Northwest Hungary: Sopron and Surroundings

A church in a Hungarian city.

The northwest corner of Hungary, near the country’s borders with Austria and Slovakia, offers visitors a magical combination of historic towns and natural beauty. Located in the lower slopes of the Alps, the region’s walking trails and villages have views over vineyards and bucolic river valleys. It’s also home to two of the country’s most enchanting historic towns—Sopron and Kőszeg. If you are traveling from Budapest, you’ll also want to stop at Pannonhalma en route. Whether you are arriving from Vienna (an hour away) or Budapest (just over two hours), this charming area of Hungary makes for an appealing detour. Here is an itinerary that includes the area’s highlights.

Commissioned by the Government of Hungary with the support of the European Union.

Cacao Beans


A Sweet Tour

On a tour of Sopron’s Harrer Chocolate Factory you’ll learn about how chocolates are made and then get to sample an astounding variety of truffles and bar chocolates, paired with a glass of sparkling Hungarian wine.
Will Kiburz


Will Kiburz

Will Kiburz began his career in travel when he was 16, escorting groups for Coronet Travel, a St. Louis agency started by his mother in 1977. Since 2000, Will and his brother, Jack, have led Coronet Travel, specializing in high-end independent leisure travel. In 2012, Will joined the AFAR Travel Advisory Council. Will treats all of Coronet’s clients like family, and some of those relationships are now in their third generation.
A spire from a road in a town.

DAY 1Sopron

If you begin your journey to this part of Hungary in Vienna, then Sopron is a logical first stop. The town has an enchantingly romantic atmosphere, thanks to the beautifully preserved historic buildings and squares and streets that still follow the ancient medieval plan. While the city can trace its roots back at least to the days of Rome, most of the buildings that visitors see today are later Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque buildings. Many of them now house inviting restaurants, wine taverns, and coffee houses.

The city’s Castle District underwent a recent restoration, recognized as an outstanding example of urban planning. Spaces that had been claimed as parking lots have been turned into green spaces and pedestrian promenades. It all makes for an ideal place for a stroll followed by lunch or a drink—perhaps a glass of Blaufränkisch wine (a red that is a typically Central European variety)—at one of the neighborhood’s cafes. Traveler who want to learn more about Sopron’s wines will want to stop by Taschner Wine and Champagne House, on a hill overlooking town, while those with a sweet tooth will want to stop by the Harrer Chocolate Factory and Confectionery for a tour and tasting.

The iconic landmark of the main square, Fő tér, is the Fire Tower—a 13th-century building rising to a height of 190-feet and topped by a multi-tiered onion dome (which dates from the 17th century). Guards once monitored Sopron’s streets from the tower’s balcony. Today travelers who ascend to the balcony can take in bird’s-eye views of the city below. Among the historic sites and museums to visit are the Bakery Museum, the Roman Forum, the Mining Museum and the Zettle-Langer Collection, with works by Rembrandt and Durer. For dinner, reserve a table at Erhardt, a charming restaurant in a 16th-century building with its own garden.
A Hungarian palace with a large lawn

DAY 2Lake Fertő

Lake Fertő (also known as Neusiedl in German—the border between the two countries runs through the middle of the lake) is famous for its alternating periods of flood and drought. The last extended arid period lasted for three years in the mid 1800s. The lake is great for biking with stops for wine and food en route. You can experience charming villages on the Austrian side of the lake in places like Morbisch and Rust or take a swim at the beaches in Podersforf and Illmitzen. For lunch, Raspi Winery in Fertőrákos celebrates natural and raw local ingredients.

Not far south of the lake, Esterházy Castle has been described as Hungary’s Versailles. The lavish 126-room, 18th-century palace was constructed as a home for the powerful Esterházy family. The palace’s most famous resident was Joseph Haydn, who lived there from 1766 to 1790 and wrote the majority of his symphonies for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy.

Drive a little under an hour south from the castle, and you’ll arrive at Kőszeg. Often described as a Hungarian “jewel box,” the town’s picturesque squares and cobblestoned streets create a magical atmosphere. Kőszeg dates from the medieval era and its most famous landmark is the 13th-century Jurisics Castle, an impregnable fortress that long protected the town’s citizens. After exploring town, enjoy a cold bottle of the local brew at the Kőszegi Brewery. Known for producing award-winning beers in the first half of the 20th century, the brewery reopened in 2016 and is again a favorite of beer connoisseurs.
Four people eat lunch at a table in a courtyard

DAY 3Spa & Pannonhalma

On day 3, drive east from Kőszeg and visit the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This abbey is a thousand years old—making it one of Hungary’s oldest historic buildings—and has long been a popular attraction known for its 13th-century Gothic basilica, monastic library, arboretum, herb garden, and wine cellar. The monks are well known for the artisanal chocolate, herbal lotions, liquors, teas and white wine they produce using environmentally conscious management practices.

The dramatically contemporary Viator restaurant, located near the abbey in the town’s main square, opened in 2010. It’s quickly developed a reputation as one of Hungary’s must-eat destinations.

Spend the afternoon taking part in a typically Hungarian ritual, visiting a hot spring spa. The Bükfürdő Thermal & Spa in about an hour’s drive from Pannonhalma. Famous for the high mineral content of its water, the spa complex includes both traditional pools and a kid-friendly adventure zone, with a lazy river and a bubble pool. About the same distance from Pannonhalma, the Spa and Thermal Bath of Sárvár opened in 2002. It features six different pools filled with healing mineral water, a “Sauna World” with a number of different saunas and steam rooms, and a family zone. No matter which one you choose, you will feel refreshed and relaxed before you continue on to Budapest, where you’ll check into the Ritz-Carlton, an ideal base to explore Hungary’s capital.
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