The culture of Hungary varies across Hungary, starting from the capital city of Budapest on the Danube, to the Great Plains bordering Ukraine. Hungary has a rich folk crafts tradition, for example: embroidery, decorated pottery and carvings. Hungarian music ranges from the rhapsodies of Franz Liszt and folk music to modern songs influenced by folk music and Roma music. Hungary has a rich and colorful literature with many poets and writers although not many are known abroad due to the limited prevalence of the Hungarian language. Some noted authors include Sandor Marai and Imre Kertesz, who have been gaining acclaim in recent decades. Janos Kodolanyi was well known in Italy and Finland in the mid-20th century. Imre Kertesz won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2002. Peter Esterhazy is popular in Austria and Germany, and Magda Szabohas recently become well known in Europe as well.
Hungary is home to the largest synagogue in Europe (Great Synagogue), the largest medicinal bath in Europe (Szechenyi Medicinal Bath), the third largest church in Europe (Esztergom Basilica), the second largest territorial abbey in the world (Pannonhalma Archabbey), the second largest Baroque castle in the world (Godollo), and the largest Early Christian Necropolis outside Italy (Pecs). The biggest cathedrals and the most important Hungarian historical architecture are located in the surrounding countries.
The music of Hungary consists mainly of traditional Hungarian folk music and music by prominent composers such as Ferenc Liszt (known in the West as Franz Liszt), Franz Schmidt, Dohnanyi, Bartok, Kodaly, and Rozsa. Traditional Hungarian music tends to have a strong dactylic rhythm, as in the Hungarian language the first syllable of each word is invariably stressed. Hungary also has a number of internationally renowned composers of contemporary classical music, including Gyorgy Ligeti, Gyorgy Kurtag, Peter Eotvos and Zoltan Jeney, among others.
Hungary has made many contributions to the fields of folk, popular, and classical music. Hungarian folk music is a prominent part of the national identity and continues to play a major part in Hungarian music. Hungarian folk music has been influential in neighboring areas such as Romania, Slovakia, southern Poland, and especially in southern Slovakia and the Romanian region of Transylvania, both home to significant numbers of Hungarians. Broughton claims that Hungary's "infectious sound has been surprisingly influential on neighboring countries (thanks perhaps to the common Austro-Hungarian history) and it's not uncommon to hear Hungarian-sounding tunes in Romania, Slovakia and southern Poland".It is also strong in the Szabolcs-Szatmar area, and in the southwest part of Transdanubia, near the border with Croatia. The Busojaras carnival in Mohacs is a major Hungarian folk music event, formerly featuring the long-established and well-regarded Bogyiszlo orchestra.
Hungarian classical music has long been an "experiment, made from Hungarian antedecents and on Hungarian soil, to create a conscious musical culture [using the] musical world of the folk song". Although the Hungarian upper class has long had cultural and political connections with the rest of Europe, leading to an influx of European musical ideas, the rural peasants maintained their own traditions, so that by the end of the 19th century Hungarian composers could draw on rural peasant music to (re)create a Hungarian classical style. For example, Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, two of Hungary's most famous composers, are known for using folk themes in their music. Bartok collected folk songs from across Central Europe, including Romania and Slovakia, whilst Kodaly was more interested in creating a distinctively Hungarian musical style.
In earliest times, the Hungarian language was written in a runic-like script. The country switched to the Latin alphabet after being Christianized under the reign of Stephen I of Hungary (1000–1038). There are no existing documents from before the 11th century.
The oldest written record in Hungarian is a fragment in the Establishing charter of the abbey of Tihany (1055) which, while mostly written in Latin, contains several Hungarian terms, among them the words feheruuaru rea meneh hodu utu rea, "up the military road to Fehérvár". The oldest complete text is the Funeral Sermon and Prayer (1192–1195), a translation of a Latin sermon. The oldest poem is the Old Hungarian Laments of Mary (Omagyar Maria-siralom), also a translation from Latin, albeit a flawed one, from the 13th century. It is also the oldest surviving Uralic poem.
The Hungarian enlightenment followed the Western European enlightenment by about fifty years, reaching Hungary through Vienna. The first writers of the Hungarian enlightenment were, among others, Maria Theresia's bodyguards Gyorgy Bessenyei and Janos Batsanyi. The greatest poets of this period were Mihaly Csokonai Vitez and Daniel Berzsenyi. The enlightenment prompted a reform of the Hungarian language. The greatest figure in this reform was Ferenc Kazinczy. Beginning at this time, Hungarian became useful for scientific writing, and many words were coined to name new inventions.
Hungarian literature has recently gained renown outside the borders of Hungary, mostly through German, French and English translations. Some modern Hungarian authors have become popular in Germany and Italy, especially Sandor Marai, Peter Esterhazy, Peter Nadas, and Imre Kertesz. Kertesz is a contemporary Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2002.
The classics of Hungarian literature have remained largely unknown outside Hungary. Janos Arany, a famous nineteenth century poet, is still much loved in Hungary, especially his collection of ballads. Arany is among several other "true classics" including Sandor Petofi, the poet of the Revolution of 1848, Endre Ady, Mihaly Babits, Dezso Kosztolanyi, Attila Jozsef, and Janos Pilinszky. Other Hungarian authors are Ferenc Mora, Geza Gardonyi, Zsigmond Moricz, Gyula Illyes, Albert Wass, and Magda Szabo
The Hungarian cuisine is a prominent feature of the Hungarian culture, just as much like the art of hospitality. Traditional dishes such as the world famous Goulash (gulyas stew or gulyasleves soup) are popular. Dishes are often flavoured with paprika (ground red peppers), a Hungarian innovation. Thick, heavy Hungarian sour cream called tejföl is often used to soften the dishes flavour. The famous Hungarian hot river fish soup called Fisherman's soup or halaszle is usually a rich mixture of several kinds of poached fish. Other dishes include chicken paprikash, foie gras made of goose liver, porkolt stew, vadas (game stew with vegetable gravy and dumplings), trout with almonds or salty and sweet dumplings, and turos csusza, (dumplings with fresh quark cheese and thick sour cream). Desserts include the iconic Dobos Cake, Strudel (rétes), filled with apple, cherry, poppy seeds or cheese, Gundel pancake, plum dumplings (szilvas gombóc), somloi dumplings, dessert soups like chilled sour cherry soup, and sweet chestnut puree (gesztenyepüré) (cooked chestnuts mashed with sugar and rum, split into crumbs, and topped with whipped cream). Perec and kifli are widely popular pastries.
Many Hungarians have contributed to film art and its technology, but, due to political reasons, many of them found it was easier to find success abroad. As of 1996, Hungarians working in Hollywood had received more than 136 Academy Award nominations and about 30 Academy Awards. The peak was in the decade of the 1940s when about 43 nominations were given to exiled Hungarians.