In the Middle Ages, the most basic rule of kingship was to hold the high ground. Castles and fortresses all over Europe prove the point, and Medieval Buda was no different. Castle Hill, rising 500 feet on the west side of the Danube is Budapest’s premier tourist destination. Its medieval buildings, museums and grand views, make it a magnet for visitors.
We wanted to save our walking mojo for exploring the hill, so we opted to take bus #16 up to the top. Normally, this kind of information wouldn’t be important, but our bus trip deserves some digital ink.
Budapest is a modern European capital, and the transit system works well. But ol’ #16 was a rattletrap to equal the “boneshakers” we experienced in Malta. We’d read dire warnings about being extra vigilant on validating tickets, so immediately after stepping onto the bus, we made a dash for the little orange box. The driver, obviously having a bad day, put the pedal to the metal, almost dumping us, and the 10 other people stampeding toward the validation box. It was not a good start, but luckily, the bus crossed the Chain Bridge and chugged up the hill without mishap.
Castle Hill has two distinct parts, the Old Town in the North with historical residences and shops, and the Royal Palace to the south, which today houses a number of museums.
Roughly midway on the hill is the area we found most interesting – the Matthias Church and the Fishermen’s Bastion.
The large Matthias Church dominates the space, and while originally medieval Gothic in style, a 19th Century restoration made it the attractive, Art Nouveau and Byzantine mashup that it is today.
The colorful roof looks modern, but is actually a ceramic tile called pyrogranite manufactured in Hungary in the 1800s. And the distinctive architectural details add charm.
Hugging the cliffside immediately behind the church is the romantic Fishermen’s Bastion with its 7 fairytale, white towers. Even if you haven’t been to Budapest, the bastion may look familiar. The first thing that came to my mind was Mickey Mouse.
The bastion and its long terrace provide wonderful, hazy postcard views of the Danube, the Parliament Building, and Pest on the opposite bank.
One of the other qualities that makes this area pleasant is its relaxed ambience. It’s a hugely popular tourist destination, and while crowds frequently detract from the experience, in this case, they made it better. It was a warm and sunny autumn day, and the happy, low-key vibe was infectious.
A pair of busking brothers played Hungarian favorites for the crowd.
A dreadlocked knight provided photo ops with his very large eagle.
And thanks to an inconsiderate pigeon, King Stephen suffered his humiliation stoically.
We found a sunny bench, enjoyed our Hungarian picnic, and watched the ebb and flow of Castle Hill. By afternoon we were in such a good mood that we didn’t even mind riding #16 back down the hill.