7 Places Not to Miss
Budapest is a place my husband and I have spent a decent amount of time in over the years. Having relatives living in nearby Serbia has meant that it’s always been a jumping off point. Airline tickets are generally less expensive into Budapest than they are into Belgrade, and so we have usually opted to fly into Budapest and spend a few days. Over the years, we have simply fallen in love with this city!
So when we knew we’d be spending a week there with our kids in tow this past year, plenty of ideas came to our minds of how we would spend our time. And as always, traveling with kids brought us new places to explore too. We love finding a new side of a city when traveling with kids. And because I always like to include the educational side of a destination, I knew our sight-seeing wouldn't just include fun and games. I wanted them to understand more of Budapest's past. So, if you're planning a trip to Budapest with your family, consider adding these 7 highlights to your itinerary:
A view through Fisherman's Bastion
1. Castle Hill
Budapest is divided into two cities, with the Danube River in between to divide them. Pest is the newer side and sits level with the Danube. Buda is the older side and sits high on a hill right across the Chain Bridge. The Castle Hill area contains a number of buildings and points-of-interest. To begin with, you’ll have to decide how you’ll get up the hill. One option that kids (and adults alike) just love is the funicular. This is a hill-side train that whisks you to the top in just a few minutes. It works on a gravity system. One car goes down while the other car goes up.
The funicular to get to Castle Hill
It’s also possible to walk to the top through a series of sidewalks with switch backs, or you can always take a taxi. When you first come out of the funicular station, you’ll find yourself in front of Sandor Palace, where you can see a changing-of-the guard ceremony at regular intervals.
Changing of the Guard at Sandor Palace
If you begin your tour by going left you will run into the Buda Castle which is home to an extensive collection of Hungarian art. The grounds around the castle have many beautiful fountains and a stunning vantage point of the Pest side across the Danube River. If you head the other direction from Sandor Palace, you’ll pass by the House of Royal Wines and Historic Theater. Then you’ll come to a quaint little area of cobblestoned streets, shops and restaurants. For excellent pastries and coffee, I highly recommend Korona Kávéház. If you need groceries (like a quick snack, a piece of fruit or even a bottle of Hungarian wine) check out CBA. It’s a very nicely maintained and well-stocked grocery store.
St. Matthias Church
At this point on your walk you can clearly see St. Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, perhaps the focal point of the Castle Hill area. If you and your family enjoy Gothic architecture, you may want to consider taking a self-guided tour inside the church. Tiny little spiral staircases will lead you on a labyrinth of discovery in this Catholic Church. The Neo-gothic Fisherman’s Bastion is a favorite! Not only does it provide amazing views over the Danube toward the Parliament building, it’s just fun to explore! All the little staircases, archways and white turrets are a favorite for kids and adults alike.
One of the reasons I like this area for families is because of all the outdoor spaces to explore. My boys love to be outside, throw coins in fountains, etc. Depending on the interest and capacity of your family, you may want to consider touring the inside of one or more of the state buildings available on Castle Hill. There are plenty of great restaurants to choose from as well.
2. Margaret Island
Speaking of outdoor spaces, here’s another winner! Margaret Island is located right on the Danube and accessible by Margaret Bridge. The island is 2.5 km long and 500 m wide. There are plenty of fun family-friendly options. Picnicking, bicycling around the island, climbing the Water Tower, enjoying the Palatinus thermal baths, the rose and Japanese gardens, and musical fountain are among the highlights.
The Great Synagogue
3. Jewish Budapest
Depending on the age of your children you may want to consider visiting The Great Synagogue and other points of interest for Jewish history. Our boys are 10 and 12 and are very interested in History and especially World War II History. While everything may not be age appropriate, I think Budapest offers a great opportunity to learn more about the plight of the Jewish people during World War II. Hungary sided with Germany during the war and soon Jews were persecuted, cast out to the Ghetto, and many were sent on trains to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. This link from VisitBudapest contains a brief yet detailed account of the history of Jewish people in Budapest. It is estimated that over half a million Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
The Jewish Cemetery
The Great Synagogue is Europe’s largest Jewish Synagogue and the world’s second largest (the largest is in New York). The Synagogue, Jewish Museum, Hero’s Temple, Jewish Cemetery and Raul Wallenberg Memorial Park with Weeping Willow Tree are all in the same area. The self-guided audio tours of the museum make it perfect for families, allowing you to spend as much or little time as your family has interest in. I personally found the Weeping Willow Tree Memorial particularly moving. With the names of those who perished engraved on the leaves, the size and magnitude of the tree is overwhelming.
The Weeping Willow Tree
Located about 20 minutes away by walking or 5 minutes away by taxi is another Jewish memorial site worth visiting. Shoes on the Danube is a memorial right along the Danube River that depicts the shoes of the Jewish people that were left behind as they were murdered and thrown into the river. Again, depending on the age and maturity of your children, you’ll have to decide whether or not this is a good option for your family.
Shoes on the Danube
4. Hero’s Square & City Park
As with other locations in Budapest already mentioned, Hero’s Square is another prime outdoor space with plenty of options for the entire family. Located at the end of Andrassy Avenue, Hero’s Square was built in 1896 to commemorate Hungary’s 1000th anniversary.
City Park is the largest park in Budapest. There are many options for families here. The Vajdahunyad Castle, is a replica of a Transylvanian castle of the same name. Around the castle is a man-made lake that provides boating opportunities in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Other great attractions in the park are the Budapest Zoo, Municipal Circus, Museum of Transport, many playgrounds with slides and wooden castles, Amusement Park and the famous Szechenyi Baths.
First opened in 1896 and still in use today is the oldest subway in continental Europe. The Millenium Underground is a fun way to zip along beneath Andrassy Avenue on your way to Hero’s Square and City Park. If your kids love trains and subways, consider visiting the Underground Museum.
A note of warning: The Hungarian police are very strict on riding the Subway system without the proper ticket. We had heard the same advice from Rick Steves and while we were certain we had purchased the correct ticket from an automated machine, it turns out we had not. And we couldn’t simply just get off the subway or purchase the right ticket. We got fined right there on the spot, 20 Euros each! And I’ll just say they were not very nice about it either.
5. Puppet Theater
Kids love puppets and puppet shows! Located on Andrassy Avenue is the Puppet Theater that is 60 years old. Morning and matinee performances are available for children. Shows are usually in Hungarian, but that makes it an especially great cultural experience for your kids. You’ll be amazed at how little the language barrier interferes with understanding and enjoying the show.
Some attractions are made just for kids and that’s what Miniuniverse is! Imagine a mini-land village built 1:1000 to scale of Budapest, Hungary, and parts of Vienna and Germany. We thoroughly enjoyed taking in each exhibit and watching the moving parts, lights, etc. My favorite part was the mountain chalets and ski lifts. There is so much detail and many things are hidden or even humorous if you can spot them. One of the exhibits shows the changes that have taken place from the Communist era to present day. It helped my boys to identify the differences and stark contrast in political systems.
7. Central Market Hall
When it comes to shopping for Hungarian handicrafts and authentic Hungarian eats, the best spot to find it all under one roof is the Central Market Hall. Built at the end of the 19th Century, this is the largest market hall in Budapest. The basement holds the fish market. Back in the day, ships actually would come right into the building with special docks. The first floor has food vendors such as meats, cheese, fruit and vegetables. The second floor is where you’ll find souvenirs, such as chess boards, wooden boxes, doilies, Christmas ornaments, and other handicrafts.
Where to Stay
Apartment with Airbnb – On our most recent trip to Budapest we opted for a beautifully appointed apartment on Andrassy Avenue. We loved the stately balcony that looked out over this beautiful tree-lined street. We often choose apartments in cities because we like the convenience of having a kitchen and space to spread out. This one had a particularly good location and we were glad we had chosen an apartment over a hotel.
Four Seasons at Gresham Palace – If you can afford it, nothing can beat the amazing location and luxury accommodations of the Four Seasons. Housed in a former palace and right at the foot of the Chain Bridge, its location can’t be beat. The Four Seasons hotels are also known for being very friendly toward families.
Hilton or Buda Castle Fashion Hotel on Castle Hill – I think this is a lovely location for families to stay. Both of these hotels are very nice and comfortable. I like staying in the Castle Hill area for a couple of reasons. It’s convenient for seeing the Castle Hill area, it’s only a short walk across the Chain Bridge to get to the Pest side, and there is no night life to speak of, which makes it quiet at night.
My boys loved their secret wooden boxes.
Of course you have to try Hungarian Goulash with lots of paprika! And don’t miss these Hungarian treats you can buy from street vendors: chimney cake and langos. Chimney cake is dough coiled around a cylinder type tool that is then cooked over an open fire. You can watch them make them and then choose to add cinnamon sugar or other toppings. Langos is a savory deep-fried flat bread with various toppings to choose from.
Suggested Literature for Kids
For younger children – Although there are many wonderful Hungarian folk tales, finding a copy that is translated into English and still in print, is very difficult.
For older children there a several wonderful chapter books that retell of important historical time periods in Hungary’s past.
Kate Seredy has written three award-winning books set in Hungary during different time periods:
The Good Master
by Kate Seredy
The Singing Tree
by Kate Seredy
The White Stag
by Kate Seredy
Books set during World War II Budapest:
Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary
by Aranka Siegal
My Canary Yellow Star
by Eva Wiseman