Hungary’s pristine capital city, Budapest, showcases the best of Eastern European style, architecture, and history.
Tourists wandering the streets marvel at the palace lit up at night and the squares full of massive sculptures honoring heroes of remain blissfully unaware or the sordid history lurking beneath their feet.
Budapest’s Labyrinth, a cavern system directly below the city formed naturally by hot springs, holds the secrets to the city’s most macabre tales.
Exploring Budapest’s Labyrinth was one of the coolest experiences of my life. It is a must-do for anyone visiting Budapest with even a fleeting interest in history or ruins.
I was happy to simply explore the city.
Discovering Budapest’s Labyrinth
I was staying on the Buda side of the Danube River, so I took the tram up towards Buda Castle to explore the surrounding area. As I walked along the cobblestone streets checking out the souvenir shops, a colorful sign caught my attention:
The sign invited me to visit the “Unique and Amazing Labyrinth,” and as an intrepid traveler fascinated by ruins, I couldn’t resist.
Although I hesitated slightly upon seeing the creepy back alley the sign pointed towards, my love of spooky history drew me in.
I followed the sign, which led to another pointing down an eerie staircase. Being the brave adventurer that I am, I descended the creepy stone staircase and followed the dimly lit tunnel to the entrance of Budapest’s labyrinth.
Exploring The Labyrinth of Buda Castle
I found the entrance to Budapest’s legendary labyrinth at the bottom of the stairs. After paying the small entrance fee, the cashier directed me to go around the corner and take a gas lantern before embarking on my journey.
Budapest’s labyrinth blew me away.
Even years later, it still stands as one of the most epic experiences of my life. As an American used to safety rails and well-lit rooms, I couldn’t fathom that an attraction would give folks a gas lantern and wish them well as they wandered along through the vast network of underground tunnels.
The moisture in the caves creates a thin mist layer, adding to the spooky vibe and making you feel like a real explorer discovering these caverns for the first time.
What’s Inside the Labyrinth?
Budapest’s labyrinth holds many secrets. Though exploring is the best part, the tunnels feature numerous rooms and plaques dedicated to different parts of the chamber’s (and, by extension, the city’s) history.
The first room almost betrays the spooky atmosphere with a celebration of the opera, but it feels more like a creepy carnival than an elegant theater production, with the hokey wax figures made decades ago and the loud opera music blaring through hidden speakers in the background.
Signs on the walls telling tales of the famous opera singer who, according to legend, holds masquerade balls for the dead in these very chambers remind us that it’s supposed to be creepy.
Vlad the Impaler
Budapest’s Labyrinth gets even more fascinating after you get past the hokey-ness of the Opera Wax Museum.
According to legend, During the 15th century, the labyrinth was used as a prison in the 15th century, holding none other than Vlad the Impaler, the terrifying reality behind fiction’s most compelling vampire, Count Dracula.
The signs covering the walls claim Vlad the Impaler was imprisoned in these dark caves for 14 years. The signage also provides a brief history of Vlad’s life, highlighting his connections to Hungary.
You’ll feel like a real archaeologist as you hold your lantern up to the signs to read the legends recorded on the labyrinth walls.
How Budapest’s Labyrinth Came To Be
A few of the labyrinth’s chambers showcase information on its formation, letting folks interested in geology and nature in on the fun.
A network of hot springs under Buda led to the cave’s formations millennia ago. Over time, the warm water slowly eroded the limestone, leading to a complex tunnel system. Expeditions found prehistoric artifacts dating to 350,000 BCE, giving you an idea of its age.
More on the Labyrinth’s History
You can find more tidbits on the cave system’s unique history scattered throughout the labyrinth.
Placards explain how the people living nearby used these tunnels for a variety of purposes. They served as a prison, a mine, and even as a shelter during the great wars of Europe.
Navigating Budapest’s Labyrinth
The name “Labyrinth” brings to mind complex cave systems impossible to navigate, like the Minoutour’s prison in the famous Greek myth.
Budapest’s Labyrinth is far simpler. The circular tunnel is easy to navigate, and although there are a few offshoot caverns to explore, they all lead to dead ends, making it nearly impossible to truly get lost.
It’s easy to get turned around, and the dark, misty rooms make watching your step essential as you navigate the uneven steps.
Is the Labyrinth Open?
My exploration of the Labyrinth was quiet and rarely interrupted by another tourist, much less large crowds. I wondered at the lack of fanfare, considering how unique the experience was.
When I returned home, I looked it up and discovered that the Labyrinth under Buda Castle was a huge tourist attraction that closed in 2011 (I visited it in 2016). After some sleuthing, I realized the portion of the Labyrinth I explored wasn’t directly below the castle, though it did rest on the same hill. I thought maybe the main attraction, the caverns directly under the castle, were closed, but this side attraction remained.
Later, I learned that Budapest reopened the Labyrinth in 2020, and companies now offer numerous tours through the passageways.
How Much Does the Labyrinth Cost?
When I visited, it cost 2500 Hungarian Forints (about $9) for a self-guided tour through the Labyrinth.
Today’s guided cave tours cost $14.
Should I Visit The Labyrinth?
Ancient underground areas hold a special place in my heart, but they’re popular for a reason. Whether you take the tour from Buda Castle or find the creepy back alley entrance allowing you to wander around on your own by lamplight, the labyrinth is an attraction you won’t want to miss.
The atmosphere, the historical significance, and the majesty of nature are all on display in these underground chambers, making it a top attraction in Budapest.