Discovering Eger – Perfect Budapest Day Trip

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We have discovered that our trips to small towns always seem more authentic than our trips to big cities. While you HAVE to visit the sites in the major cities, and we do love them, there’s just something so much more personal about heading into a smaller, non-touristy town (or at least where there aren’t as many tourists).

So, while in Hungary we went to Eger, which is a great day trip from Budapest. Eger is a two-hour train ride northeast of Budapest. There’s not a ton in the town, but it was the site of a siege by the Ottomans.

Basilica of St. John the Apostle is the main church in Eger.
Basilica of St. John the Apostle is the main church in Eger.

As most of you probably know, we tend to travel somewhat spontaneously. For this trip, in particular, we knew what days we’d be in each city and had hotel reservations, but the day-to-day sight-seeing we generally just decided a day or two in advance.

Note from Grant and Bonnie: Please forgive the lack of pictures and details. We originally wrote this back when we were just writing for our friends and family. We’ve updated it some but we know it is still missing a lot.

(Disclaimer: When we link to places you can buy our stuff or places we stayed, we are using special codes which earn us commissions on the sales at no additional cost to you. Please see our Review Policy  for more information.)

Updated November 2018

Eger Basilica of St. John the Apostle

Sometimes our spontaneity backfires (like missing the Salt Mine in Kraków), but other days it works out perfectly, like today.

We arrived in Eger, at the main cathedral, just before the daily organ concert. So we got to enjoy a lovely concert on the second largest pipe organ in Hungary. The concert was nice, and the church was beautiful! It was every bit as grand and ornate as the churches in Italy.

Enjoying the organ concert in the Basilica of St. John the Apostle in Eger.
Enjoying the organ concert in the Basilica of St. John the Apostle in Eger.

We enjoyed a mostly traditional Hungarian lunch at a lovely little restaurant suggested by our Eastern Europe guidebook. Bonnie had some goulash and Grant had Ox Tail soup. We enjoyed both as much as you can in a non-air conditioned restaurant in 100-degree weather.

The local wine, Egri Bikavér or “Bull’s Blood,” was delicious, as well as our other dishes, Wild Boar Stew and Parmesan Crusted Chicken with Caesar Salad. Though the Caesar Dressing is definitely not the same as in the States… too much like mayonnaise.

Eger Castle

After lunch, we walked through the town square and then toured the castle remains. There wasn’t much to the castle, but it has great hilltop views and it was nice and cool in the underground dungeon!

The castle is regarded as the “Hungarian Alamo” for a pair of sieges here during the Ottoman Invasions.

The skyline of Eger from the castle
The skyline of Eger from the castle

The first siege is particularly noteworthy as 2-3,000 troops held off an army of 35-40,000 for 39 days, inflicting heavy casualties on the attackers. They also lost about 1/3 of their own number. The second time around, the Ottomans came prepared for a long siege, eventually defeating the defenders of the castle.

Wine Caves

Nearby is the Valley of Beautiful Women, home to Eger’s wine growing region and includes plenty of wine cellars built into the hillsides

Our single biggest regret about visiting Eger was skipping the wine cellars. The temperatures were just killing us.

A hot day in Eger
Having fun on a hot day in Eger.

The weather the past few days, and this day, in particular, was brutal. Nearly 100 degrees, little to no clouds, and decently high humidity. You’d think being from the South that we’d be used to it, but it definitely kicked our butts!

One thing to note – very few buildings here have air conditioning. In those that do, the AC is generally very weak and almost impossible to feel. So when you first walk inside it feels nice because you’re out of the direct sun, but after a minute or two, you realize there is little or no air movement, which is just as miserable as the hot sun.

Getting Home from Eger

The rain started while we were on the train headed back to Budapest. While the rain didn’t seem that bad to us, apparently it was pretty strong and there was a fairly bad storm in Budapest…to the point that it knocked out power to the trains (and metro, trams, etc. in the city). On the bright side, it did cool things down about 20-30 degrees almost immediately.

Our train stopped in a small town on the outskirts of Budapest. It took a while before we even knew what was going on since all the announcements were in Hungarian. After the electrical problems stopped the train for about 30-45 minutes, we finally found someone who spoke English and got the above info.

Sunflower Farms in the Hungarian Countryside
Sunflower farm in the countryside on the way back from Eger.

To put things in perspective, imagine taking a train from Atlanta to Chattanooga. You get stuck in the outskirts of Woodstock (about 20 miles outside of city center) and need to get back to your hotel in the middle of Atlanta. You don’t speak the language and you have limited cell or data service. Even if we had cell service, this was before the days of Uber and Lyft. And, of course, there is no mass transit. 

Once we knew what stopped the train, the next question was when will we start going again? Nobody really knew. Apparently, this was a huge power failure with line damage and it was going to take some time. There was talk that maybe buses would come to help transport folks back, but we never saw them. They said another train might come – a different type that could run despite the problems, but we never saw that either.

At least we stopped at a station, and they did have food – limited options, but food was available. We first stopped around 5:30; we decided to find “dinner” at about 7:00. Dinner turned out to be pizza, topped with corn, broccoli, and ham (at least I think that’s what that was). I have to admit, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, but no, I will not be getting that again unless it’s a similar situation where it’s the only option.

The Generosity of Strangers

About 7:30, the woman who had been translating for us said that she had a friend coming to pick her up and that he would give us a ride to Budapest! Yay! Consider again our scenario above and you’ll understand why we didn’t hesitate or worry, we just accepted the generosity!

Turns out the woman teaches English in one of the smaller towns and was going to Budapest for a Master’s graduation the next day. She was very nice and very helpful. Without her, we might have been sitting out there in what seemed like the middle of nowhere for hours!

We finally got back to our apartment at about 8:45 p.m. It was a long, exhausting day, but it was an adventure that we will never forget. It’s these random moments that make traveling fun and unique!

The Minaret of Eger
The Minaret of Eger

Final Thoughts

Eger is a really cool town in Hungary. We really want to go back when it is cooler. We fell in love with Bulls Blood and want to spend time in the wine caves. Plus, we really want to dig into the character of the town. There’s a lot we didn’t see based upon how long we spent.

While Eger is a good day trip from Budapest, I would rather do this as an overnight trip rather than a day trip. There’s a lot to love and enjoy and we feel we missed a lot on our visit.

Travel Resources
What do you use to find a flight?

We use Skyscanner to find deals on flights. Skyscanner has a great interface and compares tons of airlines for the best pricing and routing. That said, it does not always have every airline and some airlines will have better deals on their website. Still, Skyscanner is a great place to start.
Click here to search for a flight.

What do you use to find a hotel?

We typically stay at Hilton properties, so we use the Hilton website. We can find good Hilton Honors discounts or AAA discounts for a hotel there. We make great use of our free night certificates from our Hilton Honors American Express.
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If there are no Hilton properties available, we use TripAdvisor to read reviews and book the hotel. We find we can get the best price that way.
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What if I need more space than I can get at a hotel?

We use Vrbo for the times when we have rented a cabin for a weekend getaway, like this cabin in Townsend, TN, or needed to rent a house for a large family vacation. We had a great experience with them in terms of refunding deposits when COVID hit and will continue to use them.
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Who do you use for rental cars?

As a general rule, we book with Hertz for rental cars. We have had nothing but good experiences with them. Plus, we really like unlimited mileage and not worrying about crossing state lines. We have even rented from Hertz overseas in both Slovenia and Croatia.
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How about booking a cruise?

We have found some amazing prices booking a cruise through Cruise Direct. We have saved a lot of money on our cruises compared to what we found elsewhere, making a last-minute Bahamas cruise even cheaper.
Click here to book a cruise.

What if I want to rent an RV?

We highly recommend Outdoorsy for RV rentals. We rented a camper van for a week to visit Rocky Mountain National Park for the elk rut and Custer State Park for the Buffalo Round-Up and had a blast. The program was easy to use and we really enjoyed the freedom of having a camper van for that trip.
Click here to rent an RV.

What do you use for booking tours?

We don’t often book tours. Typically, we like to do stuff on our own. That said, there are some experiences you just can’t have any other way. So, when we do want to book a tour, we always check Viatour first.
Click here to book a tour.

Do you use anything to get discounts on the road?

We make extensive use of both Good Sam and AAA on the road. Good Sam is normally regarded as a discount card for RVers at campgrounds and Camping World but anyone can use the 5 cents off a gallon at the pump at both Pilot and Flying J.
Click here to get a Good Sam membership.

We have had AAA as long as we have been married and it has more than paid for itself in discounts at hotels, aside from the peace of mind of having roadside assistance. Add in paper maps and the ability to get an international driver’s license and it is more than worth it for any traveler out there.

Eger, Hungary is the perfect day trip from Budapest with tasty, authentic Hungarian cuisine and delicious wine, not to mention the culture and history!
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