Stunning architecture, vital folk art, thermal spas and Europe's most exciting capital after dark are Hungary's major drawing cards.
Hungary’s scenery is more gentle than striking. But you can’t say the same thing about the built environment across the land. Architecturally Hungary is a treasure trove, with everything from Roman ruins and medieval townhouses to baroque churches, neoclassical public buildings and art nouveau bathhouses and schools. And we're not just talking about its capital, Budapest. Walk through Szeged or Kecskemét, Debrecen or Sopron and you’ll discover an architectural gem at virtually every turn. Indeed, some people go out of their way for another glimpse of their favourites, such as the Reök Palace in Szeged or the Mosque Church in Pécs.
Hungarians have been 'taking the waters' supplied by an estimated 300 thermal springs since togas were all the rage and Aquincum was the Big Smoke. They still do – for therapeutic, medicinal and recreational purposes – but the venues have changed somewhat. Today they range from authentic bathhouses dating from the Turkish occupation and art nouveau palaces to clinical sanatoriums straight out of a Thomas Mann novel. More and more though, you'll see clear chlorinated waters in organically shaped pools that bubble, squirt and spurt at different rhythms and temperatures alongside requisite wellness centres offering a myriad of treatments.
Hungarian food remains the most sophisticated style of cooking in Eastern Europe. Magyars even go so far as to say there are three essential world cuisines: French, Chinese and their own. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but Hungary's reputation as a food centre dates largely from the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th and, despite a fallow period under communism, their cuisine is once again commanding attention. So too are the nation's world-renowned wines – from the big-bodied reds of Eger and Villány and white olaszrizling from Badacsony to honey-sweet Tokaj.
Hungary has one of the richest folk traditions still alive in Europe. With exquisite folk paintings found on the walls and ceilings of the tiny wooden churches of the Bereg region and the wonderful embroidery that the women of Hollókő stitch to decorate smocks, skirts and slippers, this is often where the country comes to the fore artistically. Traditional music, played on a five-tone diatonic scale on a host of unusual instruments, continues to thrive as well, especially at táncházak ('dance houses') – peasant 'raves' where you'll hear Hungarian folk music and to learn to dance too.