From the ruins bars to goulash and paprika, without forgetting the famous sites and people, we will explore the things that make Hungary known worldwide.
Located in the heart of Europe, it’s a landlocked country surrounded by Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. Hungary is one of the oldest countries on the continent, with a long and rich history. Tourism has increased heavily in the last decades, particularly after entering the EU, making the country even better known.
But without further ado, let’s explore what is Hungary famous for!
Ten things Hungary is famous for
#1 Hot Springs and Thermal Spas
When I think about Hungary, the first thing that comes to my mind is the thermal baths of Budapest. We have all seen images of people playing chess in a steam-rising outdoor hot pool – a poster image in Budapest and Hungary.
There are more than 1000 hot springs in Hungary, and more than 120 are in Budapest. Hungary is the hot spot in Europe for thermal baths (pun intended).
Thermal waters have been used since Roman times, and over the centuries, bath complexes were built to enjoy their healing properties. Budapest became known as “the city of Spas” – the two most famous baths are Széchenyi Thermal Baths (where the famous chess pics are taken) and Gellért Spa and Bath (lovely art nouveau style building and a landmark by itself).
Yet, Budapest is only the tip of the Iceberg here. Thermal baths are spread throughout the country and are an integral part of the Hungarian culture and lifestyle.
Lake Hévíz is one of Hungary’s natural landmarks and the world’s biggest natural thermal lake for swimming. Sárvár Spa, Miskolctapolca Cave Baths (a natural cave with thermal water flowing through), and Hagymatikum bath complex are also very well-known and beautiful locations.
What is Hungary famous for food? Paprika is what most foodies will immediately answer! We agree, but there’s an interesting story to it!
The peppers used to produce paprika originate in Central Mexico, where they have been cultivated for centuries. However, the Hungarians fell in love with it after the Ottomans introduced it in the 16th century.
Today Hungarian Paprika is one of the significant sources of commonly used paprika worldwide. In fact, the word itself has a Hungarian origin. A quick visit to any Hungarian market will marvel at the amount of diversity of paprika available. It became a Hungarian symbolic heritage, almost an obsession.
Hungarians use it in everything from spicy sausage (kolbász) to fish soup and cake. It can be used to spice things up or to add color and flavor. There are major kinds of Paprika, sweet, spicy, and smoked. Some of the most famous Hungarian dishes that use Paprika include Paprikash, Hungarian Stew, Potatoes with paprika, paprika paste, paprika sauce, and obviously goulash.
Goulash, or Gulyás in Hungarian, is the most famous of the Hungarian dishes. You have probably heard of and tasted it, but believe us, there’s nothing like trying a good goulash in Hungary. Tasty, delightful, and hearty, it’s an indispensable part of the Hungarian cuisine that many families cook weekly, which tourists need to try when traveling to Hungary.
It is possible to trace goulash back to the 17th/18th century when it was a popular meal among shepherds. Its simplicity and flavor made it popular with other people, including soldiers, pheasants, and even nobility, and later on, restaurants.
#4 Tokaji wines
Tokaji (or sometimes Tokay) is one of the most famous wine regions in the world and is arguably the oldest official wine region in the world (though Portugal also claims that award with the Port wine). Tokaji region produces a wine noted for its sweet tones made from grapes affected by noble rot. It is typically a dessert wine.
The volcanic soil with high concentrations of iron and lime and the region’s location with a unique climate, beneficial to this particular viniculture due to the protection of the nearby mountains, created perfect conditions for world-class wine. This quality has been well-known for a long time, and the Tokaij has earned the epithet of “Wine of Kings, King of Wines.”
Some of the famous consumers of this wine include the Habsburg monarchy (which had its own brand – the imperial tokay), Louis XIV of France, Queen Victoria of England, Peter the great of Russia, and many more.
#5 Olympic medals
Hungarians are excellent at sports, and that shows in their Olympic medals record. Hungarian athletes have won a total of 498 medals (491 at the Summer Games and seven at the Winter), 176 gold, 149 silver, and 173 Bronze medals.
To put this in perspective, it means Hungary has the second-highest all-time number of gold medals per capita of any nation, behind only Finland, and it’s the nation with the most Olympic medals that never hosted the Olympics.
Moreover, Hungary has sent athletes to most Summer Olympics and every Olympic game. They only missed 1920 because they were excluded due to world war I and took part in the 1984 Soviet boycott. They also got gold medals in every Summer Olympics that participated and have had at least ten medals since 1932. The numbers are astonishing for a country with less than 10 Million inhabitants.
Fencing with 87 medals (37 golds), Swimming with 73 (28 golds), and canoeing with 80 (25 golds) are the most successful Olympic sports in Hungary. However, we need to mention the nine gold medals in water polo, making them the world leaders in this sport, which is sometimes considered the Hungarian national sport.
#6 Lake Balaton
Hungary is a landlocked country with its own small freshwater sea. Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe and a favorite beach destination in Hungary. Located about 80 km southwest of Budapest, it has 598 square km and a maximum depth of 12 meters.
The most important resort towns around the lake are siófok, Keszthely, Balatonfüred, and Zamárdi. Siófok is famous for attracting a young crown due to having lots of clubs and summer parties, while Balatonkenese hosts several traditional food events.
During the peak season, between June and August, the water temperature is about 25º C, making it perfect for swimming and water activities. You should note that most beaches consist of rocks and grass, but some resorts have artificial sandy beaches.
#7 Ruins bars
In the last 20 years (or so), the ruins bars became the most famous things in Budapest and, consequently, in Hungary – they have become an attraction almost as popular as the Buda Castle of the Parliament. Szimpla was the first ruins bar, and the idea behind it is as simple as brilliant – set up a bar in an abandoned building offering affordable drinks for Budapest’s young and creative people.
Fifteen years later, Szimpla still exists and but now there are dozens of ruins bars, or other alternative spaces with similar ideas and designs attracting people from all over the world. They became part of the city, of the culture.
Some are still part of this alternative movement, like Fogas Ház and Szimpla; others are more commercial. Nevertheless, as a whole, they are one of the most famous things in Hungary, particularly among young and party people.
#8 Hungarian Language
The Hungarian language is really something… with 44 letters, 14 vowels, 26 cases, and some really complex rules, it is usually considered one of the most challenging languages to learn. Plus, if you have tried reading something in Hungarian, you might have noticed the really long words. This happens because it’s an agglutinative language, where suffixes and prefixes are added to the words.
Hungarian is a Uralic language, which means it’s very different from most other European Languages. The closest languages are Finnish and Estonian, and a few other minor languages spoken in Scandinavia and northern Russia. This means Hungarian has Asian origins and is entirely different from the Indo-European languages. With 12-13M speakers, Hungarian is the most Spoken of the Uralic languages.
#9 Famous Landmarks
Hungary is one of the oldest countries in Europe, and with such a long history and unique culture, there are plenty of beautiful landmarks. Most of the famous landmarks in Hungary are located in Budapest, the capital and biggest city, but there are also some very interesting monuments throughout the country.
These landmarks attract people from all over the world to visit Hungary, creating a massive inflow of tourism in the last decade. Some of the most popular and well-known landmarks in Hungary include:
- Hungarian Parliament
- Buda Castle
- Matthias Church
- Széchenyi Thermal Baths
- Esztergom Basilica
- Eger Castle
#10 Famous Hungarians
Finally, and most importantly, the people. Like in every other country, it’s the people who make the country. They represent the country and are their ambassadors.
We have already established that Hungarians are great at sports, so there are quite a few sports people on this list, but there are also inventors, scientists, and other famous personalities.
Some of the most famous Hungarians include:
- Ferenc Puskás – One of the best football players of all time and captain of the famous Hungarian 1950s Hungarian National team;
- Albert Szent-Györgyi – Scientist who discovered vitamin C after extracting it from paprika;
- Ernő Rubik – Inventor of the Rubik cube;
- Ferenc Liszt – a virtuous composer regarded as one of the greatest pianists of all time;
- Zsa Zsa Gabor – Miss Hungary, and famous actress (Moulin Rouge 1952 and Lili 1953);
- Houdini – Yes, that Houdini was born in Budapest as Ehrich Weisz. Possibly the most famous illusionist and stunt performer of all time.
* Cover photo by ginasanders via Depositphotos
Planning a trip to Hungary? Looking for even more information? Check out our other articles about Hungary!
- Three days in Budapest itinerary;
- Budapest in Winter;
- Should you go to Budapest or Vienna?
- Budapest or Prague?
- From Budapest to Bucharest;
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