Hungary is a fascinating country, rich in culture and history, left unexplored by visitors for many years. The country had its 1,100th birthday in 1996, and although after celebrations were winding down, renewed interest in the nation is not. It is no wonder, then, that the number of inquiries in 1996 tripled those in 1995 and continues to grow.  Hungary is geographically located in central Europe, not Eastern Europe.

Budapest, the country's capital, with a population of 2.1 million, was formerly comprised of three cities: Buda, on the right bank of the Danube River; Pest, on the left bank; and Obuda, a small town to the north. The three were united in 1873. A major tourist attraction, the city's many landmarks include the Parliament, Opera House and continental Europe's first subsurface railway system, dating back to 1973. Excellent hotels and restaurants provide the foundation to explore Budapest's 72 museums, 71 art galleries, churches, shopping and the River Danube, which divides the city.

After an extensive $9 million renovation, Europe's largest synagogue reopened in Budapest. The enormous structure stretches half the length of a soccer field, with a seating capacity of 3,000. The project, which began in 1991, was funded primarily by the Hungarian government; the remaining 20 percent came from private donations by Hungarian Jews.

The Budapest Card is valid for three days and covers public transportation and admission to such attractions as museums and an amusement park. Purchasers also receive a 5 percent to 10 percent discount on retail and tourism services.

Within easy reach of the capital by car or public transportation are three regions of contrasting character - the Danube Bend, with its historic towns and vistas; Lake Balaton, Hungary's premier summer resort; and the Puszta, or Great Plain, known for its folk traditions, history, churches and handicrafts. Each can be visited on a day trip from Budapest.

Less than 30 miles before it flows through Budapest, the Danube River turns southward. At this dramatic bend are a cluster of towns that reflect Hungary's history. Esztergom, with roots going back to the Roman Empire, has long been the seat of Catholicism in Hungary, and its Kereszteny Muzeum has been called the best art gallery in the country. Nearby is Visegrad, the 14th-century home to the kings of Hungary. Its citadel provides a glorious view. The third town at the Danube Bend is Szentendre, famous for its arts festivals.

Lake Balaton, about 60 miles southwest of Budapest, is not only central Europe's largest freshwater lake, but Hungary's number one vacation resort and a major wine-producing region. The north shore of the lake is noted for its resorts, wineries and spas. The Tihany Peninsula, which juts into the lake, is one of the country's most interesting parks, with more than 100 natural geysers and craters.

The northern region of the Great Plain of Hungary, called the Puszta, is easily accessible from Budapest and gives visitors a sampling of Hungarian folklore and rural life that has remained surprisingly unchanged by 20th century innovations.

Accommodations: Hungary can count among its hotels such international chains as Hilton, Le Meridien, Hyatt, Marriott, Sofitel, Four Seasons, Corinthia hotel  

Dining

Paprika and garlic are major ingredients in traditional Hungarian cooking. National favorites include fish soup, goulash, chicken paprika, stuffed cabbage and Horobagy pancakes in paprika cream, During the past 40 years, some of the finest restaurants in Hungary have been located in the luxury hotels of Budapest. While some say this is still true, many other restaurants have either opened or been revived.

Among the most well-known restaurants is the 102-year-old Gundel Restaurant in Budapest, one of the highest rated dining establishments in all of Europe.

The Owl's Castle Restaurant in Budapest offers dishes reminiscent of those served in Hungarian homes before World War II.

Target Clientele

Well traveled, well heeled and well educated. Students might also enjoy the country, but the adult client most likely to opt for Hungary would be one who has been to Europe before.

Major Selling Points

Hungary has a multifaceted appeal as a leisure and business travel destination. Its location makes it an ideal base to explore all of central Europe, especially Austria and the Czech Republic, both of which share Hungary's rich history (all were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), as well as its architecture, food, wine and natural beauty.

 Budapest Comes Alive When Evening Arrives

 Visitors who have toured all day may still want to kick up their heels after hours

Reaping the benefits of a surge in leisure travel during the 1990s, Budapest aims to maintain the momentum that has made it one of Europe's most popular cities. Its vast entertainment lineup has enhanced its appeal as a cultural destination.

Whether people travel independently or as a group, options for fun abound after sunset. Budapest has long been known for quality entertainment that runs the gamut from opera, symphony and ballet performances to traditional gypsy music and modern dance, plus contemporary jazz, rock, blues and disco.

Prices for tickets to most high-quality musical events range from $5 to $25, making Budapest among the most affordable cities in Europe. Cover charges for nightclubs are minimal or nonexistent.

The late-night entertainment scene is concentrated primarily on the Pest side in the Belvaros (Inner City), with its lively mix of bars, pubs, clubs and discos. Many venues feature live music and dancing, while others are just prime people-watching spots. Those who want to try their luck may gravitate to one of Budapest's casinos.

Most of the performances and activities below can be pre-arranged  Ask us  for tickets to cultural and musical performances (only with hotel reservations, and requires an additional $15 service fee per ticket order).

Not only is classical music one of the city's strengths, but the interiors of some of its concert halls are breathtaking. Even those who are not fans of opera should consider attending a performance at the famed Hungarian State Opera House. Built between 1874 and 1885, this restored Neo-Renaissance cultural palace is one of Europe's most elegant theaters, with an interior adorned with frescoes and paintings by Hungarian masters. Opera has been popular in Budapest since the 17th century; tickets can be purchased upon arrival at the Ibusz Tourist office near the Duna Intercontinental Hotel.

Known for its superb acoustics and stunning Art Nouveau design, the Ferenc (Franz) Liszt Academy of Music hosts symphony concerts as well as chamber music and string quartets.

Performances by gypsy musicians and folk dancers have long been a staple of Budapest nightlife. One of the finest gypsy ensembles plays nightly at Gundel's, Budapest's most celebrated restaurant, dating back from 1894. The interior was recently restored to its former glory following a multimillion-dollar renovation undertaken by restaurateur George Lang, who purchased the establishment in 1991.

A delightful way to spend a summer evening is onboard one of the sightseeing boats that depart from the Pest side of the Danube. Among the best of the programs are the two-hour sightseeing cruises run by Mahart Tours (011-36-1318-1704) that include a welcome drink, dinner and a folklore show.

Live music venues that cater to a younger crowd include Blues Alley and the Rock Cafe, which stays open until 4 a.m. and features blues and hard rock. Jazz played by the best bands in the city is on tap at the Jazz Garden Club and Restaurant, while the Merlin Jazz Club offers a diverse lineup of jazz, rock and cabaret acts.

Terms, conditions and restrictions apply; pricing, availability, and other details subject to change and/ or apply to US or Canadian residents. Please confirm details and booking information with your travel advisor.