Discover family-friendly Lake Balaton with its resorts offering relaxation and wellness for parents in conjunction with activities and amenities for children. The lake itself is shallow with gently sloping beaches and blissfully warm water in summer. Activities on the water or the sand include pedaloing, windsurfing, wakeboarding, fishing and volleyball. Siófok is the biggest resort, on the lake’s southern shore, and has a good choice of villas for family holidays. On the northern shore, Balatonfüred is a friendly town with a pretty harbour, a promenade, parks, homely restaurants, and good family hotels. On a rainy day, head for Keszthely at the western end of the lake, with its marzipan museum and equally sweet doll museum, and, for the gruesomely minded, a museum of torture.
Away from the shores of the lake, there’s a huge waterpark at Zalaegerszeg, with wave machines and a 300m artificial river, and at Tapolca a subterranean cave lake that you can explore by boat ride. There’s loads of scope for horse-riding or cycling in the area, and for exploring the castles at Nagyvázsony or Szigliget, which sometimes host displays of jousting and archery.
Venture east of Budapest (185km), to the Hortobágy National Park, Europe’s biggest protected steppe (it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Here, Hungarian grey cattle, stud horses, the spiral horned Racka sheep and buffalo herds graze on open pastures. Head for the Puszta Animal Park, where you can see grey cattle, water buffalo, goats and mangalica pigs in open-air folds and pens. You might also get the chance to watch some csikósok – Hungarian-style cowboys – crack whips and perform bareback stunts in traditional dress at the Szálkahalom Nature Reserve. This latter offers trips out into the seemingly endless flat-lands by horse-drawn wagon, and wonderful views of the bird life of the forests and salt lakes from its former patrolman’s lodge, where there’s an exhibition on local curiosities.
At the village of Hortobágy itself, the Herdsman’s Museum has displays about the hardy local shepherds, who used to live outside in summer and winter alike. Also here is the Máta Stud Farm and Animal Farm, where Nonius horses have been bred for three centuries.
Make a jaunt northwest of Hortobágy, to check out Hungary's largest artificial lake, Lake Tisza. Since being built in the 1970s, this has been popular with Hungarians as a cheaper and less crowded alternative to Balaton – like Balaton, it offers beaches with toddler-friendly shallow bathing areas, watersports facilities, play areas, open-air baths, campsites and places to hire equipment.
Head due north of Hortobágy, to Eger, best known for its wines but also home to an impressive castle where locals, despite being heavily outnumbered, held off the Turks in 1552, partly though the local women showering rocks, hot soup and boiling fat onto the foe. The siege is said to have given the local Bikavé or ‘Bull’s Blood’ wine its name. The best time to come to Eger is mid June, for the Border Castle festivities, with martial arts demonstrations, stilt-walkers, giant puppets, and a recreation of life in Turkish times, including belly dancing, music, food and a prayer call from the surviving Turkish mosque.
Travel due north of Eger, to the border with Slovakia, where the Aggtelek Nemzeti National Park is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site, this time by virtue of its gorgeous caves full of stalactites and stalagmites. The 26km Baradla Cave, which runs into Slovakia, is Europe’s largest stalactite cave.
In the south of the country, Pécs is a lovely, friendly town with Hungary’s Natural History Museum and a zoo, as well as the UNESCO listed Necropolis of Sopiane, with spooky underground tombs with murals on Christian themes. Its being a university town means that most people speak English.