While there's lots to explore in Budapest, there are tons of destinations within easy reach of the city that are perfect for day trips, from castles and palaces to one of the world's top wine regions.
Around 55 miles northeast of Budapest in a valley of the Cserhát mountains, Hollókő is a traditional Hungarian village and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old part of the village is a conservation area of 55 houses that have been rebuilt in timber and stone to reflect the original Palóc rural architecture. The protected zone includes the 12th-century castle ruins that sit on a hilltop above the village. It's scooped the title of Hungary's Most Beautiful Village on several occasions and there are a number of festivals throughout the year that celebrate local traditions and craftsmanship.
How to Get to Hollókő From Budapest: The easiest way to travel to and from Hollókő is by car. The journey takes around 90 minutes. Alternatively, there's a direct bus service from Puskás Ferenc Stadion (on the blue metro line). The journey takes around two hours and there's one service per day during the week and two services at the weekend.
Between Budapest and Lake Balaton, Székesfehérvár is one of Hungary's oldest towns. It served as the country's capital in the Middle Ages and parts of its iconic cathedral date back to 1235. The colorful town features beautiful baroque buildings and there are plenty of cultural attractions to explore including the King St Stephen Museum, the Toy Museum and the Istvan Csok Art Gallery. Just outside the center, Bory Castle is worth seeing. It was built by architect and sculptor, Jeno Bory between 1923 and 1959 as a loving tribute to his wife. The castle features a range of architectural styles including Romanesque and Gothic and it's set in beautiful sculpture-studded gardens.
How to Get to Székesfehérvár From Budapest: There are frequent trains that run from Budapest-Déli station. The journey takes between 65 and 80 minutes. There's also a direct bus service from Budapest's Népliget station. The journey time is around 80 minutes. Ticket prices are roughly the same for the train and bus however the bus station is closer to the center of town than the train station.
While Lake Balaton is Hungary's largest lake (and the biggest in Central Europe), it's a little far from Budapest for a day trip. Lake Velence however is just a 45-minute drive away and a great spot to spend a few sunny hours by the water. The warm shallow waters can reach temperatures of 26-28 degrees celsius in the summer months and there are several beaches lining the shore. Reeds cover almost a third of the lake's surface making it attractive to rare water birds and fish. Activities include bike riding, kayaking and windsurfing and there's a thermal spa at Agárd.
How to Get to Lake Velence From Budapest: There's a direct train service from Budapest-Déli station to Gárdony that takes around 45 minutes. One way tickets cost around $5. If you're hiring a car, the journey takes around 45 minutes.
Less than an hour northeast of Budapest, Gödöllő is home to a magnificent royal palace that once served as the summer residence of Austrian Emperor, Franz Josef. Built in the mid 18th century, it's Hungary's largest baroque manor house and was a favorite spot of the much-loved Empress Elizabeth (better known as Sissi). It served as a barracks for Soviet and Hungarian troops under communism until it underwent a renovation in the mid-1980s and you can now enjoy wandering around the lavish interiors which have been restored to reflect the imperial era. There's also a beautiful botanical garden to explore that covers an area of 190 hectares.
How to Get to Gödöllő From Budapest: There's a frequent HÉV suburban train service from Budapest's Örs vezér tere station or an hourly bus service from Puskás Ferenc Stadion. Both journeys take around 45 minutes.
The Danube Bend
North of Budapest, the Danube Bend (Dunakanyar) is the most scenic stretch of Europe's second longest river. The best way to explore it is on a boat trip when the river's at high tide between May and September. Traveling from the capital you'll pass picturesque peaks and lush riverbanks. On the west bank you can visit some of Hungary's oldest settlements: Szentendre, a small baroque town with cobblestone streets lined with art galleries, museums and shops; Visegrád, with its 13th-century hilltop citadel and Renaissance palace ruins, and Esztergom, the country's former capital city, home to Hungary's largest cathedral.
How to Get to the Danube Bend From Budapest: There are a number of guided boat tours that depart from Budapest between May and September and visit Esztergom, Visegrad, and Szentendre. You can expect to pay around $50 for a full-day tour including lunch. Alternatively, there's a train service from Budapest's Nyugati station that runs to Esztergom via Vác and Visegrád and takes up to 90 minutes. Or you can catch bus 880 BK-SZ from Budapest's Újpest Station which runs to Szentendre, Visegrád, and Esztergom. Hiring a car would give you the most flexibility if you want to explore each town independently.
At the foot of the Bükk Mountains around 85 miles northeast of Budapest, Eger is one of the country's best-known wine regions. The area's winemaking traditions date back to the 11th century and many of the ancient cellars are carved into limestone rock that form a network of underground tunnels. The most famous wine produced in the region is Bull's Blood (Egri Bikavér), a blend of three or more grapes that have matured in oak barrels for at least 12 months. Head to Szépasszony-völgy (The Valley of the Beautiful Women) to hop between cellars for tours and tastings.
How to Get to Eger From Budapest: A direct coach service runs from Puskás Ferenc Stadion to Eger. The journey takes about two hours and a one way ticket costs around $10. Alternatively, you can take a direct train from Keleti train station. The train also takes around two hours but the train station is on the edge of town whereas the bus station is right in the center. If you're hiring a car, the journey should take just under two hours.