Eger is a city in the north of Hungary, between the Matra and Bukk Mountains. It stands out due to the thermal waters that surround it, strong red wine and opulent Baroque mansions. Most of the tourist attractions in Eger date back to the 18th century, when Eger got rid of the Ottoman Empire occupation. If you’re looking to escape the crowds in Budapest, a day or weekend trip to charming Eger is exactly what you need. Its peaceful cobbled streets, bustling market, historical castle and basilicas are just the tip of the iceberg. All these are less than two hours away from Budapest and waiting to be explored. Fortunately, the city is pretty compact and one can enjoy most of its attractions on foot.
How to get to Eger from Budapest?
Eger is located about 133 km north-east of Budapest. The trip between the two cities takes just two hours and can be done by bus, train or car. Bus tickets can be purchased online from Volanbusz website. The driver can also sell tickets, in case you prefer this option. An one-way bus ticket from Budapest to Eger costs around 7 EUR. There are several discounts for children, students and seniors. The bus will take you right in the center of Eger, where the most important attractions are.
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Where to stay in Eger to be close to its tourist attractions?
Most of Eger’s visitors are Hungarians or from the neighboring countries. The rest of the world seems to ignore it, probably out of lack of information. Eger can be explored on a rushed day trip from Budapest, but in order to really enjoy what its tourist attractions, two or three days are needed. This allows for enough time to soak in the thermal waters and taste its great wines, as well as check out its main above ground sights and the underground.
In order to be close to everything, it’s definitely worth checking a central accommodation option like Hotel Senator-Ház Eger, where we stayed. This is especially useful if you’re visiting in winter and don’t plan to walk much. It’s right in a corner of Dobó Square, in one of the oldest buildings in Eger. Breakfast is included and the rooms are nice. It doesn’t have a spa, just a sauna, but I don’t think you should look for a hotel with one, as you’d miss out on some of the best spas in Hungary.
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What can you eat in Eger?
Unless you’re a vegetarian, you definitely won’t starve in Hungary. The food is hearty, contains a lot of well cooked meat and plenty of taste. Gulash, papricash, pork knuckle, duck on cabbage are just some of the options. For a quick snack, one can’t go wrong with langos (a large doughnut topped with sour cream, cheese and garlic sauce) or kurtoskalac (also known as chimney cake).
History of Eger and its tourist attractions
Eger was founded in the 10th century by Saint Stephen, the patron saint of Hungary. Thus, it’s one of the oldest cities in the country. The town was initially a religious settlement that evolved around a cathedral built on the place of Eger Castle. In 1241, Eger was invaded by the Mongols, but it quickly recovered and became an important viticultural center. However, at the end of the 16th century, after years of battles, Eger was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Almost 100 years later, the Ottomans were defeated by a Habsburg crusade and Eger changed occupations. The city was rebuilt under the Habsburgs. At the middle of the 19th century it succeeded to get back its freedom
Eger holds a special place in Hungarian history as this was the place where in 1552 István Dobó and 2100 locals held off a Turkish army of 80000 people. This event quickly became an emblem of national defense and heroism. The statue of captain Dobó stands in the middle of the main square, also named after him. Legends say this could be due to the hearty red wine produced locally, that gave them energy and courage.
What to do and see in Eger?
Even if Eger is quite tiny compared to Budapest, it still has a wide variety of activities and things to do. Let’s check out the list of the best things to do in Eger, Hungary.
1. Visit the castle of Eger
Eger Castle, high on the hill, has stood there is some form or another ever since the 13th century. Its best kept part, the Gothic palace, was built for the town’s bishops in the 15th century. Later on, from the castle, Dobó and his men succeeded to held off the Ottomans. The site is now in quite a bad shape, but it’s still one of the main attractions of the city and one of the places you can go to for some great views. In the castle there are also several exhibitions, including one of weapons. I even saw a three-pointed dagger, which could easily beat any horror movie. On a tour, you can find out a lot about its role in Hungary’s history. Find out more here.
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2. Open your mind to the wonder of science at Lyceum and the Magic Tower of Eger
The Lyceum is one of the Baroque wonders in the city. It was founded in the 18th century by bishop Eszterházy Károly as a center of higher learning. Besides its architectural importance, the Lyceum is definitely worth a visit, but keep in mind that this takes at least 3-4 hours as it comprises several attractions.
The library is famous for its 130000 invaluable books and manuscripts, including an intriguing letter written by Mozart on Hungarian soil.
Its 53-metre tower contains several spaces: a physics museum, a small astronomical museum with a huge real quadrant, a planetarium and a huge terrace. This one also offers a wonderful 360-degree view of the town’s towers and rooftops, in case you decide to skip the castle. In the magic room you can try all kind of experimental devices and learn how a hot air balloon rises or how a diver sinks.
If you have enough time, you can attend a chemistry lesson and learn about the power of liquid hydrogen. Even if you don’t understand Hungarian, it is still a lot of fun. Just head to the back of the room before the last experiment as it can be a little too noisy. However, if you don’t understand Hungarian, I’d skip the planetarium. These were the most boring 40 minutes there and we couldn’t get out once the show started. If you’re in need of a quick midday nap, just ignore my previous advice.
Another highlight is on the ninth floor, an astonishing periscope initially designed to spy on the city in real time and now used to entertain visitors. Part of the equipment is still original, from the 18th century. If you’ve never been in a camera obscura yet, this is a must.
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3. Explore the Town Under the Town – one of the best tourist attractions in Eger
After the Habsburgs took Eger from the Ottomans, the new bishop wanted to have a new palace. The volcanic stone needed was mined from the underneath of the town and a four-kilometer network of tunnels resulted. From the 18th century up to the WWII, the new galleries were used to store wine, due to their constant temperature and humidity. As taxes could be paid in wine, it’s said that around 12 million liters of wine used to be stored there. Some of the highlights are the pillared room and the nexus point, where 14 galleries intersect. Unfortunately, in winter there were no English tours, but I’ve been told there are in summer. This was one attraction that I was really looking forward to, but hopefully there will be a next time. Find out more here!
4. Enjoy the views over Eger from Torok Kori Minaret
As the Ottomans occupied the town for almost 100 years, their traces can still be seen. Between 1596 and 1686, they had built ten minarets, out of which only one survived. If you’re not claustrophobic, climb the 97 steps to the balcony and enjoy a bird’s eye view over the old town. But there are many places offering great views over the rooftops requiring less effort, so we decided to skip this one. However, the 40-metre sandstone tower is still one of the landmarks of the city and can be seen from afar.
5. Taste the local wine in the Valley of the Beautiful Women
The most famous local wine of Eger is the bold Egri Bikavér (Bull’s Blood). As it supposedly helped the small defending force of Dobó face the Turks, it proudly deserves its name. It’s normally a blend of Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Blaufränkisch and Syrah. I’m not a huge fan of red wine, but the one I tried was quite good for my tastes. Quality may very, but it goes well with read meat and spicy food.
The best place to go wine-tasting is the Valley of the Beautiful Women, a 30-minute walk from the town center. There you’ll find around 50 wine cellars side by side serving wine and tasty food to go with. Some of them are architectural wonders carved into the hills surrounding the valley. You could easily spend one evening here having dinner and hopping from one cellar to the next.
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6. Spend some time in Dobó Square in Eger checking its tourist attractions
The lively main square of the city is named in honor of István Dobó, the captain who lead the the locals in defending the town against the Ottomans in 1552. A imposing statue of him with a sword aloft stands in the middle of the square. Around the square stand the stunning Minorite Church and the eclectic Town Hall from the 19th century. This place is the perfect starting spot for your tour around Eger and a popular place for the locals to hangout.
Every year, in December, Eger Christmas market takes place here. The Eger Castle is a nice backdrop and the mulled wine or hot chocolate will keep you warm as you admire the festive lights.
7. Check out the Minorite Church
The splendid Minorite Church of St. Anthony of Padua was built for the Franciscan order in the 18th century. Legends say that the Father Superior got in trouble as the building was deemed too exuberant. It is the only church in the country with a Baroque curved facade. Its two towers reach 57 meters. The altar has marble columns and sculptures of prominent saints. A few scenes from the life of St. Anthony adorn the walls.
8. Take a look at the Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Apostle
Opposite the Lyceum, stands the Basilica of Eger and the third-largest cathedral in Hungary. It was raised in the 19th century in Neoclassical style, with a temple-like portico sustained by eight Corinthian columns. If you head inside, you can marvel at its colorful frescoes and beautiful interior made especially to impress.
9. Admire Svent Miklos-templom
In the 17th century, many Serbian and Greek fled to Hungary because of the Ottoman Empire. Some of them settled in the north of Eger and were given permission to build an Orthodox church outside the city walls. Several artists came together to create this late-baroque gem. An iconostasis made of 60 carved and painted panels is its most precious piece of art. It’s now an exhibition center. From its garden, one can enjoy panoramic views of the city.
10. Visit one of the main tourist attractions in Eger, the Archbishop’s Palace
Another place in Eger that should not be missed in anyone’s itinerary is the Archbishop’s Palace. Here you can visit the rooms of the palace and get an impression of how the elders of the church lived in the past, but also to visit the cellars of the palace. If you can’t see the City below the City, the tour of the palace can be like a preview. You will practically walk for an hour through the archbishop’s former cellars. You will learn how they have evolved over time and you will be served at the end with wine, must and local wafers. The guide speaks Hungarian, but you will receive an information sheet in English. I also liked the fact that, although he did not speak English, he always made sure that I knew where to read from at every stop.
11. Go on a ride on Eger’s Eye
OK. This is definitely not London’s Eye, but it’s in Eger and offers some of the best views over the city. The price is reasonable, it’s close to the city center and is a great attraction for everyone. Out of all the viewpoints in town this was probably my favorite one and you don’t even need to be in a good shape in order to enjoy it. Although, I’m not sure it is assembled just during the Christmas fair or all the time.
Update: Eger’s Eye stands in the center of the city all year round. You can enjoy great views any time. Eger Eye provides a great panorama over Eger and most of its tourist attractions.
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12. Have a picnic in the Archbishop’s Garden
The Archbishop’s Garden, once used as a hunting area for the bishop, became the main public park in Eger. It was opened to the public more than 100 years ago. Wandering around its 12 hectares, one can see two of the original iron gates, some remnants of the previous French and English gardens, fountains and a man-made lake crossed by a stone bridge. Children will be happy to check out the modern playground and outdoor sports park. In summer, classical concerts are held there.
13. Visit Egri Road Beatles Museum
Two lifelong Beatles fanatics put their collections on display at what is now the forth Beatles museum in the world. It presents to timeline of the famous band and visitors can watch a movie or listen to popular songs of the Fab Four. The collection at Hotel Corona comprises anything from instruments, posters, photos, toys, clothing to newspaper cuttings and limited edition records. The exhibition is interactive, including a guitar room, a photo booth and many games.
14. Try not to taste anything at Kopcsik Marcipania
Hungary is synonymous with marzipan. There are 3 Marzipan Museums in Hungary: in Budapest, Eger and Szentendre. The one in Eger is the crowning achievement of Lajos Kopcsik, a prized master confectioner with an illustrious 60-year career. Almost everything inside is made of marzipan and painted with tempera. The sweet collection includes more than 150 life-size objects made out of marzipan. Christian icons, embroidered cushions, a Russian family, Van Gogh paintings are on display. Symbols of the city, the minaret and a huge wine bottle were also reproduced from the sweet paste. But the masterpiece of Kopcsik is a Baroque style room, made completely out of sugar and almond. This aims to remind visitors that Eger is one of the finest Baroque cities in Europe.
15. Soak in Eger’s Turkish Baths
Eger is a dream come true for thermal baths lovers. Warm water flows beneath the entire city and several complexes were built in and around the town. The Ottomans brought to Eger the bathing culture and founded 3 baths. Out of them only one survived, Torok Furdo, built by Abdi Pasha the Albanian at the beginning of the 17th century. It was renovated several times, but one can still bath in the original Turkish-style pools and enjoy a hammam treatment.
The main feature is a cupula covered in 200000 golden mosaic pieces. As the water contains radon, visitors can only bath for two and a half hours. Access to the sauna and steam baths is included in the entry fee. Massage and hammam need to be booked in advance.
Inside the bathrooms you can find a small part of their history and how they were used in the traditional way. For example, women were allowed to go to the bathroom twice a week. This was the main place to socialize. Recipes, secrets were shared and marriages were arranged. When women were bathing, a towel was hung on the door to inform men that the baths were closed to them. If a man did not allow his wife to go in the bath, it was considered a reason for divorce and was one of the few cases in which the verdict was in favor of the woman.
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16. Take a half-day trip to the thermal baths and limestone terraces of Egerszalók – tourist attractions near Eger
Off the beaten path, just 9 km from Eger, you will stumble upon the limestone terraces of Egerszalók. These are a natural formation similar to Pamukkale in Turkey caused by salt and thermal waters. As long as you don’t raise your hopes too high, it’s a pretty interesting site, but not that large and not very well maintained. The salt terraces were formed as the minerals solidified on the hill-side due to constant flow.
At the base of the salt hill, there’s the luxury hotel resort and spa Saliris. One can enter for a fee, even if not accommodated at the hotel. The terraces are fenced, but one can take the uphill path and get pretty close. Bathing in the therapeutic waters afterwards makes for a great afternoon.
Another smaller and simple complex was founded right at the beginning of the path to the terraces. Nostalgia Spa has three bathing pools with pleasantly warm water. This is a locals’ favorite and closes much later than the fancy one, even if I have to agree that I really enjoyed that one.
17. Go for a swim at Demjen Caves – tourist attractions near Eger
Even if it’s a little bit out of the town, this one is really worth it if you have a car. Demjen Cave complex is the largest cave spa in Central Europe. The appearance of the cave SPA was inspired by the Avatar movie. Besides the 760-meter cave, one can go down slides and enjoy several saunas , a salt cave and several outdoor pools. One of them even has a beautiful view over the surrounding area. Initially, we wanted to visit Miskolc Cave Baths that are more famous and also close enough to Eger, but after finding out about Demjen Cave, we decided to give it a chance and have no regrets.
Eger is a great city to visit and the 2 hours bus or train ride is well worth it. Next time you’re looking for a place not swamped in tourism yet, but with a lot of history and attractions for all tastes, remember Eger. It has an unique charm and if you get there during the Christmas market season, you’ll love it even more. The surrounding area contains even more surprises. If you have more time to spend in Eger, consider a trip to the cave houses or the Bükk National Park.
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