If you’re looking for a Budapest experience that goes beyond Fisherman’s Bastion and the Széchenyi Thermal Baths, venture out of the city centre on a day trip.
Inevitably, magnificent Budapest tends to steal the spotlight when visitors plan a trip to Hungary. While the Hungarian capital has made a name for itself as a prime city-break destination, a key advantage of basing yourself in Budapest is the abundance of day-trip options on your doorstep. Excursions to take from Budapest include discovering the best of Hungarian wine in Etyek and escaping the city by the waters of Lake Balaton.
Round the bend: A journey on the banks of the Danube
This adventure along the banks of the River Danube takes in Esztergom, with its majestic basilica; Visegrád, with its Medieval citadel; and Szentendre, famed for its colourful artists’ colony. Each stop on this journey on the Danube Bend displays a different facet of Hungary’s rich heritage – an ideal tour for anyone wanting to broaden their horizons and discover history and culture outside the Hungarian capital. This full-day tour includes a three-course lunch, a stop in Slovakia and a one-hour cruise back to Budapest.
Just 30 minutes outside Budapest lies the resplendent Royal Palace of Gödöllő – the former residence of the Habsburg emperors and the second-largest Baroque palace in the world. Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known as ‘Sisi’, spent their autumns and springs here in the late 19th century. Today, the beautifully restored palace and its 26-hectare (64-acre) English garden are open to visitors. Catch a glimpse of and learn about the emperors’ luxurious lifestyle while marvelling at the Baroque details in this stunning former royal residence on a three-hour tour leaving from Budapest.
The village of Etyek and its eponymous wine region are just 30 minutes from Budapest. Here, small, family-owned wineries have been producing wine since the 11th century, with most sold directly to a few select restaurants. A wine tour of Etyek is an irresistible experience for any oenophile, offering the chance to meet with local winemakers and taste a selection of their Hungarian wines. Savouring a rustic, three-course, home-cooked meal of classic Hungarian dishes and wines is, of course, the only logical conclusion to such a delectable affair.
Located in western Hungary, Lake Balaton is Central Europe’s largest lake and an absolute favourite destination among those who wish to escape the city in the sweltering summer months. Before feasting your eyes on its crystal-blue waters from the shores of the historic Tihany Peninsula, stop off at the Herend Porcelain Manufactory to take in the artistry and craftsmanship of this brand that dates back to 1826. Once at the lake, the spa town of Balatonfüred awaits you with its famous carbon-acid thermal spring. This full-day private tour includes a three-course Hungarian lunch and transport to and from Budapest.
The charming boho town of Szentendre is just a stone’s throw from bustling Budapest. Picture-perfect winding cobbled lanes and colourful Baroque architecture welcome visitors to this riverside town, which is known as an artists’ colony and has been home to some of Hungary’s most prominent painters, writers and sculptors since 1929. Szentendre is brimming with quaint, independent craft shops, galleries – including Szentendre Gallery, which showcases local artwork – and museums. The town’s riverside promenade is idyllic and the perfect spot to enjoy a delicious lángos (traditional Hungarian fried dough). In the warmer months, this four-hour tour includes a boat ride back to Budapest for a leisurely and highly enjoyable return journey.
A walk through downtown Kecskemét is bound to offer up a bounty of Instagrammable shots. Its Art Nouveau City Hall for one, with its ornate floral facade, is a wonder to behold, capture and share. Only a short drive from Kecskemét, set in the serene Hungarian Puszta (or Pannonian Steppe), lies a traditional farm where horsemen are ready to welcome you with a shot of barack pálinka (apricot schnapps) and a pogácsa (savoury scone). Here, you can travel on a horse carriage through the Puszta, watch a traditional horse show and ride a horse yourself. If you work up an appetite, you can look forward to a hearty three-course lunch (included in this full-day tour), accompanied by Hungarian folk music.
If you’re looking to explore Central Europe further, then why not pay a visit to the neighbouring Austrian capital of Vienna? Visit landmarks such as the unmissable Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens, St Stephen’s Cathedral and the MuseumsQuartier. In your free time, be sure to take a stroll in the elegant first district lined with luxurious boutiques and historical cafés, where you can spoil yourself with a slice of the world-famous Sachertorte (chocolate cake).
The northeastern city of Eger, a must-visit for lovers of Baroque architecture, is just a short hour and a half away from Budapest. Its beautifully preserved centre boasts a Medieval minaret (the northernmost Ottoman minaret in Europe), a 13th-century castle and a Neoclassical basilica. No trip to Eger would be complete without a visit to the ‘Valley of Beautiful Women’ wine region, where its famous Bikavér (‘bull’s blood’) wine is produced. This full-day tour features a two-course lunch together with a tasting of local wines.