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It is the oldest town in Hungary and the administrative centre of Vas County. Szombathely was a provincial seat in the Roman Empire named Savaria. A wealth of Baroque heritage has survived in this town. The name Szombathely is from Hungarian szombat, "Saturday" and hely, "place", referring to the fact that medieval markets were held on Saturdays.

The majority of the old buildings in the town are heritage buildings and nearly every house bears some interesting history or legend.

The Bloom House is renowned for its literary history connection: the building directs the visitors' attention to Leopold Bloom (Virág Lipót in Hungarian), the hero of James Joyce's famous novel Ullysses who claims to have been born in Szombathely. In memoriam of that, on the 16th of June each year 'Bloomsday' awaits guests with an array of cultural events in Szombathely as well as in a number of towns around the world.

Othere festivals to be enjoyed here include the Savaria Historical Carnival (Savaria Történelmi Karnevál) held annually, there is also the week long General Arts Festival connected to St Martin's Day and the International Dance Competition.

Since 1777, Szombathely has been an episcopal seat and accordingly there are many Christian heritage sights in the town. The Ecclesiastical History Museum and Treasury is hosted in the building of the episcopal palace. There are several Maulbertsch paintings in the cathedral next to a relic of St Martin gifted to the bishopric of Szombathely by the archbishop of Tours. The statue representing the Madonna and Child in the cathedral's Mary Chapel is an art historic rarity by Raffaello Romanelli, carved in Carrara marble.

Other major sights in the town include the Garden with Ancient Ruins, the Iseum is part of a grand 2nd-century complex of two temples dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis by Roman legionnaires. When the smaller temple was excavated in the 1950s, the city decided to reconstruct it. The frieze on the sacrificial altar depicts Isis riding the dog Sirius.

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