175km South of Budapest
If you dare venture far enough away from downtown Budapest, so far that even the musk of kolbász wafting from the hentes bolts is but a distant memory, fear not, for you are in Szeged, home of famed Pick Szalámi, halászlé (fish soup) and the virulent seeds of the 1956 revolution.
A walk from the train station, however, down wide, poplar-lined streets to the Hősök kapuja (Heroes‘ gate) at Aradi vértanúk tere suggests little more than the fresh-air pleasantries afforded by life outside Budapest. Bike paths abound, people are inclined to smile. Maybe Tisza water just does the body good.
Szeged is a little scant on cultural programmes, especially compared to its museum-laden neighbor, Pécs, and is certainly best taken in on foot. If you’ve already covered the usual routes to the smattering of churches at Dóm tér, up the banks of the Tisza toward the leafy grounds at Széchenyi tér, be sure to explore the pedestrian mall at the heart of the downtown. This grid of streets, where refurbished neoclassical buildings house the usual foreign chains and local cafes, has a Vaci utca-esque vibrance without the decadence. A certified people-watching spot.
But the afternoon bustle belies the sleepiness of the city. Once the downtown has all but cleared out, you could do worse than settle at Café Corso for an inexpensive pint (but avoid the mulled wine.) Located on Kárász utca, it’s a surprisingly unpretentious alternative to the overpriced confectionary cafes that seem to dominate the nearby square. In the summer months, try Acapella, next door, for its highly touted ice-cream. When the waiter hands you your cone, see if you can spot his Szegedi accent, probably the closest thing to a Hungarian southern drawl.
Once you’ve lapped up the relaxed atmosphere and absorbed the architectural highlights, you may find yourself looking for something more. If so, take advantage of the fact that you’re just a stone’s throw away from the Serbian border. While it’s an inconceivably slow stone’s throw, the one car train journey is brimming with character, making it worth every puttering minute.
If you have more than a day or two, Szeged makes for an ideal starting point for more drawn out excursions into nearby northern Serbian towns like Subotica (Szabadka) and Novi Sad, where a little Hungarian, even in a Budapesti accent, might go farther than English.
Pocket-sized Szeged isn’t exactly packed with things to do but with or without the Serbian add-on, there should be enough to satiate the weekend wanderer or Budapest escapee.
Trains run every hour from Nyugati taking approx. 2hrs.