Sat across the Danube from historic Szentendre, Visegrád and Esztergom, Vác is often overlooked by those looking for a weekend getaway from Budapest. A shame, because this busy riverside city has attractions worth a day out at least. It’s also well connected by rail – heroic poet Sándor Petőfi travelled here on Hungary’s first train, which arrived from Budapest in 1846.

A stroll of under ten minutes from the station where Petőfi came in almost 175 years ago, the central square, triangular-shaped Március 15. tér, sets the Baroque tone. Most of the historic buildings you’ll be admiring date from the 18th century: the City Hall, the Curia wine museum and the so-called White Church.

It was at the White Church that the famous Vác Mummies were found in 1994, a cache of 265 naturally preserved corpses from the 18th century. Across the square, an exhibition at the Ignác Tragor Museum displays funeral gifts, coffins and three of the mummies found in the tombs.

Over on Konstantin tér, Vác Cathedral is one of the largest of its kind in Hungary, an imposing Baroque landmark on the site of the original church from the 11th century. French architect Isidore Canevale created the current structure in the 1700s. It’s worth having a wander inside to admire the breathtaking interior. Opposite stands the Bishop’s Palace and its openly accessible garden, while archeological excavations are still in progress around Géza király tér, the oldest part of Vác where ruins date back to the Turkish siege.

Walking parallel to the Danube, past Váci Fegyház, a prison since 1855, you come to the city’s most unusual landmark. The only one of its kind in Hungary, a triumphal arch pre-dates its more famous counterpart in Paris, created for the grand entrance of Habsburg royal Maria Theresa in 1764. The suspicious monarch decided against passing under it, and just walked on by. Today, car traffic runs through it, unlike the Empress.

From the riverfront, regular ferries head for Tahitóthfalú across the Danube between May and September, but a stroll around nearby romantic Rév köz and surrounding thoroughfares is the perfect preface to an evening meal any time of year.

On Eszterházy utca, the Révkapu Kávézó és Kisvendéglő serves quality lunches and evening meals while just off Rév köz on Katona Lajos utca, the Remete Pince has been serving classic Hungarian fare for 40 years, the current management since 2005.

For something sweet, head back to the main square, where the Mihályi Pâtisserie is run by namesake owner László Mihályi, the only Hungarian confectioner to have taken part in the Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie in Lyon. Born in nearby Sződliget, Mihályi gained experience all over the world before returning home to open this landmark outlet. Look out for his Vác dessert, concocted with a historian friend of Mihályi’s for the 250th anniversary of Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa’s triumphal visit. The ingredients link back to the kind of raw materials available at the time, including the peaches for which Sződliget was once famed.

Vác Tourism Március 15. tér 17
Open: Mon-Fri 9am-5pm

From Budapest: Regular trains from Nyugati station, 40min journey time, 650 forints single. By car, Vác takes 45min, average petrol cost 4,500 forints, including a ten-day motorway pass.