you decide to return to your hotel in Budapest or try one of the
historic manor house hotels (with all the modern amenities) outside the
capital, there are several wonderful places nearby that make for easy
day trips by train, bus, car or even bicycle.
30 miles before it flows through Budapest, the Danube River turns sharply to the south. A cluster of towns at the Danube Bend offers a treasure trove of history, culture and architecture.
Szentendre is the closest, just 15 minutes by car north of Budapest. With its red-tiled roofs, narrow alleyways, brightly painted houses and Orthodox churches built by the Serbians who settled there in the 17th century, Szentendre became an artists' colony in this century and today hosts many festivals throughout the year. Among the town's many famous museums and galleries, the Margit Kovács collection of ceramics is particularly appealing. Hungary's largest open-air folk museum, or skanzen, is also in Szentendre. Between April and October folk crafts are demonstrated in and around traditional houses, churches, mills and other buildings typical of small villages throughout the country.
Travel back to the 13th century as you climb high atop a hill in Visegrád to Solomon's Tower, one of Central Europe's largest and best preserved Romanesque castle keeps. With a commanding view of the Danube as it turns 90ş, this spot was of strategic importance to the Romans, who also built fortifications here. Visegrád was the home of Hungary's kings in the 14th and 15th century. The nation's great Renaissance King Matthias Corvinus made Visegrád the capital and constructed a magnificent palace, now the Mátyás Király Museum, on the riverbank.
Further north and west is Esztergom, the birthplace of Hungary's beloved first King, and later Saint, Stephen. The country's first capital in the 11th century, Esztergom was - and still is - the nation's ecclesiastical center. Dominating Castle Hill is the Basilica, Hungary's largest church with one of the world's largest altar paintings. An unparalleled collection of medieval and Renaissance ecclesiastical art fills the Christian Museum. Climb the dome of the Basilica for a unique view of the majestic Danube.
Two royal and aristocratic residences of a more recent vintage - both built in the 18th century - are only a short ride away from Budapest: the Grassalkovich Palace at Gödöllő to the northeast and the Brunswick Castle at Martonvásár to the southwest.
Hungary's favorite queen and Empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Elisabeth or "Sissi," spent much time at Grassalkovich Palace. Bavarian-born wife of Emperor Franz Josef, Sissi won the hearts of Hungarians with her advocacy of Hungary's autonomy, her efforts to learn their language and her expert horsemanship.
At Gödöllő, she insisted on stables with marble columns and windows designed so that flies could not enter to bother the horses. Nearly ruined by over 30 years of Soviet misuse as barracks, the Baroque-style palace and stables are now a museum where you can see the royals' private rooms. Equestrian events are frequently held in the beautiful riding park.
Beethoven was the honored guest and music teacher at neo-Gothic Brunswick Castle. He dedicated the Appassionata Sonata in F minor and the Sonata in F sharp major to the Brunswick family. The Beethoven Museum displays his original sheet music and a piano he played. More than 300 species of trees are planted in the 170-acre English-style park and garden around the mansion.
These historical towns, with all their attractions, are eminently accessible from the capital. Have your breakfast in Budapest, explore during the day to your heart's content, and be back by nightfall - just in time for dinner!
Some of our other topics related to Budapest:
A Spa Itinerary in Budapest and Along Lake Balaton's North Shore
Castles and History in Northern Transdanubia