Where exactly do you plan to go ?
Public transport is cheap and ubiquitous in Hungary. Almost every village has some sort of bus service - certainly not a statement that could be made about, for example, Britain.
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We moved to Hungary a little over five years ago and have a car. We started exploring shortly after we arrived and have now been all over the country. For us, it has been a great way to get around and visit the countryside and cities.
Parking is almost always an issue so be alert when parking and make sure to pay if required. How to know if you have to pay; that is one of the issues we have sometimes faced!
When we started out exploring, we did not speak any Hungarian and we were able to do okay. We always found someone who was willing to help if we did not understand something.
Thank you both - this is helpful. I will certainly rethink the original (fanciful) idea and try to plan using public transport where possible. We hoped to visit Bokod, Esztergom, Eger, Tokaj, Saraspatak,Hortobagy, Mohacs.
We can base ourselves in Budapest and do daytrips from there or take the train/bus and stay for a night or two in the more distant places. Thanks again.
Eger needs 3/4 hours at least to see, and takes at least 2 hours to drive there. Sarospatak is a further 2 hours, longer if you avoid the 37, which is a horrible road with lots of aggressive lorry drivers. The castle is nice, and it's a 'nice wee town'.
Basically that is 1 day gone.
Next day, visit Tokaj, then on to Hortobagy. There isn't a lot to see in Tokaj itself, though it's pleasant in the evening if you would rather stay there. You need to ask what you want from Tokaj: winery visits are possible, but they are not in the town itself, they are in the surrounding villages, and the Hungarian drink/ drive limit is ZERO - and they mean it.
What exactly do you want from Hortobagy ? it's basically an extension of the Steppe, flat and rather arid in summer: it is very popular with birdwatchers, but you really need guidance. I love it, but I know it well, and know what I am looking for. For someone passing through, you need to have a focus on what you want to see, or you could end up driving round aimlessly for 4 hours: the village of NagyIvan (Big John) calls itself the gateway to the Hortobagy, and has a charming village museum, but I am not sure if English is spoken, when we went a few years ago my wife had to translate everything for me.
Hortobagy village, which I remember as a sleepy hamlet 40 years ago, is basically a tourist honeypot now. We go to the bird hospital, but we are birdwatchers: not much interest if you don't like birds !
From Hortobagy village, it's a 4 hour drive to Baja - longer if you stop in Szolnok or Kecskemet - the nearest big town to Mohacs. I like Baja, - my wife spent 10 years of her childhood there - and it is a pleasant place to spend an evening. End of day 2.
Next morning, drive south towards Davod - make sure you don't take the road to Gara - then take the signposted road to Mohacs - you cross the Duna (Danube) on a komp (ferry).
From Mohacs I suggest going to Pecs, probably the most visited town outside of Budapest, and very different to the capital. Pecs really needs an overnight: whether you stop or not, it's a 2.5 hour drive back to Budapest.
Mohacs is famous for the festival where they banish winter, forget what it is called, and for the battle in 1526 which led to the Turks occupying Hungary for 160 years. I haven't been there for 30 years, the site of the battle is just like most other battle sites, a big field, though they may have beefed up the memorial park a bit since then. When we went it was a Monday, so it was closed ! didn't stop me climbing over the gate, along with dozens of Hungarians.
Don't worry about your lack of Hungarian: except in the remotest villages, restaurants will have an 'angol etlap' - English menu, and words like 'wine' and 'beer' are understood everywhere. A good satnav will ensure you don't get lost, check with the hire company before you book as to whether they supply one, if not get Hungary map added to your own satnav.
Automatics are rare in Europe - we don't like them - so need to be booked well in advance.
My basic message is, go for it: you may not see all you hope to see, but you will see a h*ll of a lot more than the average visitor to Hungary. Probably best to pick up the car the day before you leave, then set off early: you will be going against the traffic, so getting out of the city shouldn't take too long. When going out to that part of the world we always leave by 07:30.Edited: 09 April 2018, 12:19
Thank you very much for your detailed advice - it will be helpful when planning our trip. We'd like to see a display of the Hungarian horsemanship - hence the trek to Hortobagy. Are you familiar with that attraction? Is it genuine? Thanks again.
I find that sort of thing unbelievably kitcsh, but obviously others disagree, otherwise the shows wouldn't run.
For some reason you seem to get a lot of German coach parties at these things, but you do also see Hungarians in the audience, so it can't be too bad !