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Hungary

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Travel Guide Europe Hungary

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Introduction

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Most people agree that as far as eastern European travel destinations go, Hungary tops the list. The nation is most definitely geared towards tourism, with classy resorts and hotels at all the important spots, but it has wisely averted the destruction of its traditional culture.

Budapest draws most of the crowds, for obvious reasons. Elegant streets, lined with rustic historical buildings, medieval castles and Roman ruins were made for romantic strolls. But a trip to Hungary should not stop at Budapest. To see Hungarian art and folk music in its traditional setting, head to the countryside, where charming villages dot the landscape. For some relaxed fun, Lake Balaton offers thermal springs, tiny but attractive beaches and a host of fine resorts. Nature lovers will find an abundance of protected areas and a handful of national parks, but the real treat is for bird lovers: great bird watching opportunities abound around Hungary's wetland areas.

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Brief History

From 9 BC to the end of the 4th century, Pannonia was part of the Roman Empire on a part of later Hungary's area. In the final stages of the expansion of the Roman empire, the Carpathian Basin fell for a while into the sphere of the Mediterranean. After the Western Roman Empire collapsed under the stress of the migration of Germanic tribes and Carpian pressure, the Migration Period continued bringing many invaders to Europe. Among the first to arrive were the Huns, who built up a powerful empire under Attila. Attila the Hun in the past centuries was regarded as an ancestral ruler of the Hungarians. This belief however is considered to be erroneous today. It is believed that the origin of the name "Hungary" does not come from the Central Asian nomadic invaders called the Huns, but rather originated from 7th century, when Magyar tribes were part of a Bulgar alliance called On-Ogour, which in Bulgar Turkic meant "(the) Ten Arrows".

The freshly unified Magyars (Hungarians) led by Árpád settled in the Carpathian Basin starting in 895. According to linguists they are thought to have originated in an ancient Finno-Ugric population that originally inhabited the forested area between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains, although the genetic relation of Hungarians to Finno-Ugric peoples is excluded.

In 1241–1242, the kingdom received a major blow with the Mongol (Tatar) Invasion: after the defeat of the Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohi, Béla IV of Hungary fled, and a large part of the population died in the ensuing destruction leading later to the invitation of settlers, largely from Germany. Historians estimate that up to half of Hungary's then population of 2,000,000 were victims of the Mongol invasion. Only castles, strongly fortified cities and abbeys could withstand the assault.
After some 150 years of wars with the Hungarians and other states, the Ottomans conquered parts of Hungary, and continued their expansion until 1556. The Ottomans gained a decisive victory over the Hungarian army at the Battle of Mohács in 1526. The next decades were characterised by political chaos.

Austria-Hungary was geographically the second largest country in Europe after the Russian Empire (1905), and the third most populous (after Russia and the German Empire). The era witnessed an impressive economic development. The formerly backward Hungarian economy became relatively modern and industrialized by the turn of the century, although agriculture remained dominant until 1890. In 1873, the old capital Buda and Óbuda(Ancient Buda) were officially merged with the third city, Pest, thus creating the new metropolis of Budapest. After the Assasination in Sarajevo the Hungarian prime minister, István Tisza and his cabinet (sole in Europe) tried to avoid the breaking out and escalating of a war in Europe, but his diplomatic attempts remained unsuccessful. Austria–Hungary drafted 9 million (fighting forces: 7,8 million) soldiers in World War I (4 million from the Kingdom of Hungary). In World War I Austria–Hungary was fighting on the side of Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey. In October 1918, the personal union with Austria was dissolved though after heavy losses during WWI.

Hungary was a communistic country from 1947 until 1989. In February, 1989 the Communist Party's Central Committee, responding to 'public dissatisfaction', announced it would permit a multi-party system in Hungary and hold free elections. In March, for the first time in decades, the government declared the anniversary of the 1848 Revolution a national holiday. The economic changes of the early 1990s resulted in declining living standards for most people in Hungary. In 1991 most state subsidies were removed, leading to a severe recession. This made life difficult for many Hungarians, and in the May 1994 elections the Hungarian Socialist Party led by former Communists won an absolute majority in parliament. In 1997 in a national referendum 85% voted in favour of Hungary joining the NATO. A year later the European Union began negotiations with Hungary on full membership. In 1999 Hungary joined NATO. Hungary voted in favour of joining the EU, and joined in 2004.

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Geography

Hungary shares international borders with Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania and Serbia. Hungary lies between latitudes 45° and 49° N, and longitudes 16° and 23° E. Slightly more than one half of Hungary's landscape consists of flat to rolling plains of the Pannonian Basin: the most important plain regions include the Little Hungarian Plain in the west, and the Great Hungarian Plain in the southeast. The highest elevation above sea level on the latter is only 183 metres. Transdanubia is a primarily hilly region with a terrain varied by low mountains. These include the very eastern stretch of the Alps, Alpokalja, in the west of the country, the Transdanubian Mountains, in the central region of Transdanubia, and the Mecsek Mountains and Villány Mountains in the south. The highest point of the area is the Írott-kő in the Alps, at 882 metres. The highest mountains of the country are located in the Carpathians: these lie in the North Hungarian Mountains, in a wide band along the Slovakian border (highest point: the Kékes at 1,014 metres). Hungary is divided in two by its main waterway, the Danube (Duna); other large rivers include the Tisza and Dráva, while Transdanubia contains Lake Balaton, a major body of water. The largest thermal lake in the world, Lake Hévíz (Hévíz Spa), is located in Hungary. The second largest lake in the Carpathian Basin is the artificial Lake Tisza (Tisza-tó).

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Regions

  • Northern Hungary
  • Northern Great Plain
  • Southern Great Plain
  • Central Hungary - includes the capital Budapest
  • Central Transdanubia
  • Western Transdanubia
  • Southern Transdanubia

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Cities and Towns

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Sights and Activities

The Puszta

Hortobagy

Hortobagy

© All Rights Reserved Rika884

Most of the east of Hungary comprises the most famous landscape in the country, called the Puszta. The cultural landscape of the Hortobagy Puszta is placed on the Unesco World Heritage List and basically is vast area of plains and wetlands with traditional forms of land use. These include the grazing of animals among others and the traditional life dates back fore more than 2,000 years.

Lake Balaton

Lake Balaton is the biggest lake in Central Europe and one of the major tourist destinations in the country. It can be very crowded in July and August, especially in and around Siofok, which draws lots of younger people from the west of Europe, so it is best to visit in spring or early autumn. The lake has shallow waters and you can walk for tens of meters before you can't stand anymore. The advantage is that the water is relatively warm, even already in Spring. The surroundings are hilly and there are some great places to explore. The western shores are less developed and populated. You also can go on a Chesna flights above the lake, which is great fun as well. Siofok can be reached by train or bus from Budapest in several hours.

Hollokö

The old village of Hollokö and its surroundings are one of the places in Hungary which are on the Unesco World Heritage List. The old village is a great example of a deliberately preserved traditional settlement and it developed during the 17th and 18th centuries mainly. It also is a fine example of rural life before the agricultural revolution of the 20th century. Highlights include the Hollokö castle, the Hollokö 16th century wooden towered churchand the Hollokö houses, converted to folk museums that are preserved in their original state, including the obiquitous craft shops inside.

Szentendre

The old and colorful town of Szentendre by the river Danube is a one hour ride with the suburban train from Budapest. Szentendre is a town with history, arts, cobblestone streets, nice summer festivals. There are many museums (e.g. Barcsay Museum, Kovacs Margit Museum, Confectionery Museum focusing on marzipan), and other attractions, like the Skanzen (this folk museum is like a whole village consisting of traditional Hungarian houses and crafts), the Caprice Jewellery Manufactory, etc. It is easy to get there and there is a lot to see and do on a lovely afternoon.

Others sights and activities

  • Tokaj Wine Region - famous for its high quality white wines
  • Budapest - Along the Danube river
  • Pecs - including the christian necropolis, Unesco site
  • Caves of Aggtelek Karst - huge cave system with many miles of walking (no special caving skills needed, children can do it too)
  • Lake of Heviz

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Weather

Hungary has a continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. Temperatures in summer (June to August) are between 25 °C and 30 °C with nights around 15 °C or 16 °C, though much hotter wetter can happen with days close to 40 °C and warm nights. Winters are a few degrees above zero although in the east is just below zero. Nights are between -4 °C and -8 °C most of the time. Precipitation is common during all months with heavy showers in summer and snowfall in winter.

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Getting There

By Plane

Hungary's main international airport is Budapest Ferihegy International Airport (BUD/LHBP), located about 16 kilometres from the city centre of Budapest. Terminal 1 was recently refurbished and serves low cost carriers, with a glass wall dividing them into Schengen and non-Schengen flights. Terminal 2A is used by MALEV Hungarian Airlines and its code-share partners and since 2008 all flights to Schengen countries (except for the ones with budget airlines) leave here, while 2B is used by other carriers flying to non-Schengen destinations.

To/from the airport

  • Rail: Hungarian State Railways runs suburban and long-distance services between Terminal 1 and Nyugati Railway Station in Budapest city centre through Kőbánya-Kispest. The trip takes approximately 25 minutes.
  • Bus: Bus no. 200 links all the terminals with the southern end of the 3rd metro line (M3).
  • An Airport Bus departs Ferihegy every 10 minutes, providing links to the city centre and Budapest's metro system. The Budapest Airport Minibusz operates an airport shuttle service that takes passengers to any destination in the city. Other shuttle services also offer transport into the city from the airport.
  • Taxis and rental cars are both widely available at Ferihegy Airport as well.

Balaton Airport is served by Ryanair from London, and other carriers operating flights from Germany. The airport itself is located at the western end of Lake Balaton close to the city of Keszthely.

By Train

Budapest has international rail connections to several European capitals, as far as London, Moscow or Istanbul. The major railway stations are: Eastern Railway Station (Keleti pályaudvar), Southern Railway Station (Déli pályaudvar) and Western Railway Station (Nyugati pályaudvar). The first two are accessible by M2 (second metro line), while the last one with M3 (third metro line). International ticket offices are located at these railway stations.

Hungarian National Railways (MÁV) have a very good website which includes price information on international train tickets.

By Car

There are dozens of border crossings with all of Hungary's neighbours and good roads, including highways, connect Hungary to most of them. It's easy and safe driving your car across the border into Hungary, but be sure to have your (insurance) papers (greencard for example) in order.

By Bus

International bus services, for example with Eurolines connect Budapest with several European cities, including cities as far away as London, Paris, Amsterdam and Athens, which are all close to or over 24 hours by bus. Day and night services (depending on the distance) depart from and arrive to the recently rebuilt Népliget Bus Terminal (accessible by M3 and tram no. 1). Coaches to Vienna (4 times daily) calls in at Vienna International Airport as well. For timetables and on-line ticket purchase visit the english version of Volanbusz.

By Boat

Passanger boats' circulation is restricted both in time (from march until october), and regarding rivers' sections.
A regular hydrofoil service links Budapest with Bratislava (Slovakia) and Vienna (Austria).
Check DDSG for hydrofoils betweeen Vienna and Budapest from mid-April to late October, taking around 5.5 hours each way.

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Getting Around

By Plane

The country does not have any domestic flight services.

By Train

The railway network is centralised, trains to and from larger cities depart from or arrive to the capital, Budapest. The most convenient and fastest services are the InterCity trains (IC) that link Budapest with major towns and depart several times a day. An obligatory supplementary fee (including seat reservation) applies on these trains. Trains are operated by MÁV-Start. The most popular routes include Budapest-Kecskemet-Szeged and Budapest-Siofok-Lake Balaton.
For prices and timetables, visit the Elvira website.

By Car

Roads in Hungary are being improved all the time, and the motorways are in good condition. Some roads require you to pay toll. International and local firms all have rental cars at airports and major cities. An international driver's licence is required when you are not from a EU country, otherwise your national driver's licence is sufficient. Driving is on the right.

By Bus

Volanbusz is one of the main operators with many buslinks in the country. Many buses originate and terminate in Budapest and go to the provincial capitals and several smaller towns.

By Boat

Mahart offers boat travel on the Danube river from Spring to Autumn between Budapest and Szentendre, Vác, Visegrád and Esztergom. Budapest Transport Limited has ferries in and around the capital only.
On Lake Balaton, Balaton Shipping Co has ferries between a number of towns and villages from April to October.

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Red Tape

If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The country's official currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). Although some places accept payments in Euro, it is advisable to change it to local currency first for getting better rates.

ATMs can easily be found around larger cities, and even small villages have at least one of them. Paying by bank or credit cards should not pose any problem.

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Work

It could be very difficult for an individual to seek (legal) employment in Hungary because of the complexity, cost and time involved. Most foreign workers in Hungary have received their visas and other necessary documents through the company they are employed by. It is hoped, however, that since the joining of Hungary to the EU a reduction will follow in the amount of red tape involved.

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Study

Hungarian universities are open to all foreign students. Many European exchange students come through the EU's Erasmus program. There are quite a lot students from Asia and the Middle East as well, particularly because despite the high standard of education, fees are still considerably lower than in the more developed Western European countries.

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Language

Hungarians are rightly proud of their unique, complex, sophisticated, richly expressive language, Hungarian. It is a Uralic language most closely related to Mansi and Khanty of western Siberia. It is further sub-classified into the Finno-Ugric languages which include Finnish and Estonian; it is not at all related to any of its neighbours: the Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages belonging to the Indo-European language family. Although related to Finnish and Estonian, they are not mutually intelligible. Aside from Finnish, it is considered one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn with the vocabulary, complicated grammar, and pronunciation being radically different.

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Eat

Food are usually spicy, and it's tasty rather than healthy — many dishes are prepared with lard or deep-fried. The national spice is paprika, made from ground sweet bell peppers and which actually has some flavor when fresh. The national dish is, of course, goulash, but Hungarians call the thick paprika-laden stew known as goulash elsewhere by the term pörkölt and reserve the term gulyás for a lighter paprika-flavored soup.

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Sleep

Hungary has a wide range of relatively cheap accommodation options, including camping and hostels. Many guesthouses are excellent value though and not much more expensive. In Budapest and some other main tourist destinations, more expensive hotels and boutique places are available as well. They are more expensive but usually cheaper compared to many other countries.

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Drink

Hungary has several famous vine regions, most known are Villány, Eger, Badacsony, Tokaj, Szekszárd.

In Hungarian, pálinka denotes strong brandy-like liquor distilled from fruit. Pálinka is a very social drink: just as the English drink tea, the Hungarians, especially in rural areas, will offer pálinka to guests upon arrival. The best-known varieties are barackpálinka, made from apricots, körtepálinka from pears, and szilvapálinka made from plums. Factory-made pálinka is widely available, but keep an eye out for homemade házipálinka. Pálinkas usually contain around or above 50% of alcohol, often more for the homemade ones. Pálinka bottles marked mézes will be heavily sweetened with honey.

Hungarian beer is quite average compared to other Central European countries like Germany and the Czech Republic as it has long been a wine culture. The most common beers are Dreher, Szalon, Borsodi, Soproni and Arany Ászok, available in the styles világos (lager) and barna (brown).

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Hungary. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Hungary. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

Hungary is already well known for its many spa towns and health resorts, but lately it is also gaining an international reputation in the areas of medical and dental tourism. Hungarian dentists have long been treating Austrian and German patients who travelled the short distance across the border to avail of high quality treatment at much reduced prices, but the advent of budget airfares has meant that people are now travelling in large numbers from the United Kingdom and Ireland, and even from as far afield as the United States. The medical tourism industry provides for everything from simple cosmetic procedures to much more serious elective procedures, all for much less than private treatment would cost the medical tourists at home, and without the lengthy waiting lists that are such a fixture in some countries' health systems. Thanks to the internet a simple Google search is usually all it takes to find a clinic willing to help with whatever problem you may have.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Hungary in general is a very safe country. However, petty crime in particular remains a concern, just like in any other country. Watch your baggage and pockets on public transport. There is a danger of pickpockets, though mainly in Budapest or other popular tourist places.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Broadband Internet access is now widespread in Hungary. It's quite usual to find free Internet access (wifi) in shopping centers, many cafes and pubs. You'll have wifi access even in small towns. Look for the "wifi" signs, you may have to ask for the access password, however, if you consume, it will be freely given. Places like McDonald's and Starbucks have free wifi as well. Internet cafes, though still present, are decreasing in numbers because of increasing wifi excess.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The general emergency number is 112. To call internationally, dial 00, wait for the tone and then dial the country code, town/city code and the rest of the number.

The phone code for Hungary is 36, with Budapest numbers starting with 06 1. Depending on the operator, mobile phone numbers start either with 06 20 (Pannon), 06 30 (T-Mobile) or 06 70 (Vodafone). Free numbers start with 06 80, but there is also a 'half price' number starting with 06 40. It is cheapest to place calls in the evening, weekends or on public holidays.

Public phones are readily available in bigger cities and are coin operated or require T-Com phone cards. Phone cards can be purchased at the usual outlets; kiosks, post offices and petrol stations among others.

There are also numerous cheap phone cards to call internationally and are available at assorted outlets. These includes T-Com, EZ Phone, Bellafone and plenty of others offering various discount rates. It's smart to check the current rate to the destination you plan to call the most and compare this with other cards. Also compare the cost for establishing a connection as this can make a big difference in the real 'per minute' cost.

Travellers that are planning to stay in Hungary for longer periods might want to consider buying a prepaid SIM-card either before departure or upon arrival. This is especially useful for friends from overseas who might be calling you and to make and receive local calls more conveniently. The three mobile operators in Hungary are Vodafone, Pannon and T-Mobile, and each have their own prepaid service.

Post

Magyar Post is the national postal service of Hungary. Their English version only seems to concentrate on stamps though, but you will find helpfull English speaking staff in most of the main post offices throughout the country. Opening hours of post offices depend on whether it’s the main office or if it’s a branch. Main post offices operate mostly from 8:00am until 8:00pm Monday to Friday and usually also on Saturday; some keep shorter hours on Sunday. Branch post offices open at the same time but close much earlier, usually between 4:00pm and 6:00pm and are open on Saturday morning only. The smallest settlements and villages are served by the MobilPosta service. You can buy post your letter and parcels here and buy stamps, although you can buy these at kiosks as well. Hungarian postal services are generally reliable, relatively cheap (especially domestic services) and fast, with most of the postcards and/or letters being delivered within a week to other European countries, 10 days to several weeks outside of the continent. Anything of value is best to be send by registered post. For parcels, you might also use international companies like TNT, FedEx, UPS or DHL.

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Quick Facts

Hungary flag

Map of Hungary

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Capital
Budapest
Population
10,045,000
Government
Parliamentary Democracy
Religions
Christianity (Catholic, Protestant)
Languages
Hungarian
Calling Code
+36
Nationality
Hungarian
Local name
Magyarország

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Hungary Travel Helpers

  • danube

    I'm Hungarian, and know quite well the country (I used to work as a guide).

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  • kichikacha

    Hungarian national. Happy to help anyone who wants to travel off-beaten track.
    Trekking, unknown/secret places, beautiful sights, nature. Cyclists are particularly welcomed!

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  • clara001

    I can recommend places to visit, or things to do, tell about the culture...etc.
    How to travel inside the country, how goes things in Hungary, interesting places.
    Or, if you have problems, how can you solve them...
    Or if you have any questions about Hungary, I'm here!
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    lived in Budapest and travel around the country in 1994.

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  • AlexSandor

    I'm an American living and teaching English in a small Hungarian town. I've traveled around Hungary (and Europe) quite a bit, so I can give advice on a lot of different things.

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Accommodation in Hungary

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