Visiting the Budapest castle district

Photo by tose
Photo by tose

Visiting the Budapest castle district

by Sharon Odegaard
Stripes Europe

The Castle District of Budapest sprawls majestically on the hilly bank of the Danube on the Buda side of the city. First occupied more than 700 years ago, Castle Hill provided safe high ground for King Bela IV. He staked his claim here so that he could ward off the attacks of the Mongols on his people. The palace has been destroyed and rebuilt six times through the centuries. As you explore the cobbled streets of the district you will see the influence of rulers including King Matthias, the Habsburgs and the Ottoman empire.

The Castle District today boasts a palace, a striking church, the Fishermen’s Bastion, ordinary streets, cafes and so much more. You can even stay in a modern hotel here. If you are coming from the Pest side of the city, you can cross the Danube on the Chain Bridge, either by walking or taking a bus that will lead you directly in front of the Castle District.

The Historic Palace

Once on the Pest side, you can choose between walking up a steep hill, climbing steps or taking the funicular up to castle level. Just for fun, ride the funicular during your visit. Two cars glide in constant motion up and down the hill. You can see over the river to the Pest side of the city during the short ride.

Photo by Sharon Odegaard

Arriving at the top of the hill, the palace is to the left through an iron gate. The large bird sculpture here is of the Turul, a symbol in Hungary of power, strength and nobility. The palace includes two museums: The Hungarian National Gallery and the Castle Museum. Random Medieval ruins sit right outside the gate.

Sandor Palace

On your right is the residence of the president of the Republic, complete with guards to rival Buckingham Palace. You can catch the hourly changing of the guards ceremony, which is quite a complicated affair. This neoclassical building goes by the nickname, “The White House.”

Photo by Sharon Odegaard

Matthias Church

Turning the other way from the river, walk along the twisty, delightful lanes of the Castle District. You will soon come to Holy Trinity Square, where you can gaze up at the imposing neo-Gothic Matthias Church. Parts of the church are 500 years old, though the building you see today was completed in 1896. Take your time marveling at the multicolored tile roof and the spires of various styles.

Photo by Sharon Odegaard

Fishermen’s Bastion

On the river side of the square is the popular Fishermen’s Bastion. This is a neo-Gothic structure named for the guild responsible for defending this part of Buda from intruders. Seven white turrets along the walls represent the Magyar tribes that were here in the 800s. You will feel you are in a fairy tale at Fishermen’s Bastion where you can look down on the Danube and across to the Pest side of the city.

The Hospital in the Rock

Along the streets of the Castle District are shops and cafes — and lots of life and color. You may want to tour the Hospital in the Rock, which is just what it sounds like. It’s a hospital hewn into rock and used to treat wounded troops during the World Wars. Soviet-era medical supplies are on display, and the last part of the tour focuses on nuclear war.

Photo by Sharon Odegaard

When you are ready to head down the hill to the Danube, you can walk on bridges that cross over the funicular. Pause and take in the views from different levels. With the bridges spanning the Danube, the colorful trams and buses, people milling about down below, and a view across the water to the splendid Parliament building, you will want to stand and gaze for a while at the beauty of Budapest.

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