Budapest, the majestic capital city of Hungary, is where most people start when exploring the country. It’s easy to see why, given that its striking architecture, thermal baths, and ruin bars each appeal to different types of visitors, ensuring there are always things to do for tourists.
Yet there’s much more to this central European country than this one city. While visiting you should do at least one day trip from Budapest and discover other elements of Hungary and why it’s so fascinating. From other cities and towns to lakes and nature, the best day trips from Budapest highlight all that Hungary has going for it. To help you get started, here are some of the best places to visit from Budapest.
How to Get Around
Although many of these day trips can be undertaken with public transport, consider renting a car for the day to give yourself more flexibility and independence. Your own four wheels allow you to be in control of your time and schedule, and depending on how many people are in your group, renting a car might even work out cheaper than other forms of transportation. You can compare car rental deals and find the cheapest prices at Rentalcars.com, an aggregation site that searches and displays prices and availability from hundreds of car rental companies so that you can be sure of getting the best possible car for your budget.
Don’t want to drive or deal with the hassle of public transport? No worries, we’ve listed the best tour for each day trip (where available).
The cute town of Szentendre makes for one of the classic Budapest day trips. Found just north of Budapest along the Danube River, the town is known for its artistic flair. The best way to see the city is to simply take a stroll through its narrow streets, admiring all the colorful Baroque houses and picture-postcard cobblestone lanes. As you explore, you’ll find countless craft shops and galleries that have been the lifeblood of Szentendre, earning it the nickname the Artists’ Village. Also, don’t miss its wonderful promenade along the Danube, further adding to the town’s pretty scenery. Szentendre perfectly captures the Bohemian spirit of the 18th and 19th centuries and is a wonderful spot if you’re seeking inspiration of your own.
Getting there: Szentendre is just a short trip from Budapest, with frequent buses and trains making the trip. Trains take 40 minutes, while buses take around 25 minutes. Of course, if you want to be shown around, you’ll want to go with a guided tour.
Right up against the border with Slovakia, the charming city of Esztergom is another popular destination for a day trip from Budapest. Sitting along the Danube, Esztergom is one of Hungary’s oldest cities and was even the country’s capital many years ago. Begin a visit at the Esztergom Basilica, which is not only the head of the Catholic church in Hungary but also the tallest building in the country; aside from that, it’s also a spectacular neoclassical building. Just down from the basilica, you’ll come across Esztergom Castle with a museum now hosted inside the old Royal Palace. Also nearby is the city’s Christian Museum, home to an impressive collection of medieval religious art.
Getting there: To get from Budapest to Esztergom, you can take one of the regular buses or trains, both of which take roughly one hour. The easiest way to include other stops like Szentendre and Visegrád, though, is on a guided tour of the region.
3. Lake Balaton
Particularly popular in summer, Lake Balaton is one of the best places to visit in Hungary. Since Hungary is landlocked, this is the Hungarian version of the seaside. Many travelers start in the spa town of Balatonfüred, which is known for its thermal springs and the 18th-century villas that line its avenues. Next is the Tihany Peninsula, shared between a nature reserve and the small village of Tihany that juts out into the lake. The village is most famous for the beautiful Tihany Benedictine Abbey dating to 1055. The views of Lake Balaton from up there aren’t bad either. With more time, consider heading down to the town of Szigliget to see the hilltop Szigliget Fortress.
Getting there: Where you decide to go on Lake Balaton will determine how easy it is to get there by public transport. Balatonfüred is probably the easiest place to reach with buses and trains, and takes around two hours to get there. A more carefree approach is to simply visit on a guided tour.
4. Gödöllő Palace
Of the many things to see in Hungary outside of Budapest, one of the most enchanting spots is Gödöllő Palace. This Baroque chateau is actually the second largest of its kind in the world and was once the summer residence of “Sissi,” the beloved Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Thanks to restoration work, you can now see the glamorous interior as it was back in the 19th century. After seeing the luxurious halls, rooms, and staircases, you can then venture out into the tranquil park that covers the chateau’s estate. There you’ll come across gardens as well as the royal stables.
Getting there: Located just outside Budapest, local buses and trains regularly go to Gödöllő Palace. Buses take 30 minutes, while trains take a little less than one hour. Alternatively, take a guided tour to learn more about the palace and “Sissi.”
Although the name Kecskemét probably won’t be familiar to you, this city in central Hungary is a destination you won’t soon forget. Start in the historic center on the main square, where you’ll immediately be surrounded by striking landmarks. It’s here that you’ll see the undeniably magnificent City Hall that boasts an ornate art nouveau design. After seeing the two nearby churches, take some time to explore the city’s downtown area and uncover its splendid Baroque architecture. It’ll then be time to leave the city behind for the Puszta or Pannonian Steppe, home to traditional farms and the horsemen who live there. There you’ll get to see the horses in action and go for a ride, all the while enjoying a bit of the local cuisine.
Getting there: Hourly trains travel from Budapest to Kecskemét, with the journey lasting just under 1.5 hours. To see more of the surrounding area, though, you’ll want to go with a guided tour.
Slovakia isn’t far from Budapest, so you can take the opportunity to head over and see its national capital, Bratislava, one of the best side trips from Budapest. You can see plenty of Bratislava in just one day. Start with the city’s Old Town and its main square to appreciate the grand architecture, including the colorful tile roof of the Old Town Hall. Next, visit the nearby Primatial Palace and check out the artistic fountain of St. George. Then head up to an icon of Bratislava, Michael’s Gate. Just outside of the historic center you’ll find the wonderful Blue Church. To the north of the Old Town lies the Presidential Palace, a stately building with an interesting fountain out front. Last but not least is Bratislava Castle, with its white walls sitting up on a hill with fantastic views of the city and Danube River.
Getting there: To reach Bratislava from Budapest, you can take one of the regular trains. The journey takes 2.5 hours.
Just as Budapest is an option for a day trip from Vienna, so too is the Austrian capital an option for a day trip from Budapest. Although Vienna is hard to squeeze into a single day, you can still see a lot. Begin with St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which has a beautiful patterned roof. Continue through the historic center along the Graben promenade and head for the Hofburg Palace. Cutting through the tidy Volksgarten, you’ll be able to see both the neoclassical Austrian Parliament as well as the neo-Gothic City Hall. Moving through the city, head past the Vienna State Opera en route to the giant dome of the grand Karlskirche. Fill up at a Viennese coffeehouse or at a stall in the Naschmarkt market before venturing out to the extravagant Schönbrunn Palace, which has decadent royal apartments and Gloriette views.
Getting there: Regular trains connect Budapest to Vienna, with the trip typically taking 2.5 hours.
Another of the wonderful Hungarian destinations nestled along the so-called Danube Bend is the historic town of Visegrád. A visit to Visegrád mainly focuses on its collection of castles, towers, and palaces that have given it so much importance over the years. Heading away from the river, first visit the former Renaissance Royal Palace built by King Matthias Corvinus. The palace now holds a museum, where you can see rooms and royal suites that are true to the 15th-century period. Next, follow the river along to the Solomon Tower, a 13th-century fortification with its own little museum on the town’s history. High above all of this lies Visegrád’s striking Citadel, a 13th-century fortress that offers phenomenal views as you walk along its ramparts.
Getting there: Visegrád is an easy train trip from Budapest, lasting roughly 40 minutes. Buses are a little slower and take roughly 50 minutes but are just as regular. However, by far the best way to get there is on an organized cruise tour.
Despite being a relatively small city in northern Hungary, Eger is home to a surprising number of attractions that make it worth a visit. Start your visit by heading up to Eger Castle, a major medieval stronghold that repelled the Ottoman invasion in 1522. Besides its fortifications, there’s the István Dobó Castle Museum dedicated to the castle’s history. Just downhill from the castle stands the city’s Ottoman minaret – the northernmost in the world – which boasts stunning city views. Across the river in the center of town, you’ll see a broad selection of elegant baroque buildings, including the monumental Eger Basilica. There’s plenty more to visit in town, including several thermal baths, but if you have your own transport, you won’t want to miss the nearby Valley of Beautiful Women wine region.
Getting there: Frequent buses travel from Budapest to Eger. The bus takes just over 1.5 hours, and the train takes closer to two hours.
10. Etyek Wine Region
For a day out among wineries, look no further than the Etyek Wine Region. Just outside the city of Budapest, this rustic wine region is part of Hungary’s long-standing tradition of winemaking. The region is mostly known for its white wines thanks to the climate and soil, but many types of grapes are grown here. This means there’s a nice variety of wines to sample as you travel from one family-owned winery to another. Besides taste-testing, you’ll also be shown around the wineries and their cellars, all the while learning about the local process of production. Visits to the region often stop in the village of Etyek to see its quiet country charm.
Getting there: Frequent buses travel out to the village of Etyek, taking just 35 minutes. However, if you want to easily reach several wineries, it’s best to go with a wine tour of the region.
To see Hungary as it used to be, step back in time in the village of Hollókő. This ethnographic village has been deliberately left unchanged to preserve the rural way of life that existed there in the 18th and 19th centuries. On a visit, you can see the historic streets and houses of Hollókő that helped earn this village recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town has several museums dedicated to different aspects of village life, like the Doll Museum. On the edge of town, you’ll find Hollókő Castle, which dates from the 13th century. The best time to visit the village is during Easter when a local festival brings waves of people dressed up in traditional costumes.
Getting there: Because of its remote location, you won’t find public transport to get you to Hollókő. This means driving is your only real option to get here.
Sitting on the route between Budapest and the neighboring capitals of Vienna and Bratislava, more people pass through Győr than stop, but the city rewards those who give it a chance. It’s actually one of the larger cities in Hungary and boasts a collection of Baroque architecture the equal of many other places on this list. Begin your visit here in Széchenyi Square, which is surrounded by elegant buildings. Continue on to the Vienna Gate Square, where you’ll find the 17th-century Carmelite Church. Down by the riverfront stands the incredibly important Bishop’s Castle and Episcopal Palace, with a tower that dates from the 14th century. Next door you can visit the Basilica of Győr, established in the 11th century by Saint Stephen.
Getting there: Regular buses and more frequent trains both connect Budapest to Győr. Both usually take about 1.5 hours.
Yet another major Hungarian city that few have heard of is the city of Miskolc in northeast Hungary. Quite a lot of attractions in the center of Miskolc are churches of various Christian denominations. The iconostasis in the Greek Orthodox Church is something you don’t want to miss. However, many of the best things to see while visiting Miskolc are actually found in the area surrounding the city. First of all, there’s the incredible Cave Bath to the southwest, which is indeed a thermal bath located within a cave. While the front exterior may look like an ordinary bathhouse, you’ll actually be floating between cave walls once inside. Also popular nearby is Diósgyőr Castle, which is due west of the city center and was fully restored in 2014.
Getting there: Hourly trains make the two-hour trip out to Miskolc from Budapest.
One of the more important destinations in Hungary is the city of Pécs, in the country’s southwest. Pécs was founded by the Romans, and since then many different civilizations have left their mark on it. Exploring the city, you’ll find several religions represented in its religious buildings, from the imposing Pécs Cathedral to the Hassan Jakovali Mosque and the city’s Great Synagogue. There is also the Mosque of Pasha Gazi Kasim, which was built by the Ottomans and now serves as a Catholic church. Pécs also enjoys the Hungarian tradition of stately architecture, with plenty on display in Széchenyi Square, once the city’s medieval marketplace. For a dose of the local art scene, head to the Victor Vasarely Museum for works by this renowned local 20th-century artist.
Getting there: Trains run roughly every two hours from Budapest to Pécs, taking 2.5 hours.
15. Velence Lake
Even though it’s considerably smaller than Lake Balaton, Lake Velence makes a nice alternative for a relaxing day trip. In fact, it’s often quieter than the ever-popular Balaton, which might be reason enough to pick it. For those wanting to spend some time at the beach, you’ll find some nice spots down along the lake’s southern shore near the town of Gárdony. There isn’t only swimming here, though; many visitors choose to walk or cycle a lap around the lake instead. Down past the western end of the lake, you’ll find the Dinnyés Marshes Nature Reserve, an area of wetlands home to a diverse range of bird species. Back on the lake there’s also the Velence Bird Reserve, with towers designed for bird-watching.
Getting there: Regular trains travel to the village of Velence, from which you can explore the rest of the lake area. The trip takes roughly 40 minutes.
16. Hortobágy National Park
Getting to know Hungary isn’t just about visiting its cities and towns; you should also see its countryside through destinations like Hortobágy National Park. Despite being a national park covered in plains and wetlands, it’s actually the culture of the people living in this landscape that has earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. At the heart of the national park is the village of Hortobágy, where you can still witness elements of the local culture, from musical performances by gypsy musicians to quaint old inns. Venturing out into Hortobágy National Park, you’ll be able to see traditional puszta horse shows as well as plenty of wildlife, birds in particular.
Getting there: Taking the train from Budapest to Hortobágy National Park takes about four hours and has limited connections. The more reliable option is to drive yourself.
Hungary’s second largest city, Debrecen, is another viable option for a day away from the country’s capital. Compared with Budapest, Debrecen is much less known to international tourists, despite its great importance throughout history. Start your visit in the heart of the city in Kossuth Tér, the main square. Here you’ll be able to see the elegant design of the Reformed Great Church of Debrecen and the beauty of the Millenniumi Szökőkút fountain. Next, explore the culture heritage of Debrecen with the Déri Museum and its broad range of exhibits. Up in the city’s north, you’ll find the Great Forest Park, which is a lovely green space, and the Debrecen Zoo and Amusement Park, which has activities that are great for families with young kids.
Getting there: Regular trains run from Budapest to Debrecen, and the journey lasts 2.5 hours.
18. Aggtelek National Park and the Baradla Cave
Hungary doesn’t boast a long list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and Aggtelek National Park is its only nature site recognized so far. Running along the northern border with Slovakia, this national park is more famous for what’s below the ground than above it. Aggtelek is home to the incredible Baradla Cave, a vast cave system that crosses into Slovakia. The caves go for a little over 25 km and have some caverns that are up to 8 meters high. Full of captivating rock formations including dripping stone, the shortest cave tour takes you 1 km underground, although longer tours are also possible. Above ground, there are plenty of walking trails to help you fill the day.
Getting there: Because of its remote location by the Slovak border, your only option is to rent a car for the day.
19. Nagytétény Castle and the Museum of Applied Arts
If you don’t want to travel far for your day trip, you can visit Nagytétény Castle and not even leave Budapest city limits. Located in the 22nd District to the south of the city center, this old Baroque palace dates from the 18th Century. Besides being a stately old building, it also hosts the Museum of Applied Arts, which focuses on the history of art and design through furniture. While it is a very niche museum, the exhibits can be quite fascinating to the right kind of visitor. There are collections of German and Hungarian furniture from the 15th to 19th centuries. There’s also a permanent exhibit of luxury clocks and watches from the 17th to 19th centuries, a collection that once belonged to clock restorer Ferenc Radvánszky.
Getting there: It’s easy to reach Nagytétény Castle from the city center. It’s only 15 minutes by train and 35 minutes by bus, with buses running every 15 minutes.
Travelers can’t wait to explore the thermal baths and spas of Budapest but probably don’t realize these same baths can also be found across the country. The spa village of Egerszalók is a great example. Situated on the 410-meter-high Salt Hill, the water from the thermal spring flows down through the gorgeous limestone terraces that have formed as a result. Access to the spa is through the adjacent Salaris Resort Spa and Hotel, which boasts at least 17 outdoor and indoor pools, including a designated area for naturists. This is one spa experience you certainly won’t find in Budapest.
Getting there: Unfortunately, Egerszalók isn’t easy to reach from Budapest by public transport, so you’re best going with a car.
That sums up the many options you have for entertaining day trips from Budapest. You have the opportunity to experience many different things, very few of which you’ll find if you just stay in Budapest.