Debrecen  and it’s surrounding countryside is where you should go to experience the real Hungary of the betyar (cowboys) and the czardas (inns). Far from Budapest and its Germanic influences, this is a city where the nineteenth-century patriotism that awoke the Hungarian nation is still running strong, aided and abetted both by a Calvinist stubbornness and by the youthful idealism of its large student population. Although it’s Hungary’s second city, it is both easy to manage and – with a forest within city limits – as close to nature as a city can be. It is also the gateway to the stunning Hortobagy National Park, a piece of Asian steppe in Central Europe.

Debrecen’s identity as the centre of Calvinism in Hungary is confirmed by the dominating presence of the Great Reformed Church on Kossuth tér (March–May Mon–Fri 9am–4pm, Sat 9am–1pm, Sun noon–4pm; June–Aug Mon–Fri 9am–6pm, Sat 9am–1pm, Sun noon–4pm; Sept & Oct Mon–Fri 9am–4pm, Sat 9am–1pm, Sun noon–4pm; Nov–Feb Mon–Fri 10am–3pm, Sat 9am–1pm, Sun noon–4pm; 600Ft; T52 412 695), with its sparse and austere interior. Inside, you can browse the Hungarian Declaration of Independence (in English) which Lajos Kossuth proclaimed here on April 13 1849, and see his chair and memorabilia, or simply take the lift up the Eastern tower to the panorama bridge for a bird’s-eye view of the city.

Behind the church is the Déri museum (Tues–Sun 10am–6pm; 2000Ft; T52 322 207), whose permanent art collection includes Munkácsy’s awe-inspiring paintings
of Christ.

The other focus of the town is located at the end of the #1 tram line running north from the station via Kossuth tér: the area around the University and The Great Forest (Nagyerdő), which is really a fancy name for the admittedly large city park. There, you can find restaurants, bars, a botanical garden, a zoo and a large amusement park, as well as the august Aquaticum spa.

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