Sitting at the crossroads of Europe, Hungary has managed to become modern and cosmopolitan while remaining perfectly Hungarian. It has one of the richest folk traditions still alive in Europe and fuses old Europe and new in its mix of Hapsburg grandeur and Communist-era grittiness. The capital, Budapest, is a city of imposing scale and wide vistas, split by the Danube into historic Buda and buzzy Pest, and offering both the OLD (imperial-era boulevards, Turkish baths) and the NEW (quirky warehouse bars and summer riverboat clubs). It's easy to see why Hungary is one of the 15 most popular tourist destinations in the world and can boast with a capital regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world.
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HUNGARY QUICK FACTS
Currency: Currency in use is the forint (Ft or HUF) Current conversion rate is available here.
Electricity: 230V AC electricity. Power outlets are round two-prong sockets (type F which also accepts type C and type E). Be sure to pack a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic gadgets. If you are from a country with 110V as a standard be aware that you will need a voltage converter.
Visa: Hungary is a party to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for free movement between certain European countries with no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty. U.S. citizens may enter Hungary for up to 90 days for tourist or business purposes without a visa and a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. Be sure to check online for the latest entry requirements. Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry and that you have an available completely blank page in your passport.
Safety: The crime rate in Hungary is low by European standards. Your biggest worry, when travelling to Hungary, should be the pickpockets and scammers. Your main defence is to exercise common sense and refrain from flaunting any luxury items. Tourists are treated with respect by the police (rendörség) unless they’re suspected of smuggling drugs or driving under the influence of alcohol. It's a good idea to review your insurance coverage before you leave to make sure it's adequate. We would suggest checking out either SafetyWing or World Nomads, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
Language: Hungarians are rightly proud of their unique, complex, sophisticated, richly expressive language. It is considered to be one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn with the vocabulary, complicated grammar, and pronunciation being radically different. English is widely spoken, particularly by the younger generation and by those who work in tourism or live in tourist areas. German is very useful and almost as widely spoken as English, and almost universally near the Austrian border.
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HUNGARY PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 15 March, National Day
- 1 May, Labour Day (not a bank holiday)
- 15 August, Assumption
- 20 August, Constitution Day
- 23 October, Republic Day
Also, Easter Monday and Whit Monday.
FESTIVALS IN HUNGARY
Hungary holidays and festivals embrace the contrasts of the country itself, from small village folk and religious celebrations dating back centuries to great international musical and cultural events featuring world-famous artists. Budapest has the most in the way of festivals, with Hungary’s spring and fall music festivals the most-loved.
- Busójárás: What was once a festival celebrated solely by the people of Šokci, has gained immense popularity over the years and now almost every region of Hungary takes part in the celebrations. Perhaps one of the most traditional Hungarian festivals, the festival of Busójárás takes place in February every year and the celebration is in honour of welcoming the carnival season, and also to send off the winter and welcome the spring season in Hungary. As per tradition, men of the village don scary-looking carved masks and parade through the streets, while there’s also plenty of pálinka and general revelry abound.
- Hollókő Easter Festival: Adhering to the Palóc way of life, the charming village of Hollókő in northern Hungary comes alive over the Easter weekend with a folk festival like no other. Celebrating Easter the traditional way, there are plenty of folk performances, arts and crafts are on show, and visitors can get a look into the unique customs and heritage of Easter in Hungary and – more specifically – in Palóc country.
- Sziget Festival: Translating to “Island Festival”, the Sziget festival in Hungary is one of the top music festivals in the country with the most popular artists from across different genres setting the stage on fire for a week-long festival of fun and madness! Budapest sees some of the highest numbers of tourists during this period, as fans of the artists travel from every part of the globe to catch their favourite artists live.
- Romantic Reform Era: Take a trip back in time to 19th century Hungary thanks to this festival held near Lake Balaton, celebrating the country’s Reform Era (1825 – 1848), during which the idea of a Hungarian national identity began to flourish. The 19th century is when Hungary, as a country, really found its identity, and the festival rejoices and celebrates the various aspects of traditional Hungarian culture such as clothes, food, music, and art. Dine and drink like the royalty of the 19th century at the Romantic Reform Era, one of the most unique holidays and festivals in Hungary.
- Paprika Festival: With its status as Hungary’s favourite spice, it’s no surprise that there’s an entire festival dedicated to paprika. The love for paprika, combined with the love for traditional folk art and the aim to preserve it, the festival honours the traditional forms of art and celebrates the spice using fun events like cooking competitions, paprika and wine tastings, and more.
- Budapest Festival of Folk Arts: Every year during mid-August, the grounds of Buda Castle become the venue for this popular folk art festival showcasing the best of Hungarian folk art from up and down the country. Craftsmen, performers and artists flock to the city to show off their talents, making it a great place to learn more about folk art in Hungary. Live music and dance performances are both available to be enjoyed as well as art workshops and traditional Hungarian cuisine, with drinks such as pálinka to wash it down.
BEST TIME TO VISIT HUNGARY
Hungary's main "tourist season" runs roughly from May through September.
Most visitors come in the summer, generally regarded as the best time to visit Hungary, when nine or ten hours of sunshine can be relied on most days, although sometimes interspersed with short, violent storms. The summer months of July and August has plenty of advantages with its long days and a busy schedule of tourist fun and festivals, although the high temperatures and humidity can become overwhelming at times. There’s little variation in temperatures across the country during summer, although you will find the Great Plain drier and the Highlands wetter.
In spring and fall — May, June, September, and early October — travellers enjoy fewer tourist crowds and milder weather. This is one of the best times to visit Budapest with its spring and autumn festivals, sights, and culinary delights. May can be pleasantly warm but showery and is the ideal time to see the Danube Bend, Tihany, or Sopron before the main season starts.
Winter travellers will find Budapest's concert season in full swing, with almost no tourist crowds, but take heed that some accommodations and sights are either closed or run on a limited schedule. The weather can be cold and dreary, and it gets dark outside well before dinnertime. Apart from Budapest, most other parts of Hungary have little to offer during the winter, and the weather doesn’t become appealing until late spring.
The best time to visit Hungary overall is the shoulder seasons in the spring (April to May) and fall (September to October) when it's still warm enough but with far fewer tourists and more palatable prices.
HUNGARY WEATHER SYNOPSIS
Temperate; Cold, Cloudy, Humid Winters; Warm Summers
HUNGARY TOURIST SEASONS
Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists.
Off Peak Season
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN HUNGARY
The snow sports season in Hungary starts in December and should last until late March provided the weather remains cold. Ski destinations in Hungary to consider: Bánkút Ski Center, Síaréna Eplény, Nagyvillám Ski Course, Dobogókő Ski Center, Mátraszentistván Ski Park & Kékestetö.
HIKING & CYCLING IN HUNGARY
The best time for outdoor activities in Hungary is from May to September. April and October are also feasible, although the temperatures are lower and the days are also shorter.
BEACH OPTIONS IN HUNGARY
If you're desperate for a "beach" while visiting Hungary, head to Lake Balaton to enjoy this Lake Beach with the locals. Other "beach" options are the smaller Lake Velence, Szanazug free beach along the Koros River and Felsőgödi & Alsógödi free beaches along the Danube River.
SURFING IN HUNGARY
KITESURF IN HUNGARY
Hungary's mild weather conditions and steady winds that blow most afternoons from May to September, makes Lake Balaton a popular windsurfing and sailing destination.
For more details on kite surfing in Hungary expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN HUNGARY
Be aware of possible health risks in
Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
HUNGARY TRAVEL COSTS
As former budget-friendly European cities grow increasingly expensive, prices in Budapest, Hungary remains relatively inviting to the international travel crowd. It's by no means any longer a bargain destination, and especially the cost of accommodation is on a par with Western European countries for most of the year; during July and August, it can shoot upwards. Eating and drinking, however, remain reasonably good value.
There’s great-value accommodation available in Hungary, whether you’re a backpacker on a super-tight budget, part of a couple on a mid-range-priced vacation, or a luxury traveller looking for a value getaway. Hostels are incredibly affordable and you will find dorm rooms starting from $10 USD and private rooms from $20 USD. Some hostels include free breakfasts and WiFi is ubiquitous.
During our 2018 Europe camper-van trip visit to Budapest, we stayed at a very convenient camping spot near the centre - Haller Camping for under EUR 20 per day - which included electricity and access to facilities. It was close enough to walk to the centre of the city but we loved cycling along the Danube.
Budget hotels can be found from $25 USD a night and for a double room with WIFI and breakfast expect to pay closer to $40 USD. For a 3-star hotel, the price will be upwards of $50 USD per night and you should at least double that for a 4-star hotel. Prices outside of Budapest are a lot cheaper in general. A good option would be to consider renting an apartment using Airbnb as it will afford you the opportunity to save on eating out. Shopping for produce and food at markets and grocery stores can be very affordable.
As Budapest lies in the centre of the country and pretty much any point can be reached within three hours by train or bus, there isn't much need for scheduled domestic flights. Public transport in Hungary is cheap and fairly reliable, although the air-conditioning doesn't always work on trains or buses. The train network is star-shaped, fanning out from the centre at Budapest which means that if neither your starting nor ending point is in Budapest, expect to travel for a longer time - often with a change in Budapest. Buses and trains connect cities across Hungary for around $6 USD per trip. Budapest has an underground system with 4 lines that are easy to use with a single ticket from $1.00 USD and a 24h pass around $5 USD. Private taxis are notorious for ripping off tourists, so always ask your accommodation to call you a cab when possible. Uber withdrew from Budapest in 2016 but at the time writing, Bolt services were still available. Car rental in Hungary is also really accessible and might be cheaper than expected.
HUNGARY TRAVEL TIPS
Traditional Hungarian food is inexpensive and hearty and if you are on a tight budget you can easily eat for under $ 10 USD a day in Hungary. A meal at a traditional sit-down restaurant with a beer should be around $10 USD and during our last stay in Budapest, we found there is a growing trend towards craft drinks and gastropub-style offerings. For example along the riverside, you will find 'artisanal' burgers plus a craft beer draft on offer for around $ 10 USD at Jónás Craft Beer House. A normal beer at a bar will cost $1.50 USD while buying it at a store will be half of that price. Some actual costs from our visit to Budapest include: 10 Day Highway Vignette EUR 25, Budapest 24-h Travel Card EUR 5, St. Stephens Basilica entrance fee EUR 1.60
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF HUNGARY
Whilst Budapest deservedly takes centre stage, there is much more to Hungary than just this single destination. You will find gorgeous Baroque towns right next to ancient castles and fortresses, while nature asserts itself spectacularly in the form of Lake Balaton, the densely forested Northern Uplands, and the immense sweep of the Great Plain, not to mention one of the grandest stretches of the Danube River. Aside from the country’s extraordinary collection of thermal spas, there is also a wealth of adventure and outdoor activities available, including water-sports, horse-riding, cycling and hiking, while nearly two dozen wine regions offer the opportunity to sample a range of quality wines little known beyond the country borders.
Visit Beautiful Budapest
Over one-fifth of Hungary’s population live in Budapest, and it is the political, cultural and commercial heart of the country. Pest is located on the eastern bank of the Danube and Buda on the hilly west bank. Since the unification of these two distinct cities in 1873, the Danube (Duna) is less a dividing line and more the heart of the capital itself, providing its most splendid vistas, from both banks. Even on a short visit, Budapest is easily worth at least three days.
- Széchenyi Baths - Budapest's single best attraction and the largest medicinal bath in Europe.
- Hungarian Parliament - Vast riverside building with a remarkable interior serving as the government centre.
- Great Market Hall - The oldest and largest indoor market in the country. Perfect for browsing, people watching or a quick lunch at a vendor upstairs.
- House of Terror - Harrowing remembrance of Nazis and communist secret police in the site of the former headquarters.
- Heroes' Square - Mammoth tribute to Hungary's historic figures, fronted by a collection of art museums.
- Holocaust Memorial Center - Excellent memorial and museum honouring Hungarian victims of the Holocaust.
- St. Stephen's Basilica - Budapest's largest church, with a saint's withered fist and great city views at 96m.
- Margaret Island - Budapest's traffic-free urban playground set in the middle of the Danube.
- Memento Park - Larger-than-life communist statues collected in one park, on the outskirts of town.
- Buda Castle Park (Várkert Bázar) - Urban people zone stretching from the riverbank to the Royal Palace.
- Ruin Bars - Synonymous with Budapest and mainly located in the old Jewish quarter.
- As independent travellers, we usually prefer to have a go at activities ourselves but like most big cities, Budapest can be a little bit overwhelming initially. To help you make the most of your time, have a look at a few of our recommended tours.
- St Stephen's Basilica Tour with Tower Access – Skip the line and take a guided tour of Saint Stephen's Basilica including an exclusive visit to its dome for spectacular panoramic views over Budapest.
- Budapest Parliament Tour – Guided tour of the third-largest and what's probably the most beautiful parliament building in the world.
- Grand Budapest Sightseeing Bike Tour – A 3-hour long guided ride to explore and see everything you should not miss during your stay in Budapest.
Windsurf Lake Balaton
The major tourist attraction to the west of the capital is Lake Balaton, the biggest freshwater lake in Central Europe and affectionately dubbed the “Hungarian sea” as it's all that remains of the Pannonian Sea which once covered this part of Europe. It is a popular tourist destination both for visitors and nationals thanks to its beaches and volcanic hills. Over towards the north of the lake is the wine-growing region, the wetlands, and some fantastic hiking trails. For those looking for more relaxation, you’ll find over 1,000 hot springs famed for their medicinal properties. Its built-up southern shore features popular (and loud!) resorts such as Siófok, which brands itself as the “Hungarian Capital of Summer”, while gentler Keszthely perches on the western tip. Though the central stretch of the shoreline consists of pay-for-use beaches, there are free beaches 1km further along at both resort areas. The lake is worth a visit if you fancy a spot of swimming, windsurfing or sailing while in Hungary. However in summer Siófok, in particular, is perhaps best avoided if you are looking for a restful or scenic break.
Cruise along the Danube bend
The Danube Bend is a region of peaks and picturesque river towns to the north of Budapest. It's claimed as the most beautiful stretch of the Danube along its entire course, and several historical towns vie for visitors’ attention. As the Danube runs through the entire country, you can visit many of the towns dotting its shores by taking a boat cruise down the river and even head to Germany if you have more time to explore. There is definitely no shortage of trips available from Budapest and you can choose from just a short ride down the river to a full-on 3-night round-trip. Szentendre on the west bank of the Danube Bend is a popular day-trip from Budapest - a picturesque if a rather touristy town of artists - with narrow cobbled streets and quaint houses.
Cycle the Hungarian Countryside
There are well over 2,000 kilometres of cycling paths in the Hungarian countryside with another 200 kilometres just in Budapest in addition. Lake Balaton is especially popular for its cycling route that runs all the way around its 200-kilometre perimeter. The paths in Hungary also connect with routes in Germany and Austria which can make for a perfect multi-day cycling holiday. The paths are easy to navigate although if you prefer to take a guided tour there are plenty available.
Tengerszem Nature Preserve
The most unique ‘lake’ (dam in fact) in Hungary is the Tengerszem, an abandoned mine that slowly filled with rainwater since it was closed in 1907. It was declared the most beautiful area in all of Hungary in 2011, making it a very unique, stunning location to spend the day. It is conveniently close to the Tokaj wine region, so you should be able to make the best out of a day’s trip around the area.
Soak in the Hot Baths
Whether you’re joining the rest of Budapest and relax in the famous Szechenyi Baths or prefer to check out a small hot pool in the countryside, you definitely cannot leave Hungary without partaking in this local pastime. Weekday admission starts from $21 USD per person at Szechenyi, with prices rising slightly over the weekend.
Tour a Hungarian Wine Region
The atmospheric town of Eger boasts a fabled fortress (which famously repulsed an Ottoman attack in 1552) has a cheerful friendliness with its expansive cobbled streets. Eger’s university, opposite the cathedral, ensures that, during term time, the town enjoys a nightlife completely out of proportion to its size. A short walk southwest of the town centre in an area known as Valley of the Beautiful Woman you will find a big square crammed with wine cellars, where you can enjoy back-to-back wine tastings – an integral part of a trip to Eger.
There are a large number of vineyards located in the area with the options of taking tours as well as to sample and buy the wines. A private wine tour and tasting can be very expensive though and the next best thing would be to attend a special wine tasting evening during which you can tour the cellars and enjoy an evening of traditional festivities along with wine sampling!
Explore the Caves of Aggtelek Karst
The Caves of Aggtelek Karst are part of a National Park, one of the only UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the country. There are 712 caves spread out over 138,000 acres that runs along the border of Hungary and Slovakia. The site is made up of seven components with five in Hungary and two in neighbouring Slovakia. Within the caves, you can see some of the largest stalactites and stalagmites in Europe. You can also book a tour that will take you across the border to see the caves in Slovakia. To enter the caves, you have to do so as part of a guided tour! For more information on tour times check the official website.
Hike in Hortobágyi National Park
Spanning half of Hungary, the Great Plain area is home to Hungary’s national parks and its key horseriding region. The prime destinations here are Debrecen and the nearby Hortobagy National Park. Hortobágyi, at 800km2, is Hungary's largest protected area, and the largest semi-natural grassland in Europe. The park was created in the 1970s and became a World Heritage Site in 1999. The grassy plains (also known as a steppe) is home to all sorts of domestic animals, including cattle, horses, and water buffalo all tended to by traditional herdsmen. Some of the rarest animal breeds can be found here, and the landscapes are incredibly stunning, making this a great place to get off the beaten path.
Join a Tour in Hungary
If you prefer travelling with a group tour, we highly recommend G Adventures. They are a super reputable company and have been running tours around the world offering loads of different tour types that cater to all travellers such as well as wellness tours, tours for 18-30-year-olds. If you like the idea of travelling in a group and make new friends, check out the variety of tours that G Adventures has and the details and dates of each trip. We suggest using the filters in the sidebar to help you find a tour that fits your travel dates and travel style.
WHAT TO PACK FOR HUNGARY
WHAT TO EAT IN HUNGARY
If you have to describe Hungarian cuisine in four words, it would have to be: good old comfort food. The sort of food that’s rich and delicious, leaving you feeling all warm and happy after every meal. Drawing inspiration from Central and Eastern Europe, Hungarian food goes heavy on the meat and dairy, yet is surprisingly delicious and hearty. Spicy, rich and an extravaganza of different flavours, Hungarian cuisine was developed over thousands of years of Magyar history with traditional dishes continuing to be part of a proud and abundant cultural heritage.
- Lángos - A disc of fried dough, this inexpensive Hungarian snack comes with a variety of different toppings, from classic sour cream and cheese to experimental sautéed pork and leeks. As Hungarians’ all-time favourite dish (deriving its name from the word 'flame'), you will find it being sold everywhere: bus stations, street food carts, Christmas markets, restaurants – you name it. The origins of lángos are thought to be due to Turkish influence, while others believe it comes from the ancient Romans. What makes it so beloved is the endless varieties of toppings that come with it. It is usually eaten with garlic sauce, cheese, tejföl (sour cream), or even sausages.
- Goulash (gulyás) - Goulash is one of the most famous dishes from the Hungarian culinary repertoire, yet even today there are severe misconceptions about the original version of this iconic food. You might be surprised to discover that locals don’t actually eat it that much although that’s not to say you won’t find it on menus across the country. The name derives from the gulyás (herdsmen), who made the dish in a kettle over an open fire. Almost every region has its own variety, although a basic goulash is somewhere between a soup and stew, packed with beef (occasionally veal or pork), onions, paprika and often served with nokedli (small Hungarian dumplings).
- Főzelék - Főzelék is such a unique Hungarian dish it can’t be translated into English. It resembles a soup but is more a thick vegetable stew and you will find variations include potato, peas, beans, lentils and carrot, all made by simmering and thickened by flour mixed with sour cream. There are special főzelék bars spread around cities, making it an ideal choice for a quick, healthy and very Hungarian dining experience.
- Töltött Káposzta (stuffed cabbage leaves) - Stuffed cabbage is quite common in Central Eastern European kitchens, and Hungarian maintains its popularity today. These perfectly wrapped parcels are made of cooked cabbage filled with pork mince, mixed rice and flavoured with the paprika, pepper and tejföl. They’re then cooked in a tomato, sauerkraut and smoked bacon sauce, before being dolloped with sour cream for serving.
- Somlói Galuska - With its well-deserved title of ‘Hungary’s favourite cake,’ somlói galuska is a delicious, unmissable dessert made from sponge cake, layered with chocolate cream, walnut kernel, rum and whipped cream on the top. Legend has it that the original creator’s family keeps the original recipe a secret, thus somlói Galuska varies in form and preparation but always maintains the same fundamental ingredients.
- Dobos Torteb - Dobos torte is among the most prominent of Hungarian dishes and has a history dating back to 1885 when the Hungarian confectioner József C. Dobos introduced his pioneering cake at the National General Exhibition of Budapest. The dessert is made from sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel. At the time of its creation the technology, form and taste were groundbreaking as the main ingredient, the buttercream, was unknown and used for the very first time.
- Kürtös Kalács (chimney cake) - One of Hungary’s most beloved street pastries, 'Chimney cake’, as it is usually referred to, has a sweet, caramelized coating, onto which cinnamon, cocoa, coconut, or chopped walnuts are added. Sweet yeast dough is spiralled around a special cylinder and baked over charcoal before being coated in plenty of sugar. Kürtös Kalács has turned into a cherished everyday food over the years and an indispensable element of every festival.
LGBTQ IN HUNGARY
LGBT people in Hungary may face legal and social challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Homosexuality is legal in Hungary for both men and women and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is banned in the country. Hungary has provided registered partnerships to same-sex couples since 1 July 2009, which offers nearly all the benefits of marriage, however, same-sex marriage is still prohibited.
Although Hungary hosts the annual Budapest Pride, the general tolerance towards same-sex relationships is not predominantly accepting.
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