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Slightly too far east of popular Western European spots like Paris, London, and Barcelona, Hungary tends to fall off people’s itineraries. With a tranquil natural landscape and cities with architecture that defines grandiose, it’s definitely worth refining your bucket lists to include the Central European nation. For those who need more convincing, follow along with our list of the best cities in Hungary.
Divided by the banks of the Danube River, the capital of Hungary, and its largest city, Budapest, is perhaps the only well-known place to make the list. The city has been called “pornography” for architecture buffs, and on both the Buda and Pest sides of the rivers, travelers will find historical sites around pretty much every corner. The Royal Palace and Parliament are the embodiment of this, as the two incredibly impressive buildings seem to compete with each other from across the Danube. After spending hours exploring the city by foot, travelers can find relief in either the ornate Ruda Baths or Szechenyi Baths — both thermal locations are popular for tourists and locals alike. Make sure you have your home-from-home sorted in Budapest, check out the 5 Best Hostels in Budapest or the Top 6 Awesome Airbnbs in Hungary
Located on the western shore of Lake Balaton, Keszthely is worth stopping by as its low-key resorts and shorelines offer a great escape to anyone looking to relax and get a taste of the outdoors. The town centers on its access to the lake but has its own must-sees too, including the Festetics Palace — a grand museum with acres of beautiful gardens. Additionally, just outside of Keszthely is the spa town called Heviz, and centrally located in Heviz is Lake Haviz. Lake Heviz is located within a natural area but has a spa and hot spring built into the middle of the lake.
The third largest city in Hungary, Szeged’s outward historical appearance contrasts with its young, lively university population. Unlike much of Europe, the most impressive religious building in the city is not the Catholic church but instead the local synagogue. The Jewish community in Szeged has never regained its numbers from the pre World War II era, but the synagogue remains a popular destination, for those of all beliefs, with many people believing it’s the most beautiful Jewish place of worship in the world.
Referred to as a “garden city” much of the town of Kecskemet is abundantly decorated by beautiful flower patches in front of its already-colorful art nouveau architecture. Surrounding the city are numerous vineyards making this an excellent destination for wine lovers. Those who prefer the harder stuff will like Kecskemet, which is a big producer of barackpalinka, a local apricot brandy.
Hungary’s second city, Debrecen, stands as the capital and gateway to Hungary’s Great Plains region. Formerly the largest Calvinist city in Europe, much of this conservatism can still be seen in its architecture, museums, and its people — although times are changing and Debrecen now has a lively nightlife scene. As with all big Hungarian cities, there are popular thermal baths but the best thing to see in the city is the summer street festivals, which draslow-movingng pedestrian traffic and various artisans and musicians.
Originally an unsuspecting border town, Sopron is a place known for its recent history. In the late 80s, many East Germans used the border for the first successful escape to the West, an event that directly led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of the Iron Curtain. Nowadays, Sopron is a great place to experience both the nature and culture of Hungary. Bordering the scenic Lake Neusiedl and two national parks, outdoors folk can happily spend hours exploring. Meanwhile, in the town, Sopron’s Medieval city is largely intact, making its cobblestone streets well worth wandering. Oh, also the city produces tons of wine and chocolate… sold.
Many tourists’ favorite spot in Hungary is Pecs. A city over 2,000 years old, Pecs has experienced a long history that has included occupations and settlements by the Romans, Turks, and Ottomans. This changing cultural tide is best on display at the Pasha Gazi Kassim Mosque, a 16th-century construction from the Turks, which has been used as a Catholic church since the 18th century. Pecs’s mild microclimate makes it an incredibly pleasant place to sit and enjoy the gorgeous squares surrounding the museums and monuments.
With much of its Baroque influences still intact, Eger is just another example of Hungary’s architectural diversity. Eger has plenty of appeal as its castle fortress was the site of serious battles, there are numerous vineyards populate the area, and narrow alleyways lead to gorgeous squares and churches. While many of the cities making this list are a part of Hungary’s Great Plains, Eger is in the hill country, which provides more outdoor recreation potential. Nearby is the Eger Bükk National Park and the much larger industrial city of Miskolc.
The tiniest place to make the list, Holloko is only home to some 400 people. However, the little town is so in keeping with Hungarian folk tradition that in 1987 UNESCO named it one of its World Heritage Sites. The two-street village is the definition of ‘quaint’ and presents a good look at what provincial life may have looked like in Hungary’s past. Outside of the village, the ruins of Holloko’s castle overlook an untouched valley of rolling hills.