The Perfect One-Day Escape from Budapest
If the hustle and bustle of Budapest worn you down, then I have the perfect option for those who want to go off the beaten tracks and explore what’s in Hungary beyond Budapest on a half-day trip. This picturesque town is built on the Danube river, surrounded by hills and mountain peaceful scenery. A 50 minutes train journey from the main train station in Batthyány Square it is all it takes to discover this little gem. Szentendre is a Baroque little village famous for its narrow cobbled stoned alleys, pastel coloured houses, art and handcrafting.
The village was original occupied by Celtic tribes, then it became a Roman fortress with defensive purposes on the Danube, followed by barbaric invasions before the Hungarian could settle in and start a flowering period during the 14th century when the village became prosperous. Turks invasions unfortunately resulted in its complete destruction.
From the middle of the 18th century, Turks were chased and Szentendre started to expand again thanks to the alternate occupations of Serbs, Hungarians and Slovaks who encouraged the local grape and wine production, trade and craft-work who still make this town famous for today. In this period, Szentendre hosted a Serbian community who built Orthodox churches and schools and thrived in this little village thanks to the Danube access to the trading routes. Unfortunately a series of fires, epidemic and floods caused the decline of the city in 1880.
In the early 20th century, when the Balkans were freed from Turks, the Serbian community returned to their original country after more than two centuries, causing the re-conversion of Orthodox churches into Roman Catholic ones.
From early 1900s the town started to attract a growing painters community thanks to its beautiful scenery and the iconic houses. Szentendre stayed authentic without becoming too modern or industrialised and that’s why it is appealing to more and more tourists from the capital who are looking for a tranquil spot and the perfect place to buy original souvenirs and local products.
The Best things to See in Szentendre
1. The Hungarian Open Air Museum
This museum is a great way to get to know Hungarian traditions, history and legacy enjoying some fresh air in an outstanding setting. The visitor has the chance to know the seven Hungarian regions, their craft traditions and take part to workshops and creative stalls. This museum constitutes a great family day out and an opportunity to explore the local artefacts, ancient houses, interiors reconstructions and old mills.
2. The Old Town and the Main Square – Fo Ter
Walking down the central alley dotted with artisans boutiques, souvenir sellers, restaurants and coffee shops you will stumble upon the central tiny square, the oldest part of the town. Fo ter is surrounded by Baroque buildings, pubs and traditional Hungarian restaurants. Notice the city hall building and the cross, which honours the plague survivors. This square is particular pretty during Christmas times when artisans will carved wood in front of your eyes and food stalls will tempt you with their fruit scented mulled-wine, giant pretzels, thick hot chocolates and much more!
3. Blagovestenska Church
This Orthodox church is probably the most popular and visited of the 18 churches of the village. It is characterised by a Baroque architecture style and was built in the 18th century by Greek settlers. Black and golden decorations ornate the altar and a solemn atmosphere reigns in this little church.
4. The Retro Design Centre
Vintage lovers: this is the place for the 1970s nostalgic people looking for well preserved collection of cars, motorbikes and interesting objects of that period. You will also find electrical devices, furniture and toys: everyone will find something quirky and interesting. The cheap entry fee will encourage you to get in and snoop around, spending a few moments travelling back in time.
5. Szamos Marzipan Museum
An interesting quick stop can be done at this confectionery yummy exhibition ran by Matyas Szamos, the founder of the Szentendre Marzipan Factory. This tiny museum will let you see for the equivalent of two Euros how art skills can turn marzipan into famous actors, Disney and tale characters, houses and much more. Szamos it’s an iconic Hungarian symbol: taste their fruit filled marzipan covered in dark chocolate, a real treat!
6. Castle Hill
The easiest way to enjoy lovely panoramic views of the area is to take the narrow stairs situated between Fõ tér 8 and 9, and reach the hill where was a fortress used to be here during Middle Ages. Here you can also vsit the St. John Church, a Gothic church containing many beautiful paintings created by the members of the artist’s community in the 30s.
The easiest way to get here it’s taking the HÉV suburban rail line, which you can take from Batthyány Square for a few Euros; Hungary is very cheap from a transport point of view. he alternative is to take a scenic Danube cruise of 1h30 from Budapest costing 9€ each way. If time is short take the train and you will get there in 50 minutes.
We had a quick lunch in this cosy little café in the city centre, Kedves Kavezo, which draws us in for curiosity seeing the vast menu and teas selection and the people waiting outside. To avoid queuing at lunch time try to arrive a bit earlier. The menu covers Greek, Mexican, Hungarian, or International dishes such as salads, sandwiches. and fruity teas which are served in nice china teapots. This small coffee shop is the perfect informal and familiar place for a quick and tasty lunch.