Most people in Europe have heard of Hungary’s capital: Budapest. This city has long been a favorite for city breaks, romantic getaways, and party weekends. However, Hungary’s beauty and entertainment extends far beyond its capital.
Mixing outstanding natural beauty and a cosmopolitan buzz, Hungary is one of those countries that has everything – you just need to know where to find it – and this Hungary Holidays Guide will help you do just that!
Hungary is located in the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe and has been a member of the European Union since 2004. Hungary boasts a high standard of living and is classed as a high-income economy by the OECD. Hungary is a member of the United Nations, NATO, WTO, the World Bank and a number of other high-profile organizations.
- Hungary Holidays Guide: quick facts
- Regions of Hungary
- How to travel to Hungary
- How to travel around Hungary
- What to pack for your holidays in Hungary
- The best time to visit Hungary
- What to eat in Hungary
- Famous events in Hungary
- Public holidays in Hungary
- Cultural customs to be aware of in Hungary
- Where to stay in Hungary
- Don’t forget travel insurance
- Basic phrases and their pronunciation
- Is Hungary safe?
- The use of cash and cards in Hungary
- Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in Hungary
- Tipping in Hungary
- A brief history of Hungary
- Posts about Hungary
Hungary Holidays Guide: quick facts
Size: 93,030 km² or 35,920 sq mi
People living there: more than 9,797,000
Capital of Hungary: Budapest
Governmental structure: unitary parliamentary republic
National day: August 20
Time zone: Central European Time / UTC+1 / GMT+1
Currency: Hungarian Forint (HUF)
Power voltage and socket type(s): 230V, plug types C and F. If these plug types don’t match your devices, make sure to pack a universal adapter
Official religion(s)/Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion. 80%+ of the population is Christian.
Official language(s) and general knowledge of English: Hungarian is the official language. English is spoken by an estimated 16% of the population. That means that in many places in Hungary – and mostly outside of Budapest – you’ll have to get by with basic English and a bit of sign language :)
Drives on this side: right
International driver’s licence accepted? yes
Phone code: +36
Vaccinations needed? none other than those required for daily living in your own country
Can you drink the tap water? most people drink the tap water in Budapest, but you may want to avoid it outside of the capital unless you’re using a Steripen to purify it.
Regions of Hungary
1. Northern Hungary
Northern Hungary runs along Hungary’s border with Slovakia and its center is Miskolc. This region is ideal for those seeking natural beauty.
The Aggtelek National Park here is one of the country’s most fascinating green spaces thanks to its collection of over 280 caves. Some of the caves even have a practical purpose – for example, one of them is used as a sanitorium for those who suffer from asthma.
Another must-see in the Northern Hungary region is the Bükk National Park. This gorgeous park is also peppered with caves, but of greater interest are its dramatic ravines. Finally, you might want to check out the waterfall and hiking trails in Szalajka-völgy – another fabulous national park.
2. Northern Great Plain
Over in eastern Hungary is the Northern Great Plain, home to one of Hungary’s most exciting attractions: Hungarospa. This enormous complex comprises a water park, swimming pool, medicinal baths, saunas, and luxury accommodation for those who want more than just one day here.
If you want a hit of culture whilst in the Northern Great Plain, head over to the Deri Museum. Here, you’ll find an eclectic collection of exhibitions on topics such as archaeology, samurai culture, weapons, art, literature, religion, and more.
Debrecen is this region’s capital city.
3. Southern Great Plain
The Southern Great Plain is the largest of Hungary’s regions and borders Romania and Serbia. Sitting right in the cradle of those two national borders is its main city: Szeged. A favorite with travelers to this region is the Gyula Castle, a gothic fortress dating back over 600 years. From the towers, you’ll drink in astounding views of the surrounding area.
In the heart of Szeged, you will find the sprawling Szeged Botanical Gardens. It is easy to while away a few hours meandering through the vegetation and admiring the colors and smells of the flowers. Szeged also boasts an impressive synagogue, built in an elegant art nouveau style.
4. Central Hungary
In Central Hungary you will find Budapest, the national capital and one of Europe’s top vacation destinations.
Fun fact: Budapest is actually divided into two parts – Buda and Pest. The two sections are separated by the Danube River. One highlight of the capital is the magnificent Buda Castle, which sits atop a hill in Buda and looks down over Pest.
The Szechenyi baths are another prominent feature of Budapest. This complex has 18 pools of varying sizes and temperatures. Once you’re finished there, take a stroll through the National Museum or grab a bite to eat in the Great Market Hall. In the evening, be sure to hop on a river cruise and enjoy the houses of parliament as they are lit up against the night sky.
5. Central Transdanubia
Just to the west of Central Hungary is Central Transdanubia with its capital Székesfehérvár (don’t worry, I don’t know how to pronounce that either). The Sumeg Castle, often considered the prettiest castle in Hungary, sits pride of place on a hill overlooking the town of Sumeg. It was built in the mid-late 13th century and has a petting zoo and falconry, making it perfect for both solo and family excursions.
Nature lovers will adore the picturesque shores of Lake Balaton. Utterly stunning and wonderfully romantic, this lake is surrounded by rolling hills, within which you’ll find plenty of walking trails to follow. You will also find the Tagore Promenade, which lines the lake and is flanked by restaurants, shops, and bars.
6. Western Transdanubia
Western Transdanubia is the second smallest region, after Central Hungary. As you probably imagined, it runs along the western side of the country. The stand out feature of this region is Lake Hévíz, which can be found near the western end of Lake Balaton. Lake Hévíz is the largest thermal lake in the world that is open to the public.
After soaking in the lake, head to dry land and marvel at the region’s spectacular architecture. From the glorious Pannonhalma Archabbey, a Benedictine monastery; to the Baroque Festetics Palace, there is beauty around every corner in Western Transdanubia.
7. Southern Transdanubia
Despite being one of the larger regions in Hungary, Southern Transdanubia is the least densely populated of all of them. A highlight of the region is Gemenc, a beautiful forest area that has been a World Heritage site since 1997. Stags, boars, eagles, herons, and storks are among the animals that call this place home and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one of them.
The Zsolnay Cultural Quarter is also popular with locals and visitors alike. The premises houses a planetarium, where an exact image of the sky is projected onto the ceiling. The Zsolnay Cultural Quarter also has its own collection of exhibitions, a lab, and a guesthouse.
How to travel to Hungary
Hungary is part of the Schengen Zone, which allows visa-free entry for EU citizens for any length of time and for US and Canadian citizens for up to 90 days.
There are lots of train routes that service Hungary, most of which stop at the central station in Budapest. Among the most popular cities that connect to Budapest are Vienna, Munich, Zurich, Bratislava, Prague, Hamburg, and Berlin.
Trains are comfortable and often have sleeper berths for those who want to travel overnight.
There are direct buses to Hungary from lots of European countries, including France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia, Poland, Italy and more.
Check out Flixbus for a complete map of their services in and out of Hungary.
Fly to Hungary
Hungary’s main airport is the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport. Flights from all over the world fly into this airport, situated in the capital. If you are flying from Europe, budget airlines such as Ryanair, EasyJet, Wizz Air, and Norwegian Air all have cheap, regular flights and there are plenty of direct flights with more reputed airlines as well.
If you are coming from the US, you may need to make a layover in a larger European capital, such as London, Paris or Amsterdam, before continuing your journey to Budapest.
How to travel around Hungary
Independent travel around Hungary
Hungary has an excellent train network, making it really easy to travel around the country independently. Domestic trains are cheap and can be booked online or at the station on the day of travel. Trains are the most comfortable way to travel, but sometimes buses can be quicker. The Volánbusz bus network covers the whole country and is easy and cheap to use.
If you want full flexibility on where you go when, consider getting a rental car. you won’t need it in Budapest but it’ll come in handy if you want to road trip around the country.
What to pack for your holidays in Hungary
Hungary sits right in the center of Central Europe and enjoys four very distinct seasons. In summer, you can expect high temperatures, into the 30s, with plenty of sunshine. In spring and fall the weather is mild and sunny during the day and cool in the evening. If you happen to be there in winter, be prepared to pack for the cold as temperatures plummet during this season.
What to pack for your Hungary trip in summer
What to pack for Hungary in winter
- a reusable water bottle
- a merino woolen baselayer
- merino woolen socks
- a warm, wind and waterproof coat
- a warm scarf
- a warm sweater
- warm and comfortable shoes
What to pack for Hungary in fall and spring
For fall and spring, it’s best to pack layers as it can be much warmer during the day than at night and in the mornings. A warm winter coat won’t be necessary but do bring something lightweight and water resistant such as this jacket.
If you plan on heading out in nature, light hiking trousers are good to bring.
The best time to visit Hungary
The best time to travel to Hungary is between May and September. This is when the days are long and warm, which are perfect conditions for exploring Hungary’s endless nature and enjoying its famous spa baths. July and August tend to be the hottest, but also the busiest months as this is when schools break up for the summer holidays. They are also the most expensive months in which to travel.
What to eat in Hungary
- Goulash – the national dish of Hungary, a paprika based soup with chunk of meat and potato
- Langos – deep fried disk of dough smothered with sour cream and cheese (or any other toppings)
- Palacsinta – Hungary’s version of a French crepe, available with both sweet and savory fillings
- Főzelék – a vegetable dish that is thicker than a soup, but not quite as thick as a stew
- Halászlé – a rich broth spiced with paprika containing thick chunks of river fish
- Meggyleves – an unusual soup made from sour cherries, sour cream and sugar, usually eaten as a dessert
- Pörkölt – chunks of meat roasted in paprika, onion and other spices and served with a thick sauce
- Nokedli – stodgy egg noodle dumplings, usually served alongside Pörkölt
- Paprikás Csirke – chicken in a creamy sauce seasoned with (you guessed it) paprika
- Túrós Csusza – flat, wide noodles, covered with túró cheese (kind of like cottage cheese) and chunks of szalonna (fatty bacon)
Famous events in Hungary
- Revolution Day – programs of events pop up all over the country in honour of the Hungarian Revolution in 1848
- Budapest Spring Festival – a festival showcasing opera, ballet and musical performances spread over two and a half weeks (April)
- Budapest 100 – a 2-day festival during which Budapest’s oldest buildings are opened up for the public to explore (May)
- Danube Carnival – folk festival celebrating Hungarian folklore with hundreds of Hungarian and foreign artists (June)
- Night of Museums – falling on the longest day of the year, the museums stay open extra late and host a range of exciting programs (June)
- Budapest Summer Festival – concerts, comedy shows, theatrical performances and more in dozens of venues all over the city (June – August)
- Balaton Sound – big music festival on the shores of Lake Balaton, featuring some of the world’s biggest artists (July)
- Sziget Festival – huge, seven-day, open-air music and arts festival held on Sziget Island in the Danube River (August)
- Jewish Cultural Festival – learn all about the role of the Jewish community in the development of Hungary in and around the
- Dohány Street Central Synagogue (September)
- Oktoberfest – Hungary’s version of Munich’s famous Oktoberfest beer festival (October)
Public holidays in Hungary
- New Year’s Day
- National Holiday, commemorating the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 (March 15)
- Easter Sunday
- Easter Monday
- Labor Day (May 1)
- Whit Monday
- St. Stephen’s Day, commemorating the first king of Hungary (August 20)
- Day of the Republic (October 23)
- All Saints’ Day (November 1)
- Christmas Day
Cultural customs to be aware of in Hungary
Hungarians are very open and friendly and generally there are very few cultural customs you need to be aware of. You should note that when it comes to escalators, there are two lanes of traffic. The right-hand side is for standing and the left-hand side is for walking.
Where to stay in Hungary
Booking.com is my go-to place for booking hotels, guesthouses and bed and breakfasts. It has a bunch of filtering options so I can easily get a list of just those hotels that have what I’m looking for (a good location, free WiFi, …). If you’re looking for accommodation in Hungary, I highly recommend you check there.
When I want to stay at an apartment, I look on airbnb. If you don’t have an airbnb account yet, you can sign up using my link to get a discount on your first stay.
Don’t forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan and research a trip, there are always things that happen beyond your control. Something might get canceled, you can get ill or hurt while traveling or one of your electronics might break or get stolen. When misfortune strikes, travel insurance has got you covered. I’ve had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I’m covered for every trip I go on. Don’t have insurance yet? You can get a free quote here:
Basic phrases and their pronunciation
How are you?
Where am I?
Do you speak English?
I don’t speak Hungarian
How are you? – hogy vagy (haw-j vah-j)
Hol vagyok (hole va-j-ork)
Beszélsz angolul? (bess-ells an-go-lul)
Nem beszélek magyarul (nem bess-ell-ek modge -urr-ull)
Jo étvágyat! (yo et-vah-djot)
Is Hungary safe?
Generally speaking, Hungary is a safe country. However, due to the large number of tourists in Budapest, petty theft does happen occasionally. The best way to avoid being robbed is to leave your valuable at home and to keep an eye on your belongings at all time. Violent crimes are very rare, especially against tourists.
The use of cash and cards in Hungary
The card economy is growing in Hungary and there are more and more places every day that will take card. Nevertheless, it is still handy to have cash on you as you will inevitably encounter places that are still cash only. There are ATMs all over the big cities and towns so you can replenish your money supply regularly.
Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in Hungary
Those with a SIM card from an EU country don’t have to pay roaming charges when calling, texting, or using data in Hungary – at least I don’t with my Belgian Mobile Vikings SIM. The same goes for some global phone plans.
If you don’t have a EU SIM but still want to have unlimited WiFi, check out Skyroam.
Skyroam offers both day passes and monthly subscriptions providing you with 4G throughout your trips. I’ve been using their daily passes not just when I travel outside the EU (no roaming charges for me in the EU) but also as a backup for when I think I’ll go over my phone’s data plan.
Check out Skyroam here.
Tipping in Hungary
So, do you tip in Hungary? The short answer is yes. Tipping is common in Hungary and while it’s never really mandatory, there are some circumstances in which it is expected. You can read more about the unwritten rules of tipping in Hungary here.
A brief history of Hungary
Hungary was founded back in 895 and became officially recognized by the pope in 1000 with the crowning of St. Stephan. Over the next few years, the state worked on stabilizing Christianity among the people and converting the formerly Nomadic people.
Gradually, Hungary developed and eventually became a European hub for the renaissance movement. For two years in the mid-1200s, much of the country was devastated by a Mongol invasion, but otherwise the country is relatively quiet. In 1526, the Ottoman Turks defeat the Hungarians and establish control over the country.
Fast-forward to 1867 and the Austro-Hungarian empire is formed and would stay in place until it is disbanded after World War One. Hungary then allied with Germany during World War Two an was under Nazi influence until the Soviet Army invaded in 1945. The Soviet Army finally withdrew forces in 1991.
Modern Hungary has a recovering economy after being hit hard by the global crisis in 2008. The country has also seen a notable rise in right-wing politics. Nevertheless, the country is a wonderful place to visit and has a thriving arts and culture scene as well as boundless natural beauty.
And that’s it! I hope this guide will help you figure out what to do in Hungary and plan your own trip there.
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