Budapest: Top 6 family excursions WITH playgrounds

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One of the tricky parts about traveling with children is finding balance. You want to see the sights, but little legs and limited attention spans sometimes put a wrench in your plans. When we travel we strive to combine play with sightseeing. Carving out time for the kids to run free allows them to recharge and makes sight-seeing more exciting for everyone. Fortunately, Budapest has a plethora of unique playgrounds to accomplish just that.

Here are our top 6 Budapest attractions WITH playgrounds:

1. Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) and Matthais Church (Mátyás-templom) at the Buda Castle

Fisherman’s Bastion is located atop Castle Hill and is one of the most picturesque views in Budapest. It’s truly a magical place with fairytale-like towers and sweeping panoramic views of the Danube. The seven towers represent the leaders of the seven Hungarian tribes that entered the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century. The construction of Fisherman’s Bastion was completed in 1902 in honor of the Hungarian state’s 1000th birthday as a romantic nod to the past.

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The historically important Matthias Church is located just within the walls of the Fisherman’s Bastion. Matthias Church was founded in 1015 by St. Stephen, the first Hungarian King and was used for centuries as a coronation church for Hungarian Kings.

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Once you have taken in the views and indulged in an ice cream, head to the Mátyás király playground. It is a bit hidden, but if you look hard enough you will find it. Walk past Matthias Church toward Fisherman’s Bastion and turn right after the ticket desk. The playground gates are just a short walk past the restrooms. Once inside the gates, you will find a fun castle themed playground complete with a cannon, bridges, tunnels, swings, and a large shaded sandbox. Our kids recruited some little friends for an epic game of hide and seek while part of our group split off to tour Matthias Church.

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Travel up to the castle district by the funicular railway, public bus, or simply take the stairs.

2. Gellért Hill (Gellért-hegy) and the Citadella

The Citadella is positioned impressively atop Gellért Hill and is easily located in the Budapest skyline by spotting the Liberty statue. The statue was originally built in 1947 by Hungarian forced laborers to honor the Soviet liberation from Germany during WWII, but was renamed after the fall of communism in 1989 and dedicated to those who sacrificed their lives in Hungary’s fight for independence. Gellért Hill is another spectacular place to enjoy panoramic views from a higher vantage point. It is accessible by foot or public bus.

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There are several playgrounds atop Gellért Hill to sweeten the outing. Our favorite is the slide playground. There are five slides of various lengths and turns along the hillside, as well as a lookout tower and trampolines.

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Perched a bit higher up Gellért Hill is the Cerka-firka playground. A quieter setting that sits up in the trees and has plenty of room to climb and play.

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3. The Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház)

This beauty is an incredible architectural masterpiece and one of the most historically important landmarks in Hungary. The parliament was constructed between 1885-1904 after the unification of three cities (Buda, Óbuda, and Pest) to become modern day Budapest. Located along the Danube on Kossuth Square and easily accessible by the metro (M2) or tram line 2, the Hungarian Parliament is well worth a visit. If you are interested in touring the parliament interior, it is generally recommended to book in advance. We were pleased just taking in the sheer size of the building, watching the soldiers march, and flirting with the water feature on our way to Olympia Park.

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Olympia Park is located just a few short blocks from the Parliament and offers a large green space, a multi-use court, dog park, and an expansive playground for all ages. During the summer months children can cool off by running through the fountains. This playground is conveniently located, has a fantastic view, and also happens to have free public restrooms, which is quite a rarity in Budapest!

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4. Margaret Island (Margitsziget)

Margaret Island is an oasis of mature trees and flower gardens located in the heart of Budapest on the Danube river. Stroll through the flower gardens, dance to the musical fountain, pet the Welsh ponies at the free mini zoo, run around the 5300m rubberized track, take a dip in one of the 10 pools at the Palatinus Baths, and don’t forget to hit up a playground.

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The island is a great place to let the kids run freely and a perfect escape from the bustle of the city. Pack a picnic, relax, and enjoy this expansive green space. Margaret Island is easily accessible by Margaret Bridge, which makes for a very picturesque walk, or accessible by the 46 tram (Margit híd Budai hídfő stop). There is also a city bus (bus 26) that circles the island and a host of rentals available from four person pedal bicycles to go karts and electrical vehicles.

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5. János Hill by Zugliget Chairlift or the Children’s Railway

Yet another city “escape” with an extraordinary view, this time to the highest point in Budapest. Atop János Hill you will find a myriad of hiking trails and lookouts. The most rewarding of which is a trek up to Elizabeth Lookout Tower. Climb the spiral staircase and take in the magnificent views at each tier.

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In addition to hiking trails and the lookout tower, János Hill has a nature themed forest playground and plenty of picnic tables to round out a day of relaxing with nature.

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There are two fun ways of reaching János Hill. The first, is an exhilarating ride on the Zugliget Chairlift, which climbs steadily through the trees to the top of the hill. The chairlift is a really unique, fun experience with the kids and something we have already done several times. Take the chairlift in the fall to enjoy the vibrant fall colors.

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An alternative option to the chairlift is to ride on the Children’s Railway through the Buda Hills. The railway is a charming fragment left over from the Pioneer Movement, an organization for Communist youth, and is an interesting nod to Hungary’s past. Run by children, under the supervision of adults, the railway has seven stops throughout the hills. Enjoy the scenic ride to János Hill and then hike through the forest to reach the main recreational areas.

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It is of course possible to do both, by taking the rail up and the chairlift down. The Children’s Railway is also easily accessible by the nostalgic Cogwheel Railway if you or your children are passionate about trains. Our family’s preference is the chairlift. It is a shorter, more direct trip with more breathtaking views to access the peace of the hills.

6. Heroe’s Square (Hősök tere), Vajdahunyad Castle, and City Park (Városliget)

Heroe’s Square is located at the end of the regal Andrassy Avenue and doubles as a gateway to the expansive City Park. The Millenial Monument, built in 1896, stands at the center of the square and was built to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Hungary. Archangel Gabriel tops the pillar and is surrounded by the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes. Behind the central monument, stand two sets of impressive columns honoring historical Hungarian kings and figures. After thoroughly taking in the massive statues, our 3yo stopped to ask “But, where are all the girl heroes?”. As a parent, nothing beats witnessing these little seeds of knowledge blooming over time.

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Our kids enjoyed breaking in their new scooters as we explored the square and ventured on toward Vajdahunyad Castle. The castle was also built as part of the Millennial Exhibition, showcasing various architectural styles and is now home to the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture. The castle is surrounded by a lake, which is used for boating in the summer and ice skating in the winter. To be honest, the kids were completely uninterested in the castle, as they were preoccupied with finding snails, a new favorite pastime in Hungary. Fortunately, City Park offers plenty of greenspace to roam and explore.

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In addition to parks and playgrounds, City Park houses many kid-friendly attractions including the Budapest Zoo, the Municipal Circus, and the Széchenyi Baths, warranting a return visit (or two!). City Park is easily accessed by M1, the oldest metro line in Budapest and the third oldest in Europe.

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Budapest is a very welcoming city to children and is a perfect destination for family travel. Traveling with young children isn’t always easy, but is so worthwhile. Slow down, schedule in downtime, and create those special memories as a family.