Hard though it may be to believe, Hungary has much more to show outside the city limits of Budapest. While the second most-populated city of Debrecen barely tops 200,000—a considerable size difference to the 1.7 million of Budapest—there are still plenty of sights to see away from the city streets that won’t even require too much traveling.
As the original capital of Hungary when it was founded as a nation back in 972, it’s perhaps not a stretch to know that the city of Esztergom has quite a number of historical things to see or do. Accessible by train within two hours, it’s a great spot to explore for its architectural significance as much for its historical value. There’s plenty of hidden sights, though, so it’s a worthy place to spend even more than a day, too.
One of the closest of Hungary’s numerous wine regions, Eger can be reached by train in a couple of hours. It’s a quaint town of only 55,000, renowned for its Turkish bath, its cathedral and central plaza, and the castle that overlooks the surrounding area. Hungarians are particularly fond of the castle after it was successfully defended against an Ottoman invasion. Whether it’s the wines of the region or its multi-layered history of foreign control, there’s a lot to gain from a visit to Eger.
Though Velence Lake doesn’t have the size or infrastructure of the more popular destination of Lake Balaton, it’s close enough by train—only an hour and a half—that if you want some relaxation away from the noise and pollution of the city to enjoy a day in nature, then Velence is a top pick. Whether it’s cycling the 10 kilometers around the lake, kayaking on the water itself, or simply sitting by the beach, Velence is perfect for a day away from the hustle of Budapest.
Famed for its castle overlooking the Danube river, Visegrád is better suited to those willing to hike up to the top. With the name of fellegvár—meaning “cloud castle”—the view from the top is particularly worth the climb thanks to the Danube Bend, a popular part of the Danube that allows for a spectacular view as the wide river twists around the hills near to Esztergom.
Often the first stop on a trip to the Danube Bend and typically combined with a trip to Esztergom and Visegrád, Szentendre is a cozy little town recognized as an “artist village” thanks to the creative types that have been settling there since the 1930s. It’s easy to see why they’d pick such a place, too, as the calm, colorful streets and serene riverside making for an inspiring locale. The overground commuter train H5 from Budapest connects to Szentendre in only an hour, putting it high on the list of places to visit for any city break, especially if you’re looking for a unique, handcrafted souvenir.
Sitting in the middle of the country—and the Hungarian Great Plains—is Kecskemét, a city that epitomizes life in Hungary outside of hectic lifestyle of Budapest. It’s small enough to retain a sense of isolation, but big enough to have plenty to see or do. At roughly an hour away from the capital, it’s a popular destination for travelers who like to explore beyond the major cities. It’s a particular favorite for fans of horse-riding, thanks to the tours into the Great Plains or the famed horse show at Bugac.
The open-air museum at Skanzen, close to Szentendre, is interesting to visit during Easter time due to events that are put on, demonstrating how rural Hungarians lived centuries ago. Hollókő is similar in that regard, except that this is a genuinely inhabited town that still retains an unfiltered sense of that rural charm. With that said, it’s still particularly worth visiting during the Easter period, where a festival is put on to honor every aspect of traditional Hungary: old-fashioned handcrafted goods, egg painting, iconic foods, and even a unique way of celebrating Easter.
Sadly the only effective way to reach Hollóko is by car, taking only an hour or so rather than the four hours by public transport.
Being halfway between Vienna and Budapest (just over an hour on the train) makes Győr a pleasant place to stop for those exploring Europe by car. It may be small by comparison, but its selection of Baroque-style buildings and pleasant strolls along the converging rivers of the Danube, Rába, and Rábca still make for a worthwhile trip. The historic archabbey at Pannonhalma is a notable site, too, though you would need a car to access.
Though it does take a good two and a half hours to get to Miskolc, the city is crammed with a number of things to do in the city and the surrounding nature reserves, making it a fantastic place to discover when the capital has just become too much. Number one on this list is the thermal baths built into a cave, but with iconic-looking Diósgyőr Castle, nearby Bükk National Park, and a scenic forest train ride to the beautiful town of Lillafüred, there’s so much to do here it might be worth an overnight stay before heading back to Budapest.