An Expert Guide to Visiting Budapest Castle
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Read More About Buda Castle District
Introducing Buda Castle in Budapest
Buda Castle has played an important role in Hungarian life for close to 1000 years.
The fortress atop Budapest’s Castle Hill, and the corresponding Buda settlement along the banks of the Danube, date back to the mid-1200s. The Castle was originally completed in 1265. It underwent drastic changes in the 14th and 15th centuries, right up to Ottoman occupation of Hungary in 1541. During the siege to liberate Buda from the Turks in 1686, the castle and area were heavily damaged.
The palace wasn’t rebuilt immediately. Reconstruction started in the mid-1700s and continued under the reign of Maria Theresa. During the 1800s, it again sustained heavy damage during the Revolution of 1848 and Siege of 1849.
The 20th century was also unkind to the Castle.
Buda Castle in WWII
Buda Castle was heavily damaged during the last months of WWII, taking heavy bombing from January 1945 onward during a 48-day siege. The entire Castle District took heavy damage, but the Castle itself was worst hit. The building was burnt, the dome and roof collapsed, and the walls of the southern wing collapsed.
Most of what you can see today is a reconstruction by the Communist government. The palace was rebuilt starting in 1948. The reconstruction is a simplified version of what it used to be, as the communists weren’t too enthusiastic to rebuild a symbol of imperial power.
One fascinating piece of history from this time relates to the castle’s roll in protecting Hungarians from Allied bombs. A bomb shelter was made out of the natural cave system under the castle, and up to 10,000 people would crowd into the shelter each night!
Book Your Trip to Budapest
Save Money in Budapest
The Budapest Card includes free, unlimited public transportation for the duration of the card, and is available as a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5-day card. In addition to free public transport, the card includes free entry to many museums, a complimentary tour, discounts throughout the city, and more. Click for prices and details.
Book Your Flight to Budapest
CheapOair is our current favorite when it comes to searching for flight deals. It’s a meta aggregator, and will find the best deals and routes for you by searching airline websites and other aggregators.
Book Your Budapest Hotel in Advance
We use Booking.com when making hotel reservations in Europe. In our experience, it has the best inventory/selection of hotels and holiday apartments, and we’ve had good experiences with their customer service team when things go wrong (which has been a rarity for us, thank goodness!). TripAdvisor is also trying to get into the hotel booking game, and may be worth checking out.
Skip the Line in Budapest
Budapest is getting busier by the year, meaning you should expect to wait in line at the most popular attractions, especially in high season. If you only have a short vacation, consider getting a Skip-the-Line ticket for the most popular attractions: The Great Synagogue, Széchenyi Thermal Baths, and the Parliament. If you want to visit the interior of the Parliament, you have to pre-book. You can either use an international tour aggregator like Get Your Guide or use the Hungarian website Jegymester.hu.
Book Your Budapest Tour
Why use an aggregator instead of going direct? Personally, we like to compare the different tours available for each attraction, as well as read reviews. Both Get Your Guide and Viator let us see multiple, similar tours, and compare prices and past reviews before making a booking.
Getting from Budapest Airport to the City Center
Budapest’s public transportation system is generally excellent, and this extends to the airport. For a detailed post about getting from Budapest Airport to the City Center via public transit, shared shuttle, or airport taxi, read our guide here.
If you’re arriving late at night, coming in on a long-haul and expect to be exhausted, or would rather have the peace of mind of a private transfer, you can book one here.
Buy Travel Insurance (Just in Case)
We can’t actually recommend a travel insurance provider. Apparently it’s against the law.
However, we can say this: we know several people who racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses during separate, life-or-death situations while traveling. They were both insured by Allianz, they both received life-saving care, and they both made a successful claim.
No one wants to need travel insurance, but you’ll certainly be glad you have it if something goes wrong. And if something does go wrong in Budapest, we personally go to FirstMed for our healthcare. Staff and doctors speak English.
Make Restaurant Reservations in Advance
If you visit Budapest in winter, you’ll probably be okay if you don’t make restaurant reservations, although we’d still recommend you reserve in advance Thursday to Saturday evenings where possible.
In summer, things fill up pretty quickly, although capacity at many restaurants increases when the city’s terraces open, usually sometime in May. It’s worth noting Budapest’s restaurants are all non-smoking inside, but get quite smoky on the terraces.
Attractions Within Buda Castle
The palace complex is vast, with different complexes and attractions within. There is a historic fort, once the headquarters of Hungarian kings. The National Gallery, Budapest History Museum, and Military Museum are also here. Not to mention the lovely Castle grounds and Castle gardens and Bazar, worth a visit in their own right.
History buffs and those looking to gain an intellectual footing in Hungarian history and culture will appreciate Buda Castle’s galleries and museums.
Casual tourists will be just as delighted, as it’s a beautiful part of the city, and lovely for a wander. If you’re wondering where to stay in Budapest, the Castle District is a great option for a tranquil holiday away from the hustle of Pest.
The National Gallery
Hungary’s National Gallery specializes in Hungarian art. There are some international pieces in the collection, but it’s mostly interesting for seeing Hungarian work.
The collection covers Hungary’s history from the Magyar’s late-9th and early-10th-century settlement of the Carpathian basin to contemporary Hungary. Works cover diverse topics, from daily life, religion in Hungary, and landscapes.
Spread across several wings of Buda Castle, the Gallery also has a dome terrace. If you’re looking for a spectacular view of Budapest and the Danube, this is a great spot to get it!
The National Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00, unless otherwise specified. In 2019, the National Gallery will be closed April 23, June 11, December 24, and December 25.
Adult tickets to the permanent exhibition cost 1,800 HUF. EEA citizens under 26 or over 62 get a 50% discount, or 900 HUF.
On national holidays, admission to the National Gallery is free. These include 15 March, 20 August, and 23 October.
Budapest History Museum
Whereas the National Gallery mostly tells the story of Hungary at large, Budapest History Museum tells the story of its capital.
Budapest History Museum shares a rough history of Budapest, a story that unfolds over 2000 years. Photos, clothing, tools, furniture, seals, coats of arms, and other artifacts show how life in Budapest has evolved over the years, both for regular people and aristocrats.
The History Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 18:00 during high season. From November 1 to February 29, it has shortened hours, from 10:00 to 16:00.
Adult tickets are 2400 HUF during peak season, and 2000 HUF in off season. Youth tickets (aged 6 to 26) and senior tickets (aged 65 to 70) are discounted. Visitors over 70 are free.
Museum of Military History (Hadtorteneti Muzeum)
The collection at the Military Museum covers medieval to modern Hungarian military history. It’s packed with history and artifacts, and is a fantastic stop for those who love history, and military history in particular.
The building itself was originally an army barracks in the 1800s. In 1920, it was established as the museum. During WWII, both the building and museum’s contents sustained heavy damage, and much was lost.
For the majority of visitors, the popular exhibits include:
- Hungary’s Failed War of Independence from 1848 to 1849
- Miklos Horthy and the Hungarian Royal Army from 1918 to 1943
- The 1956 Hungarian Revolution
Generally, speaking, the museum gives a snapshot of modern Hungarian history, in particular. Visitors will get an idea of what most important events were, and their impact.
The Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 09:00 to 17:00. Tickets are 1,500 HUF per adult. Family tickets are 3,000 HUF, but this probably isn’t a great museum for anyone younger than a teenager.
National Széchenyi Library
The National Széchenyi Library is also on Buda Castle Grounds. It’s not a lending library, but you can visit on a day pass for 1200 HUF. This entitles you to visit the general collection only.
Generally speaking, this isn’t a tourist attraction that’s going to appeal to most people. That said, it is possible to visit if you have a specific interest in Hungarian books.
How to Get to Buda Castle
By Bus From Deák Ferenc Tér or Széll Kálmán Tér
From Deák Ferenc tér, you can take Bus 16, with the bus running every 5 minutes or so during peak hours.
You can either get off the bus at Clark Ádám tér, and then take the funicular (which costs extra), or continue by bus up to Dísz tér in the Castle District.
If you’re starting at Széll Kálmán tér, you can also take Bus 16 to Dísz tér.
Getting around Budapest is generally quite easy by public transit. For more info about ticket prices, consult our guide. You can also check out bkk.hu, which is the transit authority’s website. They have an English option, and you can use the trip planner function to get an idea about timing and route options.
From Clark Ádám Tér via the Buda Castle Hill Funicular
The funicular ride costs 1,200 HUF for a one-way ride, and 1,800 HUF for a return trip. The ride is free for children three years old and below.
For more details, read our Buda Castle Hill Funicular guide.
Festivals and Special Events at Buda Castle
Beyond day-to-day visiting, Buda Castle has a few great events throughout the year. If you find yourself in Budapest at the right time, be sure to check them out!
Budapest Wine Festival at Buda Castle
This is my personal favorite as it’s a great way to get to know Hungary’s somewhat befuddling array of wines. Hungary has 22 distinct wine regions, making it a true challenge to get to know the different flavours. Add to that, Hungarian wine generally isn’t available abroad, as production is tied to domestic demand.
The Budapest Wine Festival takes place each September. Each year, there’s a guest wine region, but there’s always a massive focus on Hungarian varietals. There are also events at the festival, such as mini concerts, and food as well.
A one-day ticket costs 2,500 HUF, while the four-day ticket is 4,500 HUF. Tickets come with a wine glass and a canvas “wine necklace” (my term), which lets you hold your wine glass in a pouch around your neck. You also need to pay for the wines you taste, but they’re always quite affordable.
In 2019, the festival takes place September 5 to 8.
Buda Castle Beer Festival
The Beer Castle takes place at the end of August, a few weeks before the wine festival. As with the wine festival, there’s a focus on locally-made. Hungary’s craft beer scene isn’t nearly as developed as some other countries’, but it is changing at a lightning speed. Breweries are popping up at an astounding rate here, and Budapests’ selection of craft beer bars gets bigger each month, it seems. If you want to try craft beer in Budapest, check out the 7th District and the 9th District. Budapest’s 7th District is the Budapest nightlife district, but the 9th was the leader in the city’s craft beer scene!
In 2018, the festival took place August 23 to 26. 2019 dates have yet to be announced. As with the Wine Fest, there are shows and concerts to add to the fun.
Tickets range from 1490 HUF (early bird) to 2499 HUF (day-of).
Buda Castle Craft and Folk Art Festival
Another summer event at Buda Castle, the Festival of Crafts takes place from August 17 to 20 in 2019.
The craft festival is all about shopping and eating – you can get locally made products, many of which are traditional folk crafts.
The last day of the festival takes place on St. Stephen’s Day, which is an important national holiday. There are fireworks in the evening, and they’re often quite spectacular. The past 2 years, they’ve been over the Hungarian parliament building!
The craft fest costs 2,500 HUF, with discounts available for families, senior citizens, and students.
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