Gritty survivor of an embattled history, Hungary offers much in terms of proud cultural icons and living natural wonders. Kata Karath looks beyond Budapest to five of the best historical sites in Hungary
1. Ópusztaszer Heritage Park
Not even Hungarians themselves know exactly where they came from before settling down in the Carpathian Basin. It’s commonly accepted that Árpád of the Magyars and his chieftains decided the fate of the country in the sand hills of Ópusztaszer around 896AD. Today, the Ópusztaszer Heritage Park showcases Hungarian history with displays of authentic Csete yurts, traditional horsemanship and archery, among others.
More details: opusztaszer.hu
What else: Szeged’s Open-Air Festival is a magnet for culture lovers in the summer.
2. Tihany Abbey
Lake Balaton, the biggest lake in Hungary, has been a perennially popular destination for Hungarian and German families alike. Its shores are also home to Tihany Abbey, a functioning monastery founded in 1055AD by the Benedictine Order and which served as a fortress against the Turkish army in 1534. Its founding charter is the earliest written example of the Hungarian language.
More details: tihanyinfo.com
What else: The Lake Cave at Tapolca is a spectacular must-do.
3. Battle of Mohács and the Busó festivities
The Battle of Mohács was lost against Turkey in 1526AD and made an indelible impression on the nation’s memory. To this day, whenever something bad happens, Hungarians will respond ruefully, “More was lost at Mohács”. This village on the banks of the Danube is home to Busó, a six-day annual festival marking the end of winter, during which Busók (men in horned wooden masks and big woolly cloaks) form a procession through the village streets to scare away the dark months. The parade is accompanied by a variety of dance shows and music concerts, as well as arts and craft workshops.
4. Siege of Eger
The castle of Eger marks another desperate battle against the Turks. The siege of Eger, in 1552, symbolises the true stubbornness of the Hungarian character. Even without romantic exaggeration, little more than 2,000 Hungarians, including untrained peasants and a few dozen women, defended the castle successfully against more than 35,000 Turkish soldiers. This emblem of patriotic heroism has inspired many Hungarian writers and artists. Eclipse of the Crescent Moon, a historical novel by Géza Gárdonyi, is by far the most popular account of the siege.
More details: egrivar.hu
What else: Stay at the grand Lillafüred Palace Hotel in Miskol.
5. Esterházy Palace
Moving west, Esterházy Palace, a magnificent castle in Fertöd, is also known as the ‘Hungarian Versailles’. Built by the aristocratic Esterházy family in 1766, the castle served as an important cultural hub for the country, playing host to iconic international figures, such as Joseph Haydn, the Austrian composer and friend of Mozart and Beethoven. Even Queen Maria Theresa — the only female ruler of the Habsburg monarchy — paid a visit. Today, the castle serves as a museum and a cultural venue. Thanks to recent renovations, visitors can enjoy its glory once again.
More details: esterhazy-palace.com
What else: Bird-spotting and cycling in Fertö-Hanság National Park in Sopron.