We woke to another bright, sunny morning and after a leisurely breakfast we set off for a ride on the Zugliget Chairlift in the Buda Hills. This chairlift is included in the Budapest Card, otherwise an adult return fare is HUF 1400. To get there we took Bus 291 from Nyugati Railway Station, the journey taking approximately 30 minutes. Zugliget is the terminating stop and the entrance to the chairlift can be seen from the bus stop.
The chairlift was built in 1970 to connect Zugliget with János Hill, a distance of 1,040 m. The two seat open chairs are in motion at all times and passengers just need to stand in front of the next available chairs whilst the attendant slows down the mechanism. I’ve used this type of chairlift on skis but not without however it was very easy as the chair scoops you up and then you just need to shuffle back into the seat, pull the safety bar down and enjoy the ride.
The journey took 15 minutes firstly passing over homes and gardens and then across forested areas. It was a very relaxing and tranquil start to our day and getting off at the upper station was easy as we quickly jumped off and walked away from the mechanism.
There is a large cafeteria at the upper station with an open fireplace which was already quite busy. As we were not quite ready for our morning drink, we decided to take one of the short hiking trails that were signposted from the top. One of them was to the Elizabeth Lookout Tower, a short, uphill climb taking about ten minutes. The tower was built in 1910 and named after Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Inside the tower we climbed the spiral staircase to its summit. A sign informed us that this is the highest point in Budapest at 527m and on such a clear day, we had some excellent views over the surrounding countryside.
After returning down the steps, we treated ourselves to some mulled wine from the Lookout cafe. This small cafe looked much nicer than the one at the chairlift station so we were pleased that we had waited and not had our stop there. One thing to note though was that the cafe only accepted cash which was quite unusual as we had even been able to pay by card at the Christmas Market. The return journey down the chairlift provided us with some panoramic views of the city, the trip being an interesting experience and a chance to see more of Budapest than the city centre.
Buses run every 20 minutes and we didn’t have to wait too long for one to arrive, but rather than returning to the city centre we took the bus part way so that we could visit the Palvolgyi Caves. We navigated using our phone map which was quite easy but it did seem strange walking through a residential housing estate en-route to the caves. The walk from the bus stop to the Duna Ipoly National Park was a 20 minute easy walk with the caves being signposted once we reached the craggy outcrops of the Park.
Budapest is famous for its thermal spas but the legacy of this hot, bubbling water coursing under the city over millions of years is that it carved out a network of caves and caverns. Entrance to the caves is included in the Budapest Card with normal admission costing HUF 1400 for a one hour guided tour.
We had to wait about 15 minutes in the small visitor centre until the next tour was due to commence. These run at fifteen minutes past each hour and there were nine of us on the 1.15 p.m. tour. As all the other visitors were Hungarian, the guide stopped frequently giving detailed descriptions in Hungarian with a short summary afterwards for us in English. We were also provided with a two-sided fact sheet in English about the caves and the major features we would be looking at, which was helpful.
The actual cave system is 30km long and is considered to be the longest cave in Hungary as it links in to neighbouring caverns. The limestone cave was formed by hot mineral springs and the drip stone cave is the largest in the Buda Hills and is rich in precipitates resembling cauliflowers. Our tour took us through a 500 metre section along smooth paths, down narrow passageways and up around 400 steps including a 7 metre long metal ladder, equivalent to eight flights of stairs.
The temperature is a constant year round 11 degrees Celsius so it’s a good idea to wear a jumper. We found the tour to be easily accessible with very little bending down required but we did get a bit muddy brushing against the damp rock surfaces.
Along the multi-level labyrinth tour we saw cave crystals, calcite plates and stunning stalactites and stalagmites. Our guide also pointed out some immaculately preserved fossil remains of ancient marine life such as sea urchins which were embedded into the cave walls. We also spotted several bats who seem to find the cave a warm place to spend the winter months.
I particularly liked the popcorn formations on the cave walls. Our guide told us that these were formed from secondary deposits of minerals and are formed from small nodes of calcite. At one point we heard some music demonstrating the amazing acoustic effects of the spherical chamber and a little further along we experienced complete darkness when our guide momentarily turned off the lights.
After a fascinating tour, we caught a No. 65 bus from outside the cave visitor centre which took us back to the centre of Budapest in less than half an hour. I would definitely recommend both the chairlift ride and the cave tour and these can easily be combined into a single day’s itinerary.
it was 3.45 p.m. by the time we arrived back at the hotel and, unusually for us, we hadn’t had any lunch. We decided that this was a good excuse to indulge in the M Gallery Sofitel afternoon tea special. These sweet treats were just what we needed and we tucked into rich chocolate roulade, macaroons, chocolate tart and lime sorbet in the cosy M Gallery cafe.
Later in the evening we took a tram to the Octagon where we found numerous restaurants, so we popped into one of them for a meal of traditional Hungarian goulash and some local beers. After our dinner we took the No.16 bus over to Buda as we thought it would be nice to view the Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion at night.
Unlike our daytime visit the previous day, the Castle Hill district was almost deserted giving us plenty of photo opportunities beneath the arched colonnades. We also discovered that there is no charge to enter the upper viewing terrace of Fisherman’s Bastion in the evenings, so we climbed up to take in the breathtaking views before making our way back to the hotel for the night.
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