Budapest is a wonderful family city break where the kids can have fun and the grownups can still feel they’ve had a good taste of a sophisticated European city at the same time. Here are the Wandering Kiwi top tips for things to do in Budapest with kids:
From delicious homemade pasta dumplings for dinner to the bright red strings of paprika hanging for sale everywhere and the cheerful old buskers, we loved the city of spas and coffee houses.
One of my best memories of Budapest is our little girl with her nose pressed up against the glass of the cake cabinet in the glorious Belle Epoque café Gerbeaud. Especially popular was the somloi – a moist sponge with walnuts, chocolate sauce and Chantilly cream mmm.
1. Exploring the Castle district
The first fun thing about Budapest’s Castle district is getting there. Magnificently set on a hill overlooking the river and the city, the best way up is by funicular. This steep little cable car was built in 1870 to transport clerks and other employees up to their jobs and takes about two minutes.
The castle is more of a district with a series of interesting buildings and spaces than a palace. So it was no problem wandering about with kids. The Vizivaros neighbourhood is one of the oldest in Budapest with juxtaposed medieval houses and Baroque churches.
Kids need fuel stops and the the Ruswurm traditional coffee house is the oldest in Budapest, dating back to 1827. It is actually a cukraszda, a small coffee house that is also a cake shop, and although famous it felt like sitting in someone’s old fashioned parlour.
2. Splashing about in the City of Spas
There’s nothing most kids like more than splashing about in a swimming pool. Make it a magnificent neo-baroque bathhouse in yellow and cream and everyone is happy. The Szechenyi Thermal Baths in the city park were built during the early 20th century craze for thermal bathing. It is a stunning setting to hang out with Budapest people of all ages (and shapes) relaxing, gossiping and playing chess. My daughter especially loved the whirlpool in the middle of the biggest pool. And our fellow bathers loved her! The City Park also has a respected zoo and an amusement park as well as the expected children’s playgrounds and duck ponds. In winter there’s a skating rink that must be quite a sight.
3. Budapest with kids culture vultures
Seeing a performance at the State Opera House of Budapest is popular with visitors to the city and you shouldn’t count it out just because you’ve got kids in tow. Richly decorated in red and caramel, famous for its good acoustics, and costing a fraction of the price in western European cities it really is a must do in Budapest.
The intimate size of the theatre means you can see the raised eyebrows and wiggling beards of the performers. Pick something light with plenty of good tunes and physical comedy. There is so much to look at and listen to for children. The four-and-a-half-year-old boy in the box next to us sat entranced through the Barber of Seville, just occasionally whispering a question to his parents.
4. Trains and more trains
After the funicular ride up to the Castle district, run with the childish obsession with trains (that in some cases extends into adulthood). Budapest has trams, trolley buses, Europe’s oldest underground railway and river boats. I loved the wrought iron signs and elegant burgundy-and-white tiles of the 1986 Metro line one and my daughter loved the quaintly rattling rolling stock and friendly staff.
Take a tram out to Margaret Island in the Danube, where locals come to escape city life in 100-hectares of green without any private vehicles allowed. We hired a little electric car that looked like a toy but was great fun to potter about the gardens, woods and green spaces. The Habsburg gardeners planted thousands of trees here so it really is green. There’s also a large open air swimming pool.
But for the ultimate kid-friendly activity on a Budapest city break, take a ride on the Children’s Railway – a 12km narrow gauge line through the forested Buda Hills. Something worth retaining from Soviet times, the Children’s Railway was established in 1948 by a communist minister to be staffed entirely by children aged 10-14 who got good marks at school. The idea was to prepare young “pioneers” for future work. Stop at a few of the eight stations to explore. There are cafes offering traditional Hungarian cooking at some, including Nanesi Neni at the final station Huvosvolgy.
I watched the sky turn mauve above the Buda Hills with my husband as we wandered back to our apartment to enjoy a glass of wine. We agreed Budapest with kids is a fantastic European city break.
By Natasha von Geldern
If you’d like more information about visiting Budapest see here.
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