Budapest Castle Hill Walking Tour:
Location: Buda Castle Hill (West Side of Danube River)
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Museum & Funicular Fees Below)
Style: Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour (Self Guided)
Start: Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Pest side of Danube)
Stop: St Anne’s Church (Batthyány Tér Metro Stop)
Walking Distance: 2.6 miles
Time: 90 Minutes of Walking (4 hours with sights)
Fun Scale: 9 out of 10
Overview of Castle Hill:
Sitting in the Buda Hills, high above the Danube, the Castle District (Budai Várhegy) is amazing to visit during the day and extremely beautiful while lit up at night. Getting here can be a little tricky a the only subway stops lie at the bottom of Castle Hill. The best way to do it is to start on the Pest side (Eastern) of the river and stroll across the famous Szecheny Lanchid (Chain Bridge) to the base of Castle Hill. From there you can great a great view of the city by taking the funicular up the rest of the way or if there is a long line just hop on bus #16. The entire Castle District area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sights.
The Castle Hill Walking Tour Sights:
1. Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lanchid): The historic quarter mile long Chain Bridge was completed in 1849 as the first permanent bridge connecting Buda and Pest. It was also the first permanent bridge spanning the Danube River in all of Hungary. The bridge was needed to help Pest escape flooding and lead the merging with Buda and Óbuda in 1873. With large lion statues guarding all four corners of the Bridge, its easy to feel its power. Great photo opportunities come not only from the statues but also from the Chain Bridge itself with the breath-taking Buda Hills & Royal Palace in the background. The Bridge is absolutely gorgeous when lit up at night.
*At the end of the Chain Bridge you will come to…
2. Clark Adam Square: This large roundabout is named after the Scottish engineer Clark Adam, who built the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the Buda Hill Tunnel in the mid-1800s. The bustling roundabout is a huge meeting point for pedestrians, buses, trams, and cars pretty much any time of the day. The center of Clark Adam Square is always filled with a delightful collection of fresh flowers. Make sure to check out the 10 foot tall Zero Kilometre Stone on the South side of the Square. This limestone sculpture is meant to look like a zero as it marks “kilometer zero” from which all roads in Hungary were measured from. Although we recommend taking the funicular up, Bus #16 also departs from Clark Adam Square to the top of Castle Hill.
*Directly across the square you will see the Castle Hill tunnel to the right and to the left is…
3. Buda Hill Funicular (Budvari Sikló): First built in 1870, the Sikló provides the commanding views of Budapest will whisking you up Castle Hill. The funicular was totally destroyed during WW2 and it took all the way until 1986 for it to reopen again. The new Sikló has two 24 person trolley-style cars which easily climbs up the 48% grade. This is by far the coolest way to get up Castle Hill as it is cheap, fast, and direct. Did we mention the views? The other options to reach Castle Hill are to walk up the strenuously steep hill, take an expensive taxi, or jump on bus #16 which is cheap and stops in Clark Adam Square. Hours: 730am to 10pm, leaves every 5 minutes. Cost: 870 Ft one way or 1400 Ft round trip.
*At the top of the funicular look to your left and you will see…
4. Buda Royal Palace (Budavári Palota): During your entire walk across the Chain Bridge, the Buda Royal Palace towers over you waiting for your arrival. Now that you are finally here, the first thing you’ll notice is a big statue of the mythical bird Turul. Folklore says that the Turul led early Hungarian (Magyar) migrations in the 800’s and dropped his sword in the region indicating it was to be the new home of the Hungarians. The Hungarian capital was originally in the city of Eszergom, but when the Tatars started taking over Europe in the 1200’s King Bela IV moved the capitol here to Buda. With the new capital established, a much larger Grand Palace than the one before you dominated Castle Hill.
This giant Grand Palace lasted through a lot of turmoil and was even untouched through over a 150 years of Ottoman occupation. The Hapsburgs ended the Ottoman occupation by capturing Buda and Pest in the name of Austria in 1686 and quickly tore down the Grand Palace. In an effort to make Buda in the image of Austria they moved the Magyars to the country side, moved thousands of German speakers in, and built and even grander Baroque Palace on Castle Hill. The Hapsburgs held the Palace for over 200 years through the 1848 Revolution all the way until WW2. During the war the Hapsburg’s Palace was destroyed in crossfire as the Nazis and Soviets battled each other on nearby Gellért Hill and has since been replaced by the current dull, domed building before you.
As a tourist, the Royal Palace’s exterior is boring during the day, but is actually quite stunning at night when it is lit up by flood lights. This night view is best seen from across the river with the Chain Bridge lit up in the foreground. Inside the Palace, you’ll find lovely ballrooms, a grand library, gold-plated interiors with rich ornaments, two great museums, and nice exhibitions.
4a. National Gallery of Hungary (Magyar Nemzeti Galéria): The entrance to the National Gallery is dominated by an equestrian statue of the Polish general Jan Sobieski, who fought successfully against the Ottomans. The art gallery holds exhibitions of some of the best known Hungarian painters including Mihaly Munkacsy, Pal Szinyei-Merse and many more. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm, Closed Mondays. Cost: Free, some special exhibits may be extra. Gallery Website: (HERE).
4b. National Széchenyi Library: The National Széchenyi Library is the biggest library in Hungary and is worth a quick peak. The History on among the Library’s 2.5 million books is unbelievable. They have over 1,800 works from the first century of book printing and over 8,000 books printed before 1711 AD. Nationally the Library also has the first book ever published in Hugarian from the 1100’s and first book printed in Hungary called Chronica Hungarorum, or Chronicle of the Hungarians, which was printed in 1473. The darkwoods and antique feel to the Library will make you feel like you a stepping into a cozy 1800’s home library. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-8pm. Cost: Free. Library Website: (HERE).
4c. Budapest History Museum: The approach to the museum is home to one of the most photographed spots on Castle Hill, Mátyás Corvinus Fountain (Mátyás-kút). The famous fountain depicts King Mátyás leading a group of hunters together with their hounds and trophy kill. Mátyás was widely considered the People’s King as he took power from the nobles, evened out taxes, befriended the Ottomans, conquered Vienna and brought Hungary to its Golden Age in the late 1400’s.
Inside the museum you’ll find exhibitions of Budapest that show the Hungarian culture with great details starting from the medieval times up to the modern age. Hours: Summer Daily 10am-6pm; Winter Wednesday-Monday 10am-4pm, Closed Tuesdays. Cost: 1300 Ft Adults, 650 Ft Students.
*When you are ready to leave the palace walk back toward the funicular into St George’s Square. On your right is the yellow dance theater where Beethoven once performed and on the backside of the ruins on your left is the entrance to the…
5. House of Royal Wines and Cellar Museum: Housed in the 13th Century ruins of the old royal wine cellars, the House of Royal Wines and Cellar Museum is the perfect place to learn about Hungarian wines. The actual taste testing are a little expensive for Budapest, but the staff is very knowledgeable, and the museum goes into great detail. The tastings come with a great meat and cheese platter which helps to make it feel like a better deal. Even if you don’t join the tasting, wandering the ancient tunnels of the museum is still a good time. If you are willing to put in a little time learning you may be fast on your way to becoming a local wine expert. Hours: Daily Noon-8pm; Closed on Mondays in the Winter. Museum Cost: Adult 900 HUF, Child500 HUF. Tasting Cost: 3 wines 1350 HUF; 4 wines1800 HUF; 6 wines 2700 HUF.
*As you leave the Office of the President follow the straight road running along the left side of the parking lot, it is called Uri Utca. About 2-3 blocks up you will see a sign for on of the entrances to…
6. Buda Palace Labyrinth (Budavári Labirintus): The Labyrinth of Buda Castle is situated in the complex of caves and cellars underneath Buda Castle District dating back to both the Ottomans and prehistoric times. While there is a ton of great stuff to see here, the best are the giant Crowned Head Statue and a fountain that is filled with red wine. There are many miles of caves to explore and after 6pm they turn the lights out and give you gas lamps to navigate the passages. Their website has a number of very cool videos. If you have kids, note that on Sun from 10am-Noon they have great activities for kids. The Labyrinth is listed as a World Heritage Site and as one of the World’s 7 Underground Wonders.
Hours: Daily 9:30am-7:30pm; last entry 7pm. Cost: Adult 2000 HUF, Children 1500 HUF, Family 4000 Ft. Address: Úri utca 9. Closure Notice: In July 2011 the Hungarian Government seized the main Labyrinth and parts have been closed to the public since then. As of 2013 a new company has has been offering a self guided tour for a more limited area of the tunnels. Their tour is the same price as the old one, but more limited and with some very corny wax figures all over the place. We hope the full tunnel system open again someday. Here is the old companies website so you can see the difference. Labyrinth Website: (HERE).
*After checking out the Labyrinth, get back onto Uri Utca and follow it the same direction as before. About a block and a half up take a right onto Szentharomsag Utca and you will find…
7. Ruszwurm Cukrászda Cafe: This small cafe serves as a great spot to rest during your walking tour as they have a mouth watering selection of pastries, doughnuts, and drinks. The cherry wood with mahogany inlays inside the shop add to the warm antique feel of the interior. Although the current shop was established in 1827, the lot the shop sits on has been a sweetshop forever and was used to be a gingerbread shop in medieval times. Hours: Daily 10am-7pm. Cafe Website: (HERE).
*Continuing down Szentharomsag Utca a couple hundred feet you run smack into the middle of…
8. Holy Trinity Square (Szentháromság tér): The center point of the square in the middle of Castle Hill is the Holy Trinity Statue. The tall white statue was built in 1713 to commemorate the victims of the 1691-1709 plague epidemic and to protect the city from future plight. The statue’s column is covered with angles and capped by elements of the Holy Trinity. Superstitious residents feel the Statue definitely helped as the plague never returned.
Moving around the Square, the Old Town Hall of Buda still stands although it hasn’t been a seat of government since Buda and Pest united in 1873. Our favorite thing in around the Square is the House of Wines is (Open daily from Noon-8pm) which for 3500 HUF will let you taste test up to 55 wines in their beautiful cellar. The House of Hungarian Wines is especially a great place to swing by in the beginning of September when it holds the International Wine and Champagne Festival. If you are looking for food in the Square, the largest state run shops are located on the south side where you can buy sandwiches, salads and soft drinks. After you grab your food take a walk to the Toth Arpad promenade and find a bench for a beautiful picnic while enjoying the amazing view of Buda hills.
*On the Northside of the square, it is the impossible to miss…
9. Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom): The history of Matthias Church is kind of all over the place, but here is a quick overview. A church has been here since 1015 A.D. when Saint Steven built the first Church of Our Lady (Church of Mary). The details of the first church are a little hazy as it was destroyed by a Mongolian invasion in 1242. With the church destroyed, some money disputes arose while planning the next one which required Pope Innocent IV to step in and mediate. With the issue settled the Hungarian King Béla IV quickly rebuilt the church used pieces of the original one. Unhappy with the church 100 years later Louis the Great had it rebuilt in 1370 in a Gothic style that was all the rage at the time. He apparently wasn’t the best builder as the large bell tower later collapsed during church service. When Mátyás Corvinus, known as the People’s King, took over in the late 1400’s the Church got some of it’s biggest additions. The King had the large Mary’s Gate was added as well as the 197 foot tall Southside tower with the King’s raven insignia. Although it is still called the Church of Our Lady, most locals call it Matthias Church after this popular King who also married the Czech princess Katalin Podjebrád inside the chapel.
Matthias did a great job rebuilding the Church as it held through 150 years of Ottoman an a conversion into a mosque. It was actually the biggest mosque in Hungary until the army of Pope Innocent XI reclaimed it for the Christians in 1686. Although the roof was burned and the organ was ruined in WWII, somehow the rest of the church was spared.
Throughout the life of the Church, the rich history of music has made the Church one of the the music centers of Hungary. Musical Performances involve the church choir and orchestra who regularly preform during the Sunday high masses (held in Latin) at 10am. If you prefer organ music you can also attend service at 830am, Noon or 6pm to get your fix. Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm; Saturday 9am-1pm; Sun 1pm-5pm. Cost: 1000 HUF covers both the Church and the attached Museum of Ecclesiastical Art; the sacred chapel area is mainly for worship and always free. They will turn you away if you have uncovered shoulders and men must take off their hats. Church Website: (HERE).
*Walk either through or around the church and you will be on the…
10. Fishermen’s Bastion (Halászbástya): Almost every postcard in Budapest shows a part of the romantic Fishermen’s Bastion with its fairytale white towers. The Fishermen’s Bastion’s seven towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that settled the Carpathian Basin 896 A.D which holds modern day Hungary. The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen who were responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages. Due to WWII bombings and lack of maintenance the Bastion of on the verge of ruins before money was raised in 2006 to start a restoration. Today the revived Bastion has a great panoramic viewing terrace, with many stairs and walking paths and an amazing atmosphere.
A hidden gem at the Bastion is the Halászbástya Restaurant (website) located under the base level of the through an iron gate and statue laden tunnel. The restaurant is fancy and expensive for Hungarian standards, but is still affordable with meals from $10-20. We prefer eating on the open air Bastion Terrace all the way at the top of the Bastion instead. The views from the Terrace are amazing and they have a wide selection of hot and cold meals, plus drinks of course. The Terrace is open the Spring through the Fall 10am-10pm and in the Winter they also have a separate indoor heated terrace with great views as well. Every after guests can sit back and relax to the tunes of a Gypsy band playing international and Hungarian favorites. Bastion Hours: 24 Hours. Cost: Free, in the Spring and Summer they charge a small fee if you want to climb to the top of the towers.
*After a nice rest at go to the far northern tip of Fishermen’s Bastion and you will be able to going into the back entrance of and walk right through the…
11. Faust Wine Cellar: The Faust Wine Cellar sits in an old tunnel below the Hilton Hotel and has a great atmosphere and even better wine. The cave like Cellar sells wine by the glass and also has a series of tasting packages. If you are stopping by for a special occasion you can arrange for them to have a gift scroll waiting at your table for just a couple of dollars. A favorite among tourists are the 30 different flavors of Pálinka wine made from Hungarian fruit spirits. The Dominican Cloister near the passage to the Cellar dates back to the 1200’s and was recently restored.
The Hilton Hotel sitting above the Cellar was the first major American hotel to come to the castle district, and while it is over-rated for accommodations, serves as a great landmark. You’ll easily notice the Hotel’s glassy exterior, but if you look closely you will see that some of the facade is actually made up from the ruins of a 13th Century wall once stood here. Hours: Thursday-Tuesday 1-9pm; Closed on Wednesdays. Reservations: Reservations are not required, but we suggest them just in case it’s busy since it’s easy to email have them hold a table through their website. Getting Here: Walking into the Hilton Hotel and go past the bar, there will be signs leading you to the Wine Cellar and Dominican Cloister. The passage down is 54 steps, but is well worth it. Cellar Website: (HERE).
12. Mary Magdalene Tower (Mária Magdolna Torony): Once the location of a Gothic 13th Century Franciscan Church called Kapisztrán Templom, Mary Magdalene Tower stands as a great memorial to the past. The original church was named after a hero of Hungary’s victory in 1456’s Battle of Belgrade against the Ottomans. The Pope himself was so happy about the victory that he ordered that all churches bells must ring at noon to celebrate. When the Ottoman’s finally overtook the city for from the mid-1500’s to the 1686, the Kapisztrán Church was the only one in Buda to not be converted into a mosque and remained an active church.
Like many churches in Budapest, Kapisztrán was heavily damaged during WWI, but because people had been moved out of this part of the hill the government never rebuilt it. They instead cleared the area and built Mary Magdalene Tower in its place as a memorial to the war. Notice how the memorial tower’s bell still tolls at noon.
*Directly across the street from the church ruins you will see a large imposing building which is the…
13. Museum of Warfare (Hadtorteneti Muzeum): Highlights the history of Hungarian Wars throughout time and displays a wide range of weapons and tools. It costs a couple euros to get in, a couple more if you want to take photos, and has very little explanations in English, but if you are a big history or war buff you’ll love this place. Sitting behind the Museum and capping the edge of Castle Hill, Anjou Bastion has a couple great view points looking out onto Buda. It’s hard to miss the shrine honoring Abdurrahman Abdi Arnaut, who was the last Turkish Governor to rule Hungary during the nearly 150 year Turkish occupation of 1541 to 1686. Hours: Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm, closes at 4pm in the Winter; Closed Mondays; also Closed mid-December through mid-January. Cost: Free, sometime special exhibits are extra. Museum Website: (HERE).
*Walking along the bastion, you will run into the building neighboring the Warfare Museum to the north, it is the…
14. Hungarian National Archives: The Hungarian National Archives pretty much has everything you can think of in terms of scientific researches, family history, and the accessibility of legal documents to help you dig into any regional ancestry you may have. We really love looking through their large collect of super old historical photos. Even if you don’t go inside, it is easy to get wowed by the size on the Archives building and the beauty of its tiled roof. Notice how similar the tiles are to those on the roof of Matthias Church. Hours: Tuesday-Friday 8:30am-5:45pm. Museum Website: (HERE).
*After leaving the archives, take a left and start circling the building and you go right through the…
15. Vienna Gate (Bécsi Kapu): The area near the Vienna Gate served as a market for non-Jewish merchants in the Middle Ages and was also a crossroad for trading. It is said that if you go through the Gate and walk for 10 days you’ll reach Vienna. Before entering the Gate, walk up to the houses to the right which are level with the top of the Gate. From here you’ll be able to walk on the top of the Vienna Gate and get a great look at old Buda down below. The neighboring house numbers 5-7 have been the homes of many well known Hungarians over the year and Thomas Mann was said to stay here often in the 1930’s. The photo to the right shows the outside of the Gate as it appeared in 1896.
As you make your way through the Vienna Gate, the park area just outside the Gate is a peaceful retreat. The park is called the Europe Grove Park after Mayors of the 16 largest cities in Europe came here in 1972 to each plant their choice of rare tree. As you descend the hill, imagine what is must have been like living in one of the neighboring Baroque houses looking up at Castle Hill in medieval times.
16. The Swan House (Hattyúház): Sitting on the corner of Hattyú (Swan) Street, the Swan House is one of the coolest modern buildings you’ll find in Budapest. It was originally built in the early 1800’s as a military hospital before being turned into Music Hall and Hotel called the White Swan Inn (Swan Vigadó). One of the Hall’s most famous concerts was when the famous Budapest composer Liszt’s held a show where all of the proceed were donated to charity. In the 1990’s the Swan House got a facelift where they did a very unique blend of old stone arches, reclaimed wooden doors, and modern concrete curves. Today the Swan House has a bunch a different types of businesses including a cafe and a number of small offices.
A hidden gem for photographers is the Hungarian Post Office Headquarters which lies two blocks to the West of the Swan House in Moscow Square. The building more resembles a red fortress more than an office building which makes the Soviet influence really stand out. Slightly zoom out on our map above and you will see it.
17. Parliament River Views: As you make your way to the Danube you’ll have amazing views of the Hungarian Parliament directly across the river. If you thought the views of the Parliament from on top of Castle Hill were cool, you’ll be floored at how awesome the views from the river are. Some of the best group photos were taken in Budapest pest have been near the river with the Parliament as a backdrop. The Red Bull Air Race makes a stop from year to year in Budapest around the 20th of August. It is a high-flying, aerial race against clock which sends stunt planes very to close to historical buildings, the Danube, and even the fans.
*Overlooking Batthyany Ter by the river it’s hard to miss the twin towers of…
18. Church of Staint Anne (Szent Anna Templom): Definitely worth a stop as this is one of the most beautiful baroque buildings in Budapest. The church itself is highlighted by twin green onion-shaped bell towers on the outside and a dark medieval feel on the inside complete with a large cupola and altar.
*A nice couple block stroll along the Danube and you’ll find yourself in front of the tile roofed…
19. Reformed Church (Református Templom): From the outside this is our pick for best looking church in Budapest. While it may not have the grand interior like St Stephens in Pest, the Reformed Church with its warm tones and tile roof is quite a majestic sight.
20. Hungarian Heritage House: Over looks Corvin Square and serves the purpose of preserving and promoting Hungarian folk tradition. They have sponsor/run various stage performances and are very active in a number of local festivals. House Website: (HERE).