Visit Štúrovo and Esztergom – two cities walking distance away from each other, being in different countries! Explore the largest church of Hungary, learn about the city that used to be the capital of Hungary centuries ago, and travel back in time. This small pair of villages, on the Danube shore between Bratislava and Budapest, are a lovely day trip from either capital city or a nice stop over when travelling between the two.
Štúrovo is Slovakia’s southernmost town with the warmest climate located at the Slovak – Hungarian border. It’s separated from Hungary only by the Danube river – you cross a bridge and you’re in a different country! It’s known for its tolerant atmosphere, as diverse ethnic groups and people of different religions live together here in harmony. This is the place where the Danube starts its southward curve, and offers a beautiful view of the Esztergom basilica (below on the picture).
Štúrovo is 2 hour drive away from Bratislava. It’s a little town with approximately 11 000 inhabitants. You will not need much time to spend here actually – most of the people stop by for the view on the cathedral, and then move on to Esztergom. If you have extra 30 min time though, you can walk in the city center – along the Hlavná ulica (translated as Main Street) which dates back to the 19th century. It’s interesting to know that the town has had its current name only for a few decades – before, it was called „Parkan.“ The origin of the word lies in the Hungarian language (párkány = ledge, sill). After the formation of Czechoslovakia, Parkan became a border town of the new republic and its name was changed to Štúrovo in 1948.
If you feel like having something sweet, at the end of this main street there is a small patisserie. Decent coffee and traditional cakes, for very symbolic prices.
In summer, many people visit Vadaš – a bathing resort which is the town’s major attraction, with six habitual pools and one pool with artificial surf.
THE CONNECTING BRIDGE
Historians assume that when Emperor Marcus Aurelius led military expeditions to the lower Pohronia, the Roman legions crossed the Danube right in the place where the bridge is now. The bridge of Maria Valeria was originally built in 1895. During World War II, retreating German troops blew it up along with other bridges near Esztergom. The connection between the two cities became a boat ride. It was only in 2001 when the EU, Slovakia and Hungary decided to invest to rebuild it. And, as Slovakia and Hungary are part of the Schengen Area, there are no border controls here.
Only 46 kilometres (29 miles) northwest of the capital Budapest, lies Esztergom – a small town that used to be the capital of Hungary from the 10th till the mid-13th century. Back then it was the center of the country’s political and economic life. It is one of the oldest towns in Hungary. The results of the most recent archeological excavations reveal that the Castle Hill (Várhegy) and its vicinity have been inhabited since the end of the Ice Age 20 000 years ago! A Celtic settlement existed on the Várhegy until the region was conquered by Rome. This town, with its spectacular scenery and numerous memorials, being a witness of the struggles of Hungarian history, is popular mostly with tourists interested in the beauties of the past and art.
SIGHTSEEING IN ESZTEROM
The emblematic building of the Castle Hill of Esztergom, commonly known as the Esztergom Basilica, ranks first among the churches of Hungary. The historical heritage of the cathedral dates back over a thousands years. Following the conquest and the settlement of the Hungarians, Prince Géza ordered a church to be built on this site next to his palace. The founder of the state was crowned here at Christmas 1000. It was King Stephen who set up the organization of the Hungarian Church.
The cathedral, consecrated to the memory of Bishop Saint Adalbert, was extended with side-chapels during the Middle Ages, of which there is one that survived to the present day.
One of the must-see items on your to-do list is surely the Crypt under the cathedral. The imposing building erected like the Egyptian burial vaults is the resting place of hundreds of cathedral priests and archbishops of Esztergom.
Tombstones of the earlier cathedral dating back to the early modern period are also exhibited here.
One of the most beautiful lookout spots are from the dome’s cupola.
Once you manage to climb 413 stairs, you will be rewarded with a splendid view.
When you leave the basilica, walk around the area to find the statue of King Saint Stephen or the green door – both spots are great for fans of beautiful photos :)
Royal Castle Palace & Museum
Right next to the basilica, there’s the Royal Castle (Király Vár). The first to build a palace after the Romans with a church on the Castle Hill was Grand Prince Géza. His son, Vajk, was born in the building and was also baptised – as István/Stephen and crowned here. The first houses were built around the mid- 11th century. At the end of the 13th century, the block of the present royal palace was erected in several phases.
Until the 16th century, the Esztergom archbishops rebuilt and decorated the palace and castle a few times. The most important not to miss are the frescoes of the palace chapel (12th – 14th century) and outstanding paintings of early Hungarian Renaissance (15th century).
As you continue the tour, you will get to the stairs leading to the St. Stephen’s room and hall. This is believed to be the most intactly surviving living space in Hungary from the end of 12th century!
The hall served as a changing and storage room in the 15th century and as a baking oven in the Turkish age. In the 19th century, King Stephen I was born here, and the room was turned into a chapel afterwards.
When you finish the museum tour inside, don’t miss the small entrance in the corner of one wall in castle’s backyard. Look for the Rondella Gallery with a very thin entrance hidden in a stone wall.
Various exhibitions that enrich the cultural and art life of Esztergom are held here every month.
Walk in the Old Town (Víziváros)
Admire the architecture of beautiful colorful houses and historical churches in delightful streets of the Víziváros (Watertown), surrounded by Baroque and Classicist buildings! It can be a romantic walk when you’re here with your partner, and the area surely is a great photogenic spot for all the instagram-people :)
Right next to the tall white church pictured above (St. Ignac’s Church), which is not open to public, you will find the Christian Museum (Keresztény Múzeum). This building served as the first town hall of Esztergom county after the Turks had been driven out of the region. Now it houses a rich collection of Hungarian panel pictures and sculptures of the Middle Ages as well as Italian and western-European paintings and handicrafts (13th-18th centuries).
There is a small nice park near the museum, where you can spend some time walking – and if you are not in hurry, walk along the river embankment! You’ll spot locals hanging out here or jogging.
One of the churches worth of taking a picture is the Saint Anne’s Church (also called a „round church“) with a memorial cross. This Roman Catholic church was built in the beginning of the 19th century and can be found at the Rudnay Sandor Square. It is only open when regular masses are held.
EAT & DRINK
In search of another lookout spot? Visit Vaskapu Menedékház, a small guest house situated to the east of Esztergom, on a hill 404 meters high. The mountain peak is a popular hiking destination. This is also due to the fact that it is easily accessible by car, from the downtown there is an asphalt road leading to Vaskapura, from where you can see the whole town.
We picked this place to have breakfast in the morning – in fact it was one of the few places we managed to find, which was offering breakfast during the weekend. However, their menu is quite wide and you will surely not be disappointed when you come during lunch time or in the evening.
Primás Pince is located right within the Castle area. It might indicate that it is a tourist trap, we ended up here though as we were very hungry after the castle tour. The first impression – the interior – was impressive. Tall ceiling, large chandeliers, dim lighting, very polite service – it started off well. But when the food arrived, we were quite disappointed. Nothing from what we ordered was really tasty. Fine to satisfy your hunger but if you want a place with exceptional food, this is not the one to choose.
On the other hand, Csulok Csárda, which you can find in the historic environment of the castle, offers traditional specialties of the Hungarian cuisine. This „cellar“ has a great ambiance, super friendly staff and we loved the food to the last bite! Definitely would come back again.
(source: Csulok Csarda Facebook)
You can’t leave the town without trying the local spirits (pálinka). Probably the best place to do so is Pálinka Patika – which translates as the “Spirits Pharmacy.” This house of spirits distributes nearly 100 kinds of distillates!
Some people say each city is more magical by night. We won’t argue about that – different strokes for different folks :) But we agree that Esztergom’s charm, once the moon light rules the night, will impress you.
One of the places which have a very different feeling when visited by day or night, is the Dark Gate (Sötétkapu) for example. By day, it does not look like anything special. But when dark, all lit up… look yourself:
Dark Gate is a tunnel located under the artificial slopes of the Castle Hill near the Basilica. It became known as Dark Gate due to the lack of lighting. From both sides of the tunnel, a huge 3700 m² wine cellar opens, where the wines of the Archdiocese of Esztergom were kept.
The main square of the town is called Széchényi Square (right picture). When walking from the Castle towards it, you will see the Miklosffy Chapel on the way (left picture). The chapel was built by a member of the Miklósffy family, which is extinct today.
The Széchényi Square is also where the Pálinka Patika is located. From here, it takes around 10 mins to walk up to the hill and to the chapel – and to get this kind of view on the city. Isn’t this a great way to end a day trip? :)
WHERE TO STAY
In case you want to stay for the night in Esztergom, and you’d like to have a true Hungarian experience, book a night in the guest house Szent Kristóf. It is set in the centre of the town, with free WiFi and free private parking provided at the property. The owner is a very friendly old man who manages to speak English and will himself try to explain you what to see and where to go :)
The rooms are simple but have all you might need. The small terrace and a well kept garden provide space to relax. A children’s playground and a bicycle storage room are also available on site. And, both Esztergom Castle and the historic centre are within easy walking distance!
Enjoy your stay!
Our tip: Check out all tours, trips and activites in Esztergom here!
Author & photo credits: Maria Kecsoova