Hungary's capital straddles a gentle curve in the Danube. It's the administrative as well as the business and cultural centre of Hungary, and virtually everything that happens in the country starts, finishes or is taking place here. But the beauty of Budapest is what really makes it stand apart. Its broad avenues, leafy parks and harmonious blend of architectural styles has earned it the nickname the 'Paris of Eastern Europe'. Budapest also has a turn-of-the-century feel to it, for it was then - during the industrial boom and the capital's heyday - that most of the city was built. The city is well laid-out, rarely confusing, and ideal for walking.The walled Castle District is the premier destination for visitors, and contains some of Budapest's most important monuments and museums. It consists of two distinct parts: the Old Town, where commoners lived during medieval times; and the Royal Palace, the original site of a castle built in the 13th century. The Old Town is filled with attractively painted streets, decorative churches and the famous Fishermen's Bastion. The latter was built as a viewing platform in 1905, and named after the guild of fishermen responsible for defending this stretch of wall in the Middle Ages. It has commanding views over the city, and is dominated by seven gleaming turrets (representing the seven Magyar tribes who entered the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century), and a statue of St Stephen on horseback. Immediately south of the Old Town is the Royal Palace. Razed, rebuilt and redesigned over the past seven centuries, the palace houses a number of museums, including the National Gallery, which has an enormous collection devoted exclusively to Hungarian art.The oldest and one of the most interesting parts of the city is Óbuda. The area is remarkable for its Roman ruins, and its small, quiet neighbourhoods which seem unchanged since the turn of the century. It also has its fair share of museums, including the Kiscelli Museum, which features an impressive art collection and rooms furnished with Empire, Biedermeier and Art-Nouveau furniture. North of Óbuda is the Roman civilian town of Aquincum, the most complete in Hungary. Established at the end of the 1st century, it was among the most developed towns on the continent with sumptuous single-storey houses, fountains and courtyards. Not much remains of that today, but you can still see their outlines as well as those of the big public baths, market and a temple devoted to the sun god Mithras. The Aquincum Museum tries to put it all in perspective - unfortunately only in Hungarian. However, you can check out the 3rd-century water organ, pottery moulds and floor mosaics, and the sculptures and stone sarcophagi outside.Budapest's other highlights include a cruise along the Danube, strolling along the riverfront or across romantic bridges, browsing through antique bookshops and jewellery stores, or 'taking the waters' at one of the city's many spas.Budget accommodation can be found in Pest or the Buda Hills, respectively west and east of the city centre, while there's plenty of cheap places to eat in the Castle District. The Esceri flea market (in the XIX district, south of the city) is one of the best and biggest in Eastern Europe, and sells everything from Soviet army watches to Fred Astaire top hats. Budapest has an ample choice of things to do after dark - from opera, theatre, ballet and dance to rock, pop, jazz, and meat-market discos.
Everyone loves Eger, and it's immediately apparent why: beautifully preserved Baroque architecture gives the town a relaxed, almost Mediterranean feel; it is the home of the celebrated Bull's Blood wine; and it is flanked by two of the Northern Uplands' most beautiful ranges. Hungarians like to visit Eger because it was here that their ancestors fended off the Turks for the first time during the 170 years of Turkish occupation. This is a perfect city for negotiating on foot because there is something interesting around every corner and the town centre - with its 175 protected buildings and monuments - is closed to traffic. The best overview of the town is from the 13-century Eger Castle. Other attractions include a number of interesting places of worship, especially Eger Cathedral, and a 40m-high Minaret with 100 narrow spiral stairs twisting claustrophobically to the top.
This oblong lake, about 100km from Budapest, is one of the largest in Europe, covering an area of almost 600 sq km. Often called 'the nation's playground,' Balaton is divided into two quite different shores: the south, which is essentially one long resort of high-rise hotels and minuscule beaches; and the north, where there are more historical towns and sights, mountain trails, better wine, and much less glitz.Dominating the south is Siófok, the largest of Balaton's resorts. The dedicated pursuits here are eating, drinking, swimming and sunbathing - and whatever comes in between. If you get bored with the beach and the crowds, you can take a trip to nearby Szántódpuszta, a recreational centre of perfectly preserved 18th- and 19th-century farm buildings, barns, workshops, and a Baroque church. Further west is Keszthely, a pleasant town of grand houses, tree-lined streets and funky cafés, with unique views of both shores of the lake.The north's oldest and most popular resort is Balantonfüred. During the 19th century it was the gathering place for politicians and cultural leaders, then a writers' colony and, by 1900, a summer retreat for the country's emerging middle class. It remains a sophisticated, yet peaceful place, and counts among its attractions a splendid promenade, a number of artist's museums and warm-water springs. South of here is the historical village of Tihany, while east is Badacsony, a region renowned for its scenery, excellent hiking trails and wine-producing towns.
Lying equidistant from the Danube and the Dráva rivers in Southern Transdanubia, Pécs is one of the most interesting cities in Hungary. Blessed with a mild climate, it has an illustrious past, superb museums and some of the finest Turkish monuments in the country. It is also renowned for its music, opera and ballet, and has some of Hungary's best leatherwork.The symbol of the city is the Mosque Church, the largest building from the Turkish occupation still standing in Hungary. The square mosque, with an octagonal green copper dome, was built in the mid-16th century. After the expulsion of the Turks, the Catholic Church resumed possession. The Islamic elements are still in evidence today: prayer niches carved into the walls, distinctive S-shaped arches and geometric frescoes on the cupola. Nearby is the synagogue, another of Pécs extraordinary monuments. Built in the Romantic style in 1869, it has carved oak galleries and pews, ceiling paintings, and the ornate Ark of the Covenant in the sanctuary.Among the city's best museums are the Victor Vasarely Museum and the Zsolnay Porcelain Exhibit. Vasarely was the father of Op Art - a style popular in the 1960s - and although some of the exhibited works by him and his acolytes are dated, most are evocative, tactile and very playful. The Zsolany porcelain factory, established in 1851, was at the forefront of art and design in Europe for more than half a century. Many of its tiles were used to decorate buildings throughout the country and helped establish a new pan-Hungarian style of architecture (the Communists later turned the factory into a plant for making ceramic insulators). The museum was the home of the Zsolany family and contains many of their personal effects; on the ground floor are exhibits of the popular sculptor Amerigo Tot.
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