*** Lake Balaton. This massive (77km long) lake about 100km (62m) from Budapest is known as ‘Hungary’s playground’ and supplies a vast range of leisure activities – swimming, sailing, biking, walking, sunbathing, and drinking yourself into a stupor, among others.
Balaton’s south (east) shore caters to lovers of bop-a-lot and beach lifestyles while the north tends towards cultural experiences, historical sights, better scenery and lots of tranquil walks. Tihany village is the culture star of Balaton while Siofok is a German drop zone.
Lake Balaton, Hungary
***Eger, 125km (80m) from the capital, is a charming, pedestrian friendly, baroque town full of interesting sights and buildings, including a 13thC castle.
The adjacent Valley of Beautiful Women offers wonderful wine cellars, music and spectacular drinking (especially the local Bull’s Blood wine). Get there by train (2. 5 hours), bus or car.
**Holloko. En route to Eger a 40km (25ml) detour brings tourists to this World Heritage site, a charming village that has preserved much of its architecture and rural ways since the 17th century.
***Sopron. In far west Hungary, only an hour from Austria’s Vienna, Sopron offers a compact medieval centre and a famous summer music festival.
**Pécs. A lovely, cultured town with some impressive monuments – such as the Turkish Mosque Church and the synagogue – a cluster of excellent museums, plenty of music and opera offerings and superb leatherwork.
Summertime sees a rash of dance and music concerts in gorgeous locations.
It’s a long way south of Budapest so most convenient for those travelling to/from Croatia.
Hiking: many well-marked, attractive trails cross the hilly north and west parts of Hungary and hikes range from half a day to a week.
Volcanic Badacsony’s basalt towers beside Lake Balaton or those in the Tapolca Basin are favourites, as are walks around the Danube Bend.
Caves: In the north east the spectacular Baradla Cave in the Aggtelek cave system is a World Heritage site. There are many kilometres of limestone caves walkable on daily tours.
Canoeing: the are many excellent tranquil routes, including through nature reserves. Birds sightings are common. The Great Plain’s Tisza River is especially popular, as is the Bodrog River.
Biking: excellent tracks run beside the Danube in Buda and Szentendre, around Lake Balaton and various mountain ranges such as Matra.
Bikes can be taken on most trains, with a ticket.
They are not allowed on some main roads and tramlines and cobblestones can be tricky.
Windsurfing and Sailing: Lake Balaton (77km x 6km) is only 3m (10ft) deep, has no currents, warm summer water (21C) and has lots of rental possibilities especially on the south (east) shore).
Bird watching: in the Hortobagy National Park, 40km (25m) from Debrecen. Over 300 species of bird hang out in this huge wetland reserve, including great bustards. Cars are not permitted and a guide is useful.
Horse riding: The Magyars were warrior horsemen a thousand years ago so this is the right place to have a wild ride.
Riding centres can be found in most areas, but especially near Budapest, around Lake Balaton and on the Great Plain (Puszta) where genuine Hungarian cowboys still live to ride. The largest riding centre is Epona Riding Village in the Hortobagy Park. Horse carriages are also for rent.
Golf: there are a dozen good courses around Budapest and in the west of Hungary, Transdanubia.
The world famous spa in the Gellert Hotel, Budapest
These natural, hot, mineral pools – are both a social occasion and a way to treat different physical conditions according to the mineral content of each spring. Specialists can recommend appropriate therapies to deal with various problems.
Budapest claims to be the spa capital of the world with over 30 thermal springs (Hungary’s total is over 1, 000), and the most famous spa is in Buda’s gorgeous Gellert Hotel with spacious Széchenyi baths, over the Danube in Pest, coming a close second.