There is no place like Hungary (Magyarország). Situated in the very heart of Europe, this kidney-shaped country can claim a unique place in the continent's soul. Doubters need only listen to the music of Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók, view the romantic Danube River as it dramatically splits Budapest in two or taste the nation's unique (and paprika-infused) cuisine to be convinced. Hungary's impact on Europe's history and development has been far greater than its present size and population would suggest. Hungarians, who call themselves Magyars, speak a language and form a culture unlike any other in the region - a distinction that has been both a source of pride and an obstacle for more than 1100 years.
Hungary is the best place to enter both Central and Eastern Europe. While some of its neighbours may have more dramatic scenery or older and more important monuments, Hungary abounds in things to see and do, and those with special interests - fishing, horse riding, botany, bird-watching, cycling, thermal spas, Jewish culture - will find a treasure-trove here. Under the old communist regime, most of the government's focus and money went to Budapest. As a result, foreign visitors rarely ventured beyond this splendid city on the Danube River, except on a day trip to the Danube Bend or to Lake Balaton. These places should be visited, of course, but don't ignore other towns and regions off the beaten track: the tanya világ (farm world) of the Southern Plain, ethnically rich Northeastern Hungary, the Villány Hills in Southern Transdanubia covered in vineyards and the traditional Őrség region in the far west.
The '90s were not a stellar time for the reborn republic. Its economic development was in limbo and serious economic problems affected all aspects of daily life. Thankfully, those days are past and many now view Hungary, with its intelligent, hard-working populace, and rich and vibrant culture, as the star performer and most interesting destination of the new Europe.