When people think of Hungary, the first place that comes to mind is Budapest. And, yes, while Budapest is truly amazing, it’s important to remember that there is more to Hungary than Budapest.
So it’s certainly worth a little investment of your time to venture outside of the capital every now and again. With this in mind, and after having done a little research, I decided to venture out one day to a city 49 km north west of BP – Esztergom.
So why Esztergom? Well, first of all it’s a beautiful city but there is more to it than that. Esztergom is one of the oldest cities in Hungary – indeed, the Castle Hill and its vicinity have been inhabited since the end of the Ice age, 20,000 years ago and the Celts from Western Europe settled in the region around 350 b.c.
The city also has a huge religious significance – St. István, Hungary’s first king, was baptized and crowned here on Christmas Day in the year 1000 and Esztergom is still Hungary’s most sacred city and the seat of the Archbishop of Hungary. It also has one of Hungary’s oldest castles as well as the picturesque area of Víziváros (Watertown) which is full of Baroque buildings, narrow cobbled streets and tiny well-kept gardens.
There are lots of ways to get to Esztergom – but my advice would be to ditch the car and use public transportation as you have 3 options – boat, train, or bus. Since I love train journeys and I wanted comfort and warmth on that cold day, I chose the train although on a lovely summers day, I am sure the boat would be my preferred option. So off I went to Nyugati railway station, purchased my ticket (around 5 Euros return) and settled in. The train takes just over an hour and rumbles through open countryside at its own pace, stopping at lots of little towns on the way. By the time you get there, you will be perfectly relaxed to enjoy this city.
My first impression of Esztergom was how quiet and calm it was compared to the buzz of Budapest. The peaceful ambience along with the beautiful blue skies, provided the perfect conditions to wander around and explore – no annoying crowds to get in the way – the city was all mine! I saw no need to race around trying to fit everything in either – here you can mellow out and just go with the flow.
An itinerary is not necessary here as the city is fairly small and very walkable and you can’t miss the key landmarks but here are a few highlights just to whet your appetite.
My first stop was the beautiful Basilica – you can’t miss this dramatic building rising from the Danube. Take a trip inside to the viewing gallery in the dome to see a panorama of the whole of the city as well as the Danube Bend and the town of Sturovo, Slovakia on the other side of the Danube.
Royal Palace and Castle Museum
Opposite the Basilica are the partly reconstructed remains of the Royal Palace, one of the oldest buildings in Hungary dating back to the 10th century. A guided tour of the palace takes in the many frescoes based on Florentine Renaissance palaces and the 12th century Royal Chapel with its original rose window and 13th century portraits of the apostles.
This district was developed during the regeneration of Esztergom after the withdrawal of the Turks in the early 18th century and consists of mainly Baroque buildings, narrow streets and well-kept gardens.
Danube Museum and Lower Esztergom
This museum close to the city center pays homage to the role of the Danube in the history and development of Esztergom. The building itself is a gem – built in the 18th century in Baroque style, it was renovated in 1973. The museum hosts all kinds of hydraulic equipment from the past century, as well as equipment used to dam the Danube. Children will enjoy getting wet in the by the many hands-on exhibits.
The Danube itself
Finally, take time to wander along the Danube with no particular agenda apart from to enjoy the calm waters, the nice grassy areas and the beautiful tree-lined river banks.
Since Esztergom is right on the border with Slovakia, why not do two countries in one day and head across the bridge to Surovo in Slovakia for no other reason than just to say you did it! You must have your passports of course!
There are plenty of places to eat and drink dotted along the Danube or in the center of the town – here are a few ideas:
A good selection of Hungarian food and fish dishes at this well – located restaurant and a nice garden area to enjoy your food al fresco.
A good option for a winter’s day, the cosy “Knuckle Inn” serves a range of pork knuckle dishes as well as other traditional and hearty fare such as smoked ox tongue.
Glitzy Art Nouveau patisserie/chocolatier with an irresistible array of cakes and coffees. Resist if you can!
Live music and classic Hungarian cuisine in the castle cellars – no wonder visitors love this place.
My lasting impression of Esztergom is that it is a perfect place to escape from the noise and hustle bustle of the capital – it’s a tranquil spot for a family trip or a date with your loved one. Why not take a picnic, explore the city and then roll out your blanket and unwind for the rest of the day along the grassy banks of the Danube?
Photos: Jacqueline Das