While Budapest, with its grand castles and charming waterways, is beautiful from the surface, heading underground opens your eyes to a whole new world. Leave claustrophobia at ground level and venture beneath the city for an unforgettable subterranean adventure. Follow this explorer’s guide to the caves in Budapest and discover a fresh perspective of the city as you head below the castle to its eerie labyrinth, discover the wonders that lie beneath Gellért Hill or explore the vast Pálvölgyi Cave and Szemlőhegyi Cave networks.
Budapest is famous for its thermal springs, but while most have taken a soak in these mineral-rich waters, many have yet to explore their origins. Many years ago, as the hot bubbling water made its way from the mountains to the city, the flowing waters carved out natural caves below the Buda Hills. These caves still stand in their original formation, and many can be explored by adventure-seeking visitors. At more than 7km in length, Pálvölgyi is the longest of the caves in Budapest. It’s part of Duna-Ipoly National Park, which offers underground tours through the stunning multi-level labyrinth, and is particularly well known for its natural rock formations and stalactites.
Those interested in a challenge should explore Mátyáshegyi Caves. The caves, which are connected to Pálvölgyi Cave, were only discovered in the turn of the millennium and have since been left au naturale. As such, a tour is highly advised due to the conditions. Caving Under Budapest offers guided adventure caving tours, during which courageous participants will be physically and mentally challenged as they walk, climb and crawl through the beautiful network of caves – an unmissable experience for adrenaline junkies.
Szemlőhegyi Cave has a totally different aesthetic to its neighbour caves in Budapest, but what it lacks in towering stalactites, it makes up for in sparkle. The cave’s steep walls are lined with dazzling crystals and minerals, which give off a beautiful shimmering effect. Widely considered a national treasure, Szemlőhegyi Cave was awarded the nickname ‘Underground Flower Garden’ after visitors noticed that many of its mineral deposits resembled flower formations. The other key difference between this cave and the others is that it’s an easier walk, and its series of walkways are even accessible to wheelchair users.
If you’re feeling brave, venture beneath Buda Castle to its eerie labyrinth and discover the legends that continue to haunt the castle caves. Take a guided tour to explore the deep cellars and hear all the ghostly stories of the labyrinth’s past. Test your nerves by stepping inside the legendary Dracula’s Chamber, where King Matthias was imprisoned in the 15th century.
Those who don’t want to venture too deep underground should visit Gellért Hill. Underneath the hill lies one of the city’s best-kept secrets, a chapel housed in a network of caves; the ‘Rock Church’ is a former monastery of the Hungarian Pauline Order. After being sealed for several decades by the Soviet army, it reopened around 1990 and visitors can now take a tour of the caves and the church, which has been restored to its former glory.