We’ve made a discovery: if Veszprém were actually located on the shore of Balaton, the ridiculous rivalry for the capital of the lake title would be over once and for all. Some people might be inclined to disagree with a statement like this, but the fact remains that Veszprém always has lots to offer in terms of entertainment, even when the towns and villages of Lake Balaton are just coming out of winter hibernation. We’re launching a new series – we’ll soon let you know why – where we’ll test the Balaton region from a whole bunch of different aspects. First, we visited Veszprém.
We’ve recently spent a long weekend in Veszprém, and we’ve realized that even though it’s a county seat with a population of 60,000 people, it still offers surprisingly diverse opportunities to leave the concrete jungle behind and seek solace in nature. We wanted to see for ourselves what Jutas vitéz Observation Tower was like because we’d heard that its structure was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s Fibonacci sequence, but when we got there we found out that Leonardo and the spectacular design are pretty much all there’s to it. There’s only one thing missing really: the view. There are some hills to the left and a factory to the right, but you can see a much nicer landscape from either the Fire Lookout Tower in the castle or the recently inaugurated lookout tower on Gulya-domb. We’ve also learned that there’s a hiking trail, a bike path, and a street workout station in the woods near Jutas Tower.
We know now that nothing can go wrong once you find the valley of the Séd. This is one of the friendliest corners of not only Veszprém, but also the entire Balaton region; it’s unique for many reasons, one of them being its playgrounds and convenient network of attractive walking and bike paths. The nicely laid-out stone paving, the peaceful atmosphere, and the lush greenery can easily trick you into believing that you’ve crossed over to neighboring Austria despite the fact that this tranquil oasis is actually located only a little over 100 km from Budapest.
Price: The playgrounds, walking and bike paths are free, but if you don’t have a bicycle, you’ll have to rent one. Entry to all lookout towers except for the Fire Lookout Tower is free of charge.
Awesomeness factor: 8/10
What’s missing: A simple, functional bicycle sharing system.
There are so many great eateries on our testing list that we can’t say we’ve tasted everything worth tasting in the town, but these are the restaurants we can recommend wholeheartedly:
There are two more places that are permanently featured on any top list of the best eateries in Hungary, and they are ranked very high on our testing list, too: Chianti, a Mediterranean-style restaurant with a menu equally inspired by Hungarian and Italian cuisine, and the restaurant of Villa Medici, which may be traditional in interior design, but is very progressive in gastronomy.
Price: It depends on the restaurant. If you choose a top-category eatery, you may easily have to shell out more than 10,000 forints for a lunch or dinner for two, but there are also more modestly priced options on our list.
Awesomeness factor: 7/10
What’s missing: There’s no problem with the quality, but things could be better in terms of quantity. It doesn’t take a long time to tick every venue on our list of recommendations, and the selection might get boring after a while.
Taking a long stroll in Veszprém’s Castle District is worth it for several reasons. The obligatory atmospheric, cobblestone alleys and the breathtaking view from the cross on Benedek-hegy are just the start; visiting the museums and churches of the town – all of which are open in May – can get you acquainted with a whole other section of local life. We’ve already written about how contemporary culture has seeped in among the Baroque houses, and we’ve also told you about who László Vass is, why he has a prominent collection of contemporary art, and who’s designed the Archbishop’s Palace.
Since then the museum inside the Veszprém Castle Dungeon has also opened its gates; getting inside may be a little bit complicated, but the exhibition is absolutely worth the trouble. Since it’s found inside the building of the Veszprém Courthouse where hearings are held all the time, visitors can only access the museum with a guide. Before dropping by, you should definitely call the museum in advance because guided tours may be cancelled if there aren’t enough participants.
One of the most memorable moments of our March visit happened at the Cathedral Basilica of St Michael. With only a couple of museums open, it was apparent that the town was only beginning to come to life after the winter period. The only reason we were able to go into the grand church was because there was a small group of elderly ladies and gents at the gates who thankfully didn’t want to take no for an answer. Inside we bumped into a lady who was busy vacuuming the floor, but when she learned why we were there, she immediately took on the role of tour guide and told us everything there’s to know about the premises.
Even though we can’t possible recall all the interesting facts she imparted to us, we can remember the most important details (it operated as a house of prayer during Turkish rule, it was damaged in the 1907 earthquake that hit Tatabánya, and some of the walls were erected in the Árpád era). We felt like we were back in school, only this time the material was much more fascinating. Before we left, she unexpectedly asked: “And have you seen a genuine religious relic?”
When we said no, she pointed in the direction of the space in front of the altar: “Then go there, and take a quick photo.” As it turns out, a bone from Queen Gisela’s arm is kept here; seeing it with our own eyes was uplifting and bizarre in equal measure. If the kind lady hadn’t drawn our attention to it, we would have never noticed it ourselves, and we would still not have seen an actual relic.
Price: You probably can’t visit more than one or two museums over a long weekend, and two tickets will probably not cost you more than 2,000-3,000 forints. Definitely drop by the basilica: you can take a peek at the arm of Gisela free of charge.
Awesomeness factor: 7/10
What’s missing: Easier access to the Castle Dungeon.
A visit to the zoo is a foolproof option you can always resort to on a sightseeing tour of Veszprém. It simply never gets old, and you never get the feeling that you’d rather be doing something else. Veszprém Zoo has welcomed lots of newcomers in the past few years: a bunch of little elephants moved into the new elephant park, followed by rhinos, a big band of penguins, common seals, flamingos, and scarlet ibises. This place is a must, especially with little kids – it’s not every day that you get to hang out with ring-tailed lemurs or chameleons basking in the heat of a radiator instead of Amazonia.
This year the zoo will add a dinosaur park featuring several lifelike plastic dinos and a geological exhibit spanning the past 250 million years.
Price: Tickets for adults cost 2,500 forints, while students are admitted for a fee of 1,700 forints. Considering that a visit could last all morning/afternoon, we think the pricing is quite fair.
Awesomeness factor: 8/10
What’s missing: More animals. The new section on Gulya-domb is much more sparsely populated than the old one.
We wouldn’t say that we’re still talking about the nights we spent in Veszprém, but we’ve seen a pub full of punks where you have to at least be in the league of Sid Vicious to be served. It took a lot of exploring, but we eventually found Szigony, the town’s new, alternative cellar pub, which opened in March, where we were finally able to grab a mug of Staropramen (for 500 forints) without being asked why we wanted to come and check out Veszprém’s nightlife scene in the first place. Szigony is a cool, underground hangout where the walls are adorned with vinyl records, surfboards, and graffiti; the program is really versatile, including everything from up-and-coming European punk bands to ear drum-shattering drum ‘n’ bass parties.
Expresszó Club represents a more popular direction: the weekend lineup is usually made up by the top acts of Petőfi Rádió and Budapest Park. This weekend it’s Akkezdet Phiai, next week’s schedule will feature Magashegyi Underground, and Wellhello will also make an appearance before the end of the month. Expresszó is closed during summer, which is totally understandable because the bands playing here are busy going from one festival to the other. Expresszó can be found in the basement of Hangvilla culture center.
Hangvilla is a totally different genre from the two above-mentioned places, but we must include it here, since it caters to a diverse audience, with events featuring the likes of renowned author Péter Esterházy, the Mendelssohn Quartet, and popular psychiatrist Imre Csernus. Hangvilla fulfils all the different roles a good culture center should, and the actual building – with its glass palace-like appearance – looks much prettier than most Hungarian community centers, which generally reflect the country’s socialist traditions. Beauty pageants, beat tribute bands, world-famous jazz musicians – Hangvilla has them all. Petőfi Theater plays an equally significant role in the life of the community; its Art Nouveau building, designed by István Medgyaszay, is often visited by architecture fans.
Price: Szigony will set you back about 1,000 forints, the admission fee at Expresszó is 1,000-2,000 forints, and the most expensive gigs at Hangvilla are priced around 4,000-5,000 forints.
Awesomeness factor: 7/10
What’s missing: Culture buffs will have plenty to do here with all the concerts, lectures, and museum exhibits, but the town could definitely do with more high-quality clubs and pubs that are halfway between the top-notch wine bars (like Fricska and Decanter Bistro) and the favorite haunts of the punk community.
This article is part of “Enyém a Balaton!”, the joint campaign of MasterCard® and We Love Balaton. Stay tuned for more details.