Cave church © iStock/uchar
Hungary’s subterranean labyrinths are among the largest in Europe, sprawling out beneath its stunning landscapes and well beyond the Slovakian border. Among these, a maze of more than 200 caves sits beneath Budapest. Formed millennia ago by those same steamy, mineral-rich waters that gave the Hungarian capital its name of City of Baths, they offer a very different perspective to that of Fisherman’s Bastion and the peaks of the Buda Hills. Among the many caves beneath Budapest, here are the ones to visit.
Buda Castle Labyrinth
Venture under the turrets of 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 shudder at 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.
Hospital in the Rock
Mined from the spooky sprawl of Buda Castle Labyrinth is a maze of man-made tunnels which housed a subterranean clinic during the Second World War, and doubled as a bomb shelter during the Cold War. The Hospital in the Rock museum is one of the city’s less conventional cultural visits, with macabre displays of archaic medical equipment housed within gleaming white-tiled operating rooms. Nevertheless, it offers a fascinating glimpse into Budapest’s chequered past.
When the thermal rivers made their way from the mountains to the city, the currents 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.
Serious cavers can delve into a rambling subterranean web at Mátyáshegyi Caves. Not for the claustrophobic, an excursion into these dark passages and gaping caverns requires overalls, a helmet and a torch. These are all provided by your tour guide. What’s not provided, however, are the nerves of steel required to wriggle through those narrow rocky passages.
With a remarkably different aesthetic to its neighbouring caves in Budapest, what Szemlőhegyi Cave lacks in towering stalactites, it makes up for in sparkle. The walls are awash with glittering crystals and minerals, which give 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 Cave Church
There’s no better view of Budapest than the one from the breezy perch of Gellért Hill, and a journey into the summit’s foundations delivers another rewarding discovery. Here, St Iván’s Cave houses a tiny chapel, the remnants of the monastery that inhabited these caves during the 1920s. It was sealed off by the Soviet army in 1945, but reopened to visitors five decades later with all its charm and history still very much intact.