Have you every been to Budapest? I would love to go! I’m a little bit obsessed by old European capitals at the moment, so Budapest is right at the top of my list of places to visit. One of our lovely readers, Diane, visited Budapest recently and put together a little lists of things to do and see.
Diane and her husband John are avid travelers. They began taking their daughter (now 4.5) abroad when she was 18 months old. They now travel with two kids (their son is 2). Here is their list of things to see and places to play, eat and stay:
Castle District – Located on the Buda side of the Danube, the Castle District is a must see for three distinct reasons. First, the trip to the Castle District is a blast for kids as it includes riding in a funicular. Once there, you will be dazzled by a wide array of buildings including the Royal Palace and the Matthias Church. But before you explore the charming streets of the District, stop and look across the Danube for the third (and, in my opinion) best reason for visiting the District – the views of Pest. You will have stunningly perfect views of Hungary’s enormous Parliament (third largest in the world), its distinct bridges and the lovely Danube itself. This is the perfect place for a family photo, if I do say so myself.
Heroes’ Square and City Park – City Park is a little like New York’s Central Park in that it has a bit of everything on its grounds including Budapest’s zoo and Szechenyi Baths. We elected not to visit the baths with two small kids but did spend an afternoon at the zoo. As it is located in the middle of town (and is one of the oldest zoos in the world), Budapest’s zoo feels intimate and the animals don’t seem so far away. After spending part of the day at the zoo, it is worth taking a stroll through City Park to visit Vajdahunyad Castle, especially if, like me, you have a child obsessed with princesses and castles. On the way out of the park, stop in (closed-to-traffic) Heroes’ Square and take in the imposing monument and statues of Hungary’s most important national leaders.
Memento Park – The final resting place for communist statues, Memento Park allows you to imagine what life was like behind the iron curtain. Although the significance of the statues will be lost on smaller kids (as it should be), they will enjoy climbing on the larger than life statues and sitting in the old Trabant car parked near the entrance. Once they are older and learn about the Soviet bloc in school, you can pull out the old photos and show them just how close they got to history. Memento Park is a bit out of the way in outer Buda but there are several easy public transportation options. Our kids enjoyed the trip out there just as much as they did the statues.
Mini Polisz – Located at Nyugati ter, near the train station and WestEnd City Center, Mini Polisz is the ultimate interactive and roleplaying museum for young children. The space is divided into different businesses, including a Tesco grocery store, bank, mechanic shop, hair salon and doctor’s office. Children can move from one location to the next, taking on the jobs required of each business. Among the more creative sections is a roadway where kids can practice obeying traffic rules while riding scooters and trikes. There also is a baby room for those under one and a snack counter. For a more substantial meal, head over to the WestEnd City Center mall which offers over 50 dining options.
Children’s Railway – Operated by children (under adult supervision), the Children’s Railway is a fun way to see the hills high above Budapest. The train’s route takes you past a number of sites, including Challenge Land Adventure Park, an outdoor park with several different ropes courses for visitors 4 and up. As we had a little one with us who couldn’t participate, we opted to skip Challenge Land but a lot of people recommend it!
Verne Restaurant – Verne Restaurant is just one of a seeming endless row of restaurants located on the popular pedestrian shopping street, Vaci utca. What distinguishes Verne from other restaurants is the enormous playground located in the back of the restaurant. We had not seen a playground of that magnitude at a restaurant not called McDonald’s. It came equipped with a slide, playhouse, sandbox and plenty of shovels and buckets. Our kids did not want to leave. For the adults, the restaurant offers a varied menu including pizzas and traditional Hungarian dishes.
Pizza Eataliano – With three locations in popular tourist areas of Budapest, you are never far away from an Eataliano outpost. As the name suggests, this is the place for pizza and also pasta, all at a reasonable price (especially if you dine off of the lunch menu). The children’s menu offers several pizza and pasta options and includes dessert (ice cream or chocolate cake).
Gelarto Rosa – Rumored to be the best ice cream in Budapest and it certainly lives up to its hype. This tiny shop scoops the ice cream into the shape of a perfect rose. As a bonus, they offer dairy-free and other allergen-free flavors. This meant that my son, who is allergic to several common foods, was able to enjoy a daily treat. As the shop is small, there is generally a line out the door but it is worth the wait. Plus, the shop is just a few storefronts down from Szent Istvan ter (St. Stephen’s Square) and its beautiful Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica). Take your ice cream over to the (car free) square and let your kids run around while you enjoy the view of the beautiful church.
Jegbufe – Ever wonder what it must have been like to live in the Communist era? Jegbufe gives you a chance to step back in time. In business since 1952 (and apparently not renovated since them), Jegbufe is a Budapest institution serving pastries and drinks just as they did prior to the fall of the iron curtain. In addition to retaining the Soviet-era décor, Jegbufe has kept the communist system of ordering goods: first, you view the items you wish to purchase. Once you decide which you would like to buy, you get into a separate line to pay. Once payment is complete, bring your receipt back to the original counter and claim your treat. Not surprisingly, they only take cash, and it can be a bit of a challenge to use a stroller inside. No doubt just like in the communist days.
Játékvár – If there is one item that makes a young child uniquely Hungarian it is their possession of an affordable, plastic ride on scooter. They ride them everywhere: in the mall, on the playground, at the zoo and on any and all pedestrian-only streets and squares. Naturally, we had to buy two for our own children (and find a way to get them home, but that’s another story). We bought ours at Játékvár at the Mammut I shopping mall, located near the Millenaris cultural center. However, these ubiquitous scooters can be found in various shops throughout town. If you have plans to tour the zoo, spend time in City Park or stroll down pedestrian-only Vaci utca., you can’t go wrong by investing in a riding scooter for your children. These scooters may just be the best souvenir we have ever brought back from Europe.
Memories of Hungary – There is no shortage of souvenir shops in Hungary selling cheap bags, magnets and other tchotchkes. However, for unique souvenirs of high quality, there is one shop that should be on everyone’s list. Memories of Hungary, located down the street from Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica), sells a wide array of beautifully crafted items including clothing, handbags and ceramics, as well as wine and food. For little ones, they have books, stuffed animals and beautiful hand puppets. The store’s employees speak perfect English and can help you find the right souvenir for that hard-to-shop-for friend or relative.
Apartment Rentals – We had great luck with Golden Stars Apartments which offered an array of apartments of different sizes throughout Budapest. They also arranged for an airport transfer with car seats. We elected to rent an apartment on pedestrian-only Vaci utca. Vaci utca was the ideal location for a family with small children. We were a stone’s throw away from many food options, including the kids’ favorite, McDonald’s, and the kids rode their new riding scooters to dinner each night. When my son lost his right shoe (we only brought one pair with us), we had several options for purchasing a new pair. When the kids got a little restless during the witching hour (you parents know what I mean), we took them around the corner to a perfect playground set against the backdrop of the Danube. And when it was time to head out and sightsee, we had several public transportation options available to us within a five minute walk, including trams and the metro.
For those who prefer hotels, you can’t beat the family activities available at the Four Seasons Budapest, located on the banks of the Pest side of the Danube. The hotel offers both baby- and kid-sized amenities for their littlest guests, including baby toys and child-sized robes and slippers.
P.S. Diane hired a local photographer to take photos of the whole family in Budapest. Such a great idea, I never have a single photo of the whole family when we go on holiday. She used Brita Photography.