Hungary, more than Budapest
In Budapest, every building, every tram ride, every panoramic view, every cosy coffee shop and every night out holds new surprises.
And the liveliest parts of town are not necessarily in the city centre – it is worth taking the time to take a look around. Wherever you go, there is an unmistakable feeling that something out of the ordinary is just around the corner. It may be a nuance of architecture, an interesting statue, a pretty smile, a courting couple, or a group of elderly men putting the world to rights.
The city also offers a mouth-watering selection of restaurants and an array of bars and clubs that will leave your head spinning. If you want to treat your partner to something special, Budapest offers luxury accommodation that won't hit your wallet too hard. You can also indulge in a relaxing soak and invigorating massage in one of the city's many spas – the best hangover cure known to man.
If you find the time to do some sightseeing, the best place to start is the Citadella on Gellért Hill, or looking down from between the turrets of the famous Fisherman's Bastion in Buda's Castle District. A boat trip, a stroll along the embankment on the Pest side of the Danube or a ride on the number 2 tram is a good way to take in the hills of Buda and the giant Parliament building. Other must-see landmarks include Europe's largest Synagogue, the Szent István Basilica and the Buda Royal Palace – not to mention the Széchenyi Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) and the dramatic statue of St Gellért, perched above Erzsébet híd (Elizabeth Bridge). The long walk down the majestic Andrássy út ends at Hősök tere (Heroes' Square), an extravagant monument to Hungary's key historical figures, and Városliget (City Park), which boasts a host of attractions of its own.
One of the most endearing charms of Budapest is that the traffic and noise of downtown Pest quickly make way for leafy parks and forests. Margitsziget (Margaret Island) is a hub for outdoor activities, and the tranquil hills of Buda offer a haven for cyclists and hikers. The surrounding countryside also lends itself to scenic day trips, as well as a range of extreme sports and other exciting outdoor activities.
Lake Balaton – central Europe’s largest lake – offers 200km of shoreline, silky green water and a host of activities for young and old. Whether you’re after thrills and spills or gentle strolls, here you can enjoy life at your own pace. With volcanic hills and vineyards on the northern shore, friendly resorts to the south, and waterfront towns full of character all around, the beauty of Balaton is in its breathtaking diversity. Travelling with the kids? Well the lake is perfect for family holidays, with safe beaches, shallow water and plenty to keep you entertained. Fancy a pampering? Why not head for one of the local spa towns and a warming wallow in the thermal waters of Hévíz or Zalakaros? There’s an embarrassment of riches for lovers of the great outdoors; take to the water for some sailing, windsurfing or fishing, or strike out into the national park for some horse-riding, cycling or birdwatching. And culture vultures can soak in the elegant ambience of Keszthely, visit Tihany’s abbey church or just settle at a pretty hillside restaurant for some fine food and a bottle of the region’s famous wine.
Interestingly, golf was banned during the Communist era for being an elitist, bourgeois sport, but it is beginning to gain a foothold. Hungary currently has six 18-hole courses, and reasonable green fee prices, making it an affordable golfing destination. But even the most dedicated golfer will find it difficult to resist taking time off from the fairway to take a dip in one of Hungary’s many spas, sample some fine wine, or explore the neighbouring countryside.
There are currently no packages available in Hungary.