The Citadel in Budapest is a 19th century fortification on top of Gellert Hill (part of the UNESCO World Heritage site) – the fortress was turned into a lookout tower / stronghold, which provides one of the most stunning views over the river Danube. It is popular amongst locals and tourists alike, and is one of the free Budapest attractions.
There is also a cafe, a good – sometimes hit and miss – restaurant (open from 5 pm to 11 pm) with beautiful views, a small museum and a hotel at the Citadel of Budapest. We recommend walking up to the Citadel (about 15 minutes from the level of the river Danube): as you ascend higher and higher, the whole beauty of the city of Budapest slowly unfolds in front of you.
Amazing, exceptional, but to be honest, it is a pity that there is not much cool and innovative things atop to make the Citadel really more than a great panoramic view place (unlike the Fisherman’s Bastion). Still, it is well worth the walk itself for the views (and photos), and the fresh air.
The Citadel is a U-shaped 19th century fortress of about 220 metres long, 60 metres wide, and 4 metres tall, with 60 cannon complements – basically taking up the whole plateau of the Gellert Hill. What can you see if you get to the top of the Gellert Hill to the military walls of the Citadel?
Well, the Citadel (or in Hungarian Citadella – say tsee-tah-del-lah), offers a wide range of the best of Budapest sights along the river Danube, romantic, sweeping views: you can see the Chain Bridge with the Art Nouveau Gresham Palace, and the majestic St Stephen Basilica in the background, the white turreted Hungarian Parliament building, the Liberty Bridge, the Art Nouveau Gellert Baths and Hotel, the colourfully tiled roofs of the Central Market Hall.
In short, many of the UNESCO World Heritage attractions and the wonderful 19th century buildings with their restored or faded beauty.
The Citadel is quite touristy all year round, so if you want to spend some quieter moments, you may wish to go there after dinner – by around 8-9 pm there are far less tourists at the Citadel and you can take beautiful night photos of the nicely lit Budapest attractions. One of the tourists summed up the Budapest Citadel in his review as “The views are second to none, especially at night looking across Pest side of the city. Don’t count on the restaurants, food or souvenirs in the Citadell area as it is tacky and overpriced but views are great. 1hour activity ”
The History of the Citadel
In the 18th century the slopes of the Gellert Hill in Budapest were covered with woods and vineyards – nothing about surveillance. Then the 19th century discovered the strategic advantages of the Gellert Hill. The Citadel was built in the middle of the 19th century by the Austrians. Or to be more precise by Hungarian forced labourers. It was a revenge, and a symbol of power: wanting to control the unruled Hungarians pining for independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
During the 1848-49 Hungarian revolution, the freedom fighters managed to rebel against the Austrians for almost 2 solid years with their newly founded Hungarian government and ministries. Many of them were executed and imprisoned after the failed attempt, and the Habsburg emperor thought it best to erect a frightening stronghold to watch over Budapest. Haynau, the Austrian commander feared of his violent temper, was behind many of the bloody acts to suppress the Hungarians, and it was he who carried out the building works of the Citadel too. Earlier he was fanatical and zealous to fight against the Italians in Brescia (1848), and his brutality earned him the privilege to pour his full hatred onto the Hungarians. His nicknames were various, Italians know him as the “Hyena of Brescia” Hungarians as the “Hangman of Arad” (executing 13 Hungarian revolutionary generals in 1849 in the town of Arad), and Austrian soldiers referred to him as the “Habsburg Tiger” and the “Women flogger” for whipping women who showed sympathy towards the fallen soldiers. He soon became hated all over Europe, wherever he went (his quarrels forced him to resign in a year, in 1850), he had to hide to avoid being beaten up in Brussels, London, etc. He died in 1853, at the age of 67. Well, Hungarians got Haynau at the peak of his dark career, and also got the Citadel as a memento.
Although the Hungarians managed to reach a compromise with the Austrians about 20 years after the bloody freedom fights (in 1867), Hungarians still hated the Citadel and wanted to demolish it. However, the garrison troops stayed for another 30 years, until 1897. Then the main gate of the Citadel was symbolically destroyed, and in 1900, the walls were also pulled down.
Even though the Citadel was never used by the Austrians, ironically enough, the Soviets used it to overthrow another Hungarian revolution in 1956 – tanks fired into the city of Budapest and managed to suppress the tragic Hungarian revolution against the Soviet dictatorship. Of course, the huge Soviet communist army could have destroyed the tiny Hungarian army fighting for democracy and independence (again) without the Citadel too. The Citadel has also been used as a prison and an anti-aircraft missile launch pad.
Hated in the 19th century, now the strategic Citadel is a favourite lookout tower and venue for amateur and professional photographers, and most importantly, a romantic place in Budapest, where many first kisses and last kisses have been given as well as sweeping proposals made. The Citadel is surrounded by the gentle woods on the slopes of the Gellert Hill.
Museum WW2 at the Citadel
There is an open exhibition about the history of Budapest through centuries (about 14 huge posters on the walls of the Citadel): it is free to see for everyone. However, there is a small museum too for an affordable entrance fee.
Although visiting the Citadel is free, there is a small WW2 museum / bunker within the Citadel (World War II style), which charges admission. The air raid shelter was built in WW2, on 3 floors (of about 750 m2) with 17 rooms. We don’t really think it is a good museum, but it might be interesting for some tourists to see items used in WW2 in Hungary (for a better WW2 exhibition, visit the National Museum in Budapest).
Opening hours – open in high season from May 1 to September 30, from 9 am to 8 pm, and in low season, from October 1 to April 30 from 9 am to 5 pm. Ticket office phone: +36 1 279-1963.
How to get to the Citadel?
The slopes of the Gellert Hill can be a bit of a walk, so you need to be in at least average physical condition to walk up without panting too much. It should be about 15 minutes to get to the Citadel from the Gellert square by the river Danube (take tram 47 or 49 from Deak square to get here, or bus number 7 from the Keleti Train Station, Blaha square, Astoria square or Ferenciek square). The path to the Citadel is visibly marked with international marks so you cannot get lost. The paths are shaded by the trees (as shown in this autumn photo), which makes the long and steep hike a lot more pleasant even on hot summer days.
There is also a bus which will take you directly to the top of the Citadel: take bus 27 from Moricz Zsigmond square on the Buda side (unfortunately there are no buses to the Citadel from Gellert Hill near the Liberty Bridge, but you can get to Moricz square easily with tram 47 or 49, or bus number 7).
Budapest Attractions by the Citadel, Gellert Hill
Statue of Liberty (Szabadsag szobor)
In addition to the Citadel, you can also see the Statue of Liberty on top of the Gellert Hill (erected by the communists to celebrate Budapest’s liberation from the Nazi troops – and then its ‘suppression by the Soviets’…). The strong female figure of the Statue of Liberty – characteristically of the Socialist-realist art – is also a woman of hard work and strong muscles rather than the Greek – Roman heritage of grace and elegance.
After the change of regime in 1989, when the Soviet troops finally left Hungary, the Hungarians decided to keep the Statue of Liberty, the woman on the hill in its place – most of the communist statues were destroyed or moved to the Communist Statue Park.
St Gellert Monument (Szt Gellért szobor & emlekmu)
You can see the beautifully dramatic and huge St Gellert Monument in the side of the Gellert Hill, facing the sleek modern white Elisabeth Bridge. St Gellert was the first bishop of Hungary, and the teacher of the first Hungarian king, St Stephen (or Stephen the 1st). He was killed by the pagans – the wandering Hungarians who did not like the idea of permanently settling down, suddenly changing their nature religion and getting Christianised, which was however, an important strategic decision in the establishment of the Hungarian Kingdom in the Christian Europe, and a vital condition for starting a settled lifestyle after the centuries of wandering. The rebellious Hungarians simply threw St Gellert down on the slopes of the hill (now named also after him, the Gellert Hill). Not a nice story, but a really nice monument with a pleasant little walk up to the monument (5 min) – the path is hidden by the shady trees.
Cave Church (Sziklatemplom)
The Cave Church is a still functioning church built into the cave system of the Gellert Hill. Its entrance is right next to the Gellert Baths and Danubius Hotel Gellert. There is a cheap and insightful audio guide available – recommended.
And the views from the Citadel by day – Budapest looks like an open map (click to enlarge):