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Located between Elizabeth Bridge and Liberty Bridge (Várbalang), Gellért Hill (235m) is one of the most characteristic features of the right bank of the Danube.

Name: Gellért Hill
Category: Nature and gardens
Location: 1118 Budapest, Kelenhegyi út

Description

Located between Elizabeth Bridge and Liberty Bridge (Várbalang), Gellért Hill (235m) is one of the most characteristic features of the right bank of the Danube. In the 19C, the hill's slopes were covered in vines, later wiped out by phylloxera. According to legend, Gellért Hill was popular with witches and wizards, who met here for their Sabbath nights. At the foot of the hill, the Gellért (Gellért fürdő) and Rudas (Rudas Gyógyfürdő) baths are fed by numerous thermal springs.



Not many cities have a hill rising from the city centre and protected as a national park. Gellért Hill has a fortress called the Citadel on top of it, which was built in 1851, and is now a tourist attraction with terraces offering the fullest panoramic view of the city.

St. Gellért statue
St. Gellért statue

 

The hot springs deep inside the hill supply three spas at the foot of the hill. The Gellért Thermal Baths, Hungary’s grandest spa (2-4 Kelenhegyi út), where facilities include thermal and swimming pools, bath tubs, whirlpool baths, wave pools and a water park.

Gellért Baths
Gellért Baths

 

The other two, Rudas Baths (9 Döbrentei tér) and Rác Baths (8-10 Hadnagy utca), date back to the era of Turkish rule in Hungary. Facilities at both include tubs and thermal pools and as well ‘Turkish’ or steam baths. A swimming pool can also be found at the Rudas Baths.

Other monuments from the Turkish period include the tomb of Gül Baba, a Muslim shrine on Rózsadomb (Hill of Roses, 4 Mecset utca), and the domed Király Thermal Baths (82-84 Fő utca), with facilities including thermal pools, tubs and steam baths.

Fertile hillside vineyards have made Budafok in the south of Budapest a city of wine and sparkling wine. Its highlights include a labyrinth of cellars and the Museum of the Törley Sparkling Wine Manufacturers (82-94 Kossuth Lajos. utca). The Szoborpark (Park of Sculptures) at the junction of Balatoni út-Szabadkai út displays an unparalleled collection of socialist-era public sculptures.

The Castle Museum in Nagytétény (9-11 Kastélypark utca, 22nd District of Budapest) has an interesting collection of furniture.

Offering a glimpse of sea life, the Tropicarium at the Campona shopping mall is worth including in a day’s programme.

Tropicarium
Tropicarium

 

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After a lot of pacing the streets in Day 1 and Day 2, here we start with a coffee at one of Budapest’s most luxurious coffee houses, followed by a spot of shopping, taking in everything from designer boutiques, folk art shops, and food markets. This tour also gives you the option of ending the day with a swim and a thermal bathe to soothe the joints after scaling the dizzy heights of Gellért Hill.

START: M1 to Vörösmarty tér or Tram 2 to Vigadó tér and walk for two minutes in the opposite direction of the river.

Café Gerbaud

Try morning coffee and cake at one of the plushest of the city’s illustrious coffee houses. Your biggest decision here will be to work out where to sit to take it all in.

This is not the place we would choose to start the day every day - the ornate interior can be a bit over the top - but we find it tasteful enough in small doses to be an ideal treat. Coffee culture is about not only reading papers and devouring Gerbaud’s renowned Esterházy and Dobos cakes, but legend has it that young men indicated their availability to well-heeled ladies of pleasure by tipping an excessive amount of sugar into their coffee.

In summer, if the wealth of chandeliers, marble tables, fine wood paneling, and stucco ceilings gets a bit much, take to the terrace and sit out on Vörösmarty tér.

Time: 45 minutes. Opening hours: 9am–9pm.

Location: Budapest, Vörösmarty tér 7. Metro: M1 to Vörösmarty tér.

Váci utca

Even those who are not shopaholics can easily take in this relatively short shopping street and surrounding area. Starting from Vörösmarty tér, which often has something going on and hosts a Christmas market, you’ll find most big international fashion brands from Zara and Mango to Jackpot and H&M.

However, most of them offer a somewhat modest selection in comparison to other international cities. Keep an eye out on the side streets for high-end designers.

Souvenir shops also abound, though with steep price tags, but if you are into embroidered tablecloths and folk art, then you have come to the right place.

The shopping street continues on the other side of Szabadsajtó út, where the vibe is less frenetic.

Time: 60 minutes.

Location: Walk through the pedestrian crossing that connects the two sides of Váci utca from Vörösmarty tér to Vámház körút. Metro: M1 to Vörösmarty tér (starting point).

Great Market Hall

You may feel like you’re walking through an Impressionist painting when the sunlight shines into this beautifully restored king of neighborhood markets. However, it’s far from a museum piece; many locals come here to shop for fresh food and it’s bustling with life and color. The array of meat on sale shows just how thrifty Hungarians are, as they consider every part of the animal fair game for the pot. The carp and catfish crammed in tanks on fish "death row" downstairs are an uncomfortable sight for some, but hey, at least they’re fresh.

There are plenty of foodstuffs like paprika, salami, and goose liver to take home in the Great Market Hall, and upstairs look out for folklore and handicrafts hidden among the mountains of tourist goods.

There are plenty of nibbles to be eaten upstairs.

Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour.

Location: Budapest, Vámház körút 1–3. Opening hours: Mon 6am–5pm, Tues–Fri 6am–6pm, Sat 6am–3pm. Metro: M3 to Kálvin tér. Tram: 2/47/49 to Fővám tér.

Walk across Liberty (Szabadság) Bridge

Buda and Pest are seamlessly connected by this bright green piece of intricate ironwork that joins the Pest’s Great Market Hall and its neighbor the Budapest University of Economics (formerly the Karl Marx University) with the Gellért Hotel and the dramatic Gellért Hill of Buda.

The Liberty Bridge was opened by Emperor Franz Joseph in 1896, who actually knocked the last rivet into it.

Time: 10 minutes.

Location: Starts where Pest’s Vámház körút meets the Danube. Tram: 47/49 to Kálvin tér.

Gellért Hill

The imposing Gellért hill, that towers over the Pest waterfront of the Danube has been used to good effect to suppress forces for change. Italian missionary Szent Gellért was reportedly rolled down the hill in 1046 to his death by revolting pagans. The Austrians then built a Citadel from which to lord it over the Magyars.

To find the Gellért Statue upstream towards the Erzsébet Bridge where you will see the steps leading up. Gellért, who participated in spreading the gospel in 11th century Hungary on King Stephen’s request, met his end being tumbled down the hill (that was subsequently named after him) in a barrel filled with nails.

Ultimately, Christianity won through with Gellért canonized in 1083. The Gellért Statue captures the saint preaching defiantly but precariously on the edge of the hill. It dates back to 1904 and is the work of Hungarian sculptor Gyula Jankovits (1865–1920).

Follow the path up and you reach the Citadel that the Austrians, smarting from the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, built, replete with cannons galore, atop the hill pointing at the Hungarians below. There wasn’t much use for it after they patched up their differences in 1867, although German occupying forces utilized it in World War II.

The three-level bunker inside the Citadel has waxworks and photos chronicling the Siege of Budapest. Close by and at the peak of the hill, Budapest’s very own statue of liberty, the Freedom Statue M, ironically went up in 1947 as a tribute to the Soviet forces that liberated the city from the Nazis. Featuring a woman proffering the palm branch of triumph and not overtly Soviet-looking, it survived the cull of Communist statues from the capital.

Time: 1–2 hours.

Cave Church

On the way down, just before reaching the Gellért- Hotel and Baths, check out this spooky church whose eerie passages dig deep into the hill.

Don’t be alarmed if a priest appears from nowhere in the Cave Church!

Time: 15 minutes.

Gellért Baths

After another hard day of pounding the streets, the Art Nouveau architecture of the Gellért thermal baths allows you to relax in style but also to see something special. Inside, the central pool is surrounded by Romanesque columns and lions spitting out water, and just for a moment you might expect Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra to dive in alongside you.

At the end of the pool, the male and female thermal facilities are to the right and left respectively. This is where things start to get really colorful and heated, and we are not just talking about the design or decoration, nor the saunas and steam rooms. You can keep your bathing costume on, though many locals like to let it all hang out and dispense with their modesty cloths, although the authorities are said to be cracking down on that sort of thing.

The plunge pool is so icy you feel the chill right through your bones, but the thaw of the warm pools is always close at hand. While the waters are supposed to sort out arthritis, blood circulation, and the spine, we say just enjoy them and come out feeling squeaky clean and purified. In summer, be sure to check out the outdoor pools and garden, which is a bit more suited to kids who can enjoy the artificial waves in the main outdoor pool.

For more information, please see this post about Best Thermal Baths in Budapest.

Time: 2 hours. Opening hours: 6am–7pm.

Location: Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4. Tram: 47/49/18/19 to Szent Gellért tér.

Towering 235m (770 ft.) above the Danube, Gellért Hill offers the city’s best panorama on a clear day (bus: 27 from Móricz Zsigmond körtér). It’s named after the Italian Bishop Gellért, who assisted Hungary’s first Christian king, Stephen I, in converting the Magyars.

Gellért became a martyr, according to legend, when vengeful pagans, outraged at the forced and violent nature of Stephen’s proselytism, rolled Gellért in a nail-studded barrel to his death from the side of the hill.

An enormous statue now stands on the hill to celebrate his history.

On top of Gellért Hill, you’ll find the Liberation Monument, built in 1947 to commemorate the Red Army’s liberation of Budapest from Nazi occupation.

The 14m (45-ft.) statue of the woman holding the palm leaf of victory is visible from just about any viewpoint along the river. To her sides are statues representing progress and destruction.

Following the first election in 1990, there was much discussion as to whether the statue should be removed since the Soviet troops were more of an occupation rather than liberation.

Also atop the hill is the Citadella, built by the Austrians shortly after they crushed the Hungarian uprising of 1848 to 1849.

Citadella
Citadella

 

Views of the city from both vistas are excellent, but the Citadella is spectacular. Don’t bother paying the extra to traipse up to the upper part; the view is not that much higher, so don’t waste your money.

 

Pest, on the left bank of the Danube, also has many historic districts, resorts and famous sights. There are nine bridges spanning the Danube, the oldest being the Széchenyi Chain Bridge built in 1849.

Pest is as flat as a palacsinta (pancake), spread over a number of districts, taking in two-thirds of the city. Pest is the heartbeat with the commercial and administrative center of the capital and of all of Hungary.

Pest
Pest

 

Central Pest, the term used in this guide, is that part of the city between the Danube and the semicircular Outer Ring Boulevard (Nagykörút), where stretches of it are named after former Austro-Hungarian monarchs: Ferenc körút, József körút, Erzsébet körút, Teréz körút, and Szent István körút, changing names as the district changes.

Central Pest
Central Pest

 

The Outer Ring begins at the Pest side of the Petőfi Bridge in the south and wraps itself around the center, ending at the Margit Bridge in the north. Several of Pests busiest squares are found along the Outer Ring, and Pest’s major east-west avenues bisect the ring at these squares.

Central Pest is further defined by the Inner Ring (Kiskörút), which lies within the Outer Ring. It starts at Szabadság hid (Freedom Bridge) in the south and is alternately named Vámház körút, Múzeum körút, Károly körút, Bajcsy-Zsilinszky út, and József Attila utca, depending on the district, before ending at the Chain Bridge. Inside this ring is the Belváros, the actual city center and the historic Inner City of Pest. For the traveler, the Pest side is our recommended side for accommodations since this is where the lion’s share of the action is and it is easy to walk to where you want to go.

Váci utca (distinct from Váci út) is a popular pedestrian-only, touristy, shopping street between the Inner Ring and the Danube. It spills into Vörösmarty tér, one of the area’s best-known squares.

Váci street
Váci street

 

The Dunakorzó (Danube Promenade), a popular evening strolling spot, runs along the river in Pest between the Chain Bridge and the Erzsébet Bridge. The historic Jewish district of Pest is in the Erzsébetváros (Elizabeth Town), between the two ring boulevards.

Duna promenade
Duna promenade

 

Margaret Island (Margit-sziget) is in the middle of the Danube. Accessible via the Margaret Bridge or the Árpád Bridge, its an enormously popular recreation park with restricted vehicular traffic. It is extremely popular in the summer for sunbathing, sports, jogging, and bike riding. It has a small petting zoo for children and the remnants of an old monastery.

Margaret Island
Margaret Island

 

Buda & Óbuda

On the left bank of the Danube is Buda; to its north, beyond the city center, lies Óbuda. Buda is as hilly as Pest is flat and is a good place for hiking. The two most advantageous vista points in the city are in central Buda on Castle Hill and the even higher Gellért Hill. Streets in Buda, particularly in the hills, are not as logically arranged as those in Pest.

Castle Hill is one of the most beautiful parts of Budapest with its magnificent view of Pest. Castle Hill is accessed by steep steps, walking paths, and small roads that are not open to general traffic. There are three less aerobic ways to access Castle Hill for those who want to conserve their energy for other adventures. From Clark Ádám tér (at the head of the Chain Bridge) you can take the funicular; from Várfok utca (near Széll Kálmán tér) you can take the No. 10 bus; or from Deák, take the No. 16 bus, all of which will take you to the top.

Castle Hill
Castle Hill

 

Castle Hill consists of the royal palace itself, home to several museums. The previous castle was destroyed in World War II, but was rebuilt afterward and named the Royal Palace specifically to house museums. The Castle District has a long history going to pre-Celtic times, but what remains today are the medieval neighborhoods of small, winding streets, circling around Holy Trinity Square (Szentháromság tér), site of the Gothic Church of Our Lady or commonly referred to as St. Matthias Church. There’s little traffic on Castle Hill, and the only industry is tourism. Souvenirs, food, and drink tend to be more expensive here than in Pest.

Gellért Hill, to the south of Castle Hill, is named after the martyred Italian bishop who aided King István I (Stephen I) in his conversion of the Hungarian nation to Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries. A giant statue of Gellért sits on the side of the hill, where legend has it that he was martyred by angry pagans for his efforts. On top of the hill is the Citadella, marked by a 14m (45ft) Liberation Statue of a woman holding a palm leaf to represent victory. It was erected in 1947 and visible from most points along the Danube on the Pest side.

St. Gellért statue
St. Gellért statue

 

Below Castle Hill, along the Danube, is a long, narrow neighborhood and district known as Watertown (Víziváros). The main street of Watertown is Fő utca (Main St.). One of the original market places is off of Batthyány tér in this district. The famous Király thermal bath from Turkish times is right down the street.

Watertown
Watertown

 

Central Buda, the term used in this guide, is a collection of mostly low-lying neighborhoods below Castle Hill. The main square of Central Buda is Széll Kálmán tér, just north of Castle Hill, a hub for trams, buses, and the Red line metro, this area is in serious need of revitalizing. Beyond Central Buda, mainly to the east, are the Buda Hills.

Buda
Buda

 

Óbuda is on the left bank of the Danube, north of Buda. Although the greater part of Óbuda is lacking any architectural significance, reminding one of the Communist times, the area boasts both a beautiful old city center and the impressive Roman ruins of Aquincum. Unfortunately, the road coming off the Árpád Bridge slices the old city center in half, destroying its integrity. The historic center of the old city is Fő tér (Main Sq.) » a charming square dotted with small, yet impressive museums. Óbuda Island (Óbudaisziget) is home to an enormous park that swells in size every August when it hosts Hungary’s own annual Woodstock music festival, called the Sziget (Island) Festival. This festival has developed an international following.

Óbuda
Óbuda