The Danube is the second longest river in Europe after the Volga, flowing for 1,771 miles (2,857km) through nine different countries. Before reaching Budapest, it is forced through a narrow twisting valley in the pretty Carpathian Basin, known as the Danube Bend, eight miles (13km) from Budapest.
The cluster of towns on this bend offers an amazing collection of history, culture, and architecture, particularly the small Baroque towns of Szentendre, Visegrad, and Esztergom. The Danube River has been a main artery for trade and transport through Europe for centuries and is one of the reasons Hungary has always been such a sought after territory. Numerous invaders have left their mark on the riverside settlements, from the Romans to the Soviets.
The Danube Bend is an extremely scenic area with green valleys and hills rising up from the river, picturesque little towns with market squares, and commanding fortresses with sweeping views. Many visitors choose to do a boat cruise on the Danube from Budapest, stopping at the little towns along the way.
Because of its close proximity to the capital, many people on holiday in Hungary choose to use Budapest as their base and take day trips to the Danube Bend. Combined with good facilities and easy accessibility, it is one of the more popular destinations in Hungary.
Known as 'The Pearl of the Danube Bend'. Szentendre is a quaint old market town situated on the slopes of the Pilis Mountains. Meandering cobbled lanes, little squares, red-tiled roofs, brightly painted houses, and Orthodox churches give it a charming and artistically picturesque setting. Serbian refugees inhabited the town in medieval times and their style contributed to the charisma of the town's haphazard structure and Balkan flavour. Numerous Serbian churches add to the collection of historical buildings. In the 1900s, the town became a favourite retreat for painters and sculptors, resulting in a wealth of museums and art collections scattered among the tourist souvenir and handicraft shops. Being close to Budapest, the town is a popular excursion from the capital and has become one of the hotspots for tourism in the country. Be warned though, summer weekends can get rather overcrowded.
Situated on the abrupt loop of the Danube beneath steep hills, Visegrad was once a Roman stronghold on the border of the Roman Empire and the second home after Buda to Hungary's royalty in the 14th and 15th centuries. On the banks of the river are the ruins of the magnificent palace, one of the finest ever built in Hungary. It is now the open air King Matthias Museum. Today the small, sparsely populated town has a pleasantly lethargic atmosphere that belies its past glory and importance and it makes a peaceful excursion from the crowds of the big city. As all of this intriguing history suggests though, the village is a delight for history buffs and retains an old-world feel. The village is also a good base for outdoor activities in the lovely surrounding countryside and there is an excursion centre behind Castle Hill which can organise things like hiking, canopy trails, and cycling in the region.
Esztergom combines captivating history with riverside charm. One of Hungary's most historically important towns, it was the capital for over 250 years and the birthplace of their beloved first king and saint, Stephen, who was crowned here in the 11th century. Today, it remains the religious centre of the country, with Hungary's largest church dominating the hill above the town next to the ruins of the medieval royal palace. The colossal basilica was the first cathedral in the country and the instrument for the introduction of Roman Catholicism. It offers wonderful views from its enormous dome and contains a crypt and priceless treasury collection. Below is the pretty Watertown District, with its uneven cobbled streets winding up the hill towards the castle. Esztergom is conveniently close to Budapest and makes a great excursion from the city.
Vác is a pretty Baroque town on the east bank of the Danube Bend. Vác is an accessible and popular tourist destination in Hungary, especially as a day trip from Budapest. But despite its many attractions and charms, it's wonderfully less crowded than some of the other famous towns on the Danube Bend. The stunning cathedral, founded by the first Hungarian King, St Stephen, is the most popular attraction in Vác, though there are many other sites to visit. A more macabre attraction is the Memento Mori Crypt, which houses a number of naturally mummified corpses and the incredibly well-preserved clothes and decorated coffins belonging to them. The Memento Mori Crypt is a very famous archaeological discovery which has enabled several breakthroughs in science and ethnography and is listed as a World Heritage Site. Vác also has a wonderful pedestrianised town square, surrounded by colourful buildings and a splendid promenade along the Danube River.
The Danube Bend is a particularly scenic part of the river and its banks are home to a number of charming villages with plenty of attractions of their own. There are also a few impressive fortresses along the river, courtesy of the many invaders who valued the Danube as a trade and transport artery in Europe. The Danube Bend is close enough to Budapest to be a popular excursion from the city and bus and boat tours from Budapest are common.
Esztergom is one of Hungary's most historically important towns; in fact, it was the capital of the country for more than 250 years. The ruins of the medieval Royal Palace and the Castle Museum are a must-see for visitors, and Hungary's largest church and first cathedral dominates the town and offers breath-taking views over the river.
Visegrad was once a Roman stronghold and a popular haunt for Hungarian royalty in the 14th and 15th centuries. The Roman Citadel is still formidably well-preserved and the ruins of what was once Hungary's most magnificent palace are now the site of the open air King Matthias Museum.
Vac is often less crowded with tourists than some other gems along the Danue. It is pretty, with wonderful Baroque architecture. The 11th-century cathedral and UNESCO-listed Memento Mori Crypt are the main attractions.
Szentendre is a quaint old market town and is one of the most beautiful villages in the region. It has meandering cobbled lanes, brightly painted old buildings, and a number of charming Orthodox churches. The village was a favourite with artists in the 1900s and has many museums and galleries to prove it.
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