Hortobágy (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈhortobaːɟ]) is an 800 km2 national park in eastern Hungary, rich with folklore and cultural history. The park, a part of the Alföld (Great Plain), was designated as a national park in 1973 (the first in Hungary), and elected among the World Heritage sites in 1999. The Hortobágy is Hungary's largest protected area, and the largest semi-natural grassland in Europe.
Until recently it was believed that this alkaline steppe was formed by the clear cutting of huge forests in the Middle Ages, followed by measures to control the course of the Tisza River, allegedly resulting in the soil's current structure and pH. However, Hortobágy is much older, with alkalinization estimated to have started ten thousand years ago, when the Tisza first found its way through the Great Hungarian Plain, cutting off many streams from their sources in the Northern Mountains. The formation was finished by grazing animals and wild horses during the Ice Age, followed by domesticated animals.
One of its most iconic sites is the Nine-holed Bridge. Traditional T-shaped sweep wells dot the landscape, as well as the occasional mirage of trees shimmering in the reflected heat of the puszta (steppe). Part of the national park is a dark sky preserve.
Hortobágy has also had more negative connotations, as a site of forced labor under the communist regime.
The easiest way to reach the national park is to go by car. The drive is less than 2 hours from Budapest and it is therefore quite easy to reach the park.
When to visit
The park is most popular during summer and the warmer months. However, you can still do trips during winter as long as you are properly prepared. The temperatures drop dramatically during the winter season in Hungary.
Map of Hortobágy National Park
Image gallery of Hortobágy National Park
Visitor/Information centres in Hortobágy National Park
Most national parks have an associated visitor centre to help visitors. They are usually open most of the year but some close in the off-season. You will often be able to find information on all the activities in the national park. A visit to the visitor centre is often recommended before venturing into the park.
Mushroom hunting in Hortobágy National Park
Mushroom hunting is a popular activity in Hungary. There are event a free mushroom inspection available in the major market places funded by the local government. This is common knowledge among the local population and they frequently use the service.
National parks are often more restrictive than other forests and you should seek explicit permission from local authorities before starting your mushroom hunt.
Camping rules in Hortobágy National Park
Wild camping is generally not allowed in Hungary. There are rural areas where wild camping is tolerated. However, you should always speak to local authorities or private land owners before engaging in wild camping. National parks and protected areas are often more restrictive and you should therefore stick to designated campsites.