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Today Hungary is a parliamentary republic, with a wealth of architecture and ruins left behind from its medieval, Ottoman, and Imperial periods—all of which hints at its multifaceted past.
Though the people of Hungary consider Attila the Hun their first great leader, the Kingdom of Hungary as it exists today began with King Stephen I, who accepted a crown sent by the Pope in 1000 and later went on to be canonized as a saint. The Ottoman and Habsburg empires clashed over the region during the 16th and 17th centuries; by the 18th century, Hungary had become part of the massive Austro-Hungarian protectorate that reigned supreme over much of Europe. The World War I Treaty of Trianon stripped Hungary of much of its territories—including eight of its ten major cities—and the country came under Communist control until 1989.
Modern Hungary is on full display in Budapest, a lively capital city that acts as the political and cultural heart of the nation. This is a city full of monuments to its past, but also a place of arts and culture, cafes and restaurants, and museums and galleries, all enhanced by the presence of the Danube River, which flows through Budapest and divides the city into Pest on the east bank and Buda on the west bank.
While Budapest flourished as a cultural and commercial center in the latter part of the 1800s, the city greatly expanded the number of its buildings to meet the needs of its ever-growing populace. As you walk through the city, you’ll see that many of Budapest’s structures reflect two architectural styles—Historicism and the more predominant Hungarian Art Nouveau. The variations of this Art Nouveau embellished the façades of buildings with decorative ceramic tiles characteristic of Hungarian folk motifs. The cityscape has retained its Art Nouveau elegance throughout the 20th century and is now protected by its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Margaret Island is one of the more unusual destinations in Budapest. The island does not allow motorized traffic; buses, horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and walking are the means of getting around the island. The giant Water Tower building dominates the landscape. There are also the ruins of a convent of Dominican nuns where the island’s namesake, Margaret—daughter of the King of Hungary—lived as a nun in the 13th century.
Hungary’s modern attractions, which include its lavish thermal spas and noted restaurants, are as popular with visitors as its ancient treasures. It is also known for its prized Tokaj wines, and dishes like goulash and foie gras have become culinary staples around the world.