The Jewel of Eastern Europe: Hungary

Once upon a time, Hungary and its capital at Budapest were Europe's gateway to the mystical lands of the East. Today, Hungary retains its enchantment while proving a most wonderful destination for travellers who are anxious to sample a unique culture that retains its old-world charm. The following article offers a wide array of Hungarian enticements that world travellers are sure to remember.

Szechenyi Chain Bridge photo
Széchenyi Chain Bridge over River Danube

Budapest is the heart of Hungary; the picturesque Danube River, or Duna as Hungarians call it, that travels southward into the city from Vienna divides this truly international city of elegant gothic and historic architecture. The Buda side of the city is hilly and primarily residential. The hills look down onto the river and the flat Pest side of the city where the Parliament Building sits enthroned on the river's edge. Several bridges span the great river including the famous Lion Bridge, also known as the Chain Bridge. The Danube has many islands and when visiting Budapest, be sure to visit the therapeutic springs of Margaret Island.

Hungarian flag Capital: Budapest
Languages: Hungarian
Time: GMT +1 hr
Currency: Forint (HUF)

While Buda and Pest did not officially merge until 1873, the site of this city is truly ancient. Excavators have uncovered evidence of Bronze and Iron Age settlements. The area was also heavily occupied by Celts and Romans. Hungary was not known as a state until 896 A.D. when the seven tribes of the Magyars united under one leader. It may be interesting to know that Budapest is today considered one of Europe's most beloved and beautiful capital cities. Castle Hill on the Buda side of the city was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987. This old world district is like stepping back in time to Renaissance days. Be sure to visit Matyas Church and the many outdoor markets that dot the area.

While Budapest offers much of what Hungary has to offer in the way of national customs and cuisine (think paprika, hearty goulash, and unbelievable café pastries!), the rest of the country is quite breathtaking. Hungary covers an area of about 35,900 square miles. The country is situated within a low basin called the middle Danube depression, but it literally has something for every scenic taste: mountains, plains, forests, rivers and lakes. One of the most famous sections of the country is the Great Plain which is the largest. Wild horses once roamed this region, but today it is the agricultural bread-basket of the nation. Some of this area is used for grazing and the hilly areas are covered by vineyards.

Castle in Keszthely on the shore
of Lake Balaton

Many travellers to Hungary flock to Lake Balaton located in the west. This beautiful lake is ideal for swimming and sailing as it is partially fed by hot springs. Many spas and resorts dot this region. Naturalists find much amusement by visiting the nearby wetlands and vineyards also can be found throughout this area. Other Hungarian places of interest include Debrecen (Hungary's second largest city), Aggtelek National Park (located in the Northern Highlands), Hortobagy wetland region (in the Great Plain), Tokaji wine region, Fisherman's Bastion (Budapest) as well as the many villages that range throughout the country.

Before visiting Hungary, it may be useful to learn some Hungarian phrases. The language is considered difficult by many, but many of Budapest's hotels and restaurants are well-versed in English. Also, immerse yourself in a bit of Hungarian history which reflects a colourful cast of characters that includes the likes of Vlad the Impaler and Attila the Hun. Or, listen to the works of classical Hungarian composers like Franz Liszt or Bela Bartok. This country is bound to please a wide range of travellers with its friendly people and rich culture.