Hungary Tourism has plenty to offer any traveler. Hungary is a tiny country in the heart of Europe that is quaint, historic and welcoming. The capital of Hungary is Budapest, which is also the largest and most populated city. Other major cities are Győr in the west, Pécs and Szeged in the south, Debrecen in the east and Miskolc in the northeast. Hungary is a unitary state, divided into 19 counties. There are also 23 towns with county rights. The capital, Budapest, is bisected by the Danube River. The cityscape is studded with architectural landmarks from Buda’s medieval Castle Hill and grand neoclassical buildings along Pest’s Andrássy Avenue to the 19th-century Chain Bridge. Turkish and Roman influence on Hungarian culture includes the popularity of mineral spas, including at thermal Lake Hévíz. The country offers many diverse destinations: relatively low mountains in the north-west, the Great Plain in the east, lakes and rivers of all sorts (including Balaton – the largest lake in Central Europe), and many beautiful small villages and hidden gems of cities.
- The Warsaw to Budapest Tour EU902 – 11 day guided vacation through Poland, Czechia, Austria and Hungary.
- Highlights of Eastern Europe – Tour EU904 – 13 days – Austria, Hungary, Poland, Germany and Czechia
- Melodies of the Danube – Cruise BD108 – 8 days – Cruise BD108 – Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany
- Across The Heart of Europe – Cruise BD206 – 15 days – Budapest to Amsterdam
- Hungarian Spas
- Hungary Music Festivals
The official language is Hungarian, the 13th most widely spoken first language in Europe with around 13 million native speakers. It’s also one of the official languages of the European Union. There are many rural dialects spoken countrywide, though standard Hungarian is based on the variety spoken in Budapest. An interesting fact is that Hungarian is a member of the Uralic language family and distantly related to Finnish and Estonian.
Hungary’s geography is defined by its two main waterways, the Danube and the Tisza. These two rivers divide the country into three sections: Dunántúl (literally “beyond the Danube” or Transdanubia), Tiszántúl (“beyond the Tisza”), and Duna-Tisza köze (“between the Danube and Tisza”). Transdanubia is a primarily hilly region which includes the very eastern stretch of the Alps (called Alpokalja), the Transdanubian Mountains in the central region, and the Mecsek and Villány Mountains (both famous for their vineyards) in the south. The northern part of the country is covered by the foothills of the Carpathians. Hungary’s highest peak with its 1014 metres, The Kékes, is also found here. The country is home to the world’s largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake – „Hévíz” in Hungarian, the largest lake in Central Europe – Lake Balaton – and Europe’s largest natural grasslands – The Great Hungarian Plain or „Alföld” in Hungarian.
Hungary is a unitary, parliamentary, representative democratic republic. The unicameral National Assembly consists of 199 elected Members of Parliament. MPs are elected every four years in a single-round first-past-the-post election with an election threshold of 5%. Together they represent the highest organ of state authority. The Prime Minister is elected by the National Assembly, serving as the head of government and exercising executive power. By tradition, the Prime Minister is the leader of the largest parliamentary party. The PM has the right to select Cabinet ministers and has the exclusive right to dismiss them. Their approval is formally signed by the President of the Republic. The President serves as the head of state and is elected by the National Assembly every five years. The President serves as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The President’s veto power is very important: with this, the acting President can send bills back to the Constitutional Court for review.
The Roman Empire started to conquer the territory on the Western side of the Danube in 35 BC. From 9 BC to the 4th century the region was part of the empire known as Pannonia. The Romans created many settlements within the region, the most important of these being Aquincum. After the fall of the Romans, the Huns conquered the area and built their empire, which quickly fell to pieces after the death of King Attila. Germanic tribes and later Avars had been living in the Carpathian Basin. The freshly unified Hungarian tribes – led by Árpád – advanced into the Carpathian Basin from the east, starting in 895, and subsequently settled here. This federation of united tribes was very effective and its military power allowed the Hungarians to conduct successful raids to the west. In 972, Géza (great-grandson of Árpád) started to integrate Hungary into Christian Western Europe. His first-born son, Saint Stephen, became the first King of Hungary on 1 January 1001.
By 1006, Stephen had consolidated his power and Hungary became a Western feudal state. Following kings, notably Ladislaus I and his son Coloman, made the country a wealthy and powerful kingdom. The Golden Bull issued by Andrew II in 1222 was the first constitution in continental Europe. This golden age came to a halt in 1241-1242 when Mongol tribes invaded the country. Up to half of Hungary’s then population – at least 2,000,000 people – were victims of the attack, and King Béla IV had to rebuild the country from scratch. One of his decisions was to construct stone castles, which was a wise thought as the Mongols returned in 1285, but were quickly stopped by the new fortifications and revised military tactics. This period also saw the downfall of the Árpád dynasty, with the death of their last king in 1301.
After a destructive period of interregnum (1301–1308), the first Angevin king, Charles I of Hungary, rose to power. His son, Louis the Great (1342–1382), led many successful military campaigns as far as Southern Italy (Kingdom of Naples) and also became King of Poland from 1370. King Louis died without a male heir. The country was stabilised after Sigismund of Luxembourg succeeded to the throne in 1387. He also became Holy Roman Emperor in 1433.
After the king’s death, János Hunyadi, son of a small noble family from Transylvania, became the most powerful man in Hungary. He is known for his major victory against the Ottoman Turks in the Siege of Belgrade in 1456. The noon bells in every European church are traditionally attributed to the international commemoration of this very victory.
Hunyadi’s second-born son Matthias Corvinus (1458–1490) is regarded as the last strong king of medieval Hungary. His famous mercenary army – called the Black Army – also halted Ottoman raids. He was the first non-Italian monarch to promote the spread of the Renaissance in his realm and his court became a cultural hub of Humanism in Europe. Mathias died in 1490 without a lawful heir. The magnates deliberately wanted a weak king and quickly elected Vladislaus II. As a result, the country’s international role quickly faded and its internal political stability fell apart. In 1514 the old king had to face a major peasant uprising led by György Dózsa. Though the uprising was brutally beaten down by the nobles, the country had to face a much more imminent danger: the Ottoman Empire.
The Battle of Mohács in 1526 ended with a catastrophic result: the Hungarian army was defeated and King Louis I passed away. The divided nobility elected two kings simultaneously and, following the conquest of Buda by the Ottomans, the country separated into three parts for 145 years. Buda was reconquered in 1686, but the last remaining Ottoman forces only left Hungary in 1718. The country had new rulers in the following centuries: the Habsburgs.
The 1820s marked the beginning of the Hungarian Reform Era. Count István Széchenyi, a prominent statesman, recognised the urgent need for modernisation. Others, such as Lajos Kossuth, emerged as leaders of the lower gentry in the Parliament. The Habsburgs were against all important liberal laws related to civil rights. Many reformers, including Kossuth, were imprisoned by the authorities.
On 15 March 1848, a mass demonstration in Pest and Buda led to the proclamation of the 12 demands and the subsequent dethronement of the Habsburgs. Lajos Kossuth became governor and president, while Lajos Batthyány served as the very first Prime Minister of Hungary. The Habsburgs struck back, but initially, the Hungarian Army defeated the Austrian forces. To counter this resistance, the new emperor, Franz Joseph I, asked for help from Czar Nicholas I. Following the invasion of the Russian forces, the Hungarian Army surrendered in 1849. The aftermath was brutal: the 13 generals that led the army – the so-called 13 Martyrs of Arad – and Lajos Batthyány were executed and many people were imprisoned. Kossuth fled into exile. The country fell into a deep coma, the following decade often being called the era of passive resistance. But the reforms could no longer be stopped and because of internal and external problems, Austria had no option but to negotiate a compromise with Hungary. In 1867 the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary was formed. The following period is a golden era for Hungary: the country became relatively modern and industrialised by the turn of the new century.
After the assassination of the Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo, the Empire drafted some 9 million people (including 4 million soldiers from Hungary) into World War I, but in the end it was defeated. In October 1918, Hungary’s union with Austria was dissolved and, in November 1919, rightist forces led by former Austro-Hungarian admiral Miklós Horthy came to power. On 4 June 1920, the Treaty of Trianon established new borders for Hungary: the country lost 71% of its territory. In the following years, Horthy built close relationships with Italy and Germany. The Great Depression drifted the governor even closer to those countries, while fascist politicians such as Gyula Gömbös and Ferenc Szálasi started to gain popularity.
The country formally joined the Axis Powers in 1940 and entered World War II in June 1941. The Hungarian troops fought on the eastern front for two years but, in early 1943, suffered a catastrophic defeat by Russian troops at the River Don. In the meantime, the Hungarian Government secretly began seeking peace with the Allies. The Nazis were aware of these negotiations and, on the 19 March 1944, German troops occupied Hungary but left Horthy in charge. During the occupation, at least 400,000 Jewish people were deported to Auschwitz, very few of whom survived. In October, as the Soviet front approached and the Hungarian government made further efforts to disengage from the war, Horthy was ousted and Ferenc Szálasi’s fascist puppet government rose to power, but defeat was inevitable. By April 1945, the German troops had left the country, and Hungary was under Soviet military occupation.
The Soviets selected Mátyás Rákosi as de facto ruler of the country. His secret police, the State Protection Authority (ÁVH), hunted democrats, freethinkers or anybody they saw as a threat to the regime. Many were imprisoned, executed or sentenced to labour in concentration camps. After Stalin’s death, Rákosi’s power was weakened and he was eventually replaced by Imre Nagy, who promised reforms. But behind the scenes, Rákosi worked hard to discredit Nagy and replaced him by Ernő Gerő, his old ally. On 23 October 1956, peaceful protesters took to the streets in Budapest and then throughout the country. The 1956 Revolution began. Imre Nagy returned and promised free elections. The Soviet Army intervened, but the resistance movement took up the fight with improvised weapons such as Molotov cocktails and the Soviets had to withdraw from Budapest. But on November 4th their reinforcements arrived: some 150,000 soldiers and 2,500 tanks quickly broke the resistance. In the following years, more than 20,000 people were imprisoned and 230 were executed – including Imre Nagy. His former head of state, János Kádár, was chosen by the Soviets to head the new government.
Kádár quickly normalised the situation. In 1963, the government granted a general amnesty and released the majority of those imprisoned for their participation in the uprising. Kádár proclaimed a new policy line: “Those who are not against us are with us”. The government introduced new planning priorities in the economy, which led to a rise in the standard of living. In 1968, the New Economic Mechanism introduced free market elements into the socialist command economy. In the following two decades, Hungary was often referred to as “the happiest barrack” within the Eastern Bloc. This ended in the 1980s when the worldwide recession deeply hit the Eastern Bloc as well and Russia was unable to control the situation. By the time Kádár died in 1989, the country’s transition to democracy was in progress: Imre Nagy was reburied – at least 100,000 people gathered at this event – weeks before Kádár’s death. On 23 October 1989, the Republic of Hungary was announced. Hungary is very accessible as it is in the middle of Europe, a vivid culture and economy, and you get a destination absolutely not worth missing if you’re in the region.
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