Family Weekend on the Danube Bend

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Family time is the best of time. This particular weekend trip was just that. Family on both sides traveled from 3 different countries to meet up for a delightful weekend on the Danube Bend. This picturesque region is located roughly an hour north of Budapest and is accessible by train, bus, and even boat. The Danube Bend is aptly named for the dramatic southward turn of the Danube River through the historic cities of Esztergom, Visegrád, and Szentendre. Each of these riverside cities is incredibly scenic, offering amazing vistas and unique historical charm. Check out our day trip to Szentendre from a previous post.

The winding Danube also acts as a border between Hungary and its neighbor, Slovakia. The Mária Valéria bridge connects Esztergom, Hungary and Štúrovo, Slovakia. The bridge was originally built in 1895, but destroyed by German troops during WWII. It was not until the fall of Communism that the bridge was rebuilt, completed only in 2001. We actually stayed in Štúrovo at the Vadas Thermal Sturovo Resort, as we had a large group to accommodate. The hotel is equipped with a spa and connected to a large water park, which would be a fun summer destination with kids.

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Esztergom was once the capital of Hungary and claims both the birthplace and coronation site of Hungary’s first king, St Stephen. Fondly nicknamed “Hungary’s Rome”, there are many religious historical sites that date back to Hungary’s foundation. The Esztergom Basilica is the largest church and tallest building in all of Hungary. The massive basilica sits atop Castle Hill and boasts a 72 meter high dome. It is well worth the effort to climb the 400+ steps (with kids in tow), as the views from the panoramic dome walk are absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, we had to rush back down shortly after we made it to the top as our littlest needed to use the bathroom, which pretty much sums up travel with children!

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The Esztergom Castle is adjacent to the basilica and now houses the Castle Museum. Although we did not tour the museum, the kids played a riveting game of hide and seek in the courtyard and took turns climbing atop the canyons. We also enjoyed a stroll through Víziváros (Watertown), which is located just below the castle walls. This Episcopal neighborhood was originally built in the 13th century and has lovely views of both Castle Hill and the Danube. The Museum of Christian Art is located in this neighborhood.

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Another eye catching site in Esztergom is a picturesque little chapel perched atop Szenttamás Hill that we first spotted from the basilica. The chapel and hilltop calvary were built to commemorate the heroes who sacrificed their lives to protect Esztergom. Lower down Szenttamás Hill are two other important landmarks, Esztergom’s Synagogue (now used as a cultural space) and Esztergom’s central plaza, Széchényi Square.

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A day trip to Esztergom is definitely doable, but we were happy to have an overnight to spend some quality time with family. From Esztergom, we rounded the Danube bend to the small town of Visegrád, Hungary, otherwise known as the “castle town”. Visegrád is a quick 20min drive by car or 30min ride by train from Esztergom. Upon arrival, we enjoyed a royal feast at the Renaissance Restaurant, a medieval style restaurant on the Danube bend. Everything was excellent. Food, service, atmosphere, and a playground to top it off.

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With full bellies, we checked into our charming airbnb and started our trek up the mountain to Visegrád Castle. The hike was a bit more than we anticipated, but the kids did awesome and were armed with a sense of accomplishment. By the time we reached the outer walls of the castle they were excited and eager to explore. A good reminder that children will rise to the occasion. The castle is also reachable by car or citybus if you so choose, but the experience was definitely more rewarding after a vigorous hike.

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Although the Visegrád Castle can be traced to the Bronze Age, its current fortress was built between 1245-1255 A.D. The fortress guarded the Royal Crown for more than 200 years and was the summer palace of King Matthias I during the early Renaissance period. The historic stronghold consists of the Upper Castle (Citadel) and the Lower Castle, which connects the Upper Castle with the Danube below. We toured the Upper Castle, which is rightfully called Fellegvár or “Castle in the Clouds”. We truly felt as if we were floating in the clouds. Part castle, part ruins, with tiers of steps that kept going up. The views from this fortress are absolutely stunning. We happened to time our visit as the sun was setting and it was such a brilliant site.

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The Citadel also has several exhibits, showcasing a replica of the crown jewels and a wax museum recreating scenes from the 1335 meeting of the Kings. On the grounds, there are also touristy things like archery and an opportunity to take pictures with a hawk. We happened to visit on Family Day (last Sunday of every month), so we lucked out with free admission.

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The downside of spending Sunday night in Visegrád is that almost everything is closed on Mondays. Poor planning on our part. We would love to make a second trip to Visegrád to explore more of the city. On a return visit, we would be eager to tour the Royal Palace, which also happens to feature a fairytale playground, King Mattias Historical Playground and catch a tournament or drum parade at the Solomon Tower in the Lower Castle. The kids would also be fascinated by the Court of Crafts at Palotaház, where they have an opportunity to learn about medieval stonemasonry, pottery, smithery, and papermaking. Other fun activities might include a ride on the Visegrád Bobsled track and a round of minigolf.

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The Danube Bend region is such a wonderful place for nature lovers. There is a small village called Dömös, just west of Visegrád, which is the starting point for some fantastic hiking. The most amazing panoramic views of the Danube Bend can be found by climbing Prédikálószék, one of the highest peaks of the Visegrád Mountains. Unfortunately, weather and timing were not on our side, as Gabe and I had hoped to attempt this hike without the kids. Maybe next time!

We truly enjoyed our family centered weekend and definitely recommend a visit to the Danube Bend. Esztergom and Visegrád both have beautiful natural landscapes and plenty of historical charm. If you only have time to visit one, I preferred the medieval town of Visegrád. Visiting the Visegrád Castle was truly a highlight. We generally prefer to be on our own schedule and travel a little more slowly with the kids, but there are plenty of Danube Bend tours and river cruises that may be of interest to others.