Visegrád - first class attraction, worth the climb

AUG 03,2011 - AUG 03,2011 (1 DAYS)

Nature

Visegrád:

Visegrád (high fortress) is 40 km north of Budapest, situated halfway between Szentendre (see our blog on Szentendre) and Esztergom - where the Danube meanders though the Börzsöny and Visegrád hills with a sharp turn. Visegrád is famous for the remains of the Early Renaissance summer palace of King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary and the medieval citadel. Once, you arrived to Visegrád - you will be rewarded with unforgettable view of the historic fortress, the spectacles performed there, the stunning view of the mighty Danube, the green hills around and the quiet, picturesque village downstairs. There are many marked trails around for walking or cycling/biking.

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Boat service between Budapest and Visegrád: Mahart (Mahart Passnave Passenger Shipping Ltd.)  is the largest company operating ferries and scheduled ships, including hydrofoils and sightseeing cruises from / to Budapest. More information on timetables, prices and routes can be found at www.mahartpassnave.hu. The most spectacular and enjoyable way to get to Visegrád - is by boat. Boats run between Budapest and Visegrád from April to September. They depart from Vigadó tér in Pest between Erzsébet Bridge and Szabadság Bridge. Mahart Passnave offers both boats (3.5 hours) and hydrofoils (1 hour) to  Visegrád. See http://www.mahartpassnave.hu/ for timetables. Both boat and hydrofoil services operate on a Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday between June and August but on the weekends only in May and September.Timetable: Saturdays and Sundays, 6 April, 25 May, 20 August: at 14:00 (arrival 15.30),  Tuesday and Friday at 10:00 (arrival 15.30). Prices: ADULT: 1.500 HUF, CHILD (2-14 years): 750 HUF, CHILD (under age of 2): FREE OF CHARGE, DOG (leash required): 750 HUF:

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The boat passes under the Chains Bridge:

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The Fishermen Bastion from the booat to Visegrád:

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The Calvinist Church in Buda from the boat:

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St. Stephan Church and Buda Castle from the boat:

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Batthyány tér from the boat:

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Margit hid (Margaret Bridge) from the boat:

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Vác is a town in Pest county with approximately 35,000 inhabitants. The boat calls at Vác before arriving to Visegrád:

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Kismaras town - between Vác and Visegrád:

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The Lower Castle and Solomon Tower from the boat approaching Visegrád:

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To Visegrád by Train: There’s no direct train service to Visegrád from Budapest. Alternatively you can take a train to Nagymaros from Nyugati Railway Station - trains departing at 7 minutes past the hour (direction: Szob) taking 41 minutes. From Nagymaros take a ferry (rév in Hungarian) which will take you across the Danube to Visegrád. The ferry dock is a few minutes walk from the train station and a ferry leaves in every hour. Visegrad to Nagymaros also runs every hour at :50. The timetables can be found at http://elvira.mav-start.hu or http://www.mavcsoport.hu/en

By Bus:  Buses depart to Visegrád from Ujpest Városkapu vasútállomás (District XIII) Metro station - east to Árpád Bridge (M3, blue metroline, Árpád Híd station). Take the bus (runs every 20-60 minutes) that travels through a town called Dorog (75 minutes approx.). You can purchase your ticket in advance at the Árpád Bridge Bus Station up until half an hour before the departure of your bus. You can buy ticket from the driver too when you board the bus.
Find exact information about buses departures to Visegrad: http://ujmenetrend.cdata.hu/uj_menetrend/en/index.php (Hungarian only).

History: Visegrád played important strategic role in the eras of the Celts, Avars, Romans then in that of the Hungarians. Due to its favourable location with the Danube and the rocky hills - the Romans built a fortress here during the reign of Constantine the Great which became a significant part of their eastern defense lines along the flow of the Danube. Visegrád was first referred to in Latin documents in 1009. The Mongols destroyed the the first fortress during their raids in 1241-42. After they left Hungary King Béla IV (1235-1270) built the current fortress.  The hexagonal Solomon Tower (Salamon torony) was built in 1258. Visegrád gained international importance during the Anjous kings (1308-1387). King Charles I of Hungary made Visegrád, his hometown, the royal seat of Hungary in 1325. Charles Robert started to built its royal palace, earlier, in 1320, in the area near the Danube bank which became his and his court's favorite residence. Visegrád hosted the famous Royal Summit in 1335 when Charles Robert King of Hungary, John of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia; Casimir III, King of Poland; Charles, the Moravian Marquis; Heinrich Wittelsbach, the Bavarian Prince, and Rudolph, the Saxon Prince made an agreement to protect the participating countires' financial and commercial independence from Vienna and from the Western countries. Mainly, it was an agreement securing an alliance between Poland and Hungary against Habsburg Austria. The glory days of Visegrád continued under the rule of Louis the Great (son of Robert the Charles), under whom the palace's current layout was formed. King Sigismund from the Luxembourg House extended the former palace building and added more courtyards and gardens. King Matthias (1458-1490) elaborated the whole complex and constructed a magnificent Renaissance palace around the fortress. King Matthias extended the palace with the courtyard on the 2nd terrace in the middle of which stood the Hercules well (Herkules kú) with the coat of arms of the King Matthias on its side. A chapel with gilded wooden ceiling stood on the the 3rd terrace of the palace. Vlad Tepes (Dracula) was imprisoned in Solomon Tower between 1462-1474. Visegrád lost importance after the partition of the Kingdom of Hungary following the Battle of Mohács in 1526: forces of the Kingdom of Hungary led by King Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia were defeated by forces of the Ottoman Empire led by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The Turks put an end to Visegrád's heyday in 1543 when most of the 350-room palace and the Visegrád town were destroyed. Visegrád started to flourish again after the historical compromise between Hungary and Austria in 1867. After steam ship traffic begun on the Danube - Visegrád became increasingly more popular holiday and excursion spot until today. In 1991, the leading politicians of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland met here to form a periodical forum between these countries - "the Visegrád group" - distant memory to the famous meeting centuries earlier in 1335. The castle of Visegrád is called Fellegvár in Hungarian, meaning "cloud tower".

Walk in the town:

The boat lands at the MAHART boat station, where the pleasure boats are continuously arriving.

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On the left side of the road the Renaissance Restaurant, Fő utca 11, is located near Salomon Tower, renovated in renaissance style. The waiters and waitresses of the restaurant are dressed in costumes and serving on earthenware dishes the specialities, which are made according to the contemporary recipes.

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Just right next door is the Castle Hotel, situated at the bottom part of the Solomon Tower.

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Continuing our journey on the main road, we pass the MOL petrol station and we reach the central car park of the town on the left side, from where we can take nice walks on the main street of the town, or if we stay on the main road we reach the ferry station. The ferry station is located opposite the Rév Street, on the no. 11 main road offering an hourly crossing to the neighbouring Nagymaros. Boats from/to Nagymaros/Visegrád (at 06.30, and between 08:00 and 21:00 hourly, cca. 15min). Schedules are indicative due to water, weather and other reasons. The Sirály Restaurant, Rév utca 15 is near the ferry station.

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On the Danube embankment all along the town a shady promenade was established.

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If we take the Rév Street towards the town - we see, on the left side, the popular Black Raven Restaurant and B&B and on the right side the Visegrád Hotel and Sea-gull Restaurant with its modern, but still assimilating building to the landscape, it offers high standards and delicious dishes for its customers. The Grill Garden is mainly a popular spot for the warm summer evenings, and the little shops of the Rév Street offer all sorts of souvenirs for the tourists. At the crossing, on the corner the 17th century Roman Catholic Church in late Baroque style is located, next to it the beautiful sculpture of Saint Margaret of the House of Arpad is situated in a well-maintained park. After that we reach the building of Don Vito Restaurant and Pizzeria, Fő utca 83 - delicious food and desserts, and even offers pizza delivery, reminding us of the 1920-30s atmosphere.

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The next building is the Town Hall, which due to its recent reconstruction adapts very well to the street image. There are Information boards about the famous houses and former residents of the Main Street (Fő utca). The most famous building complex is the former Royal Palace (see above and below).  The King Matthias Museum (see below) introducing the history of the palace is situated in the building next to the entrance of the garden (Fő u. 29.), which was built from the stones of the palace. If we continue our walk on the Main Street (Fő utca) we pass the house 5 Fő utca, where Artúr Görgey (1818–1916) the General of the 1848/49 revolution lived his last 30 years in complete seclusion, he also died in here. Hotel Var is in No. 9:

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Located at the end of the street, on a small square is the bronze bust of King Matthias, the composition of János Fadrusz, which is a copy of one part of the famous Matthias Monument in Kolozsvár erected in 1903. On the right side, if we take the Salamontorony Street we can reach the Lower Castle tower (see below). If we walk back down the Salamontorony Street towards the embankment, and we continue our walk to the right, we can find a square-shaped tower remnant. This is the round bastion or water bastion, (Kerekbástya Palotaház),  Fő utca 11-13. It was erected at the same time as the fortress system, representing its lowest part. This was an observation point for the Danube’s traffic and with the help of hoisting apparatus they were sending water to the lower castle. The top of the multi-storey building was ruined; János Schulek created the current form of the lower part in the 1930s. On the steps of the round bastion the fortress builder King Bela IV’s statue, and on the iron banisters the arms of Arpad-, Anjou-, Luxembourg- and Hunyadi-families are exhibited. The round bastion is connected with the lower castle and then to the upper castle through an outer wall built in the 13th century and it is still there today. The gate was cut in the wall around 1820, under which the road goes towards Budapest. The old route was located in the Lower Castle, next to the Solomon Tower and crossing the northern tower gate built in the 13th century. Today this is the Panoráma Street northern part, and if we continue along approx. 300 m we get to the Sibrik Hill. The Archdeacon Church (Főesperesi-templom), Mátyás Király út (Sibrik Hill), stands here. Open MAY - SEP: SAT and SUN (or on other days by appointment). Built in Romanesque style. At the beginning of the statehood Stephen the 1st have constituted the castle called Visegrád as county seat. The first parish church of the county was built on the hillside near the castle. The church of the archdeaconry was built on its site after 1063, in King Solomon's time. Price: adult 200 HUF:

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If by the church we turn right (i.e. towards Esztergom direction) we can take a pleasant walk in the typical street of this small town. During our walk we can find two tourist agencies (the Bauer Reisen Travel Agency - Fő u. 46, and then the Hungaro Reisen Travel and Hunting Organizer Agency – Fő u. 68.  where the staff is more than happy to assist us, and it is also possible to purchase some souvenirs. Next to the well-kept bed of the Apátkúti Brook on a small walkway we can also make our way to the Visegrád Mountain.

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We can find the Honti Hotel and B&B on the Main Street  which is very popular among visitors with its quiet, romantic and pretty surroundings, pleasant rooms and delicious cuisine.

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The Caravan Camping is accessible from the no. 11 main road by the hotel’s entrance. If we carry on straight from the church we reach the well-kept King Matthias Street. The Goulash Country Tavern attracts its customers with its geranium covered windows and garden. We may continue our walk next to a pleasant park with a fountain, or we decide to turn to the Széchenyi Street, where the Community Centre and Library is situated in the old mansion house. The Library awaits people who would like to read or use the internet, and in the exhibition halls of the Community Centre temporary exhibitions are organized. If we carry on along King Matthias Street we pass the Pilisi Parkerdő Rt. central building

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and then we reach the crossing with a lay-by where two buildings are of special interest. The excellent Brook Inn is located in the bend towards the town, and across the little wooden bridge over the brook towards the forest we can see the friendly buildings of the Forest School.

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If we carry on the path of the Forest School we may take pleasant forest walks and excursions. After the Devil’s Mill Waterfall

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and the Magda Spring we can reach the park located on the Telgárthy Meadow and the Miklós Bertényi Botanical Garden.

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If we turn left at the crossing we reach the Nagy-Villám (Big Lightning) facility:

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The Silvanus Conference & Sport Hotel is located on the 325 m. high Black Hill, offering 106 panoramic view rooms and a conference centre. Wellness- services, squash courts are providing full relaxation and recreation. For those interested in the gastronomy national and international specialities are offered.

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The Nagy-villám Entertainment Centre offers various programs for those who are looking for an active relaxation: canopy-, bob-, mini golf- and during wintertime a ski slope is awaiting its customers.

Fun Extreme Canopy, Nagyvillám, Visegrád. Open MON - SUN 10.00 - 18.00:

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The Visitor Centre and tourist spot in Mogyoróhegy is very popular among those who prefer the fresh air and pleasant surroundings; also the Danube Bend Forest School and Jurta Campsite are popular. Visegrád’s latest treasure is its thermal and mineral water, which are brought to the surface from 1400 m depth with the help of the wells of the Lepence Valley. This 39 °C thermal water supplies the swimming pool of Lepence, which was opened in 1977, where the Lepencei Brook reaches the Danube. From the terraced pools of the complex there is a beautiful view of the Danube Bend’s Dömös area. The most beautiful and highest-level hotel of the Danube Bend, the Thermal Hotel Visegrád opened its gates in 2003. The thermal-, wellness- and conference hotel offers 174 rooms, an excellent restaurant and many entertainment activities, therapies, fitness, wellness and spa services to its visitors:

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Arriving to Visegrád Hill and its attractions:

All attractions (The Royal Palace, The Salomon Tower, the Lower Castle and the Upper Castle have commanding views over the Danube River. The Royal Palace, THe Salomon Tower and the Lower Castle lie all in ruins at the foot of the hill in the town premises. On the other hand It requires quite an effort to walk up the steep pathways and tracks to the Upper Castle/Citadel. But you can choose a path through the forests keeping things cooler. There are infrequent local bus services up to the Upper Castle from Visegrád town pier and also an expensive minibus option.

Really great views from above. Great for people who like to take photographs. There are 3 ways up. You can reach the Upper Castle/ Citadel via a trail marked ‘Fellegvár’ (Fortress) leading east from behind Solomon Tower. This one is a steep path through the forest starting right from the Solomon tower. I'd recommend taking this one, as it's much shorter and protected from direct sunlight. Unless it is raining or was raining the day before, as the path becomes very slippery and dirty. And do not take this path down, as it's dangerously steep.

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An alternative, less steep path goes from the town centre area: find the trail marked 'Kálvária sétány' (Calvary Promenade) starting behind the Catholic church on Fő tér. 45 - 60 minutes walk up.

The third one is a regular road, much less steep, but open to direct sunlight and 3 times longer than the forest path. Take this one if you're really into hiking:

You will tired when you get to the top. Very tough trail. So if you have issues walking on tough terrain, figure out where the minibus is.

Consider taking a shuttle bus taxi, it's really worth it. There's only one shuttle service, just ask any hotel or restaurant to call them for you. The taxi from the top to the bottom cost us 2000 HUF.

For those with a car, there is a car park at the base of the Upper Citadel (300 HUF per hour for parking).

I realize these notes may make getting there sound onerous. It's not a difficult trip BUT a diable one. The whole area has a quiet, VERY relaxed air to it. One of the spots I remember well of my trip through Hungary. It's a very nice area of Hungary !!!

The Lower Castle:

The Lower Castle is the part of the fortification system that connects the Upper Castle with the Danube. It is located a few meters away from the port/pier on the main road. Matyas Kiraly muzeum Visegrad is housed on the lower castle. Most of the visitors come to Visegrad for the upper castle because of the view but it’s a pity not to visit this one too.THe tower got its name ’the Solomon Tower’ after a false story about Solomon’s captivity, as Solomon was not kept in this tower, but on the Sibrik Hill. The 31 m high, five-storey tower with its 3,5-8 m thick walls was the country’s strongest construction. It served as the earliest part of the protection system to control the route crossing through its gates and continuing on the Danube embankment. The five-stories were used as bedrooms, kitchens and storage areas (sometimes as prison). The building is currently a museum, where the most valuable findings from the palace are exhibited among others (see below).

Prices: Adult: 700 HUF,  Student, Senior: 350 HUF. For the Solomon’s Tower you need a separate ticket. Salomon tower closed NOV - MAR and all year Tuesdays:

King Béla IV statue between the boats' pier and the Lower Castle:

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Start of the short ascent to the Lower Castle. Left: Solomon Tower:

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The lower castle from the Danube bank:

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The Danube from the Lower Castle:

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In the lower Castle's centre rises the Solomon Tower, a large, hexagonal residential tower dating from the 13th century. In the 14th century, new curtain walls were built around the tower. During a Turkish raid in 1544, the southern part of the tower collapsed. Its renovation began only in the 1870s and was finished in the 1960s:

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King Matthias Museum (Magyar Nemzeti Múzeum Mátyás Király Múzeuma), Visegrád, Fő u. 29. is actually located at the Lower Castle and Salomom Tower and part of it in the Royal Palace. Opening Hours: TUE - SUN 09.00 - 17.00, Closed: on Mondays. Salomon tower closed NOV - MAR and all year Tuesdays, the Royal Palace open till 16:00 (NOV - FEB). The exhibitions present the reconstructed Gothic fountains from the Royal Palace, Renaissance sculpture in Visegrád, and the history of Visegrád.

Interesting item is the Visegrad Madonna that was found in the 18th century among the ruins of the palace chapel. This red marble lunette relief belonged to the furnishings of the palace chapel. The Virgin holds the child in a gentle embrace, who, standing on a cushion, raises his right hand in blessing and with his left hand presses a small bird – a gold finch symbolic of his future Passion – to his breast. The masters of the Italian Renaissance depicted the Virgin and child on numerous 15th century reliefs in a similar arrangement. As to formal qualities, closest to the Madonna of Visegrád are two reliefs in the Ducal Palace in Urbino and the Bargello museum in Florence. The similarities are most apparent in the modelling of the drapery, the heads, and the hands.

Another highlight is the Fountain of Hercules. The fountain of the ceremonial courtyard is a unique masterpiece of Hungarian Renaissance art. Its prototypes were the fountains of the Italian 14th century. On the side walls of the octagonal basin, the coats of arms of Matthias appear among fruit garlands tied with ribbons. Above the round bowl of the fountain, decorated with jewel motifs, rose the central statue of the fountain representing the fight of Hercules and the hydra of Lerna. A stream of water sprang forth from the mouth of the animal. In the art of the Matthias period the figure of Hercules refers to the militant king. The leading master of the workshop responsible for this fountain may
have been Giovanni Dalmata, while the decoration of the bowl and the fruit garlands are related to the works of the Roman master Andrea Bregno:

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There is a knight show held in the courtyard outside the Lower Castle. They have it in English, Russian and Hungarian. 1500 HUF. The knight show is put on by the people from the Renaissance Restaurant. It's pretty entertaining. They get volunteers from the crowd, so you may get to throw a spear or shoot an arrow:

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Royal Palace:

The first royal house on this site was built by King Charles I of Hungary after 1325. In the second half of the 14th century, this was enlarged into a palace by his son, King Louis I of Hungary. In the last third of the 14th century, King Louis and his successor Sigismund of Luxembourg had the majority of the earlier buildings dismantled and created a new, sumptuous palace complex, the extensive ruins of which are still visible today. The palace complex was laid out on a square ground plan measuring 123 x 123 m. A garden adjoined to it from the north and a Franciscan friary, founded by King Sigismund in 1424, from the south. In the time of Louis I and Sigismund, the palace was the official residence of the kings of Hungary until about 1405-08. Between 1477-84 Matthias Corvinus had the palace complex reconstructed in late Gothic style. The Italian Renaissance architectural style was used for decoration, the first time the style appeared in Europe o

utside Italy. After the Ottoman Turks' siege in 1544 the palace fell into ruins, and by the 18th century it was completely covered by earth. Its excavation began in 1934 and continues today. At present, the reconstructed royal residence building is open to the public, and houses exhibitions on the history of the palace and reconstructed historical interiors. Royal Palace 1100 HUF (reduced 550 HUF).

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Reconstructed high Gothic fountain in the royal palace at Visegrád:L

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Upper Castle / Fellegvar / Fortress:

After the Mongol invasion, King Béla IV of Hungary and his wife had a new fortification system constructed in the 1240-50s near the one destroyed earlier. The first part of the new system was the Upper Castle on top of a high hill. The castle was laid out on a triangular ground plan and had three towers at its corners. In the 14th century, at the time of the Angevin kings of Hungary, the castle became a royal residence and was enlarged with a new curtain wall and palace buildings. Around 1400 King Sigismund also had a third curtain wall constructed and enlarged the palace buildings. At the end of the 15th century, King Matthias Corvinus had the interior part of the castle renovated. The Upper Castle also served for the safekeeping of the Hungarian royal insignia between the 14th century and 1526. In 1544 Visegrád was occupied by the Ottoman Empire, and, apart from a short period in 1595-1605, it remained in Turkish hands until 1685. The castle was seriously damaged by the Turks and was never used afterwards. The castle is now open to the public for visit.

The castle is open TUE - SUN 9.00-18.00. Price: - Adult 1,400 HUF
- student, senior: 700 HUF.

The 13th-century citadel sits on top of a 350m hill and is surrounded by thick rock moats. The real highlight is just walking along the ramparts of this fortress and admiring the sensational views of the bending Danube and its surrounding Börzsöny Hills:

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