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Take Five: Underground Budapest

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Take Five: Underground Budapest

As one of the largest cities in central Europe, there’s a lot to cover. Hungary’s capital city is known for its stunning architecture, thermal baths, and historical bridges that connect the Buda and Pest sections of the city. While all of these sights are definitely worth a visit, it’s what lies beneath the bustling streets of Budapest that offers a surprising array of unique attractions. From ancient underground cave systems to a museum that pays tribute to the city’s tumultuous past, here are five fascinating underground sites to explore in Budapest.

1. Labyrinth in the Castle District

Located in the Castle District just west of the Danube River, you’ll find the medieval Buda Castle, initially constructed in the 13th century and expanded upon by successive waves of kings.

Beneath the castle, you’ll find the =">Labyrinth. A part of Hungary’s sprawling cave system, these ancient winding tunnels once served as hunting grounds and even a place of refuge for prehistoric peoples. As the castle above this cave was built, the tunnels were filled in and connected to form a labyrinth. Through the years, the rooms of the labyrinth were used for a variety of purposes from wine cellars to prison chambers. Perhaps its most well-known prisoner was Vlad Tepes, otherwise known as Vlad Dracula, who was held here in the 15th century. There is even a special exhibition dedicated to his chamber. Visitors to the Labyrinth can explore the various exhibits or take guided tours, and brave ones can take the eerie nighttime tour.

2. House of Terror Museum

terror museum.jpg
Photo by Ruiwen Chua CC BY-NC-ND

In 1945, the Soviet Army liberated Hungary from Nazi Germany, marking the start of four decades of Communist rule. During this time, the new regime took over a building on Andrassy street previously used by the Nazis. The basement of this building was used as a prison, and it was here that thousands endured gruesome interrogations, torture, and even executions. In 2000, The Public Foundation for the Research of Central and East European History and Society purchased the building. Over the next two years, it underwent renovations and restorations to be reopened as a museum. The aptly named House of Terror Museum serves as a memorial to the victims who suffered and died here, and shines a light on what life was like in Budapest during this time. The extensive underground section of the museum features exhibition halls (pictured at top) as well as the actual cells where prisoners were held (pictured above).

3. Underground Railway Museum

Budapest is home to the oldest continental underground subway line in Europe, and the second oldest line in the world. It was originally built to avoid construction of a tram route on the picturesque surface of Andrassy street. After almost two years of construction, the Millennium Underground was completed in 1896. Its inaugural line was called Metro Line 1, and it is still in operation today.

Fittingly located in Deák Ferenc Tér, a square where several subway lines intersect, the =">Underground Railway Museum is dedicated to the history of the Millennium Underground. Here you will find the original royal carriage used by Emperor Franz Joseph during its opening ceremonies, as well as photo exhibits that detail the subway’s history. During Budapest’s annual Night of the Museums, when museums keep their doors open into the early morning hours, you can even check out the original 19th century streetcars.

4. Szeml?hegyi Cave

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Photo by Addy Cameron-Huff CC BY

The same cave system responsible for the city’s many hot springs and the Labyrinth beneath Buda Castle also gave rise to the Szeml?hegyi Cave located in the Buda Hills.

This cave is over one mile long, with a small portion open to visitors for hiking and exploration. Szeml?hegyi Cave is filled with visually stunning gypsum crystal formations and mineral deposits for visitors to view. The cave’s air is so clear and therapeutic that a section of it is an official part of the Szent János Hospital for patients with respiratory difficulties. With its relatively small length and dedicated hiking route illuminated artificially, this cave is very accessible for visitors of all types, from the disabled to the elderly. Guided tours are available, and there is also a dedicated exhibition in the reception area that provides more information about Budapest’s extensive cave system.

5. Pálvölgyi Cave

pav cave.jpg
Photo by gregoriosz CC BY-NC

Less than a mile away from the Szeml?hegyi Cave, you’ll find the Pálvölgyi Cave. At over four miles long, it’s the longest cave located in the Buda Hills. Like many caves in Budapest, it was only discovered in the early 20th century, and connections to other caves are still being found.

In this cave, visitors can explore stalactite rock structures such as the “Organ Pipes” and “Beehive” formations. Additional sites to see include the Chapel, a small cavernous room used as a shelter during World War II, and the Theater, which is somewhat of an echo chamber with impressive acoustics. There are guided walking tours available on constructed walkways throughout the cave. But for the more adventurous visitor, there are caving tours that take you off the beaten path, where you can crawl and climb through the narrow and steeper areas of the cave.

Top photo by Toni Almodóvar Escuder CC BY-NC-ND

Dylan Hill is a Los Angeles based freelance writer and travel blogger.

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