Photo: Great Synagogue © iStock/ kgfoto

Hungary’s fairy tale architecture, abundant thermal springs and enchanting, folklore-steeped history make it a must-visit destination. Yet aside from its famous attractions, the country has some fascinating secrets that most visitors don’t know about. From world-class wine to ski slopes just outside of Budapest, here are ten facts you never knew about Hungary.

1. It has an inner sea
Ok so it’s not an actual sea, but given that it covers almost 600 square kilometres, it’s no surprise that Lake Balaton acquired the nickname, ‘Hungarian Sea.’ The freshwater lake is an hour southwest of Budapest, and the largest in Central Europe. Visit to enjoy everything from sailing to a leisurely dip in its waters.

 2. Double the alphabet
The 26 letters of our alphabet seem rather measly next to Hungary’s 44. Even more intriguing, some of those letters are actually comprised of letter combinations. For instance, dzs, which is pronounced as j. No wonder it’s a notoriously difficult language to learn…

3. It’s an ancient wine country
The oldest demarcated official wine region in the world is not Provence, but Tokaj in Hungary. Experts have found traces of viticulture dating back more than two thousand years, and the French King Louis XIV once declared a Tokaji tipple to be the “wine of kings, king of wines”.

4. Hungary and The King of Rock and Roll
What does Elvis Presley have to do with Hungary? Quite a lot, it turns out. In 1957, he paid tribute to the country’s recent anti-Soviet uprising with a performance of “Peace in the Valley”. In 2011, Hungary awarded Elvis posthumous citizenship in recognition of his support all those years ago.

5. Strap on your skis
Hungary doesn’t usually spring to mind as a ski break destination, but it should. The country offers a collection of beautiful, lesser-known slopes; Dobogókő Ski Centre is the closest to the capital, and the larger Síaréna Eplény has been dubbed “the little Alps”.

6. An Extraordinary Synagogue
Budapest is home to the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world. The rose and gilt façade on the corner of Dohány Street is certainly hard to miss, and its sumptuous interior can seat up to 3000.

7. Record-breaking Caves
Hungary’s capital is well known for its thermal baths, but the subterranean labyrinth beneath them is more of a secret. It’s home to the world’s largest thermal cave system and visitors can don a helmet and explore the pink-hued Szemlö-hegy, one of the few caves open to the public.

8. It’s home to (part of) a mummified king
Mummies aren’t just for Egypt, you know. Wander over to the Saint Stephen Basilica in Budapest and you will find something rather unexpected preserved in the chapel. The mummified right hand of King Stephen, the country’s first monarch, is displayed in an ornate glass case and considered a sacred relic.

9. A nation of inventors…
On top of everything else, Hungary has produced a string of genius inventors. It was in fact Hungarian engineer Béla Barényi, rather than Mr. Porsche, who designed the legendary Volkswagen Beetle. Architect Ernö Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube, and László Bíró dreamed up the ballpoint pen.

10. …and masters of the silver screen
Hollywood has Hungary to thank for much of its success. The founders of Paramount Pictures and the Fox Film Corporation, respectively Adolf Zukor and Vilmos Fried, both hailed from this part of the world. Michael Curtiz, director of Casablanca, was born Mano Kaminer in Budapest.