Visegrad, Hungary: A Castle, Hike & River Views
There are so many great options when it comes to day trips from Budapest but with such spectacular views and fun things to do, Visegrad quickly became one of our favourites. Nestled perfectly along the Danube river, this picturesque castle town is less than an hour from the capital and can easily be explored without a tour. If you're looking to visit this gem along the Danube, we've put together some tips to make sure you have a memorable day without breaking the bank.
Have you ever been to a country only to leave with a feeling that you just didn't do the nation justice? You didn't see enough, learn enough or explore enough? That's certainly how I felt last year after a short week in Hungary when I became intrigued by the history, people, language and food (oh, the food!) that make Hungary so unique. I'm thrilled to be back for a second time with the chance to learn more of the country's complicated tale and uncover some of the beauty that lies beyond Budapest.
Ruin bars, river views and hidden gems aside, Budapest is also a great base for those looking to venture beyond the capital and give Hungary a fair shot at being discovered. The options for day trips within a 2 hour train ride are long and whether you venture north, east, south or west, you won't be disappointed. But if you've only got one day to spare, Visegrad may be what you're looking for. As per usual, we didn't know a thing about this town until it was mentioned by one of our viewer's on our YouTube channel and (also as per usual) we're so glad we took the advice because we honestly think this was the best day trip from Budapest.
Visegrad is a small town north of Budapest known primarily for it's castle ruins and picturesque placement on the Danube bend. It's a popular day trip for visitor's of the region and is usually combined with other towns along the river like Vac, Szentendre and Esztergom. Apparently Visegrad was briefly the capital of Hungary when King Charles moved the Royal Palace back in the 1300's. It was at this castle where leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic first met for a summit meeting that created the 'Visegrad Four' alliance. History lesson courtesy of our YouTube viewers who are always teaching us a thing or two ;)
BUDAPEST TO VISEGRAD
Trains to Visegrad leave quite regularly from Budapest's Nyugati and Keleti train stations and the ride is about 45 minutes long. We usually double check on the MAV-START site to see which times work best for us and tickets are 1120 HUF, so about $6 CAD (Nov 2016). Regardless of which station you leave from in Budapest, it's important to note that you will arrive at a station called Nagymaros-Visegrád which is on the northern bank of the Danube and Visegrad is actually across the river.
To cross the river, you'll have to take a quick ferry and these are timed in accordance with the trains. For instance, if your train arrives to Nagymaros at noon, the ferry will leave about 15 minutes afterwards. This leaves you plenty of time to walk from the train platform to the river bank where you'll see a small chalet-style booth selling snacks and ferry tickets. Look for the 'Penztar Cassa' sign and this is where you can get your ticket for about $2 CAD. When you're buying your ticket, be sure to check the ferry schedule so you have an idea of what time to return to the river. This way, you won't be stuck trying to dodge the rain for an hour after missing your ferry like we did ;) It's hard to spot at first but the ticket booth on the Visegrad side is attached to the Plintenburg Restaurant.
In the summer months, you can also travel to Visegrad from Budapest by cruising along the Danube. It's more expensive but also incredibly scenic so I'm sure it would be worth it if your budget allows. Mahart Passnave operates seasonal riverboats with routes from Budapest all the way to Esztergom.
THINGS TO DO IN VISEGRAD, HUNGARY
We went to Visegrad primarily for the views and were surprised to find there was plenty to do for it being such a small town.
Hiking Trails: The best way to really enjoy this region is to, quite literally, take a hike. There's some signage once you get off the ferry and we followed the path marked 'Fellegvár'. Instead of walking along the road like Google Maps was telling us to, we veered of the road open to traffic and headed into the woods. That's where we saw a marked trail that led us all the way up to the castle. It was probably about an hour walk and pretty steep at some parts but a great way to take in the views. You can see the various trails marked on several Information boards in town and we opted for an alternative route on the way down.
Visegrad Castle: Initially we weren't thrilled to see admission to the castle was 1100 HUF but it turned out to be worth every penny for the views alone in my opinion. We decided against paying extra for the wax museum after reading some reviews online and I don't think we missed much. There are a few activities for kids (or boyfriends) near the castle entrance and the castle ruins are interesting to explore. There isn't much information available in English so it may be useful to read up on the castle history beforehand. A few snack shops and souvenir stalls can be found by the castle parking lot and there was construction going on during our visit as they were doing some renovations.
Bobsled/Luge Track: It's funny how something so childish turned out to be so much fun for Wes and I. Visegrad Bobpalya is within walking distance from the castle and has two separate tracks that you (or your kids) can enjoy. There are small snack stalls, restrooms and souvenir photos available. Hours vary by season and more info can be found on their website. It's safe to say, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves here!
I've heard of people combining this town with others along the Danube but I would definitely say Visegrad merits a day on it's own if you don't want to feel rushed. We left Budapest at 10am and didn't arrive back until about 7pm. Mind you, we missed the 4:35 pm ferry and had to wait until 5:35 pm but you get the idea; there's enough to do to fill the day. A couple of things we missed this time around are the canopy tours, the Renaissance Restaurant experience and the Palinka Museum. There's also a wine fountain at the Etkek Haza food court that we wish we had known about! If that's not an excuse to go back, I'm not sure what is...
WHAT TO BRING
- Local currency: We noticed several shops in Visegrad operate on a cash only basis and Euros are not as common as they are in Budapest so have some Hungarian Forint on you for the day.
- Comfortable shoes/clothes: Not all of the path up to the castle is paved so it definitely helps to dress the part (and not show up with ripped up shoes like we did!) especially if you plan on visiting the luge or canopy park afterwards.
- Water/snacks: If you plan on hiking to the castle, definitely bring some fluids with you. We stocked up at a local grocery store once we got off of the ferry and you're not likely to see any shops at all until you get to the castle parking lot.
Though the town sees its fair share of tourists, it is quite small and facilities are lacking in some respects (at least on the Visegrad side of the river). I would definitely come prepared so that you can enjoy the day and not have to stress over finding an ATM or being disappointed if a shop/restaurant is closed early.
Our total cost (per person) for the day trip was 4590 HUF not including beer. I mean, food.
Return Train: 2240 HUF (1120 each way)
Return Ferry: 800 HUF (400 each way)
Castle Entrance: 1100 HUF (per adult)
Luge: 450 HUF (per run)
So unless you can find a tour company that includes transportation, castle entrance and a run on the luge for less than $25 CAD, you're better off going on your own!
We found the views from Visegrad to be the best views of the Danube we've seen in Hungary so far. I would definitely recommend this as a day trip if you're looking to get outside, have some fun and enjoy the beautiful landscapes that lie beyond Budapest. For a better look at the views and our fun on the luge track, check out our YouTube video here :)