Select Page

9.8M

5

8

30

Population

Blogs Written

Towns Visited

Days

Z

Favourite Spots

Dates Visited

We visited from 11th July 2019 to 10th August

Costs

Our costs were €1,231 for the month (see breakdown below)

Introduction:

Hungary is not normally high on the ‘must-do’ bucket list for the average motorhomer.  However, to bypass this landlocked, ex-communist, central-European country is to miss out on some truly memorable and unique experiences. 

Our first impressions as we entered Hungary were that it just felt very foreign.  “What a surprise!” you may say. “It is foreign!” Well after travelling through 27 other countries in the last two years, we are accustomed to crossing borders and hearing and seeing new languages. Hungary just felt more foreign than nearly any other country.  However, after the first 10 days or so, our feelings began to change.  It’s a bit like meeting a fairly abrupt and unusual stranger who initially you just can’t warm to.  After taking the time to get to know them, you unearth a depth of soul, a heart for family and country, and stories that blow your socks off – and help you to understand what lies behind those first impressions. 

Although we have visited other former communist countries, including Russia, Hungary seems to retained more of that heritage visually apparent in the many stark, functional but dilapidated Soviet-era buildings.  This relatively recent repressive past is also almost etched into the national psyche and affects how people think, and see the world around them.  

Whilst the countryside and general appearance of the buildings and towns is not as idyllic and picturesque as many other European countries, the larger historic towns and cities more than make up for this.  We didn’t visit the National Parks so it may be that the best scenery is locked up in those and we missed out. 

We were privileged to meet some wonderful people in Hungary, including Reka and Balatz, who invited us to stay at their house near Budapest.  Spending time with these welcoming and hospitable people was a fantastic experience, which made our time in Hungary far richer and memorable.  Hearing family stories from the former communist era was a real eye-opener for us sheltered Kiwis.  Also worth mentioning was Balog, who approached us with a huge smile while we were cooking dinner in a supermarket carpark in Eger.  He wanted to have a look around our motorhome and left us with a huge jar of honey from his own beehives.

Friendly Hungarians invite us to dinner and to stay at their house

Balog gives us honey and we give him some New Zealand souvenirs

Population & Size of Country:

Modern Hungary is a modest-sized country housing just under 10 million inhabitants within a land area of 93,000km².

Prior to World War II the Austro-Hungarian empire spanned over 263,000km² however after being on the losing side, the Treaty of Trianon stripped 65% of their land.  Millions of Hungarians found their houses were now in a foreign country.  Maybe this is one reason why most Hungarians don’t seem to smile a lot. 

Location:

Hungary is totally landlocked, located in eastern/central Europe and borders Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Ukraine and Slovakia. Having lots of neighbours can be a problem when you are weakened by war and everyone wants a slice of your land – as Hungary found out to its cost after World War I when everyone tried to grab a slice for themselves. 

Currency:

Hungary has not adopted the Euro and uses currency called the Hungarian Florint (HUF).  At the time of writing, 1,000 florints is about €3.  Everything seems expensive when you see the price tag – until you convert back to Euros and then it looks quite cheap.  300 for a glass of wine!!! Wait, that is about €1.  Okay, I can live with that.

Credit cards are readily accepted (except at hairdressers!) and the bank ATM’s don’t seem to charge a fee for withdrawing cash.  Many outlets allow you to pay in Euros but the exchange rate is often dreadful so avoid that.  There are a lot of “Euronet” ATM’s which are privately owned and do charge fees to use them. 

Tolls / Vignette:

For vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, you can buy an electronic vignette from the official website ematrica.nemzetiutdij.hu. These can be bought from some other on-line agencies but we found the official website easy to use.  For motorhomes, you should buy a D2 class vignette which costs 7,000 ft for a week or 9,560 ft (just under €30) for a month.  The vignette system works well – one reasonable fee and then you don’t need to think about whether it is worth taking the toll road or not.

If your motorhome weighs over 3.5 tonnes then you have the choice of pre-declaring and paying for your planned motorway journeys or installing the ‘Hu-Go’electronic box that charges you based on actual kms and Euro emission class.  For casual visitors to the country, the ad hoc pay-as-you-go system would probably be the most suitable and once you are registered, you can log on and pre-pay your driving route.  The website for this is https://www.hu-go.hu/articles/category/aktulis.

There are electronic scanners along the motorways and we presume that if you travel without a vignette then you can expect a ticket to turn up as a result. 

Driving:  

There was a real sliding scale to the quality of the roads Hungary.

The motorways were fantastic.  The national highways were by and large very good.  Once you got off these roads however, it was a total lottery.  Many are narrow and have been patched with various shades of asphalt making them look like black and white patchwork quilts.  With patches on patches, the surfaces were very uneven however at least (unlike Greece and Portugal), the roads had mostly been maintained.  When you drove on the really minor roads, all bets were off and you didn’t know what you would find.

As we had a vignette, we mainly stuck to the motorways when travelling long distances so we avoided too much jarring and stressful narrow winding stuff.

Hungarian drivers were overall courteous, generally obeyed the speed limits, stopped quickly for pedestrians and were quite respectful of cyclists.

Be aware that if you want a wee tipple, the blood alcohol limit is 0.0 in this country and is strictly enforced. 

Supermarket Shopping:

We shopped mainly at Lidl and Interspar.  However the first supermarket we visited was Penny Market and we were delighted to find whole fresh duck for under €3/kg which was a bargain and soon turned into Thai Red Duck Curry.  The Lidl supermarkets were disappointing compared to most other countries with huge sections given over to beer, wine and junk food.  It seems that the healthy eating message hasn’t quite filtered down to the general population over here.

We were surprised to find Tesco supermarkets everywhere but didn’t rate them to be such good value or as well stocked.

Diesel and LPG

Both were readily available and cheaper than most other countries we have been in.

Typical prices for diesel was around 390 HUF/litre (€1.20) with LPG around 230 HUF/litre (€0.70 cents).  There were regional and localised variations and as expected, motorway prices were a little higher. The Auchan supermarket pumps were the cheapest we found.  

We parked beside the massive Eromu Matrai Coal Mine and Power Station on Our Way To Eger

What we Really Liked about Hungary:

This is going to be quite a long list so sit back and read. 

Sunflowers: Hungary grows a lot of sunflowers and we were lucky to be here in mid July,  just as they were at their peak of flowering glory.  Field after field of cheerful, bobbing discs of sunshine to brighten up our drive. 

Motorway Service Points:  There are many basic service areas consisting of parking areas and a standard ablution block of toilets plus an external fresh water tap. The toilets were fine for emptying the motorhome cassette into and the taps could be used to fill bottles for topping up the water tank.  Perfect for maintaining a free camping journey.  We found no actual dedicated motorhome service areas. 

Budapest: In our opinion, one of the world’s greatest but under-rated cities. Our experiences here will be the subject of a separate blog. 

Standard Motorway Service block – good for motorhomers (photo from dash cam)

Budapest Parliament Building Lit up at Night

Goulash:  This really is the national dish and we learned to make two variants during our travels.  The key ingredients, particularly Hungarian Sweet Paprika Powder, are cheap, plentiful and available everywhere.  The traditional goulash is more like a soup but we preferred the thicker more stew-like versions.  We even have a traditional recipe for you here.

Langos:  This typical street food is so tasty and oh so healthy (not!).  Imagine deep fried bread, drizzled with garlic oil, spread with sour cream and covered with grated cheese.  Heaven on a plate and straight to the thighs.  You have to try these at least once in your life. 

Free Camping:  As mentioned above, it is relatively easy to free camp and no-one seems to bother you as long as you are discrete.  

Grocery Prices:  Are quite reasonable and certainly less than most European countries, especially if you buy local and seasonal products and go past the imported items. 

Home Made Alcohol:  This is a two-edged sword.  It seems that most Hungarians pride themselves on their homemade alcohol and love to show it off.  As a gracious visitor, the polite thing to do is to accept.  We enjoyed some great homemade Merlot but some of the palinka we purchased (made from fermented and distilled plums) could strip paint. 

Well Preserved and Tidy Historic Towns: Hungary keeps its towns quite clean and maintains the historic buildings.  We spent some time in Pecs, Eger and Budapest.  The medieval old town centres, cathedrals and majestic historic buildings were superb and rivalled any we had seen elsewhere. 

Wine Regions: Hungary has 22 separate wine regions and while we didn’t find all of the wines to our liking, we loved their attitude to wine, and the fantastic small artesian wine tasting cellars in places like Villany and Eger.  You get to sample the wines, buy a small glass and then buy a few litres, usually straight from the producer.  Check out our blog for details of these regions and where the different grape varieties grow.

Public Displays of Affection:  Isn’t it interesting the things that you notice?  Compared to the rest of Europe, couples in Hungary seemed to hold hands more, and show affection in public more.  Families on outings seemed to stick closer together and hold each other’s hands.  It was heart warming to see this. 

Responsible Drinking and Socialising: Having lived in the binge drinking cultures of New Zealand and Australia, it was refreshing to see people enjoying a drink in public responsibly and peacefully.  The atmosphere in the parks in the evenings was sociable and friendly.

Unusual Things About Hungary

These are a few of the things that struck us as a little strange and contributed to us feeling somewhat unsettled in the first days in Hungary.

People stare at you:  More than any other country, people passing our motorhome just stared at it and us.  Nothing unfriendly, just stared.  Hungarians we met suggested that was because there are not so many motorhomes here and most people can’t afford one.  However, this did feel odd.

Hungarians rarely smile:  This was confirmed by several Hungarians who told us that they were all basically unhappy.  Unhappy with the economy, politicians, the country’s future, their jobs, each other, etc, etc.  We were told that there is a saying in Hungary “Your neighbour’s cow should die”.  This means that if your neighbour has something that you don’t have, then you don’t want them to have it either”.  Interesting.  Perhaps this is a legacy from the communist state days that could take another generation to erase?  We were told that Hungarians are often unfriendly with each other but friendly to foreigners.  We found that once we engaged them in conversion, they were great to talk with.

You can’t buy tobacco in supermarkets or normal shops: We kept seeing these small buildings around with signs indicating that you had to be over 18 to enter.  At first, they appeared to be Adult Shops, however they are actually the official licenced tobacco retailer for the area.  Tobacco sales were nationalised in 2013.  The government were widely criticised for handing out the concessions for the shops based on the political affiliations.  

Not bicycle-friendly:  Hungary is probably the least cycling friendly country we have been in.  Many of the roads within cities and connecting towns have no cycling sign (the signs also say no tractors and no horse and carts).  Some of the towns and cities have made an effort at providing cycleways but these stop and start randomly and provide limited route options.  We cycle a lot and cycling in Hungary was stressful at times.  We got used to finding our way around and the motorists were generally very considerate of cyclists.

Limited English spoken:  Outside of Budapest it wasn’t easy to find someone who could speak English.  I appreciate that expecting foreigners to speak English can come across as sounding a little arrogant, however we had more trouble finding an English speaker here than other countries and had been led to believe that English is spoken widely.  It isn’t.  Few signs are duplicated in English, as expected.  During the Soviet era, the second language taught in schools was usually Russian so the older people had little chance to learn English.  The main second language is German.

You can only buy tobacco at these special outlets

No bicycles, tractors, or horses and carts on many of the roads made cycling challenging at times

Interactive Map of our Route

Click on the stopping points to see the GPS coordinates, a list of services, and photos.

Our Overnight Stopping Places: 

Out of 30 nights in Hungary, four (13%) were paid (total of €55) and 26 (87%) were free camping.  Finding free overnight parking places was relatively easy with the help of the App “Park4Night” but there are not a huge number of spots listed, compared with other countries.

We were warned that wild camping is not well tolerated by the police in Hungary so we were careful about the places we stopped overnight.  Thankfully we had no problems.  We have spoken to others who have free camped in Hungary and none have reported any trouble with the police.

Here is a summary of where we stayed during our time in Hungary.

Lenti, GPS Coordinates 46.62593, 16.53167. Camper Stop, €10 per night with all services.  The owner speaks Germany but no English.

Keszthely (Lake Balaton), GPS coordinates 46.75339, 17.24565. Free parking on the grassed area outside the yacht club. No services.

Balatonfoldvar (Lake Balaton), GPS coordinates 46.84564, 17.86601. Free parking area opposite children’s playground. No services.

Traquil Pines Camping, GPS coordinates 46.58999, 18.1038. €15 per night with all services, including a swimming pool, a bar and friendly English owners who might make you some of their famous Hungarian Goulash for a small fee (make sure you try this).

Pecs Hills, GPS coordinates 46.09274, 18.21894. Free parking area surrounded by trees and opposite a children’s playground and hiking trails. No services.

Pecs, GPS coordinates 46.05604, 18.23199. Free car park for the Interspar supermarket. Toilets in the supermarket but no other services.

Torokbalint, GPS coordinates 47.44213, 18.88593. Parking for the shopping mall, also some derelict parking areas where we parked and did our washing. Toilets in the mall but no other services.

Karacsond, GPS coordinates 47.73192, 20.04766. Off-road parking area for a scenic outlook over a huge coal mine and power station. No services.

Eger, Valley of the Beautiful Woman, GPS coordinates 47.89284, 20.36085. Parking area for the many wine shops and restaurants. Free from 8.00pm to 12.00pm the next day. Water is available from a blue pump/tap.  Paid toilets are available.  

Biatorbagy. Staying at a private address with Hungarian friends we met in Villany.

Budapest, GPS coordinates 47.47169, 19.05917. Quiet street parking with no services.

Miskolc, GPS coordinates 48.06729, 20.75383.  Car park free for 24 hours.  No service.

Main Cities Visited

Pecs

Pecs is the fifth largest city in Hungary.  Founded by the Romans it contains significant UNESCO listed sites such as an early Christian Mausoleum, and a Roman Christian Cemetery.  The beautiful Basillica and the domed Mosque of Pasha Gazi Kasim are also well worth visiting. 

The Pecs synagogue was a place we hadn’t expected to see but were glad we did. The history of the Jewish people in Hungary and in particular, their near extermination during the Holocaust is well explained.  What was particularly poignant is that the Jews in Hungary did not start being sent to the concentration until 4th July 1944, late in the war.  The town was liberated by the Soviet army in November 1944 but by this time 2,952 Jews had been sent to the death camps, most of whom were murdered immediately after they arrived.  The history of Hungary seems to be littered with tragic tales such as this one.

This post gives more details about what happened during that time and in particular to one prominent Jewish family.

Just south of Pecs is the wine region of Villany close to the Croatian border.  The quaint main street is lined with cosy wine bars offering local wines and typical Hungarian snacks.

Click on the photo gallery below to see nine photos of Pecs, the UNESCO Mausaleum and the Villany wine bars.

Eger

From the very south we travelled up to the north-east to the town of Eger, which is in another well-known wine region (are you seeing a pattern here yet?).

It was very hot so we parked Betsy, our motorhome, in the shade, opened the windows, put on the fan and did the best we could to get through the heat. 

During the evening we drove to the “Valley of the Beautiful Woman”, which allowed free parking from 8.00pm to 12.00pm the next day.  In this valley, dozens of vintners have burrowed into the valley walls to create underground cellars and wine bars.  The area is very popular for wine tasting, wine drinking, eating and socialising.  

One of Eger’s claims to fame is that the Eger Castle withstood the siege of a vastly superior Ottoman Turkish army during 1552.  The Hungarian commander Captain Istvan Dobo is revered as a hero and there are many monuments to him through the town.  

Click through the photos below to see eight of the sights of Eger and the Valley of the Beautiful Women Wineries.

Budapest

We spent 10 days in this wonderful city and have covered our experiences and the best of Budapest in a separate blog.

How Much It Cost Us:

During our 30 days in Hungary we spent €1,231, which was well under our normal monthly spend.  This was in spite of us eating out a lot more than usual and having a big spend up at IKEA, where we replaced some items that had worn out over the last couple of years. 

Category

Amount

Description

Groceries and Alcohol

€346

 

Eating out

€248

Dinners, Lunches, Drinks and Food Out

General Items

€174

IKEA, Gifts, General Maintenance

Diesel

€151

 

Entertainment

€90

Attractions, Entry Fees

Other Vehicle Costs

€70

Ad Blu, LPG, Parts (fuses)

Campsites and Parking

€55

1 x 3 night stay at a Campsite, and 1 x Camper Parking

Mobile Phones

€40

Two Free Mobile France Monthly Packages €20 each

Tolls

€29

30 Day Vignette

Pharmacy

€17

 

Laundry

€11

Laundrette

Total

1,231

 

 

Blog Articles For Further Reading

To read more about Hungary click on the photos above.