Family Vacations to Budapest, Hungary
|Cruise down the Danube River, which divides Budapest into two distinct halves (Photodisc)|
- Navigate the centuries-old tunnels beneath a castle.
- Row on City Park's lake.
- Stroll among colossal Communist-era sculptures.
- Board a cruise to the scenic Danube Bend towns.
- Explore historic houses from different regions at the Hungarian Open-Air Museum.
Budapest buzzes with post-Communist enthusiasm. Neighborhoods such as Liszt Ferenctér feature trendy bistros. Hero Square and the Városliget (City Park) host rock concerts now instead of propaganda rallies. But what makes the Hungarian capital so special is that it still retains much of its fin de siècle grace. The renovated Byzantine-Moorish style Dohányutca Synagogue, also known as the Great Synagogue, is the largest currently functioning synagogue in Europe and the star of the former Jewish section. Budapest also blooms with Art Nouveau hotels, museums, and theaters, especially on Andrássy út (street), Budapest's grandest boulevard.
The Danube River divides the city into Pest, the more cosmopolitan area, and Buda, the older section, a UNESCO World Heritage site. A good place to start your visit is Castle Hill where the formidable Budavári Palota (Buda Palace) sits. Of the three facilities housed in the palace complex, the Hungarian National Gallery, focusing on centuries of Hungarian art, holds the most interest for families. Kids may enjoy the colorful canvasses by Hungarian artists József Rippl-Rónai, Adolf Fényes, and others.
An underground tour of the castle's "caves" captivates 'tweens, especially the evening oil lamp tour through the warren of passageways. Hot springs initially carved the labyrinthine complex; later medieval workers dug the chambers into cellars and during World War II air raid wardens hustled citizens into the tunnels for protection.
Above ground, Fishermen's Bastion offers some of the best views of the Danube. The 1902 monument to fishermen with its turrets, arches, and tiers of walkways is a well-known site. You can gain access to the top walkway, which has a marginally better view, but fewer crowds.
Plan to spend an entire day in Városliget (City Park), an urban oasis. Row in the lake anchored by the fanciful Vajdahunyad Castle, a palatial structure illustrating various architectural styles. Also visit the Szépmsvészeti Múzeum (Museum of Fine Arts), where kids might enjoy viewing the artifacts on display in the Egyptian Collection. With young kids take on the tame rides of the Budapest Amusement Park, see the shows at the Grand Circus, and visit the zoo. The park's Szécheny Baths features a huge outdoor pool, a great place to cool off. However, check ahead to see whether it is open as renovations continue through 2007 and 2008.
On Margaret Island, a park in the middle of the Danube, young children especially like the horse-drawn carriage rides. In Szoborpark (Statue Park) about 15 minutes from the city, meander among the colossal statues of Marx, Lenin, and other Communist-era symbols collected from Budapest's streets. Rather than glorifying the Communist era, the sculpture park presents the outsized art of ideology.
Board a cruise boat from Budapest to the Danube bend towns, situated in the scenic curve of the river. The cruise and the attractions provide a welcome balance to the big-city sites. Visegrád Castle in Visegrád offers spectacular river views and sometimes medieval jousting tournaments. The Hungarian Open-Air Museum in Szentendre presents six different types of typical settlements from Hungary's different regions. Tour historic farmhouses and various era buildings, see animals, and meet local interpreters to learn about life in Hungary before the 21st century. At special workshops in July and August, families can create traditional crafts on Fridays, learn folk dances on Saturdays, and listen to folk music on Sundays.
Tip: The book Benjamin in Budapest written and illustrated by the city's schoolchildren, offers their tips for the best things to do. The website, www.benjaminguides.com, also posts some kid-friendly events. Both are in Hungarian and English.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication