Cultural Trips Around Budapest
Only a short distance away and accessible by light railway, the Royal Palace of Gödöllő is a fantastic destination. Built in the early 1700s by Antal Grassalkovich, the Baroque palace became a favourite residence of Emperor Franz Joseph and especially his wife, Elizabeth - the Hungarians' beloved Sisi. During WWII the Soviet army commandeered the palace and it suffered much degradation in the following decades. The buildings and gardens have been splendidly restored to their former glory only recently, and you can learn more about their history at a permanent exhibition. The palace in Gödöllő also hosts temporary exhibitions, concerts and family events throughout the year, such as the International Harp Festival, the Liszt Festival of music, and the fun and festive Baroque Palace Days. Another great, although lesser-known example of Baroque architecture is the Ráday Palace of Pécel, which used to be a meeting place for scientists and writers 250 years ago. The palace is open from Friday to Sunday, and can be visited by appointment in the off-peak season, from 1 November to 31 March.
Szentendre, also accessible by light railway, has long been a town of artists and churches. This small town has a surprising number of communities of various faiths, resulting in a skyline dotted with church spires of different shapes and sizes and you can spend all day walking the cobbled streets from museum to church to museum. Held on the last weekend of every summer, the Szentendre Night & Day Festival says goodbye to summer with concerts, plays and market stalls filling the streets and the party goes on late into the night. History comes to life at the old royal seat of Visegrád, in the Danube Bend, only 40km north of Budapest, where the beautiful natural setting combines with educational opportunities. The International Palace Games in Visegrád commemorate the historical 1335 meeting of the Czech, Polish and Hungarian kings; for three days every summer Visegrád transforms into a medieval wonderland of jousting, knights, kings, markets and fun for all the family. Vác is a charming small town along the Danube just north of Budapest, which can be reached by boat. It hosts the Váci Világi Vigalom - a street party with concerts and family activities on the restored Baroque town square. Vác is also the home of the V4 Theatre Festival. Other summer festivals near Budapest include Summerfest Százhalombatta and the Louis Amstrong Jazz Festival at Bánk.
There are many more treasures of religious architecture beyond Szentendre. The ruins of the late-Roman-early-Gothic basilica at Zsámbék are still very impressive. The Esztergom Basilica is the largest church in Hungary and its bishop is the head of the Hungarian Catholic Church. The first church on this site was built by Saint Stephen, Hungary's first king, and the cathedral that stands here today was built in the 19th century and astounds visitors with its sheer size and majesty. The Christian Museum of Esztergom houses the country's richest ecclesiastical collection. Different in scale but equally interesting architecturally, is the 15th century Gothic Orthodox Serbian Church in Ráckeve, just south of Budapest. Ráckeve also boasts Hungary's last working Boat Mill: a water mill that floats on the river in a house boat harnessing the energy of the current via a long, wide water-wheel.