Looking for inspiration and recommendations for a child-friendly holiday? Consider Budapest! Here’s everything you need to jump start your planning.
Budapest – actually two cities, Buda and Pest (pronounced pesht), on either side of the Danube river – offers plenty for families to enjoy. We promise, it's not just for backpackers.
Things to Do and See:
- Visiting a Budapest thermal bath house is a unique experience: the leathery old men playing chess right in the water, the beautiful settings, the myriad pools of varying temperatures and mineral content. Though the complicated price 'menu' and the maze of dressing rooms can be a little intimidating, do give it a try! Be sure to warn the kids in advance that it will be different than a typical swimming pool. Széchenyi Spa in City Park is one of the best, and the Palatinus Strand on Margaret Island is especially child-friendly. Bonus for families: as of 2014, all baths in Budapest require swimwear.
- Make a day trip of exploring the Buda Hills. Take the Cog-wheel Train up to the Children’s Railway (actually run by school children), for a scenic ride through the hills on vintage train cars. Possible stops include: Normfa for a forest hike; and János Hill to climb to the top of the Erzsébet lookout tower before riding the Libegő chair lift back down the hill. From there, a bus will take you back into the city.
- Budapest has a number of caves to visit, including one directly under Castle Hill. A more interesting and child-friendly one, however, is the Szemlőhegyi Cave in the Buda hills.
- Take a cruise down the Danube on one of the numerous tour boats available. Kids might enjoy one of the bus tours that drives directly into the river. Or, consider a cruise at dusk to watch the lights come on the bridges. For the budget conscious: try the public transport ferries for views on the cheap.
- Castle Hill is a main attraction in Budapest, but the buildings and museums don't offer much to interest kids. Do take a ride on the funicular up the hill, for a brief, but spectacular, view. Walk from the Royal Palace to the Fisherman’s Bastion for more views, and be sure to stop for ice cream along the way. To get more out of Castle Hill, consider the Kids Conquer Buda Castle walking tour.
- Take in a puppet show at the Puppet Theater, a true Budapest experience. Most shows are in Hungarian, but the fairy tales will be recognizable in any language.
- Even the most culturally-allergic child will be asking to visit St. Stephen’s Basilica, for a glimpse of the actual right hand of St. Stephen on display. Go for the mummified hand; stay for the exquisite interior (as long as the kids will allow).
Get Outside and Play:
- You can spend an entire day, maybe two, at City Park in Pest. Visit the charmingly cozy Budapest Zoo, or take in a show at the Municipal Circus next door (maybe both!). Wander the grounds, play at the playground, and enjoy the views of Vajdahunyad Castle (not a true castle) while rowing boats on the lake (in winter, an ice skating rink). Pack a picnic, or visit one of the cafés, snack shops, or restaurants in the park. Conveniently, a metro station entrance is located in the park itself.
- Margaret Island is Budapest’s playground in the middle of the Danube. There are actual playgrounds, beaches, thermal pools, picnic areas, cafés, gardens, a musical fountain, and a small petting zoo. Climb on the ruins of an 800 year-old convent. Rent bikes, skates, or a bringóhintó (bikes for four people). Or, just wander on the many paths, and enjoy the car-free haven in the middle of the city.
- Millenaris Park is a favorite spot for families in Budapest, on the Buda side.
- Kopaszi-gát: You can take the public ferry down the Danube directly to this popular park South of the center.
Child-Friendly Indoor Places:
- Museum of Transport: for lovers of trains, planes, and automobiles.
- Palace of Miracles: the city's popular hands-on science museum.
- Hungarian Natural History Museum: a favorite museum for families.
- Kürtőskalács are cylindrical pastries with assorted toppings, available at most sweet shops. Trust me, you’ll go back for more.
- For eating out, check out this list of child-friendly restaurants.
- Avoid the touristy Váci utca , which tends to be overpriced and underwhelming.
- Getting around Budapest with the metro and tram system is easy and fast (just don't forget to validate your ticket!). Plus, the art-deco metro stations, some of the oldest in Europe, are tourist attractions unto themselves.
- Children under 6 ride free on public transportation.
- Trams 19 and 41 travel along the Danube and offer nice views of the Pest side.
Looking for family-friendly accommodation in Budapest? Book your stay via booking.com/amsterdammamas and we'll receive a portion of the reservation value. Find the perfect accommodation for your family and support Amsterdam Mamas at the same time!
Donna Bardsley is the travel-loving mother of three homebodies who hate to leave the house. After living in Amsterdam for six years, she has recently moved her family back to the US where she is experiencing all the joys of reverse culture shock. Perhaps she’ll write about it one day on her blog.