Measurements of vapour pressure, taken four times a day over a 3-year period, were used to investigate the urban influence on diurnal and annual patterns of vapour pressure differences. The examined settlement is a medium-sized city without significant relief in the Great Hungarian Plain. Its regional climate is continental with a long warm season. On the basis of the results, the air in the city centre is more humid than in the rural area both by day and at night for the duration of the whole year. The diurnal pattern shows that the urban excess has its minimum at 01:00 h and its maximum at 19:00 h in the summer months, but similar regular diurnal variation does not exist during the rest of the year. The annual patterns show that the excess increases from January–February to August and then decreases until November–December at each observation time. The differences and variations of urban humidity excess can be explained by different moisture sources and by different energy balances in the urban and rural environments. Unambiguous relationships exist between the variations of urban humidity excess and a regional aridity index, between the variations of humidity excess and the water temperature of the River Tisza crossing the city, as well as between the variations of humidity excess and maximum heat island intensity. The role of combustion processes is also significant, especially in the colder half of the year. Copyright © 1999 Royal Meteorological Society.