When planning a trip to Hungary, the first place you hear about is Budapest. It is the capital and the biggest city, so it makes sense but there is so much more to the country of Hungary.
To continue with our mission to immerse ourselves into the culture of a new place, we planned a day trip into the heart of Hungary. Eger, Hungary is only a couple of hours by train from Budapest, but it feels like you are worlds away. This quaint little town is what we would call picture perfect. Colorful little building lining a main square, a historic castle on the hill side above, and two gorgeous churches.
To get the most out of our time in Eger, we got up bright and early and headed to the train station for our 7:30 am train (FYI there is also a 7 am train but we didn’t quite make it). We grabbed our first breakfast from the train station convenient store and headed to our seats on the train.
Side story: We bought our tickets at the train station instead of ahead of time because we didn’t know when we would make it after traveling all the day before. The machine spit out three tickets which we though was weird, but then we headed on our way to the train. We were a little early and found the train mostly empty, so we found two seats and settled in. About 10 minutes later, the train started to become pretty crowded. All of the sudden there were two people standing in the aisle way staring at us. We started speaking English and they didn’t understand at all – just started pointing to our seats. We assume, you know since our Hungarian skills are zero, that this meant that we were in their seats. We grabbed our stuff and walked down the car looking for two open seats. We proceeded to run through the same thing again with two more Hungarian-only speaking people telling us we were in the wrong seats. We were then butted up to the end of the car and ended up waiting for the conductor to come by to check our tickets and also tell us where our supposed assigned seats are. We definitely learned our lesson of checking our ticket for seat assignments (although we need to google what seat is in whatever language).
After two hours and a few stops, we de-boarded the train and headed into downtown Eger. There are two ways to get into town – 1. Take the bus which stops opposite of the train station entrance (on the main road) and takes you straight to the main cathedral or 2. Walk which takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how fast you walk. We thought we were going to take the bus, but when it wasn’t there when we arrived, we decided we’d just walk. It ended up being a super easy, quick walk down the main road and we dead-ended into the main cathedral, Egri Bazilika. Naturally, our first thing to explore was this beautiful cathedral, which is the second largest church in Hungary.
This church was built in the 19th century after the Archbishop made comments about Eger needing a little bit more elegance in the town. The church is lined with ceiling murals, stone pillars, and ornate alcoves.
Once the church got a little more crowded, we wandered down the front steps and walked across the way to the big white building, the Lyceum. This historic building was built with the intention of being a university, but now is home to .
Don’t make the same mistake as us – when they tell you its on the first floor, you have to go up a level because the floor you start on they consider ground floor. We walked the entire “first floor” aka ground floor and never found the library especially with all the maps in Hungarian.
The library, after we found it, was super interesting. We were the only people in there so we spent our time perusing all of the old books including original Hungarian translated bibles, first edition books on the naming of plant species, original Mozart letters, and so many more historic pieces of work. Can you imagine if all of our books were hand written in calligraphy and fully illustrated with hand drawings?! (We weren’t allowed to take pictures – seeing as they are trying preserve parts of history, we understood.)
From the Lyceum, it’s only a few blocks to the main square. We wandered up the cobble stone little streets until it opened up on the cute little square. As much as we wanted to explore the square, we figured we’d end up back here for lunch so we kept on and headed a few blocks west to the Minaret.
The Minaret is a tall slender tower that was once part of a mosque from the Ottoman rule. For just a few forint, you can climb to the top of the tower and supposedly see amazing views of the main areas of Eger. Unfortunately, when we walked up there was huge construction barriers in front of the tower. We were sooo sad that it was closed, but when you took a closer look, you could see that it was leaning worse than the leaning tower of Pisa. Probably for the best that we didn’t climb it in that state.
Because it wasn’t quite lunch time, we decided to head north and tour the castle, which sits above the town. We walked up the hill to the entrance of the castle and paid a small fee to enter the grounds. We just went with the basic ticket that allowed us to see the grounds and gave entrance to a few of the exhibits – including the history exhibit and the dungeons.
We spent a majority of our time wandering around the outer castle walls and enjoying the views. The castle, besides the tall stone walls, wasn’t really what you think of when you think of the old fairy tale castles. It was mostly just fortress stone walls on the top of a hill. There wasn’t much of the main buildings left. We did wander into the history exhibit and loved it! For obvious reasons, we knew nothing about Hungarian history before this trip, but we learned soo much in this one exhibit. It really gave us a great background understand about how Hungary became what it is today.
Eger Castle was originally a church built on the hill top almost a thousand years ago. From there it became a fortress and then an even bigger fortress as it was used to defend against the Ottoman empire in the 1500s. It was then when this castle had its most famous moment in history. In 1552, Istvan Dobo with a small army of a few thousand won a siege against the Ottoman empire using the Eger Castle as a fort. This was a huge victory for Hungary.
After all the wandering around, we started our walk back to the main square – mainly because we were starving. Right at the start of the Dobo Square, we found this cute little outdoor restaurant called Restaurant Senator Haz. Since this was our first full day in Hungary, we wanted to get the full experience and asked for traditional cuisine recommendations. We ended up ordering the Veal Stew with Spaetzle and some meal that Nate couldn’t pronounce. Even though we couldn’t speak the language, we were definitely behind the delicious food.
The last thing on our to do list in Eger was to taste some of the famous wine. This area is known for a red wine called Bull’s Blood (or Egri Bikaver in Hungarian). There is a legend about how this wine got it’s nickname –
When the Ottoman’s came to invade the area, they were impressed by the ferocity of the Egerite warriors and were curious about their red-stained beard. The local merchants told them it was bull’s blood and the name stuck.
Right across the street from the restaurant was a local winery shop, Petreny Winery, (there are actually several right along this street) so we popped in for a quick tasting. We were able to a sample tasting of 3 whites and 3 red wines and loved all but one of the whites. My favorite was the most expensive red blend and Nate’s favorite was the Bull’s Blood, which he loved so much he bought a bottle to take home.
We were actually really surprised by how much we enjoyed the wine. Firstly, we had never heard of it before we left and we are pretty big into wine. Secondly, even at restaurants, it isn’t really talked up. So after sharing the tasting, we felt like we want to see so much more. With our last hour before the return train, we hopped into another wine shop two doors down, Thummerer Winery. This one was even better than the first.
Even though they didn’t speak much English, but that didn’t deter us. They handed us a menu with a semi-English translation and we were off trying to figure out which two wines we wanted to try. Because we only had a small time left in Eger, we decided we had to continue trying the local Bull’s Blood so we each got a different vintage year of this blend. We enjoyed (very much so) our glasses of wine in a traditional little living room (think classic grandma wallpaper and old antique furniture) with an old Hungarian couple who spoke no English but seemed to be enjoying themselves. We absolutely loved the atmosphere and fell in love with the wine – I almost wish we went here first or at least had a few more hours to enjoy a bigger selection of their wines. Instead, we scooped up a bottle of their award winning grand superior Bull’s blood and headed back to the train. Side note: their highest rated red wine was only $18/bottle which was honestly such a steal of a deal. Most of their wines were only $15 – $25/bottle.
In the end, we spent the perfect day in Eger exploring Hungarian history and culture. We were able to see all of the major sites, at a decent leisurely pace, and still find time to enjoy some great wine and food. We would say you can easily see Eger in just a day trip, or stay one night to enjoy a little more of the wine and food scene than we did. If you are in the area or traveling to Budapest, definitely head out to Eger and see a different side of the great country of Hungary.
What are you favorite small towns to visit in Europe?