Budapest Gellért Hill Walking Tour:
Location: Gellért Hill (Gellérthegy)
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Museum and sight costs below)
Style: Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour (Self Guided)
Start: Rudas Baths
Stop: University of Technology
Walking Distance: 1 mile
Walking Time: 1 hour (3 hours with sights)
Fun Scale: 8 out of 10
Overview Of Gellért Hill:
Known for having the best view of Budapest and one of the best spas anywhere, Gellért Hill (Gellérthegy) is an often the over-looked gem of Budapest. The cave of the hill were inhabited before the city was even officially settled. Thermal spring waters later attracted more visitors and the hill created a natural point of defense. Today the numerous unique sights make Gellert Hill a great way to spend part of a day.
While you can take Bus 27 all the way up Gellért Hill, the full hike up only takes 20 minutes and covers more sights. With a combination of both history and views, plus unique photo opportunities, you’ll be happy you made it.
The Gellért Hill Walking Tour Sights:
1. Ruda Baths: Built in the 1500’s while Budapest was under Ottoman rule, the Ruda Baths are a great example of a traditional Turkish Bath House. Many visitors actually prefer Ruda Baths compared to other locals Baths for its more authentic feel. Ruda has a series of pools with different temperatures feed by mineral rich springs that you rotate between to get the full bath house experience. The pools include a 6 thermal pools ranging from 16-42°C and a 29°C refreshing swimming pool. With an ancient domed interior and natural, pin hole lighting, you’ll feel like you are a spice trader visiting olden days Istanbul. Our favorite part are the tons of small stained glass skylights on the dome that let in a wide range of colored light beams.
The Rudas Baths are fully nude on the weekdays and the days are divided by gender, but on the weekends it’s swimsuits and mixed genders. Rudas Baths are unique in Budapest as they are the only ones open on Friday and Saturday nights. Other unique features are their salt wall and the fact that they also have private baths. Getting Here: Take the M2 Metro Line to Batthyány tér, from here take either Tram 19 or 41 south to the Döbrentei tér stop and walk one block south along the river and you’ll run right into the baths. Both Tram 19 & 41 continue to Gellért Baths/Hotel making your return trip easy. Hours: Daily 6am-8pm; Men only on Monday & Wednesday-Friday; Women only on Tuesday; Mixed Gendered on the weekends; fully nude on weekdays. Night Bath Hours: Friday & Saturday 10pm-4am. Cost: 2,800 HUF. Baths Website: (HERE).
2. Saint Gellért Monument: This multilevel monument spans an artificial waterfall and is capped by by a statue of Bishop Gellért holding a cross while boldly looking over Budapest. Bishop Gellért first came to Hungary from Italy around the year 1000 to convert Hungarians to Christianity. Many of the local tribesmen who settle the area 100 years earlier resisted the conversion and rolled Bishop Gellért down the hill in a barrel to his death. Shortly after Gellért’s death, Stephen I the first became the first King of Hungary and made Christianity he national religion. As the population turn Christian they viewed the Bishop as a martyr and gave him Sainthood as Saint Gellért.
Today you can walk along all three levels of the monument gaining better and better views of the city below. Directly across the Danube River from the Gellért Monument you can see the twin towers of the Inner City Parish which was built over the grave of Saint Gellért in 1046 A.D. The Parish is a highlighted stop on our Pest Monuments Walking Tour. As you walk further up Gellért Hill toward the next stop you’ll notice a collection of smaller statue monuments honoring Plato, Jesus, and Gandhi.
3. BPartner Property Management Office: A long the side of Gellért Hill is a refreshing little red castle which serves as the headquarters for BPartner Property Management. BPartner manages a number of large apartment complex and condos around Hungary. There aren’t any tours or historical significant here, but taking photos of little castles is always a lot of fun.
4. Former Citadel (Citadella): The Citadel was built by the Habsburg dynasty in 1854 after the War of Independence when many Hungarians tried to kick the Hapsburgs out. The fortress may look like it was built to defend the people, but instead was to demonstrate the Habsburgs’ control over the Hungarians. From the hill’s vantage point cannons were positioned that could hit both Pest and Buda to silence any future uprising. In 1867 the Austria and Hungary join a pact to form a joint Empire and the Citadel is giving over to the Hungarian Citizen. They quick tore large holes in the walls to symbolize it was no longer being used for military purposes. The then Citadel sat mainly vacant until WWII when both German and Hungarian forces made it a joint stronghold to fight off the Allies. Ultimately the Soviets ended up seizing the Citadel and used it against the Nazis to bomb Budapest and perform attacks. The Citadel ended up being vital to the Soviets in WWII when then gained control of it and used the position to bomb the Nazis. With control of the hill on their side, it didn’t take the Soviets much longer to defeat the Nazis.
The best thing to take in at the Citdel today are of course the view of Budapest, outdoor exhibits of both Saint Gellért and actual Soviet Artillery Guns, and the he Citadel Museum complete with 3 levels of bunkers, a prison yard, and a 1944 wax museum. If you’re hungry in Hungary, the Citadel Cafe has a great terrace overlooking the city, and both the disco (bar) and restaurant are their own attractions springing out of converted fortress bunkers. Although a little on the higher end, the Citadella Panorama Restaurant, has the best dining views of any eatery in Budapest. Especially if you can be here before dusk the early evening lighting of the city below is stunning. The Citadel is also currently working on adding the Eye, which will be a mini-Space Needle offering great 360 degree views from an even higher vantage point. Citadel Hours: Daily 8am-11pm. Museum Hours: 9am-8pm May-September; 9am-5pm October-April. Museum Cost: 300 HUF. Citadella Panorama Hours: Daily Noon-Midnight. 360 Degree Photos: HERE.
5. Liberation Monument (Szabadság Szobor): Sitting high above Budapest, the 46 foot tall Liberation Statue stands on a 84 foot tall pedestal while lifting a palm leaf toward the city as a symbol of peace. The monument was built in 1947 in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi forces during World War II.
Originally the Monument was surrounded by a bunch of Soviet themed statues including a 10 foot tall Soviet solider holding planting his flag and a 20 foot tall Soviet solider holding machine guns. When Communism in Hungary fell in 1989, these Soviet solider statues a long with most other Soviet statues in Budapest were removed from the city and moved South to Monument Park (Szoborpark). The main statue of the Liberation Monument was allowed to stay, however, they removed the inscriptions supporting the Soviets in favor of, “To the memory of all of those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and success of Hungary.” The only supporting statues remaining at the Monument are a female figure holding the torch of progress and a young man’ killing a dragon which represents the defeat of fascism.
6. Mansion Villas: Out of the wooden area springs a series of beautiful mansion villas. It’s said that during WWII a couple of they served as safe houses harboring Jews who were avoiding the Nazis. Historical photos at the Citdael, make it appear that the mansions were built on what was once Jubilee Park.
7. Cave Church (Sziklatemplom): As you approach the Southeastern tip of Gellért Hill you’ll be drawn to a large stone cross put here in 2001 as a beckon of faith. This new stone cross marks the spot where a prior wooden cross stood for ages marking the entrance to the Cave Church which sits directly below you. From the cross, a short switchback path will bring you to the South-facing entrance of the main attraction, the historic Cave Church. It’s said that the cave itself has been used since people started settling in the area before the year 1000. With Pest being the Slavic word for cave, the hill was first called Pest Hill, which lead to the village across the river being called Pest as well.
As you approach the main gate to the Church notice the statue of hermit Saint Ivan who in medieval times lived in the cave and used the nearby thermal waters to heal the sick. Like St. Gellért in the early days of Budapest, Ivan’s actions helped cement Christianity on many of the locals. It wasn’t until the early 1920’s that worships by the group really started coming here, but it was newly formed Pauline order of Monks to decided to renovate the St. Ivan’s Cave into and actual Chapel. The Monks were fresh off of a 1924 pilgrimage to another famous cave church Lourdes and decided to remodel St. Ivan’s Cave in Lourdes image including widening the main entrance, renovating the tunnels and adding a monastery.
The Pauline Monks soon became the official caretakers of Saint Ivan’s Cave which was fitting as they are the only order of Monks (Friars) to have originated in Hungary. The order of Monks was named after a 3rd century desert hermit in Egypt named Paul of Thebes. Paul lived most of his life in a desert cave with little food and was said to have survived with help from a raven who brought a loaf of bread every day. In the central chapel of the Cave Church you’ll see the statue of St Paul, who is considered the first Christian hermit, with his raven on his shoulder.
The the Hungarian Government changing hands a few times, the Pauline Monks were pretty much left to themselves until Easter Monday, 1951 when the then Communist Government arrested all of the Monks and charge them with treason for not conforming. The Monk leader was killed and the others were sent to labor camps for 10 years. If that wasn’t enough the Government also sealed the entrance to the Cave Church with an 8 foot thick wall of concrete. Finally when the Communist Government fell in 1989, the concrete wall was torn down, the Chapel was fixed up, and it opened back up to the Monks and the public again. Today the Cave Church and Monastery is home to 10 Monks and you can see lots of this Soviet concrete wall framing the gated entrance. Hours: Daily 8am-7pm. Cost: 500 HUF. ChurchWebsite: (HERE).
8. Gellért Baths: Sprouting out of the thermal waters of Gellért Hill, the Gellért Baths have been refreshing visitors since 1918. prior to the Baths being opened, the waters had first been utilized to heal the sick in the 1400’s by St Ivan, who lived in the Cave Church. The Ottman’s were the first to develop Bath houses in Budapest when they controlled the region in the 1600’s. They Ottomans loved the warm temps of the Gellért Hill water and called these springs Mud baths (sárosfürdő) because of the fine silt that settled at the bottom of the pools.
Today the Gellért Baths are enclosed by the beautiful Gellért Hotel and offer a great family friendly experience. The large outdoor wave bath has been popular with tourists since it opened in 1927, and although it’s not as famous as the one in City Park it’s bound to be less crowded. If you are looking for more traditional Turkish-style baths Gellért also has them located inside along with an adventure pool for the kids. Expect the indoor baths to always be divided by gender.
Carrying on the tradition of healing established by Saint Ivan the complex offers a full array of healing and nurturing services. These services include pedicures, massages, Thai massages, private baths, saunas, and even a hairdresser. Our favorite part are the numerous sun bathing terraces spread throughout and even on top of the Hotel and Bath complex. Overall, although it does have history of its own, it is not quite as authentic as the Rudas Baths and are not as famous as the ones in City Park, but are the perfect choice if you want a full family experience. As a parent its a lot easier to enjoy the Baths knowing your kids are also having fun. Hours: Daily 6am-10pm. Cost: Adult is 5,100 HUF; Child is 3,300 HUF; Guests of Gellert Hotel get their first admission free. Massage: Is about 4,000 HUF an a half an hour. Baths Website: (HERE).
9. Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd): The Liberty Bridge, also called either the Freedom Bridge or the Green Bridge, was finished in 1896 in the image of the larger Chain Bridge just to the North. Local legend is that Emperor Franz Joseph put that last bolt of the bridge in himself on the Pest side of the River during a ceremony also dedicated to the opening of the Great Market Hall. There was some pomp and circumstance involved in the opening and not only was the last bolt made of silver, but the bridge was also originally named after the Emperor. Because the bridge was am important one for transportation, is was strategically bombed by the Allies in WWII. Only the middle of the Liberty was blown up, but it was still unusable. The bridge was soon fix and slightly remodeled into the more industrial green bridge today and renamed after their liberation from the Nazis.
Outside of the green color and cool evening lighting of the current quarter mile long bridge, the coolest part is definitely the 4 large Falcon of Turul statues on the top of each major pillar. These statues mirror the one found at the Buda Royal Palace and is a symbol of national pride. The Tutul is a special Falcon which had also been the symbol of the Hunnic Empire, led by Atlia the Hun, whose capital city was in modern day Hungary. After the fall of the Roman Empire in Italy, Atlia not only grew to control most of Eastern Europe into Asia from 434-453, but also ran devastating raids on countries like France. Although long gone when the Magyar settled the area in 896, the Huns were legends for their power and the settling Magyar tribes took the Tutul as a symbol to say both they believed they have some Hun heritage, but also to say they are the choose people to look over the land where Atlia Empire was centered.
10. Pauline Monastery (Pálos Kolostor): Then the Pauline Monks took the Cave Church over in 1934 they also built themselves a Monastery facing the Danube River. The first tower you come by is the private entrance for the Monks to take into the Cave Church and the larger building with multiple towers is the Monastery itself.
11. University of Technology: Established in 1782, the Budapest University of Technology is widely considered the 3rd Technical College in the World behind one in Germany and another in Turkey which are barely older. Although founded as a University in 1782 the roots of the Tech School actually go back to 1635, causing some historians to call it the oldest official Tech School in the World. The University’s main campus centers the large palace-like building facing the Danube River. The grounds aren’t really worth your time, the checking out the front facade of the main building is neat. If you are short on time you should be able to get decent views from of Tech School’s main building either from Liberty Bridge or from Across the Danube River. It is especially pretty at night when it is all lit up.