View of the Esztergom Cathedral (January 2018).

While enjoying my time in Budapest this January, I also decided to take a day trip to a few towns outside of the capital to see what the rest of the country had to offer. Considering that I only had a full day to visit, I chose to pick towns which were relatively close by for convenience. Public transport, i.e. bus, was to be my friend for the day, so I selected the towns of Esztergom, Visegrád, and Szentendre to visit, as they were the closest to Budapest for a day trip.

Of course, there were plenty of other cities and towns that I was keen on visiting, but they were further out, thus requiring trains to get there. My Hungarian friend had also cautioned me about taking trains, since they’re apparently notorious for being slow, late, and unreliable– that said, I saved a lot of money by just taking the regional buses to each destination. Three towns in one day might sound overwhelming, but I’d done my research beforehand and had read blogs by travelers who’d done the Esztergom-Visegrád-Szentendre circuit, since together they form a tight-knit triangle from Budapest. It was a way for me to kill two (three?) birds with one stone during my day trip, so I budgeted my time at each of them in order to ensure that I got the most out of each destination.

Esztergom, Hungary

First stop of the day was at Esztergom, which had been the Hungarian capital between the 10th and 13th centuries. Located about 45 kilometers (29 miles) from Budapest, it was the longest leg of my journey, for it took a bit over an hour to reach there. What surprised me was the sheer amount of rural areas on the ride over, as I certainly stood out as a foreigner on the bus full of locals, from children making their commute to school to the elderly returning to their small towns. I’d left Budapest at 7:00 and arrived in Esztergom around 8:20.

Due to the timing of the buses and my other destinations, I only gave myself less than 90 minutes to explore the town. With that said, I hit the main attractions– Esztergom Cathedral, the Maria Valeria Bridge, and Viziváros (Watertown). From the bus station, I headed up to the Esztergom Cathedral, located on its castle hill. The largest church in Hungary, the Esztergom Cathedral is imposing with its massive blue dome, all the while being surrounded by austere, stone fortifications. The castle, let alone the church, weren’t open when I arrived, as it was too early, but I got some photos of the architecture, along with a decent view of the town from the hilltop.

Esztergom Cathedral from the castle grounds.
Warrior statue outside the castle grounds.
View from the castle hill.

Descending the hill, I made my way to Viziváros, which is a neighborhood situated right below the castle fortifications. What made this quarter charming was the blend of Baroque and Classical architectures, as seen in its small main square with museums and Franciscan churches. Very picturesque, I would have to say, and it was fortunate that the weather was sunny that morning for the lovely views.

Main square in Viziváros.

My last visit was to the Maria Valeria Bridge– what made this bridge particular fascinating was that it connected Esztergom in Hungary with Štúrovo in Slovakia. In fact, the Danube divides the two countries, and one could drive or walk along the bridge to the other country! There didn’t seem to be any border patrol on the bridge, so I walked on the bridge and soon enough was in Slovakia– crazy to believe that a casual stroll would lead me to another country for the day!

Maria Valeria Bridge.
Welcome to Slovakia.

Of course, Slovakia wasn’t on my list of places to visit that time– after relishing in the fact that I was in the country for a total of five minutes, I crossed back to the Hungarian side and headed back to the bus station, as I needed to head to my next destination for the day. In hindsight, I wished that I could’ve stayed longer in Esztergom, because there were more things to do and see– all the same, it was a good starter to the next two towns I would visit.

Visegrád, Hungary

Not to be confused with Višegrad in Bosnia and Herzegovina (and its many variants in countries like the Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, and Slovakia), this particular one is a castle town that’s home to its medieval citadel, which also contains the ruins of King Matthias’ summer palace from the 15th century.

Unfortunately, the weather turned for the worse after the bus dropped me off at the base of the castle hill– it was raining steadily as I made my way to the dirt path that would take me up to citadel, along with the summer palace. However, it was a struggle, as the rain turned the dirt path into mud, which made it slippery and impossible to go uphill– seriously, I nearly slipped trying to make my way up! I also saw a trio of Spanish visitors trying to make their way down, nearly eating it as well.

View while hiking the hill.
Castle on the hill.

Considering that it was impossible to take the dirt path directly uphill, I decided to find another way to access the castle grounds by walking along the hill itself. It was a matter of finding a *less-slippery* path, but alas, I couldn’t. In the end, I gave up and descended the hill– there wasn’t much else to see in town besides the citadel, so I just caught the next bus to my next destination– perhaps when the weather’s nicer, I’ll try to visit again.

Szentendre, Hungary

Last stop of the day was in Szentendre, a town located just 30 minutes from Budapest. Considering its proximity to the capital, it’s a popular day-trip destination for visitors. Due to its influx of visitors over time, one can see how the architecture has been built and catered to outsiders– I found much of the main square (Fő tér) very picturesque with its cobblestone and multicolored Baroque buildings, but it did appear quite manufactured to the tourist’s aesthetics. In addition, there were souvenir shops everywhere, which sold items for Budapest, rather than for itself– considering that I didn’t see any of that in Esztergom and Visegrád, I could see how Szentendre was significantly more touristy than the other two.

Main square (Fő tér).
Belgrade Cathedral.

Despite its touristy vibe, I still found Szentendre lovely, as I strolled through the main square. I also popped into one of the souvenir shops to purchase some paprika as a gift for my colleagues before stumbling upon the Belgrade Cathedral, which represents the once-thriving Serbian community before their decline in the 19th century– today, there are only 100 Serbs living in town.

The weather had cleared when I arrived, but within an hour turned cloudy and drizzly once more. After visiting the Belgrade Cathedral, I headed back to the bus station, where I took the bus back to Budapest, getting back around 15:00. Although I’d originally planned for the day trip to last until 18:00, the weather didn’t quite permit it, so I ended up returning earlier than usual.

Although I’m glad to have discovered a bit of Hungary outside of Budapest, I think it was the timing, let alone the time of year, which made it slightly underwhelming. In essence, the rain dampened the experience (pun intended), as I ended up cutting my time short in Visegrád. As I’d written, perhaps going in warmer months would make a difference, so I’ll have to return to Hungary sometime to visit again, as well as also see more of the country!

From Hungary, we’ll be moving to my adventures in the Czech Republic. Next up: Prague!

— Rebecca

2 thoughts on “Destination: Esztergom, Visegrád, and Szentendre, Hungary

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s