Whether you're just curious about the country or planning a trip there, check these interesting facts about Hungary for a bit of background information.
Found something that isn't correct or know of a fun fact I should add? Please send me an email at sofie at wonderfulwanderings dot com. Thanks!
76 interesting facts about Hungary
This post is part of a series of fun facts posts I'm doing for every country I have articles about here on the blog. Given their nature, these posts are research-based and even though a lot of time has gone into them, it's still possible a mistake has snuck in. If you see something that looks incorrect, please let me know at wanderer [at] wonderfulwanderings.com and I'll look into it. Thanks!
1. Hungary is among the oldest states in Europe.
2. Hungary spends up to 5 % of its GDP to facilitate education. This has led to the literacy rate in the country to reach 99%. The state has more than 77 higher education institutions that include ten universities and nine technical institutions.
3. Although Hungary’s flag has carried the same three colors since 1848, the current version of the flag was officially adopted on 12th October, 1957 after the abortive revolution of 1956. The colors resemble those found in Hungary’s coat of arms. The white symbolizes Hungary’s rivers, green the mountains and red resembles the bloodshed during the many battles in Hungary.
4. Hungary is a landlocked country located in Central Europe. It is bordered to the north by Slovakia, northeast by Ukraine, southeast by Romania, south by Serbia and Croatia, southwest by Slovenia, and to the west by Austria.
5. During the Roman Empire, approximately 40% of Hungary was part of a region known as Pannonia. Pannonia included portions of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia, as well.
6. Hungarians pride themselves to have won gold medals every time they have participated in the Olympic Games. Considering the population size, they are ranked second just behind Finland in the number of gold medals won.
7. Hungary’s oldest university is the University of Pecs and was founded in 1367.
8. Hungary’s Budapest parliament building is ranked the third world’s largest parliament building and is the tallest building in the city. This impressive structure is also one of the oldest legislative buildings in Europe.
9. The name Hungary is the English version of the Medieval Latin word “Hungaria.” The name of Hungaria comes from the Uralic steppe people – (H)ungari, Ungri, and Ugri – who conquered the land in the 9th and 10 centuries. However, Hungarians generally refer to themselves as “Magyar”, rather than “Hungarian”.
10. You can only name your child in Hungary after there is an approval from the government. You can pick a name from the extensive list provided. However, if your favorite name is not in the list, you need to fill in an approval form with the Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
11. The Hungarian capital, Budapest, has the most significant number of thermal springs in the world. On a daily basis, 70 million liters of water come up there to the surface of the earth.
12. August 20 is St. Stephen’s Day, Hungary’s national holiday, which commemorates the foundation of the Hungarian State.
13. After the Second World War, the communist rule became dominant in Hungary. In the late 1980s, the cumulative debt owed by Hungary was $18 billion and was the highest debt owed per capita across Europe
14. Did you know that about 2.5 million native Hungarian people do not live in Hungary? Rather, they live in Romania and other western European countries as well as in North America.
15. The Hungarian Grand Prix of 1986 was the first formula one race to happen behind the iron curtain.
16. Most people in Hungary use their last name when they are writing or when introducing themselves to the public.
17. Although massive hyperinflation precipitated the need for the “One Quintillion Pengo” note at one time in Hungary, the Pengo note was replaced by the Forint in July of 1946. The Pengo was demonetized at that time and is no longer legal currency. It was only in public circulation for 20 days in 1946, but it did hold the record for the highest denomination of any banknote at the time.
18. 13 Hungarians had won Nobel Prizes by 2007, which is quite a lot.
19. There has been an extensive production of wine in Hungary since the 5th century A.D. King Karoly made the Tokaj wine region to be a national wine area, making it the first world’s official wine region. France’s Bordeaux region followed suit after nearly 120 years.
20. The wheeled multi-passenger vehicle was invented in Hungary in 1500 and the word ‘coach’ was derived from the Hungarian town Kocs names.
21. Hungary remains the only country that held a referendum to determine whether to join NATO or not. It joined in 1999.
22. At a point during the 20th century, tuberculosis rates were so high – particularly in Hungary around World Wars I and II, that the disease was sometimes referred to as “Morbus Hungaricus”. The disease killed between forty and fifty thousand people in Hungary.
23. Hungarians don't clink the glasses or bottles of beer. A legend says that when 13 generals from Hungary were killed during the 1848 revolution, Austrians clinked their glasses of beer after each killing. Therefore, in memory of the generals who were executed, Hungarians never clink their glasses.
24. Magyars (Hungarians) love Paprika so much, it is their National Spice. There are eight grades of Hungarian paprika, ranging from mild to sweet to spicy hot. The love of Paprika is so great, there are actually two museums dedicated to the wonderful spice.
25. Soccer remains the most popular game in Hungary, and Hungarians still remember the 1953 match of the century where Hungary won over England at Wembley Stadium, England.
26. Hungary is one of only five countries that continue to produce foie gras (fatty goose or duck liver) – along with Belgium, Bulgaria, Spain, and France. Foie gras is a very controversial food because of the way it is made, and production is banned in many countries around the world.
27. Budapest is the capital of Hungary and the largest city, by far. Over 1.7 million people live in Budapest – roughly one fifth of the total population of Hungary (9.7 million).
28. Coffee is considered the national drink of Hungary. Called fekete (which means ‘strong black coffee’) it is generally made in espresso machines and either consumed “neat” (with no additives) or with lots of cream and sweetener.
29. The national dish for Hungary is gulyas (goulash). Made of peppers, carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, diced beef, and paprika, traditional goulash is a thick soup or stew. It dates back to the 9th century when it was eaten by Magyar shepherds and other tribespeople.
30. McDonald's was the first foreign restaurant offering fast food services in Hungary.
31. George Soros, the financier, was born in Hungary and is ranked in the philanthropist’s list.
32. Hungary enjoys the tradition of classical music with famous musicians such as Bela Bartok, Frank Liszt and Zoltan Kodaly.
33. Around 37 percent of Hungarians are Roman Catholic. Other faiths present in Hungary include several Protestant Christian denominations, Greek Orthodox, and Jewish. And roughly 18 percent of the population identifies as Atheist or Agnostic.
34. The Hungary kingdom was among the largest countries in Europe and was more extensive than France around 1000 CE. It later became among the two “eagle heads” of Austro-Hungarian Empire.
35. It takes eight years for a person to complete basic education in Hungary, which is divided into two four years stages.
36. Hungary is a reputable host for cultural events such as the Sziget Festival or Budapest Spring Festival. Sziget Festival is a yearly Hungarian festival for ‘island’ that happens in August and is among the largest cultural and musical festival in Europe. Budapest Festival is among Hungary’s oldest festivals and happens in March every year attracting artists all over the world.
37. The Great Hungarian Plain is populated by a number of large ranches, and at the Puszta Horse Show near Kalocsa, you can see Magyar cowboys show off their skills.
38. The largest lake in Central Europe – Lake Balaton – is located in Hungary, around 50 miles southwest of Budapest. The lake has an area of 231 square miles, is 9 miles wide at its widest point, and continues for 48 miles through the Bakony Mountains.
39. Hungary’s Budapest Metro remains the oldest underground electrified railway system in Europe and the third oldest underground railway globally.
40. There are over 1300 spas in Hungary and over 123 of them are in Budapest. The spas are well-known for their curative and relaxing properties, as well as stunning architecture with Greek, Roman, and Turkish influences.
41. Hungary is a wine country with 22 recognizable wine regions and eight varieties of grape. The history of wine in this area extends back to the ancient Magyars over a thousand years ago.
42. After many long years of communist rule, Hungary became a democratic republic in October 1989.
43. The primary computer programming language, the telephone exchange, and the electric motor were invented in Hungary.
44. Germany is the largest export partner in Hungary.
45. Harry Houdini, the famous worlds' escape artist, was born in Budapest in Hungary.
46. A Hungarian named Erno Rubik invented the Rubik’s cube in 1974.
47. The person who discovered Vitamin C, Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, was born In Budapest, Hungary in 1893.
48. Hungary's pianist Franz Liszt was an all-time most celebrated pianist. He was a famous and impactful composer, a piano tutor and conductor.
49. A Hungarian, Laszlo Biro, invented the ballpoint pen.
50. The beautiful city of Budapest is made up of two parts which are separated by the Danube river. The areas – known as Buda and Pest, are connected by a series of bridges.
51. Hungarian mathematician John von Neumann was a pioneer in the realms of quantum mechanics, modern computer design, and game theory as it is applied to economics. He was brought in by J. Robert Oppenheimer as a principal member of the Manhattan Project during World War Two. He was a key part of the team which developed the first atomic weapons during the war.
52. Hungarians have a well-earned reputation as Olympic-level aquatic athletes. Beginning with the first games of the modern era in 1896, 18-year-old Alfred Hajos won two gold medals. Other Olympic standouts from Hungary include Krisztina Egerszegi, who earned five individual gold medals over the course of three consecutive Olympic games. Swimmer Laszlo Cseh took home three silver medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Tamas Darnyi will forever be remembered as the first swimmer to complete the 200m medley in under two minutes. His efforts won him four gold medals over two Olympic Games. The legendary Katinka Hosszu was the first swimmer ever to hold world records in all five individual medley events simultaneously.
53. Johnny Weissmuller, an American athlete and actor, was born in Freidorf, a German settlement in the Kingdom of Hungary (which became a part of Romania in 1920). Mr. Weissmuller was most famous for his role as Tarzan in 12 films spanning from 1932 to 1948. But in the 1920’s, he won five Olympic gold medals as a freestyle swimmer.
54. Pálinka, a Hungarian fruit brandy, has been around for more than 500 years. This alcohol beverage is not simply for imbibing. Many Magyars still consider it to be a great remedy for ailments ranging from headaches to menstrual pains.
55. Judit Polgar, a Hungarian, is the world’s best female chess champion. In 1991, at the age of 15, she became the youngest International Chess Grandmaster. She has been considered “inactive” since 2015.
56. The number 96 is important to the Hungarian people. Arpad was crowned the first king of the Magyars in 896 which marked the beginning of the Hungarian state. The Budapest metro was also built in 1896 during the anniversary of the country’s millennial. And it is also illegal in Budapest for buildings to exceed 96 meters. Lastly, the national anthem should not exceed 96 seconds if sung at the required tempo.
57. The Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary, is known as the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. The house of worship has a seating capacity of 3,000 people, standing room for 2000 more, and is one of the top 10 popular sights to see in Budapest.
58. Prominent Hungarians have played a big role in shaping Hollywood. Adolf Zukor – the founder of Paramount Pictures, William Fox – the founder of Fox Film Corporation and Fox West Coast Theaters, and film director Michael Curtiz all hailed from Hungary.
59. The Hungarian language is a Finno-Ugrian language and is considered one of the 20 hardest languages to learn, particular for English-speaking people.
60. In City Park in Budapest, there is a statue of a hooded figure known as Anonymous. The statue, representing an anonymous writer who wrote a history of the early Magyars, sits across from Vajdahunyad Castle, holding a pen in his hand. Tourists and native Magyars like to stroke the pen for writing inspiration.
61. Money issued in Hungary is based on the decimal systems. The currency is called forint, whereas notes come in denominations of F. 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000.
62. At the time of writing, the employment rate in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is lowest in Hungary with 60% of people actively employed.
63. In September 2009, 5391 people participated in achieving the Guiness World Record for the most people simultaneously drawing with chalk. This was done in order to raise environmental awareness.
64. Aladár Gerevich, the Hungarian fencer, is known as the greatest swordsman that ever lived. He won six consecutive gold medals from 1932-1960.
65. Hungary’s national symbol – St. Stephen’s Crown – was taken out of the country in May of 1945 for protection during World War II. It was stored in Knox, Kentucky for 30 years until President Jimmy Carter returned it to the Hungarian people in 1978.
66. King Stephen (Istvan) is likely to be the most referenced Hungarian. He welded Magyars to a state and later introduced Christianity.
67. There are two words for red in Hungary. Vörös in used when referring to animated objects (for example: a red dog) and piros is used when describing inanimate objects (for example: a red ball).
68. Hungary is the home to the most extensive geothermal cave system in the world which is located underneath Budapest.
69. Ferenc Puskás, a Hungarian soccer star, still holds the world record on goals scored in a world cup final. He has scored more than Brazil's legendary Pelé.
70. The Mangalica (also known as Mangalitsa) is a unique Hungarian pig breed that resembles a sheep. It was brought about after crossbreeding between Hungarian breeds from Szalonta and Bakony wild boar from Europe and Serbian Šumadija breeds. These furry pigs are known for their exceptionally delicious meat.
71. Bela Lugosi, the actor famous for playing Dracula in 1931, was native to Hungary. He was offered the role of Frankenstein, as well, but turned it down. The role of Frankenstein ultimately went to Boris Karloff.
72. In the spring of 1993, Memento Park opened in Budapest. This 20-acre park holds forty-two pieces of sculpture from the former Communist regime. The park has become a favorite tourist destination.
73. George Soros, a Hungarian-American investor, is likely among the wealthiest Esperanto speakers in the world.
74. A Hungarian engineer, Béla Barényi, created the first Volkswagen Beetle in 1938.
75. Communist rule in Hungary ended in 1989 when the country became a parliamentary republic.
76. Although Hungary is a landlocked country, water is plentiful. Hungary is home to one large section of the Danube River and it also boasts over 1000 lakes, including the popular Lake Balaton.
Pin for later
Don't make these mistakes when planning your next trip
Sign up for the newsletter and learn which mistakes you need to prevent when booking your trip - especially given the current circumstances.