Beyond Budapest: 5 day trips from Hungary’s capital

CNN  — 

While Budapest is a truly majestic place, there’s so much more to Hungary than its hugely popular capital.

You could spend days in the city and barely scratch the surface, but if you have the time, it’s worth hopping on a train, boat or bus to explore more of this compact country on a day trip.

Here are five destinations beyond Budapest that are worth adding to your itinerary while you travel in Hungary:


The view from the top of the Basilica of Esztergom -- one of  largest churches in Europe.

Located just across the river from Slovakia, a visit to the city of Esztergom makes for a great day trip if only for its huge Basilica, the largest in Hungary. It sits on a rocky outcrop just above the Danube.

The impressive 360-degree views over the river, the town, and over to Slovakia are well worth the ticket price and the effort it takes to scale the claustrophobic spiral staircases to the top of the dome.

You can catch the train up from Budapest, which takes around an hour and a half, or the bus, but the most scenic way to travel to Esztergom – or back – is by boat.

The Hydrofoil journey last 90 minutes. If you really want to savor the scene, opt for the slower boat, which takes around four hours to get back to town.

Not only will you get the best views of the Basilica as it departs, you’ll also pass the citadel at Visegrád before the traversing the marshy Danube islands towards Szentendre and back to Budapest. This is a great way to see the country while taking it easy.

Restaurant tip: Traditional neo-Gothic style restaurant Prímás Pince lies in a vaulted cellar underneath the Basilica. Even if you’re not hungry, you can taste some great Hungarian wines, and maybe snack on a cheese plate, instead.

Prímás Pince, Esztergom, Szent István tér 4, 2500 Hungary; +36 33 541 965


Quaint Hungarian town Szentendre is located just outside Budapest.

You can get to Szentendre on the local suburban train from Budapest in just an hour, which is why it’s one of the most popular day trip destinations for locals and tourists alike.

It’s a small, charming town with tight streets filled with houses painted in a palette of wine red, terracotta and pastel blue that lead into cobbled squares and whitewashed churches.

You can still find traces of the town’s former Serbian community in the icon-clad Blagovestenska Church and the Serbian Orthodox Museum.

One of the main draws for this picturesque location are its art museums and studios, which are dotted around in old villas and converted mills.

In the 1920s, an art colony sprouted up in the town and its since become a thriving art hub, with many art studios in the area as well as painters working on canvases on the roadside.

Visitors can head up to Szentendre (and / or return) by boat in the summer. The journey takes around an hour from the ports in the city center and docks in downtown Szentendre.

Restaurant tip:

Cozy downtown tavern Aranysárkány Vendéglő (which translates as Golden Dragon), is one of the best eateries in the area, serving up a mix of hearty Hungarian and Balkan food.

Aranysárkány Vendéglő, Szentendre, Alkotmány u. 1/a, 2000 Hungary; +36 26 301 479


Visegrád's impressive 13th century citadel offers fantastic views of the Danube Bend.

The Danube Bend is one of the most beautiful parts of Hungary, where the famous European river turns south, and flows through Hungary towards Serbia and Croatia.

The sharpest bend in the river occurs around the small castle town of Visegrád, which is also the only point where the Danube flows north, before curving towards the south.

Visegrád’s magnificent 13th century citadel, built by King Béla IV, offers fantastic views of the Danube Bend, and is a must see during a visit to this town.

While it’s positioned at the top of a 350-meter hill, visitors can get a taxi to the upper castle or take the steep hiking trail through the woods.

Either way, you’ll be rewarded when walking along the crumbling, windswept castle walls.

Inside, you’ll find an armory and a waxwork museum, but the real highlight comes when you patrol the battlements. Here you can take in the beautiful panorama of the river alongside the area’s hills and valleys.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the hill, the town of Visegrád itself has plenty to offer.

You can visit the Renaissance palace ruins (a one time summer home for Hungary’s King Matthias Corvinus) on the riverside or check out the Zugfozde Palinka Museum, dedicated to the infamous Hungarian fruit brandy.

Restaurant tip: Based in the Hotel Silvanus, Panorama Restaurant serves up a lunch menu with local specials, like the Visegrád wild ragout soup, and also offers an amazing view of the Danube Bend from above.

Panorama Restaurant, Hotel Silvanus, 2025 Visegrád, Fekete-hegy; +36 26 398 311


Balatonfüred -- a popular resort town on the north shore of Lake Balaton.

Central Europe’s largest lake, sometimes referred to as the Hungarian Sea, is less than two hours away from Budapest.

Lake Balaton is a vast stretch of turquoise water, dotted with yachts and boats in the summer, while locals flock to the beaches for a plunge in the shallows.

There are plenty of places to visit around the lake, but Balatonfüred is a stand out option.

One of the oldest resort towns on the Balaton, it mixes old world elegance with a waterside feel thanks to its grand neo-classical hotels, museums and waterfront cafés.

It’s also a great gastro hub, with trendy bars and restaurants serving up craft burgers and locally caught fish under a string of fairy lights.

Once you’ve wandered around and had a bite to eat, take a walk down the jetty and hop on a boat to explore the lake.

If you fancy going further afield, you can take the bus to the nearby Tihany Peninsula (tacking an extra half hour onto your journey,) with its Baroque abbey and great views over the lake from the two extinct volcanoes that rise up to make the peninsula.

Restaurant tip: Halászkert has been around since the 1940s (although much of the original restaurant burned down in the 1960s, specializing in locally caught fish dishes.

Halászkert Restaurant, Balatonfüred, Zákonyi Ferenc u. 3, 8230 Hungary; +36 87 581 055


The Royal Palace of Gödöllő -- the largest baroque manor house in Hungary.

If you’re hankering after some Habsburg glamor, hop on a train to Gödöllő, a small town just outside Budapest.

The highlight here is Royal Palace of Gödöllő, the summer residence once favored by Emperor Franz Josef and his wife Elizabeth, known as “Sisi.”

This small-winged Baroque chateau may not live up to the grandeur of Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace, but you’ll still find plenty of gold leafed rooms upholstered with silk damask and crystal chandeliers.

Make sure you take some time to explore the grounds, with an arboretum, beautiful statues, botanical gardens, and the Horthy Bunker, built for Hungarian Admiral Miklós Horthy, which you can visit as part of a guided tour.

Baroque Theater, one of the oldest theaters still in use in Central Europe is also a Gödöllő highlight.

Restaurant tip: Caravella the place to visit in Gödöllő for cakes, specialty coffees and a charming, welcoming atmosphere.

Caravella Café, Gödöllő, Szilhát u. 40, 2100 Hungary; +36 28 746 297

Jennifer Walker is an Anglo-Hungarian writer and former physicist living in Budapest. She tweets at @JDWalkerWriter.

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