Buda Castle is, without doubt, one of the star attractions of Budapest. Except it’s not really a castle – it’s a district, built over the ruins of a castle. But there is a palace, called Buda Palace (or ‘The Royal Palace of the Hungarian Kings’, to give its full title) and with all its dreamy spires and fairytale turrets, it looks just like a castle. So people call it Buda Castle. Or sometimes Budapest Castle. Confused? So were we! But it really doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s just an amazing place and you definitely need to visit it. We’re going to give you some good reasons to spend time at Budapest Buda Castle, but first some history (and really, you should read it….)
Budapest Buda Castle (The History)
Budapest Buda Castle Royal King’s Palace District (OK, we’re just going to call it ‘Buda Castle’ from now on) was commissioned in 1255 but only the foundations were built. Years later the Ottomans used the site to store gunpowder and they accidentally blew the whole thing up in 1686.
Thirty years later, King Charles III ordered that a small baroque palace should be built on the site. Work was started in 1715, stopped in 1719 and in 1723 the palace was accidentally burned down (can you see a pattern emerging here?) In 1749 work started again on behalf of Queen Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina (who possibly had too many names) and her palace was finally completed in 1769. She didn’t like it, so it was used as a nunnery and a university for the next 20 years.
In 1791 Archduke Leopold of Austria took it as his royal palace. It soon became the centre of high society and so, of course, in 1810 it was accidentally damaged by fire. Plans were drawn up for a rebuild, but by 1838 only one tower had actually been restored. In 1848 Austria had occupied Pest, including the palace, and so the Hungarians laid siege. They eventually defeated the Austrians but the palace had taken heavy artillery hits. In 1849 it was destroyed by fire. Yes – again.
The next 80 years saw great redevelopment of the whole area, with only a few fires to slow things down, and 1916 King Charles IV of Hungary had his coronation there. To date, Buda Castle and the surrounding Castle District has withstood more than 30 fires, bombings and sieges and it’s still standing! In 1987 It became the first site in Hungary to get UNESCO World Heritage status.
(Fun Fact: In 2010, Katy Perry used the courtyard of the Royal Palace to film one of her music videos. Now bearing in mind how many times the castle burned down, can you guess the title of the track? Yes, you’re right, it was ‘Firework’!)
What’s the best way to get to Buda Castle?
Well, if you’re feeling energetic you can walk. There’s a gentle walk from Széll Kálmán tér (tér means ‘square’ in Hungarian) which will take you about 15 minutes, or you can try the steeper hill climb that starts at the iconic Chain Bridge. But the fun way to do it is to use the funicular, which is the cable car that runs from the banks of the River Danube to Buda Castle.
In operation since 1870, the Castle Funicular is the second oldest in Europe and gives unique views of the Danube, Margaret Island and the art nouveau Gresham Palace on the Pest side of the river. (Fun Fact: Budapest used to be two separate cities – Buda and Pest. They joined together in 1873. Buda is where the money is, but Pest has all the good bars!)
A one-way ticket on the funicular will cost you 1,200 HUF (about €3.50) and will drop you at Castle Hill, between the Royal Palace and Sandor Palace. It runs continually at peak times so don’t be put off by the line of people waiting. And of course you only need a one-way ticket, because it’s an easy walk down!
Do you need to book in advance to visit Buda Castle?
Quick answer: no. Most parts of the Castle District are free to enter, including the Royal Palace. You will need a ticket if you want to visit any of the museums inside, and also for the National Gallery. We’ve got more information on those places if you keep reading. Of course there are many different tours available, starting from €15 for a basic walking tour, and you might want to book these online as some operators offer a discount. We really like the Segway tours which are great fun and allow you to cut down on the walking.
What attractions are near Buda Castle?
There’s really so much to see! We’re assuming you took our advice and used the funicular, so you should be near the Royal Palace. So let’s start there.
Inside the Royal Palace
The palace houses museums and galleries and it’s split into six buildings – A to F. By far the largest space is given to the Hungarian National Gallery, which spreads across buildings A-D and covers four floors. Established in 1957, it offers a collection of Hungarian art from the 10th century to the present day. There’s also some stunning work from internationally-renowned artists like Paul Cézanne, Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet.
Whilst you’re there, you really need to go upstairs and catch the view from The Dome. Do you know that green-tinted glass bit that you can see from the other side of the river? Well, that’s The Dome and you can get entry to the Terrace for only 1000 HUF. The views are spectacular!
Building E is home to the Budapest History Museum (aka The Castle Museum) which includes the chapel and a gothic hall from the original castle, way before the palace was built. And if battles, guns and cannon are your thing, then the Military Museum is right next door.
Lastly, Building F houses the National Széchényi Library, which has over 8 million books, newspapers and manuscripts. This includes Hungary’s oldest book, the Chronica Hungarorum, which was printed in 1473.
The Fisherman’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion is deservedly well-known for its turrets and for spires and it’s built on the exact spot where the local Fishermen’s Guild defended the district during the middle ages. You should definitely pay the 1000 HUF fee to get up to the upper towers, and then be prepared for selfie overkill as everyone takes photos with the Parliament Building in the background. It’s one of the best photo ops in the whole of Hungary!
Matthias Church (The Church of Our Lady)
Built by King Béla IV in 1255, the church is named for the popular King Matthias who was married there. Twice. The outside is quite gothic, but inside has more of an eastern feel – it’s quite a strange combination but it works. The church is known for its excellent acoustics, so there are often concerts there, and it’s also regarded as the most popular place to get married in Budapest (well, it was certainly popular with Mattias. Twice).
If you’re a fan of history then just behind Matthias Church is the ‘3D Past’ exhibit, which is a cinema experience giving an overview of the history of Hungary and its people. In 3D, obviously.
The House of Houdini
Did you know that Houdini was born in Budapest? Well every self-respecting magician does, and many of them come to Budapest just to visit this fascinating interactive museum dedicated to the great escapologist. Opened in 2016, it houses the largest permanent exhibition of Harry Houdini artifacts in Europe. Handcuffs, straitjackets and the famous ‘Water Torture’ chambers are on display, and there are live magic performances throughout the day. It will cost you €6 to enter, and don’t forget to get a picture with Houdini’s shadow!.
The Labyrinth of Buda
Now listen closely…….”It is said that Vlad Tepes, ‘The Impaler’, was betrayed by the good King Matthias. It is said he was imprisoned and left to wither away in the dark, deep Labyrinth of Buda; and that only a dusty tomb remains to mark the spot. Inside that tomb, long ago, was born a vampire…..”
Frightened? We wouldn’t blame you. Nearly 16 meters below the ancient castle walls are swirling passages and chambers; carved from solid rock by underground rivers almost one million years ago. These catacombs once housed torture chambers and prison cells, and you get to walk through them! We suggest that if you fancy a spot of the macabre, you should book an online tour in advance as it’s a very popular attraction.
TBH there are so many other great things to see that we can’t list them all. We can recommend climbing the Magdalene Church Tower (13th century, 170 steps, great view!) and visiting the Sandor Palace (Hungarian President’s home, the changing of the guards is a must-see). If you want something quirky there’s a Museum of Telephones with a fascinating display of old phones and telecoms equipment; or the musicians amongst you might like the Museum of Music History, with more than 1,000 musical instruments on display. Basically what we’re saying is: whatever you want to see, there’s something here for you!
What hotels are near Buda Castle?
From budget hostels to five-star hotels, there’s something in the Castle District to suit all pockets. So, starting from the top, we have the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons, both five-star luxury hotels with great reviews and suitably high prices (if you have to ask, you can’t afford it). The Aria Hotel, slightly cheaper, is also very luxurious. All three are less than a mile from Buda Castle.
For mid-range hotels (roughly €90 per night) there’s also a good choice. We like the Marriott Executive Apartments, the Hotel Moments and the modern-looking Lanchid-19. BTW, we should point out that we do not earn any commission from promoting hotels. Which is a pity……..
Finally, if you’re backpacking on the cheap and all you need is a bed and a roof, then the GNG Home Hostel is less than €15 a night and very close to Buda Castle. And if you go over to the Pest side, hostels can be found for half that amount. As always, booking well in advance will get you better deals.
What restaurants are near Buda Castle?
So many restaurants! Buda Castle is one of the top tourist attractions in Budapest, and there are restaurants to cater to every palette. Zona is quite upmarket and good for a special occasion. Tabani Kakas does a nice range of Hungarian dishes and it’s reasonably priced. But there’s one place that everyone’s trying to get into…..
Cafe Ruszwurm Cukrászda
In Hungarian, a cukrászda is not really a cake shop and not really a tea house; more like a bit of both. Tucked away in a little side street, the Cafe Ruszwurm has been serving teas, cakes and confectionery to the whole of Budapest since 1827, and is the oldest of its kind in Europe.
Hungary’s favourite Queen Sisi demanded a Ruszwurm ice coffee and ring cake for breakfast every morning, and a courier was despatched to Vienna every week with fresh cakes for the rich and famous of Austria. Service is quite slow and the staff can be a bit rude at times, but that just adds to the charm! The house specials include the lime-green Szamos cake and the famous Ruszwurm cream pastry. All perfect with a coffee. Mmmmm!
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