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Panoramic view to the old town of Eger, Hungury
Photograph: Ekaterina Polischuk /

The best cities to visit in Hungary (that aren’t Budapest)

Everyone loves Budapest but there’s more to explore from Europe’s spa capital – these are some of our favourite Hungarian city breaks

Peterjon Cresswell
Written by
Peterjon Cresswell

Budapest may be ten times the size of Hungary’s next biggest city but that shouldn’t discourage you from venturing further. Hungary is blessed with spa retreats, wine regions and a huge lake, Balaton, lined with resorts. Its university cities are lively and engaging. It’s also a manageable size: few inland journeys from Budapest take more than three hours. So, where should you visit first? From a former artists’ colony to a buzzy lakefront town, these are the best cities in Hungary to check out when you’ve seen quite enough of the capital.

Hungarian-speaking Peterjon Cresswell has been skipping around Budapest for Time Out for 30 years. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines and check out our latest travel guides written by local experts.

🚞 9 of the best Budapest day trips
🇪🇺 The most underrated destinations in Europe
🌆 The best European city breaks to try this year

How to travel around Hungary

Whether you’re using the train, the bus to more rural areas, sailing up the Danube Bend or cycling, travelling in Hungary is easy and affordable. Driving? Keep in mind that motorists must pre-purchase a vignette, available online and at petrol stations, to use Hungary’s extensive motorway network.

The best Hungarian cities to visit

Photograph: magico110 /

1. Pécs

Hungary’s most recommendable city break is Pécs, and not just because of its proximity to the major wine region of Villány. Lively and arty, Pécs is centrepieced by the Ottoman-built Mosque of Pasha Qasim; nearby you’ll find another historic landmark in the Early Christian Necropolis, a Roman cemetery from the fourth century AD. Major Hungarian artists, Post-Impressionist Csontváry and op-artist Vasarely, both have their own dedicated museums here. But the highlight is the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter, a museum complex set around the Zsolnay ceramics factory where tiles for the signature roofs of major Budapest landmarks were produced.

Photograph: Plam Petrov /

2. Szeged

Think of Szeged and you might think of the paprika that goes into its signature fiery fish soup, best devoured at a traditional restaurant overlooking the river Tisza. The city’s relationship with its broad waterway hasn’t always been so benign. A terrible flood in 1879 swept away most of the town, allowing it to be remodelled with elegant avenues and Art Nouveau villas, the subject of themed local walking tours. Wherever you wander, you’ll see the twin spires of the Votive Church pricking up over the skyline, the backdrop for summer’s cultural festival that takes place on the main square of Dóm tér.

Photograph: Ekaterina Polischuk /

3. Eger

Hungary’s most popular provincial getaway owes its allure to the myths surrounding the brave defence of its castle from Ottoman forces. Bull’s blood added to red wine fortified Hungarian resistance during a sixteenth-century siege, or so the Turks were led to believe. The castle still dominates the city centre and wine still drives the tourist industry, particularly in the autumn, when the cellars lining the Valley of Beautiful Women just outside town are stocked with the new vintage. It’s not all wine and ramparts – there’s a surprisingly comprehensive Beatles Museum to peruse and spas to explore.

Photograph: Milan Gonda /

4. Szentendre

Many choose this former artists’ colony for their day out from Budapest, partly because it’s easily accessible by boat, bicycle or a 40-minute train hop ride alongside the Danube, partly because it’s all cobbled streets and galleries, with few apparent sightseeing duties to follow. But before artists discovered this enclave a century ago, Szentendre had been built by Serbs fleeing the Ottomans further south. Their Orthodox churches, some with magnificent icons, still stand today, all facing east, giving the quaint town centre a haphazard, Balkan feel. Terraces line the riverfront, with seasonal open-air bar Kacsakő most true to Szentendre’s bohemian heritage.

Lake Balaton and Siófok
Photograph: Kurka Geza Corey /

5. Lake Balaton and Siófok

Some 20 resorts line Lake Balaton, coast-free Hungary’s great summer getaway. Many Hungarian families have summer houses here, but few beaches are free to enter, most now privatised by Hungary’s elite. Admission fees are the norm. Generally speaking, the north shore is for sensible wine drinkers, the south for hedonists – major summer music fest Balaton Sound, for example, takes place at Zamárdi. Lake Balaton’s biggest city is Siófok, abuzz with bars and clubs, plus a historic water tower and ferris wheel for panoramic views. If sensible wine drinking is preferred, tranquil Badacsony is built on the volcanic soil responsible for what’s in your glass.

Photograph: posztos /

6. Miskolc

In the Socialist era, this industrial hub was Hungary’s second city, its sprawling ironworks inspiring underground, metal and punk bands by the bucketload. What remains from this savage drinking culture is Hungary’s liveliest provincial bar scene along the main street, given over to a huge flea market on the first Sunday of every month. Beckoning beyond, accessible by public transport, is Lillafüred, whose pretty lake is surrounded by the greenery of the Bükk. A national park of dense forest extending to Eger, this haunt of wild boars and, occasionally, bears is crossed by a narrow-gauge railway that runs year-round.

Photograph: BearFotos /

7. Debrecen

Hungary’s second largest city, home to the country’s only other main airport, Debrecen is the gateway to the Hortobágy National Park, a dark-sky preserve known for its rare bird life and Hungarian grey cattle, once near extinct. A major university city, Debrecen has received considerable investment in recent years, though the $5.7 million paid by the Hungarian State to complete the purchase of Mihály Munkácsy’s large-scale Trilogy, a religious epic hanging in the Déri Museum, was probably the wisest buy. It sits behind Debrecen’s main landmark, the Reformed Great Church, which towers over the terrace cafés of the relaxed city centre.

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