The distinctive castle, 350 kilometres from Budapest and just over the Hungarian border into Transcarpathia, Ukraine, sits on a no-longer-active, 68-metre-high volcanic hill, surrounded by a deep moat filled by the nearby Latoritsa River. At this alluring juncture, with its elegant courtyard and cloisters, we find three sections built at different times: the “higher”, the “middle” and the “lower” parts. The castle has 130 rooms with a complex system of underground passages connecting them, and it is a must-see for those interested in local history, architecture and interior design.


Once it served as a long-standing fort, with 164 cannons. The first settlement on this particular peak dates to the 10th century, when it was a frontier post for the state of Kyivean Rus, as well as “defence structure” on an ancient trade route that was finally over-run by the Mongols and Tatar tribes in 1242.

But it was not until sometime during the 14th century that the first stone foundations were laid by the Hungarian noble family Aba. The fortress became an important landmark for the kingdom of Hungary throughout the forthcoming centuries.

Summer night-time theatre at the castle performs a compelling, illustrious “life and times” account of Palanok over the ages. For information on this and more, see

A statue of the fearless Ilona Zrínyi and her son, Ferenc Rákóczi II, stands in prominence within the castle enclosure, commemorating her defence of the citadel from the Habsburgs in the late 17th century. Rákóczi II then led the first Hungarian uprising against Austrian rule between 1705 to 1711.

In 1726, King Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor, granted Palanok Castle, Munkács and 200 surrounding villages to Franz von Schönborn. This estate, one of the largest in Eastern Europe, remained in this family up to the 20th century.

During 1805 and 1806, the Crown of St. Stephen was kept within the castle confines to protect it from Napoleon's troops.

Petőfi Sándor, the iconic poet and freedom fighter, made a visit during the 1840s.


It soon becomes clear as one approaches that Palanok Castle is not the regular kind of box-shaped castle with dark, “heavy” stone-coloured walls, protruding turrets and anything as obvious. This structure, with its coned tops and light, illuminating décor, looks more like a palace. Open all year, Palanok boosts splendid panoramic views of the Carpathian hills and flatlands. It hosts informative local historical and folklore exhibits, a chapel and an exhibition hall with delightful artworks on display.


Special night-time tours really give an insight into the castle with a medieval scene with firelight, candles and, at times, a dark Gothic atmosphere. There is an assortment of musical shows within an enchanting evening setting.

Getting there from Budapest

From Budapest, take the M3 and drive three hours or so, then follow signposts either to Záhony or to the Beregsurány border. But be prepared: depending on the border-crossing traffic, you should reach Palanok Castle sometime one to two hours later, hopefully no longer, but no guarantees.

Once over the border, where passports are required, it's easy to orientate oneself to Palanok Castle as it is easily seen from afar while heading along a straight road in the direction of Munkács, or Mukachevo as it is known by Ukrainians and as seen on maps and signposts in Cyrillic.


Or simply take the regular four- to five-hour MÁV Záhony/Chop train service from Budapest. Then get a local bus or taxi directly to the castle on the western outskirts of the town.

For those in search of independent travel, I recommend taking your bike, as I have done many times. For this, go to the Beregsurány border (accessible by train as far as Vásárosnameny), as bikes are allowed on this particular train service and at this border crossing. Then cycle the rest, via Beregszász (Berehovo) until completion.

But however your visit is accomplished, an overnight stay is advised. There are plenty of online tourist sites offering accommodation within the vicinity, and Munkács is worth a visit anyway, being the birthplace of world-famous Hungarian artist Munkácsy Mihály. Not only are his artworks exhibited at this particular castle but around the world, as noted in this Budapest Times article:

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