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Holiday in Hungary – Visit Debrecen + Hadju Bihar

Stay in Hungary, travel outside of the country is unwise for the 2020 summer holiday season, this is the message of a recent Government campaign.  The message for non-Hungarians, those living, working, or studying in the capital is that there is much more to Hungary than just Budapest. There is plenty of things to see and do.  

Debrecen, Hungary’s second capital is one clear choice, the ideal choice for many during the 2020 holiday season.  Located at just 2 hrs 20 minutes from Budapest on the M3 motorway, or of similar duration by rail, the journey goes quickly.  Plan your stay for at least 5 days because there is just so much to do in this part of Hungary.

Reformed Great Church Debrecen

Debrecen itself has much to offer, however, the focus of this article is day trips available in the surrounding area of Debrecen in the county known as Hajdú-Bihar.  Travel within this area is a little slower, lacking the fantastic infrastructure available between Budapest – Debrecen which is why we recommend using Debrecen as a base.  Debrecen is also the capital of Hajdú-Bihar and borders Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg, Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén, Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok and Békés counties and at its easternmost edge is the Romanian border and the city of Oradea.

Hortobágy

Day Trip Hortobagy

At just an hour’s drive to the north of Debrecen is Hortobágy, an area designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural heritage and way of life.  The area is a wilderness in the true sense of the word, a vast grassland that has been the inspiration for many a poet and artist over the years. It is also popular with stargazers, in 2019 CNN Travel named it one of the best spots for starry skies. 

One part of the 82,000 protected hectares is a bird paradise, a sanctuary comprising of 3400 hectares of the northernmost part of Lake Tisza (covered next).

For lunch, we recommend experiencing traditional cuisine at the Hortobágy Csárda (Inn).  In the afternoon the Mátá stud farm and the Herdsman Museum are both well worth a visit.

Within Hortobágy there is much to see and do, the top items for your itinerary should include:

Tisza

Day Trip Tisza

While much of Lake Tisza is part of the Hortobágy protected area it is a destination in its own right best kept for a separate excursion on another day.  The lake is split into 5 separate areas/basins

Both Poroszló and Sarudi Basins to the south are part of the protected areas as is Tiszafüred Bird Reserve to the north, which protects nesting birds. Of particular importance are the Háromágú, Great Morotva, and the Hordód areas.  When visiting be sure to bring a pair of binoculars and a camera preferably with a long lense and be sure to plan for the weather.

Opening in June 2020 is a new cycle path between Tiszafüred and Poroszló, a route completely separate from the vehicle traffic, a round trip of either 70 kilometers or a larger 95 kilometers.  The cycle route will be part of the EuroVelo 11 route, making Lake Tisza a top year-round cycling destination.

No trip to Lake Tisza is complete without a boating excursion, you can either hire a boat in Abászalók Bay or take a tour.  Alternatively, you can take advantage of a new boat tourism routes organized by MAHART (Hungarian Holiday Boating Program).

This boating program currently has two ports at Kisköre (Lake Tisza) and Tokaj, these will be connected in future years (From 2021 onwards) after the Tiszalök hydropower plant renovation is completed.

MAHART is the point of contact for recreational activities in the area including Cycling, swimming, kayaking, fishing, horse riding, and boating excursions.

Other fantastic destinations worth considering are the Erdőtelek Arboretum, a 20th-century castle garden with a collection of 700 rare tree species.  The Lake Tisza Ecocenter includes Europes largest freshwater aquarium system which houses fish and floras of Lake Tisza.  Clime the lookout tower for spectacular views and photo opportunities.

If you are just looking to relax, consider taking some time out on the Tiszafüred beaches.  There is the free beach of Tiszafüred, this includes plenty of opportunities to purchase buffet, convenience food.

Nyíregyháza

Nyiregyhaza

Located just 50km to the North of Debrecen, Nyiregháza is one of the most beautiful cities in Eastern Hungary and is of a substantial size with more than 120,000 people.  The city has a long history, settled long before the conquest of Hungary in the 9th century. 

Over the years the city has been settled in by a diverse range of peoples, during the Turkish period bands of brigands and thieves (Hajdú) settled here, stealing from the Austrian’s and Turk’s alike and giving back to the Magyar (Hungarian) population in what can only be described as a real-life Robin Hood-type scenario.

In the 1700s Lutherans migrated to Nzyiregháza and during his period rapid development and urbanization occurred.  Jewish traders settled and by World War II there was a community of 6000 which was mostly killed by the Nazis.  One of the many sights to see in the city includes the wonderful Jewish Synagogue.

The best place to begin your visit is the spectacular Nyiregyháza Zoo or the nearby Sóstó park.  The Zoo is famed for its size and a large collection of animals including Polar bears and Tigers, Sea lions and penguins, however, size is not everything, the Zoo is at least a half a day program, so you might prefer the Zoo in Debrecen, which is the oldest Zoo in Hungary which also boasts tigers and bears but which is more centrally located next to the amusement park.  We love Nyirgyháza Zoo because of the big enclosures and natural habitats, however, this also means lots of walking, so wear some comfortable shoes if you choose this option.

At Sóstó we recommend visiting the Sóstó Museum village, a historical site, and a window into the past of how Hungarians used to live.  Nyiregyháza is also famed for the Sóstó Forest, which has miles and miles of forest walks and is a firm favorite of the locals.

Nyiregyháza’s city central square is probably the next best stop.  Here you can see the Synagogue mentioned above, but there is also the Town Hall, a Greek-Catholic Church of note, and the beautiful streets surrounding Kossuth Square to see.  There are also lots of places to eat if you make it by lunchtime.

To end your trip to Nyiregyháza we recommend a visit to the vast Aquarius Adventure Bath, thermal water aplenty here to ease away your aches and pains and soothe your tired feet.

In addition to the itinerary mentioned above Nyiregháza also has an Adventure Park and a rather nice Botanical Garden, and so all in all, the city is well worth the trip.

Tokaj

Tokaj

Tokaj is one of the most stunning wine regions of Hungary and the world. UNESCO listed Tokaj as a World Heritage Cultural Historic Landscape in 2002.  It is the origin of the world-famous Ice Wine (“Aszú”), a sweet, syrup-like golden wine that can only be produced in a few spots worldwide such as Niagara, Ontario – Canada, and in the Rheingau region of Germany, locations which have become famous in their own right.

The history of Tokaj is long as it is illustrious, world-famous for hundreds of years in the royal courts all over Europe.  It has possibly the oldest vineyard classification in the world, dated back to 1707-1708, long before either Bordeaux or Burgundy in France. In fact, there is a written account of the use of Aszu grapes as far back as 1571.

What makes Tokaj exceptional and truly unique as a wine-producing region is that the dazzling landscape, the hills and valley’s is where approximately 190 vineyards lie, in an area peppered with dozens, if not hundreds of extinct volcanoes. In addition to its natural beauty and volcanic soil, Tokaj also benefits from its position between two rivers, the Tisza and the Bodrog.  The resulting combination of foggy, moist, and sunny weather conditions supplies the ideal environment for noble rot to form and for the subsequent production of Ice Wine from the “Aszu” grapes.

There is a wine bus from Hegyalja that runs when demand is sufficient which is classified as two or more people, the service is based on prior registration.  The guide service is available in Hungarian or English but also in German or Russian upon request.

While visiting Tokaj be sure to visit the World Heritage Wine Museum, which is a modern wine museum with rave reviews detailing the history of the winemaking region.

Oradea

Oradea is twinned with Debrecen so there are strong ties between the two cities and is very close to Debrecen, around 30 minutes drive from the Romanian border and an hour and 10 minutes by car to Oradea but due to the Covid-19 pandemic the border is currently closed.

One must-do activity is to climb Turnul Primăriei, a viewing tower that provides spectacular views right across the city.  You can even see most of the destinations we recommend, the Castle, the relatively new Țării Crișurilor Museum is also highly recommended.

Like most of the bigger cities in the region, it also has a thermal bath (Aquapark Nymphaea) and a Zoo. 

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