20 August is an all-round national holiday, held to celebrate Saint Stephen’s Day and the foundation of the Hungarian state with fireworks and events throughout the country. Székesfehérvár claims a special right to hold celebrations on the day: the town 65km south-west of Budapest was a royal residence in the Middle Ages and kings and queens were crowned and buried in its basilica until it was destroyed by fire in 1601.
The site of the basilica can still be visited, but the town’s royal past now lives less in stone than in memory, perpetuated amongst others by its annual Royal Days International Folk Dance Festival. This is held annually over several days running up the 20th of August since 1996, with close to 5,000 dancers and musicians from 130 ensembles and 60 countries participating in the festival to date.
The tradition continues this year, with guest ensembles coming from Albania, Costa Rica, France, Georgia, Nepal, Russia, Spain (Mallorca) and Finland.
The festival opens and closes on 15 and 20 August with the groups parading through the town, each day finishing with a gala performance on Town Hall Square (Városház tér). In between, folk dance and music performances keep the square’s stage busy while further events are held in the Dance House (Táncház) where the participating folk groups organise activities for children and hold performances, gastronomy events and dance workshops for all members of the public.
Royal Days International Folk Dance Festival
Wednesday 15 to Monday 20 August
Town Hall Square (Városház tér) and Dance House (Táncház), Malom u. 6
The parades on 15 and 20 August and open-air performances on Városház tér are free.
Tickets: Events held at the Dance House cost HUF 600 for children up to 14 and HUF 1,200 for adults.
By car: 65km from downtown Budapest on the E71/M7 to Balaton, taking exit 60 and following Route 62 till Székesfehérvár. Journey time 50mns.
By train: Departures from Déli station throughout the day. Journey takes one hour, one-way tickets cost HUF 1,300. Timetables at www.elvira.hu.
By coach: Frequent departures from Budapest’s Népliget bus station. Journey takes 1h15, one-way tickets cost HUF 1,300. Timetables at http://ujmenetrend.cdata.hu/uj_menetrend/volan/