Hungary's landscape consists of flat to rolling plains divided in two by its main waterway, the Danube. In the early Middle Ages, it was settled by the Magyar people, a race from Central Asia, but more recently it has been occupied by Ottoman, German, Austrian and Soviet forces. Throughout the country, traces remain where opulent palaces and grand thermal baths rub shoulders with communist hulks. Yet Hungary's turbulent past has failed to dampen the spirit of the people – it was the first Eastern Bloc country to embrace Western-style democracy and flourishes today as one of Europe’s most vibrant destinations.
These three capitals, lush with magnificent cathedrals, imperial palaces and majestic castles, stand at the geographical heart of mainland Europe. Their history and culture are majestically intertwined by the powerful Habsburg dynasty.
One of our Travel Director’s favourite itineraries, this trip is full of charm and splendour. With two nights spent in most cities, take the time to get to know each destination and uncover its secrets, whether it is mouth-watering Sachertorte over coffee in Vienna or delicious homemade pasta in Orvieto.
Delve behind the former ‘Iron Curtain’ to explore these stunning cities of the east. Flourishes from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and a mélange of medieval charm are juxtaposed against more sombre reminders of WWII.
The twin cities of Buda and Pest face each other across the Danube, one with its fortifications, the other with its broad boulevards and elegant shops; the two sides linked by the famous Chain and Elizabeth Bridges. Together they form one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, rich in monuments and historic buildings. Escape from the capital and you’ll see sweeping open spaces, punctuated with storks’ nests and old farmhouses. Travel through the Great Hungarian Plain, Szeged, and stop in the natural paradise of Lake Balaton, which is affectionately known as the ‘Hungarian Sea’, and is Europe’s largest freshwater lake. Be sure to stop off in the small yet very charming town of Szentendre too, which has become a famous artistic centre. Budapest is actually one of the few capitals where you will find an active traditional music and folk dance scene. Restaurants with folklore music and serenading musicians at your table are still widely popular.
The traffic-free idyll of Margaret Island is the summer playground of Budapest. Work up a thirst exploring the romantic walkways, scented gardens, early medieval ruins and huge fountains, before enjoying a cocktail under the stars in the beer garden or aboard a Danube River cruise, which operate at all times of the day, but are best at night when all of Budapest’s grand buildings are illuminated.