I had planned to write about Esztergom, although having visited Budapest several times, and currently residing in Bratislava, I decided to include some other destinations found on the Danube Bend. This stretch of water is situated between Esztergom and Szentendre, and is around 50 km in length, as the Danube meanders between the Börzsöny Hills to the north, and the Pilis and Visegrád Hills to the south.
Esztergom is a small city on the Hungarian-Slovakian border, and was the historical capital of Hungary from the 10th till the mid-13th century. Following the end of the First World War and the Treaty of Trianon, Hungary lost considerable territory as the international borders were redrawn. Whilst the majority of the city remained Hungarian, the territory on the opposite side of the Danube became Czechoslovakia, and is known today as Štúrovo, and is obviously a very similar situation to Komárno. Having arrived in Štúrovo by train from Bratislava, it was around 4 km from the station to the Mária Valéria Bridge, which links Slovakia and Hungary. The Slovak side of the border wasn’t overly interesting; mainly residential, although there was a main street with a scattering of shops and restaurants. From the riverbank there were excellent views of the basilica and castle on the Hungarian side.
After crossing the Danube, it’s a relatively short walk and easy hike up to Szent István tér, the site of the Esztergom Basilica, which is the largest in Central Europe. This was where the Hungarian king Vajk was baptised, who was then known as Saint Stephen (Szent István). Whilst the basilica dominates the skyline, it was difficult to appreciate the scale of building until you reach the top of the hill. Entrance is free, although there are nominal charges to visit the treasury and crypt. Adjacent to the basilica is the Royal Castle (Hungarian National Museum); entrance to the castle grounds were free, although you need to pay for guided tours.
Whilst relatively small, the city was very impressive. This was perhaps aided by the nice weather and the small festival next to the river, which had live music, and several stalls selling traditional arts and crafts, as well as food and drink. Great place to wander round, and a destination overlooked by those travelling between Budapest and Bratislava. Regular trains to Esztergom from Budapest-Nyugati, or to Štúrovo from Budapest-Keleti or Bratislava. All these journeys take around 90 minutes at most.
Whilst on route to Macedonia for a Scotland qualification game in 2008, I had a few nights in Budapest and decided on a day trip to Visegrád, primarily to escape the city heat.
This small town has an important recent history, as this was where representatives from Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia met to discuss their integration and cooperation with the EEC. After the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, these nations are referred to as the Visegrád Four, or Visegrad group. Despite hiking to the top of the hill (using the much longer road), I unfortunately didn’t have enough time to visit the castle, however I still managed to get superb views of the Danube Bend and the surrounding area, which is popular with nature enthusiasts.
I took a local train from Budapest-Nyugati to Nagymaros-Visegrád, followed by the small car ferry which makes the five minute crossing between Nagymaros and Visegrád.
Szentendre, or Saint Andrew, is a small town situated on the Szentendrei-Dunaág, a distributary of the Danube, around 20 km north of Budapest. It’s a very popular day trip option for tourists due to the numerous museums, restaurants, and relaxed atmosphere. You can get here using the HÉV suburban railway from Batthyány tér, which takes approximately 40 minutes.
Visiting the Danube Bend by boat
The rail journey between Štúrovo and Budapest follows the Danube, which is quite scenic, however I’ve usually done this route during the night, or very early in the morning, thus never really had the opportunity to enjoy the scenery properly. There are several boats which travel between Budapest and the places mentioned above, as well as to Vác, which is also on my ‘to visit’ list, so perhaps a trip by boat and some hiking in the local vicinity would be the best option for next time.