When you first set eyes on spectacular Buda Castle in Budapest, you'll appreciate why so many people consider the city the "Paris of the East." This spectacular historic landmark - now a UNESCO World Heritage Site - ranks right up there with Versailles in terms of its majestic proportions and wonderful design. Built on the site of a palace destroyed during the Siege of 1686, this newer structure was rebuilt in the 18th century for the Habsburg monarchy and includes more than 200 rooms. Its symmetrical layout focuses on the lovely 61-meter-high central dome facing the Danube, where you can get stunning views of the castle and the other buildings on Castle Hill. Parts of the original medieval building have been reconstructed, including the Buzogány Tower and the impressive 15th-century South Tower.
The Danube Cycle Path is a popular way for active travelers to see the river as it winds through the hills between Budapest and Vienna. Along with constantly-changing river scenery, you'll pass elegant Esztergom, the Roman fort of Kelemantia, and traditional Hungarian villages like Szigetmonostor. If you prefer a more relaxing way to experience the river, the Danube Bend Day Trip from Budapest is a full-day guided tour that begins with a scenic drive and returns to the city by boat.
There are many historic spa towns and facilities throughout the country offering everything from simple bathing in regenerative waters to longer stays in lovely spa resorts. Hungary's reputation for its hot springs and baths dates back more than 2,000 years to the Romans, who highly valued the healing effects of Hungarian thermal waters. Then, in the 16th century, it was the turn of the Turks who built the many Turkish Baths still in use today. All told, more than 1,000 springs provide medicinal and thermal water to natural and medical spas, one of the most popular being Lake Hévíz with its 25°C yearly average water temperature, the largest biologically active thermal lake in Europe. In Budapest, excellent spa packages are available at the lovely Szechenyi Bath and Spa, and numerous other locations across the city.
Tihany is one of the most popular holiday resorts on Lake Balaton. Originally an island, this tiny peninsula - covering just eight square kilometers - boasts some of Hungary's most extraordinary scenery. Designated a nature reserve, the southwestern section is closed to traffic and is wonderful to explore on foot along the well-marked trail network. A must-visit landmark in the town itself is the beautiful 17th-century Benedictine Abbey, with its spectacular views of the lake and the surrounding area, a particular treat in spring, when the region's almond trees are in bloom, and in June, when the fragrance of lavender fills the air.
Lillafüred in the Bükk Mountains is another very popular spa destination in Hungary. It's also famous for its many spectacular caves, all within an easy walk of the town. Some of the most interesting to explore are the István Cave with its fantastic stalactite formations, and the Petofi Cave, famous the world over for the impressions of extinct plant species left in the limestone walls. For a more adventurous hike, take the trail to the Szeleta Cave with its relics from the Ice Age, including skillfully made arrows and spears. When you're done with all that exploring, take a ride on the old narrow-gauge railway through one of the most rugged part of the mountains.