Budapest with kids: how to explore the Hungarian capital with children
The Hungarian capital is a fabulous destination for a manageable and fascinating city break for the whole family
Venturing abroad with children adds a whole new stress dimension to any holiday planning, and if the destination isn’t obviously kid-friendly, the logistics of a break - long or short - can seem simply too much like hard work. But while research is definitely required, taking the kids on holiday can be an incredible experience. And here at HELLO! we’re taking the hard work out of the process for you. Our new Family Tried and Tested reviews will showcase a range of child-friendly destinations, from traditional package holidays to adventurous far-flung locations, via an array of short-hop, educational city breaks. And first on our list of must-explore corners of the planet was the Hungarian capital city of Budapest.
There are plenty of child-friendly sights in Budapest
With my children, Finn, 10 and Noah, 8, now definitely both through the tricky (for travelling) baby stage, I decided it was time to brave a city break and Budapest had always been on my to-do list. But how would I make the things that appealed to me (the excitement of the architecture, the romance of the Danube, and the prospect of tasting local delights such as goulash and chimney cakes) appealing to two little boys? In fact, it turned out, the challenge was pretty easy!
The kids’ excitement began before we’d even left home. Unlike France and Spain, where we’re fairly frequent travellers, in Hungary Euros won’t cut it – you need Forints, and with 369 (at time of writing) to the pound, even paying for a taxi to the hotel was an adventure. Thankfully, these days, Budapest’s official taxis are all regulated, so the process of getting into town is very simple and cars are easily booked (and a fee given) at the kiosk outside the departures area. A couple of thousand florins later (and the boys’ first opportunity to use their one Hungarian word – köszönöm, pronounced kur-sur-nurm - for thank you) and we’d arrived!
The Four Seasons Gresham Palace is a celebrity favourite
We’d opted to stay in style, at the A-list Four Seasons Gresham Palace for our 3-night mini-break, but I’d had mild reservations about doing so with kids. Thankfully, on strict instructions to produce 5 star behaviour, the children were so bowled over by the grandeur of the entrance lobby, their squabbles were left in the taxi. A favourite of celebs such as Jude Law and Jennifer Lawrence when in town to shoot films (Budapest has a burgeoning movie business, standing in for cities such as Buenos Aires in Evita and Moscow in Die Hard), the Four Seasons is a stunning art deco building, perfectly situated seconds from the stunning Chain Bridge and across the river from the city’s imposing Buda Castle.
Breakfast was a highlight of the trip for the boys
For Finn and Noah, however, the mini-robes and welcoming plate of petit-fours were more impressive than its celebrity connections - not to mention the delicious and healthy buffet breakfast. And the top-floor swimming pool (accessible to children at all times) was the perfect antidote to sightseeing whenever little feet got tired - which they did, as Budapest has some amazing sights to be seen! The city has a few open-top tourist busses and hopping on and off is a great way to get about without tiring tiny toes. We walked (past the impressive St Stephen’s Basilica) to the Big Bus’ main office on our first morning where we picked up weekend passes for both day and night busses, which also includes a free trip on the Danube – a definite highlight of our visit.
Sitting on the open-top bus is a great way to see the city
Sitting on the top deck whilst listening to commentary was a great way to get an overview of the city – which is pleasantly manageable for a first foray into family city breaks, and never felt overly busy. We made a couple of stop offs and soon discovered you can’t go far in Budapest without discovering a playground. So visits to Heroes’ Square and the Szechenyi Spa buildings, followed by the Parliament building and Buda Castle were peppered with dashes up vertiginous climbing frames which made sure the educational ‘stuff’ never got boring.
The fernacultar transports visitors up to Buda Castle
A few must-visit stop offs include the amazing Miniversum (a miniature version of Budapset alongside a giant train set, with buttons and levers galore. While kids are mesmerised by the intricacy of the mini-recreation, adults can pick up fascinating history nuggets from the wall displays, which reveal the truth of Hungarian life behind the Iron Curtain. Lunch and snacks in the child-friendly café are very reasonable too).
Miniversum is a delight for lovers of trains, buttons and levers!
Buda castle, which sits on top of Buda’s hill, is another attraction not to be missed, and the journey up can be taken on an impressive funicular train. Our boys chose to climb the hill themselves, rather than wait in line for a train ticket, stopping off to wave at the train from the bridges. A labyrinth of caves lies beneath – fascinating to kids and adults alike.
Budapest's Great Circus is one of the only permanent circuses in the world
With so much to see in the city itself (we visited the Great Circus in the city park, watched the guards changing at the Royal Palace, and made the most of all the exciting transport variations including hopping on the metro to the State Opera House, the tram to the Parliament buildings and taking a boat trip on the Danube) we didn’t have time to venture beyond. But a couple of highlights in the hills are on our list for our next visit to Budapest: the children’s railway (operated entirely by children aged from 10-14, a throwback to the country’s communist era) and Challengeland – a kind of enormous Go Ape experience high in the sky.
FAMILY TRIED AND TESTED CHEAT SHEET
When to go:
We travelled in March and were lucky with some gloriously sunny weather. Winter months can be very cold (and the sheet ice on the Danube can make boat trips difficult) but the city ice rinks and chance of snow are the flip side to that coin. Summer months of July and August can be very hot and humid.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Four Seasons Gresham Palace where children can stay on roll-out beds in their parents’ room for no additional charge. Rooms start at £350 per night. For families preferring their own space and some self-catering options can find great apartments (some specially arranged with kids in mind) on AirBnB, such as this one
for £77 a night.
Child-friendly sight seeing:
A Big Bus tour, a trip to the circus, the zoo, a boat ride on the Danube and visit to Miniversum were our highlights. Ice skating in the winter and splashing in the open-air pools in the summer should both be on the list (kids aren’t permitted in the warm thermal baths so summer is the best time to explore the baths with outdoor pools too).
Help your kids learn the a few language basics if they're old enough: Jó napot (yoh nu-pot) - hello, köszönöm (ker-ser-nerm) - thank you and Viszlát (vis-laat) – goodbye, are a good start!
Local (non-touristy) restaurants don't tend have kids menus but half portions are readily available and many dishes are very child friendly - like roast chicken and potatoes, Hungarian sausage, a cheesy noodle dish called Túrós Csusza - even goulash soup went down well! Crepes and chimney cakes are a guaranteed winner.
Things to avoid:
While a great family destination and a stunning city, Budapest is pretty popular as a stag do destination, and flights out can be rowdy at best, drunken and inappropriate at worst. It’s worth trying to fly away from peak stag weekend times (Friday-Monday) or at least getting a seat at the front of the plane.