if the works are bursting forth from the wall, though there have been arguments about whether or not this visual distortion represents what Vasarely had in mind. But overall the well-curated selection is evocative, eye-bending and just plain fun.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Pécs

    Modern Hungarian Gallery

    This gallery exhibits the art of Hungary from 1850 till today across several floors; works run the gamut from impressionist paintings to visually striking and even menacing contemporary installations. Pay special attention to the works of Simon Hollósy, József Rippl-Rónai and Ödön Márffy. More abstract and constructionist artists include András Mengyár, Tamás Hencze, Béla Uitz and Gábor Dienes.

  • Sights in Pécs

    Basilica of St Peter

    The foundations of the neo-Romanesque four-towered basilica dedicated to St Peter date from the 11th century and the side chapels are from the 1300s, but the rest is as recent as 1881. The most interesting parts of the basilica’s very ornate interior are the elevated central altar and four chapels under the towers and the crypt, the oldest part of the structure. Other highlights include the distinctive features of its four chapels. The Chapel of Mary on the northwest side and the Chapel of the Sacred Heart to the northeast contain works by 19th-century painters Bertalan Székely and Károly Lotz. The Mór Chapel to the southeast has more works by Székely as well as magnificent pews. The Corpus Christi Chapel on the southwest side (enter from the outside) boasts a 16th-century red marble tabernacle, one of the best examples of Renaissance stonework in the country.

  • Sights in Keszthely

    Model Railway Museum

    On the top floor of a former military building, this grin-inducing museum exhibits one of the world's largest mountain railway layouts. Trains whiz round a 40m-long railway network straight out of a picture book: one section contains the historic Vienna to Trieste train line and an awe-inducing section of Austrian mountains complete with tunnels; another goes through Nuremberg and a snow-covered rendition of the Black Forest. Further along are Lake Balaton towns, including amazingly detailed versions of their train stations. On the two lower floors is the Hunting Museum of hunting trophies from the 1920s and 30s – Keszthely's contribution to the untimely demise of leopards, cheetahs, lions, a polar bear and even a Siberian tiger, among other animals.

  • Sights in Keszthely

    Erotic Panoptikum

    Full disclosure: this is an X-rated wax museum. Kind of tacky – yes. Fascinating – absolutely. The tiny subterranean space brings to 'life' lust and sex scenes from illustrated books about Renaissance erotic fiction by the likes of Voltaire, Rousseau and others. Think wax figures of women in bodices with their hooped skirts hiked up over their knees having kinky intercourse, women performing cunnilingus on women, and acrobatic orgies with extraordinarily real-looking private parts on vivid display. It's a bit like seeing an up-close freeze-frame of a porn film with actors dressed up in medieval garb. Beyond the, er, action scenes, check out the sketches and paintings of erotica gracing the walls or the elaborate terracotta penis sculpture.

  • Sights in Pécs

    Zsolnay Porcelain Museum

    The porcelain factory established in Pécs in 1853 was at the forefront of European art and design for more than half a century. Many of its majolica tiles were used to decorate buildings throughout the country, and it contributed to the establishment of a new pan-Hungarian style of architecture. Postcommunism it’s operational again, but contemporary Zsolnay can’t hold a candle to the chinoiserie pieces of the late 19th century and the later art nouveau and art deco designs done in the lustrous eosin glaze. Once the home to the Zsolnay family, several rooms here contain many original furnishings and personal effects.

  • Sights in Pécs

    All Saints’ Church

    The suburb of Budaiváros, to the northeast of Pécs' town centre, is where most Hungarians settled after the Turks banned them from living within the city walls; the centre of this community was the All Saints' Church. The city's oldest church, it was originally built in the 12th century and reconstructed in Gothic style 200 years later. All Saints was the only Christian church allowed in Pécs during the occupation and was shared by three sects – who fought bitterly for every square centimetre. Apparently it was the Muslim Turks who had to keep the peace among the Christians.

  • Sights in Keszthely

    Georgikon Farm Museum

    Housed in several early-19th-century buildings of what was the Georgikon’s experimental farm, this is the perfect museum for lovers of early industrial farming tools and farming techniques, with exhibits divided into separate trade and agriculture sections. Learn about the history of viniculture in the Balaton region and traditional farm trades such as those performed by wagon builders, wheelwrights and coopers. Highlights include 19th-cenury blacksmith tools and an enormous antique steam plough.

  • Sights in Keszthely

    Balaton Museum

    The Balaton Museum was purpose-built in 1928 and its permanent exhibits focus on the life and history of Lake Balaton. The Balaton aquarium showcases the lake's fish, while several interconnected rooms detail lake life and culture. Highlights include the exhibit on how bathing culture has evolved over the years (don't miss the 19th-century bathing suits!) and János Halápy’s expressive paintings of Lake Balaton life – he is known for capturing the vibrant light and colours of the region.

  • Sights in Keszthely

    Toy Museum

    Depending on what generation you're from, the exhibits at this wonderful place will either make you smile in remembrance or gawp in fascination. Ye olde prams nailed to the ceiling, creepy bug-eyed dolls, legions of teddy bears, Barbies, model cars and trains, doll's houses and old board games await. Look out for miniature washing machines and sewing machines, designed to prepare little girls for adulthood drudgery, and Spitting Image –style Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

  • Sights in Pécs

    Synagogue

    Pécs' beautifully preserved 1869 Conservative synagogue is south of Széchenyi tér and faces renovated Kossuth tér. It was built in the Romantic style in 1869, and a seven-page fact sheet, available in 11 languages, explains the history of the building and the city’s Jewish population. Some 2700 of the city’s Jews were deported to Nazi death camps in May 1944; only 150 Jews now live here. The pews hewn from Slavonian oak and the Angster organ are particularly fine.

  • Sights in Keszthely

    Synagogue

    Before WWII Keszthely’s Jewish community numbered 1000; at the end of the war it had dropped to 170. Today less than 40 Jews live in the town and attend services at the 18th-century baroque synagogue, located in a quiet courtyard off Kossuth Lajos utca (enter through the arched passageway just south of Fejér György utca). Visits to the synagogue and the Biblical Plant Garden are only possible during service times.

  • Sights in Tihany

    Benedictine Abbey Museum

    This museum, next door to the Abbey Church in the former Benedictine monastery, is entered from the church crypt. It features exhibits on Lake Balaton, liturgical vestments, religious artefacts, a handful of manuscripts and a history of King Andrew. A room is devoted to the appealing pastoral sketches by contemporary artist Dudás Jenő and in the gift shop you can buy four types of beer brewed by the abbey.

  • Sights in Keszthely

    Doll Museum

    This surprisingly absorbing museum showcases two floors' worth of dolls dressed in folk costumes from all parts of Hungary. On the ground floor, there's also a remarkable wooden seat carved from the roots of a yew tree (rather like a wooden version of the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones). On the top floor you'll find models of traditional houses and ornate doorways.