Hungarian Family Rhapsody: Great Ideas for Family Friendly Visits to Budapest
Budapest has a reputation as a fairy tale city and great destination for a city break or holiday, but what if you’ve got kids with you? Has it got what it takes to enchant kids in addition as grown-ups? We think so and if you’re thinking of visiting Budapest with kids in tow, here’s some personally researched ideas for places to go that will help make sure everyone is entertained.
Kids love railways and parents will love the novelty of this one. At the Budapest Children’s Railway, set in the leafy cool hills above Hungary’s capital city, children are literally in charge. This Railway with eight stops was built in 1951 by Pioneers; a socialist version of the scouts, and is now a mini tourist industry run by the under 14’s of Budapest who can excursion trains, honour timetables, speak languages and manager the general public. The polite, efficient multi-tasking of these young volunteers puts adults to shame. And if you’re not a ‘there and back’ kind of person you can do a multi activity round trip, combining a Cog Railway ride up, with a ride on the Children’s Railway to Janos-hegy, the highest point in the hills, perhaps taking a little walk before catching a Cable Car ride back down to the city. Makes for a very varied day out.
If you fancy something more active, or if you’re in a quandary because some want action while others want to relax, then why not try one of the many swimming and spa options in the city. Budapest is famous for its spas and the incredible Szchnyi Thermal Baths or magnificent Gellert Baths really do have something for everyone. These are not tiny hotel swimming pools nor traditional municipal baths, but huge splendid spas with outdoor pools, hot pools, and multiple options for splashing and diving. Truly a great family option.
But these are not the only water based attractions in the city, the famous City Park has just had its boating pond refurbished complete with art installations to add a little additional interest. So now you can rent a boat and paddle around an outdoor gallery. The pond doubles as an ice rink in winter so in any case time of year you visit it’s a good option for a little action. And continuing on the watery theme, the wide and curvaceous River Danube is a great allurement of its own as it winds its way by the city. It’s particularly attractive at night, a great time for a family stroll along the riverbanks, quite enchanting with the Chain Bridge, Parliament and Castle lit up like Christmas trees.
The river intersects the two former cities of Buda and Pest, which makes the modern city a big area to get around, but transport options are endless. In fact, for a family, getting around is all part of the experience and you don’t need to walk. The Budapest Metro is one of the oldest metro systems in Europe and the original stations with their elegant wood panels and tiles make going underground an aesthetic treat. And with a 24 hour family ticket, you get unlimited access to trains, buses, trams and the city’s cog railway, so you can get easily to the places that interest you.
From central stop you can get a aim to the famous Opera House where tourists can have a daily tour, or, in season, watch one of the spectacular musical productions. There are other public buildings that offer an inside look too, like the magnificent Parliament Building. But if you’ve got kids in tow then maybe politics isn’t going to cut it, so instead why not cross the road and head for the uncommon Ethnography Museum where interesting mannequins, costumes, household objects and artefacts give you a real insight into the rare folk traditions of old Hungary. Some of those traditions, national costumes, songs and dances are kept alive by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble. This troop has been entertaining people since 1951 and sometimes give performances in the city, for example at the National Dance Theatre. If you’re lucky enough to catch a performance already the youngest kids will be gripped by the incredible slapping, clapping, leaping, waltzing and tapping, that gets faster and faster until the whole stage seems to whirl. Some nights there’s a little audience participation too. You have been warned.
You don’t need to use lots of money visiting castles, churches and museums. For many it’s adventure enough to climb the steps and analyze the Fisherman’s Bastion up on Castle Hill. If you’re there at night and loiter a while you’ll probably get to hear a virtuouso violinst or two plying their trade at the restaurant tables too, hopefully at someone elses expense! If you like your monuments you’ll probably enjoy the imposing setting of Hero’s Square, our near the City Park. Wander the square and you can imagine the Communist leaders standing on their pedestals waving to the people during public gatherings. Standing in front of the Millennium Memorial, you can put yourself in the position of one of the seven tribe leaders who first inhabited the city, or the Medieval Kings or Freedom Fighters. They decorate the huge stone monument that ensures Budapest remembers its history.
And when you’ve had enough of history, a short walk will take you to some more obvious family attractions, the wonderful Budapest Zoo, with its grand elephant house that looks like an Indian temple, and next door the huge Vidamark Fairground. Try a few of these ideas out and your family visit to Budapest will live up to the city’s fairy tale reputation.