One of the must see attractions in Budapest is the Royal Palace on the Buda Castle hill towering over the river Danube. But did you know that there is a fairy tale castle in Budapest too?
There are two famous castles in Budapest which are worth a visit, and are definitely not to be missed, even if you only stay for 3 days in Budapest. One of them is the iconic and historical Buda Castle on the Castle Hill (UNESCO World Heritage site) on the Buda side of Budapest, while the other castle is a romantic castle built in the 19th century: Vajdahunyad Castle is on the Pest side, in the City Park.
Buda Castle – Castles in Budapest
Visiting the Buda Castle building is a pleasant experience, but exploring the Buda Castle Hill attractions is a fascinating half day, or one day program. The hilltop Buda Castle has been a castle and stronghold since the Middle Ages. The present day palace was built on the ruins of previous castle walls in the 18th century, as the Turkish – Austrian & Hungarian sieges in the 17th century basically flattened the Castle Quarter buildings. What you see today is an elegant palace from the outside, mostly stripped of its royal ornaments (in WW2 and during the years of Communism), while inside the Buda Castle, you can see museums and art galleries.
While the Buda Castle is a nice building, we think that the Buda Castle Hill has many more attractions to give an exciting experience. If time allows, do explore the sights near the Buda Castle. To mention but a few: Fisherman’s Bastion views, cakes & coffee in the 18th century Cafe Ruszwurm, Nuclear Shelter (aka Hospital in the Rock), romantic ride on a Horse and Carriage, Alchemy & Medieval Pharmacy Museum with quirky items, Funicular Railway, Buda Castle Festivals (from the Easter Festival to the Wine Festival), Dance Shows in the Castle Theatre, Wine Tasting in the Castle, fine restaurants along the cobblestone streets (not all of them are tourist traps), Museum of War, Budapest Historical Museum, and of course the Hungarian National Gallery, which takes up most of the Buda Castle wings.
Vajdahunyad Castle – Castles in Budapest
Vajdahunyad Castle is a beautiful, romantic castle with many towers, a chapel, cloister, bridges over the moat, and a lake by its side (boating lake in summer, ice rink in winter time). Definitely one of the most romantic Budapest places.
This castle was built in the 1890s to amalgamate the finest architectural details and buildings in Hungary into a single complex. The original version was made from wood and cardboard (yes), as the castle was meant to be a temporary 3D exhibit for the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state (which was celebrated with further buildings and monuments, most notably the Millennium Monument on Budapest Heroes’ Square).
Inside the castle, you will not find royal furniture, or Count Dracula. Instead, you can see many traditional items of Hungarian farming, fishing, hunting, gardening etc. Vajdahunyad Castle has been the home of the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture since the 1900s.
For many tourists Vajdahunyad Castle comes as a surprise in Budapest, as it is often off the beaten track, just missing the Top Ten Things to Do in Budapest lists, and avoided by the Budapest Hop on Hop off bus tours as the castle is in the City Park where no bus tours are allowed. We think visiting the grounds of the Vajdahunyad Castle is worth a 5 minute walk from Heroes’ Square, and if you have a chance to visit the fairy tale castle when there is a festival or concert series, do allow the time to take a short walk to Vajdahunyad Var.
Citadel, Gellert Hill – Castles in Budapest
In addition to the Buda Castle and the Vajdahunyad Castle, there is a military fortification, which is on top of Gellert Hill: the Citadel of Budapest (aka Citadella) was built in the middle of the 19th century by the Austrians to keep the rebellious Hungarians from wishing to free themselves – again – from the Austrians. The two year freedom fights in 1848-49 just failed, and the Austro-Hungarian emperor decided to keep an observing eye on the city of Budapest from the Gellert Hill.
The Citadel looks quite harmless today, and attracts thousands of tourists with its beautiful views over the river Danube, the Chain Bridge, the stunning Hungarian Parliament, the Gresham Palace, the dome of the St Stephen Basilica and the many faded but still majestic 19th century residential buildings that flank the two sides of the river Danube. There is a cafe and a restaurant at the Citadel, some souvenir stalls, a hotel and some small scale WW2 exhibitions (wax figures of WW2 scenes, rated average by visitors).