We have been housesitting in the small town of Erdőkertes, about an hour North of Budapest. While public transport here is still good, it is time-consuming and inconvenient to take busses to explore all that we wanted to see. Because of this, we decided to use the money we are saving on accommodation and rent a car so that we have the freedom to explore the country of Hungary!
Hungary is a small country, especially by Canadian standards. It takes about 5 hours to drive from one side of the country to the other. Since we are situated close to the middle of the country we have been able to explore a lot of things within a two-hour drive from the home we are staying in. We are so happy to have found this housesit, as it has given us such a great opportunity to explore Hungary in an in-depth way. There is so much to see and do outside of Budapest!
Gödöllő is a town that is easily reachable from Budapest by bus or train. The claim to fame here is the Royal Palace of Gödöllő. The palace is a baroque manor built in the mid 18th century. It was the summer retreat for Franz Joseph and Queen Elisabeth. We enjoyed our visit to the palace grounds although we did not pay to enter the palace rooms as we have seen so many similar things on this trip, including the grand Windsor Castle in England.
Eger is the largest city in Northern Hungary. We went there to visit the hilltop castle ruins, The Castle of Eger. This castle was ruined and rebuilt numerous times in its tumultuous history. The most famous battle occurred in 1552 when the 3000 occupants held off an invasion of over 30,000 Turkish troops. The entrance cost for our family of four was about $15 CAD. Things are not well signed in English and at first, we wondered exactly what it is we had paid for. But after continuing to explore the different on-site buildings we discovered some really interesting exhibits about the history of the castle and its people. There is even a famous book and a subsequent movie about the battles fought here.
The downtown area of Eger is also worth a visit and it sits directly below the castle hill. We really love how many of the town centers block traffic altogether. It is so nice to stroll down traffic-free streets!
Esztergom was one of our favorite places to visit. Only 46 km north of Budapest, it is situated on the banks of the Danube river which makes it incredibly picturesque. We loved the waterfront promenade and of course, we had to make the journey across the bridge so that we could say we have been to Slovakia! Esztergom has a beautiful hilltop Basilica and castle with sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. We paid to enter the castle museum (about $15 CAD) but in the end, felt that we did not get our money’s worth. While some things had English signs, they were not well done and we did not feel like we learned very much from our visit.
Aggtelek National Park
Now, we have seen a lot of caves in our travels, many of which have been very impressive but Aggtelek takes the cake in our books. These caves are MASSIVE with chambers that could be concert halls (actually they do hold concerts in one of the chambers!) Aggtelek has Unesco status and it is easy to see why. Millions of years of limestone formations, amazing stalagmites, stalactites, and the largest amount of intact columns we have ever seen.The entrance was well worth the $25 CAD for our family. There is also a cute little playground at the cave entrance. We brought a picnic and spent a good hour at the playground before making the two and a half hour trek back home.
My pictures, taken on my iPhone, don’t do the cave justice and many of them did not turn out. Trust me when I say the cave was truly impressive.
Vácrátót Botanical Garden
A 27-hectareare park and research center, the Vácrátót Botanical Garden is worth the trip. We enjoyed wandering around the well-maintained pathways through the forest, lakes, and gardens. Our favorite area was the ruined building amongst the trees. Unfortunately, there was no English signage so we don’t know what these ruins are from. The section around the lakes was like a fairy tale forest with these giant trees stretching over the water. So pretty! There are also several large greenhouses that hold plants from different climates. We were not too impressed with these as we have seen many of the tropical and desert plants before in their natural areas.
Lake Balaton is a huge tourist magnet in the summer months attracting hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers seeking some beach time and water sports. We were so happy to have coincided our visit with the hottest day we have had in our six weeks in Hungary. It was so hot that we actually got to have a swim in this gorgeous lake! The lake is HUGE, 77 km long to be exact. So there are plenty of different towns and cities to suit your tastes. We only skimmed the surface (pun intended) of this lake.
We stopped for lunch in Tihany which sits on a small peninsula on the northwest side of the lake and had a walk around the cute little town. We ate at the coolest of restaurants, Régi Idők, which holds the number one place on Trip Advisor for a reason. This restaurant has so much charm, funk, friendliness, and amazing food!
By this time the boys were aching for a swim so we stopped to explore the water in Balatonfüred which was lovely. Strangely (to us) we learned that you actually have to pay to go to some of the beaches in this town. Luckily, as it is still off season, the ticket booths were closed and we got to enjoy summer weather without the crowds.
There is so much more to Hungary than Budapest and we are so glad we have been lucky enough to explore some of it. If you have the opportunity rent a car and get out to explore all that Hungary has to offer!