I have a thing for caves. In fact, I’ve traversed them in countries as diverse as Belize to Bulgaria!
I think it’s because growing up I was obsessed with rocks and geology – those some of the few science lessons that my wander-happy brain could actually tune into.
So when I found out that Budapest had an extensive network of caves right in the city center, easily accessible by public bus, you know I had to go and explore them for myself.
I was quite surprised by caving in Budapest: first of all, it’s definitely caving as in sport, not walking through a cave as in a tourist attraction. It was high intensity and definitely not for the faint of heart!
In fact, without my Budapest cave tour guide, I doubt I would have gone much further than the first room, but his constant encouragement helped us through tiny crevices that seemed impassable to human and up rocks that seemed too difficult to scale.
However, don’t worry if you feel like that may be too intense: there are two different Budapest cave tours, an adventure caving one and a walking cave tour.
My experience comes from the adventure caving one, but if it sounds too intense for you, I’ll talk a little about the cave walk tour as well so you can decide what is right for you.
For me personally, I went adventure caving in Budapest with the company Discover Central Europe, as they had the best reviews, with 4.8 stars out of 5 and 125 reviews (at time of writing). This is the exact tour I took. Safety is paramount when picking your adventure Budapest cave tour, so I strongly recommend something that’s been vetted and recommended by fellow travelers. Do not attempt to go caving in Budapest alone!
The Budapest caves are a way bigger system than you may think
I don’t know why, but I thought that the Budapest caves would be a small system, perhaps a kilometer or two long. I guess because when we think of caves, we think of remote natural places – not enormously popular European cities. Well, under the Buda hills, that is certainly not the case!
It turns out that caving in Budapest offers endless routes and possibilities. While you’ll only navigate a few hundred meters into the system on a Budapest cave tour, there are actually over 100 kilometers of caves in Budapest, which altogether constitute a national park and a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On my caving in Budapest tour, we traversed a section of the 31-kilometer-long Pál-völgyi-Mátyás-hegyi cave in Budapest’s Duna-Ipoly National Park. (Don’t worry, there won’t be a spelling quiz on that)
If you choose adventure caving in Budapest, it’s extremely intense & narrow!
I’ve been in many caves over the years and I’d never think of them as extremely physically depending, with the exception of perhaps the ATM Cave in Belize. I found that one bit tricky, but not too bad. Caving in Budapest definitely tested the limits of my coordination, upper and lower body strength, and mind most of all.
There are many parts of the cave tour where you have to squeeze yourself through what looks like an impossibly small tunnel, moving forward on hands and knees – or occasionally, just enough room to scoot yourself along on your stomach or back, using your feet and arms to move you forward.
However, if this is all too much for you, but you still want to do a Budapest cave tour, I strongly recommend the Budapest cave walk. It’s run by the same tour company that I went with and loved, Discover Central Europe, but it’s paved and has ladders to help you up and down. If you have extreme claustrophobia or a fear or heights (for the ladders) it still may be on the intense side, but it is nothing compared to the actual caving tour in Budapest.
You’ll end up with a few aches and bruises
The day after I went caving in Budapest, I had extremely aching arms and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. I assumed it was the way I had slept… and didn’t remember until later in the day that I was probably sore from having to scoot myself along a slanted rock using only my arms and the tension of my back pressed against the ceiling of the cave.
I had a few bruises after exploring the Budapest caves, mostly on my knees from having to crawl so much. But it was entirely worth the bumps and bruises, and the achiness faded after a day. If you work out a lot and have a lot of muscle developed, you may not experience any achiness, but I’m pretty unfit.
After your Budapest cave tour, I strongly recommend going to take a dip in one of the city’s many thermal baths. While these baths are now mostly frequented by tourists rather than locals, they’re still one of my favorite parts of visiting Budapest and I make it a point each trip to Budapest to check out a new one.
After visiting the caves of Budapest, you’re close to Rudas Baths and not a far ride from the spectacular Gellert Baths, my personal favorite thermal baths in all of Budapest.
Good shoes are an absolute must for the Budapest caves
If you’re going caving in Budapest or even just doing the cave walk tour, don’t even think of coming without proper footwear! I hadn’t planned on doing the Budapest caving tour so I only had sandals and flats as I was visiting in the summer, and I had to run out to Vaci utca and do a quick shop for sneakers.
I ended up with some crummy $15 H&M sneakers, which suited me all right for navigating the Budapest caves — but they definitely weren’t the best idea. You’ll do much better with proper running shoes with some traction, or even hiking boots.
In terms of what to wear, I recommend either stretchy jeans or leggings for women and loose pants for guys and a T-shirt you don’t mind sweating in for both. They recommended we bring light sweaters, but it ended up being warm enough in the cave during the summer that we didn’t need to wear these under our caving overalls (which, trust me, is a whole look).
Be sure to book your Budapest cave tour in advance, as spots are limited
Due to the nature of this tour, small groups are a must, as a large group would mean that your guide would have a hard time giving people 1-on-1 individualized attention and ensuring everyone’s safety. I forgot to count but there must have been less than 10 people on my tour, likely 8.
Discover Central Europe is the best-reviewed caving company on GetYourGuide and the ones I trusted with my safety on this tour. Of course, spots are limited, so if you’re visiting in the high season you’ll definitely want to book in advance. I nearly missed out on my tour, with only one day of my three days in Budapest available, when I booked about 5 days ahead, so keep that in mind if this tour is on your Budapest bucket list.
Here is where you can book the adventure cave tour like I did, which is great for adrenaline seekers and active travelers. Otherwise, you can take the soft adventure cave walk tour which is better for kids, the mildly claustrophobic, or those who are healthy but have slightly less mobility than the caving tour requires.
It’s really not for the claustrophobic
If you think you have claustrophobia, I can tell you, this really isn’t the tour for you! I’ve visited many caves and never had any issues, and even I had a few “oh shit” moments. There are some tunnels which seem way too small to fit a human body through… which end up fitting you with ease once you figure out the right way to twist your body through it.
Once you get used to it, it’s extremely cool and a ridiculous amount of fun, but if you have any history of freaking out in enclosed spaces, this is a pretty intense experience so it may be best to work your way up to it with more spacious caves first and see how you feel.
Again, the cave walk would be much better for those who have trouble in tight spaces, so long as your claustrophobia is not extremely intense. The adventure caving tour would definitely be too intense for claustrophobes.
Caving under Budapest is no walk in the park
There is a big difference between the two tours I’m discussing here. Most of what this post entails is about caving, not cave walking – and there’s a remarkable amount of difference in that seemingly pedantic nuance.
Caving means raising and lowering yourself through crevices, squeezing through holes, and scrabbling quite a bit on hands and knees. Meanwhile, other cave tours usually have a set of stairs that take you to one of the larger caverns, and you can stand and walk the whole time.
Cave tours are more physically comfortable, with paved pathways, stairs, and a limited amount of walking on bare rock. However, they won’t give you the true idea of the size and vastness of the cave network (nor the same adrenaline rush) that caving will.
But it’s a whole hell of a lot of fun!
I know I may have made this tour seem really intense, because it is, and I don’t want anyone to go into it thinking it’ll be easy and get caught off guard.
However, I’m an anxiety-saddled girl who has used her gym card exactly once in the last six months: not exactly a poster child for physical or mental health. And I was successfully able to complete the tour without freaking out or feeling out of my depth.
90% of the work required to complete the cave tour is mental: you have to believe that you can fit through these crevices, shimmy up that rock, and pull yourself up that ledge. Your guide and fellow tour takers will help you all the way, showing you where to place your feet and arms to have the easiest way through the harder parts.
If you’re not scared of challenging yourself and you’re in reasonable shape, a Budapest cave tour is an absolute can’t-miss item on your Budapest itinerary. I can’t believe it took me three trips to Budapest to finally do it, but I am SO glad I did.
Be honest with yourself about your physical capabilities
To successfully complete this tour, you don’t need to be ultra-fit (after many a langos, I definitely am not) or have any caving experience whatsoever. But you do have to have strong mental willpower and the ability to crawl on your knees and lift yourself a bit using your arms.
I had an ankle injury about 3 months before I did this cave tour that had finally healed up, but I was a little nervous I’d reactivate the injury on my tour. I took it slow and all was good, and my ankle didn’t put up any fuss, but if you have recently been injured – especially in your shoulders, back, or knees – you may want to opt for the cave walk, not the caving tour.
There is no weight limit expressed on the tour, and my guide said that people up to 150 kg have gone on the tour successfully and were able to squeeze through the smaller crevices. He said that in his experience, it’s more that people tend to get tired with the physical demands of the tour rather than having an issue fitting through the tunnels. He said that if you can move for 2.5 hours, you should be able to finish the tour no matter your size.
If you’re moderately plus size (for lack of a better word) and in good health, I’d say go for it! If you’re on the larger side of plus size or have hesitations about your fitness level, I think the Budapest cave walk would be better suited for your needs.
The cave you’ll explore is one of the most ancient landscapes you can traverse
The coolest thing about the Budapest caves is that they are 45 million years old, and you can see the fossilized bodies of shells which prove that it was sea floor millions of years ago. However, I have to admit that while the caves were really impressive from caving perspective of being physically challenging and extremely old, they are less visually impressive in terms of the geology of the cave system.
By this, I mean that there aren’t a ton of stalagmites or stalactites or pillars in these caves, nor are there lots of glittering crystals (though there are some small ones). I’ve definitely seen more impressive caves in my day, so this tour is more about the physical challenge, the age, and the immensity of the cave rather than the physical beauty of it. However, take this with a grain of salt as I’m a bit spoiled when it comes to caves – if it’s your first cave, you’ll certainly be impressed.
Don’t watch The Descent or read about the Thailand cave kids beforehand
OK, this is a bit of a joke, but I want to mention it all the same! I re-watched the Descent – a decade-old horror flick about cavers who go to an uncharted system and end up getting decimated by a bunch of cannibalistic albino humanoid creatures – about a month before taking my Budapest caving tour. Yeah, not the best idea.
I flinched every time I thought I saw a weird flicker of light from the headlamps and definitely wondered how the hell I’d get out of there if, after millions of years, I managed to wake up and anger the ancient Budapest cave people.
So yeah, stay away from cave-themed horror stories, both real and fictional, before taking the tour. (Also, on a cave-horror-movie-related note, don’t watch the Silence, another angry cave dweller horror movie, not because it’s scary but because it’s a horrible movie and you’ll never get those 90 minutes of your life back).
The Budapest cave system is safe and not prone to earthquakes or flooding
This may be my California lizard brain talking, but when I thought about doing a cave tour I kind of panicked about the possibility of earthquakes. Luckily, my friend Katie, a fellow earthquake-paranoid West Coaster, let me know that the Budapest area is not prone to serious earthquakes, only the minor tremble here or there and nothing that would cause any damage.
Similarly, my guide told us that because of the specific geology of this cave, the Budapest cave system isn’t impacted by flash flooding the way other caves can be. You can rest easy that you won’t end up stranded like those poor boys in Thailand who had to get rescued.
It’s a long tour, so be prepared and eat a good breakfast
As I stated above, the tour lasts about 2.5 hours of actively traversing through the cave system. However, there’s plenty of rest time built into that 2.5 hours, as you have to wait for your group to finish going through some narrower bits, which does take some time. I found it to be at a good pace and never really felt out of breath or overexerted, and again, I’m not in any particularly good shape.
I was really happy that I ate a big, carb-y breakfast beforehand though, as I would have been ravenous by the end of the tour without it. The tour starts at 10:30 and ends around 1, so you’ll be super hungry for lunch by the end of your tour. And after all that hard work caving in Budapest, trust me, it will taste doubly delicious.
Drink some – but not too much! – water right before your tour
There is no bathroom in the cave system – obviously – so make sure you don’t overload on water in the morning. In fact, if you’re a small-bladdered person like me, I’d recommend skipping water at breakfast and then drinking some water right before you go on the cave tour.
I was afraid of having to use the bathroom in the cave so I didn’t drink any water beforehand, but that meant that I was exhausted and super thirsty at the end of the tour. That wasn’t exactly ideal, either. You have no room for a bag of any kind on your Budapest cave tour, so you can’t bring a water bottle with you, so be sure to have some (but again, not so much that it means you’ll have to pee mid caving adventure) before you enter the caves.
Buy your public transportation tickets ahead of time
You’ll need 4 public transportation tickets to get here and back, and not all the bus stops have ticket machines, especially the ones by the cave. Unless you happen to be staying in Obuda near the bus that takes you the caves, you most likely will need to take two separate trains/buses and validate your ticket at each both on the way there and on the way back.
That totals up to four single ride tickets. Each is 350 forint, or about $1.25 USD, so you’d need to buy 1400 forint ($5 USD) worth of tickets to get there and back.
You’ll find that once you get over 4 tickets in a day, it may be cheaper to buy a 24-hour ticket, which is just 1,650 forint ($5.80 USD). 72 hour tickets are available for 4,150 forint, or $14.60 USD. If you plan on visiting a lot of museums, a Budapest Card may come in handy and save you a bunch of money.
I was using my 72-hour Budapest card (check prices & inclusions here) and I was really happy that I didn’t have to pay for any of my public transit rides while in the city, and definitely found that it saved me some money when adding up a Danube river cruise, free museum entry, free public transit, etc.
In Summary: Should You Go Caving in Budapest?
I’d answer this with a resounding yes – with the caveat that you are fit in body and mind to do so! Again, you don’t need to be extremely good physical shape (I most definitely am not) but if you have any recent injuries or mobility limitations, it may not be right for you. Most of the tour requires mental fitness – so if you are extremely anxious or claustrophobic, again, this may not be the tour for you.
But if you are the adventurous, mind-over-matter type, who gets a thrill out of seeing the unknown and getting your heartbeat racing — caving in Budapest is an incredible thrill, and something you can’t miss on your Budapest itinerary.
To recap: Adrenaline hunters, seek the adventure cave tour like I did – or opt for the soft adventure cave walk tour if that’s too far off the deep end for you! Both will give you an incredible experience exploring the Budapest caves.
Allison Green is a former educator turned travel blogger. She holds a Masters in Teaching and a B.A. in English and Creative Writing. Her blog posts merge her educational background and her experience traveling to 60+ countries to encourage thoughtful travel experiences that both educate and entertain. She has been a speaker at the World Travel Writers Conference and her writing, photography, and podcasting work has appeared in National Geographic, CNN Arabic, CBC Canada, and Forbes, amongst others. Now based in the San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up, she has also lived in Prague, Sofia, and New York City.