“Budapest is a prime site for dreams: the East’s exuberant vision of the West, the West’s uneasy hallucination of the East”, M. John Harrison, in The Course of the Heart.
Budapest evokes images of a city that overwhelms you, excites you and indulges you all at the same time. Budapest has something for everyone. Hungary’s capital city is steeped in art, history and culture and is a treasure trove of fine cuisine. While we most enjoyed and appreciated the flamboyant architecture and the overall vibe of the city, Budapest also offers a nightlife scene that is unrivalled in Eastern and Central Europe. A friend once told me that Budapest is one of the only 2 cities (besides Singapore) that he would consider settling down in. I now understand why!
If you still need more reasons to visit Budapest with kids, or without, not only is it cited as one of the most beautiful cities in the world but also among the safest. Budapest was also recently voted as the Top European Travel Destination 2019.
Getting to Geography, the Danube river dives Budapest into two parts – the hilly Buda (with over 20 hills within the territory of the capital), and the plain Pest. Budapest is the only capital city in the world which has thermal springs. There is a remarkable cave system, formed by the thermal waters, under some of the hills in Buda, the most extensive one being right underneath the Castle Hill.
If you’re travelling to Budapest with Kids, here is a 3-4 day Itinerary, keeping in mind some of the top things to do in Budapest.
As a family travelling with kids, you would find the Budapest Card a value buy. At €44 for the 72H Card, it is reasonably priced and ensures you get your money’s worth especially if you go with an itinerary similar to ours. It entitles you to free use of the Budapest public transport and other discounts and benefits, which makes enjoying all that the city has to offer a pleasure.
Day 1 in Budapest
- Pest Walking Tour
- Hungarian Parliament Building
- Shoes on Danube Bank
- Sunset Cruise on Danube
Walking tours are a great way to start your stay in most European cities, and Budapest is no different. The walking tour will give you an overview of everything and a wonderful insight into the history and culture of the city before you explore the city on your own.
We took the tour with CityRama, free with the Budapest Card. The 2.5 hour tour touches some of the major places of interest – Inner City Parish Church, St Stephen’s Basilica and Hold Street Market Hall. A lot of walking involved, so wear comfortable shoes, carry water and snacks, and a stroller for little ones. More information on the walking tour.
The tour ends at the Parliament Building, so you could grab lunch and tour the parliament afterwards. As the Hungarian Parliament is the top attraction in Budapest, tours get sold out weeks in advance, especially during peak season, so book at least a couple of months in advance to get the desired time slot. Not booking in time meant we could get just one ticket and I was the only one who visited the Parliament, hubby and kids had to skip it. Not only is the Hungarian Parliament Building an architectural jewel, the working Parliament is also Hungary’s largest building. The interiors are massive and gorgeous, and accessible only by the official tours (in 8 languages). Get your tickets here.
A short walk from the Parliament building, Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial to the Budapest Jews who were shot by Arrow Cross militiamen between 1944 and 1945. The victims were lined up, made to take off their shoes (since shoes were valuable belongings at that time), and shot into the Danube River. The memorial contains 60 pairs of iron shoes, each pair modelled after an original 1940’s pair. A must-visit site that can be an overwhelming experience.
End the day with a Sunset cruise; the Budapest sightseeing cruise on the river Danube. There are a few good options and we did ours with the Danube Legenda. It involved an hour’s panoramic boat ride for which we chose the 8.30pm tour as that allowed us to view the city just before dusk and then bathed in the night light. If Legenda seems more expensive than some of the other cruises, remember that kids under 10 are free and you get a great discount with the Budapest Card, so it evens out.
Day 2 in Budapest
- St Stephen’s Basilica
- Miniversum & Andrassy Avenue
- Gresham Palace
- Chain Bridge
- Castle Hill
Spend the morning in PEST: St. Stephen’s Basilica, Miniversum, Gresham Palace
St Stephen’s Basilica features a impressive 300-foot, neo-Renaissance dome. You pay a small donation of Euro 1-2 at the entrance but there is a fee to go to the top and enjoy magnificent panoramic views of Budapest.
A 5-minute walk from St Stephen’s is the Miniversum that has an interactive railway exhibit for kids that carries a model of Hungary. Miniversum has rave reviews on TripAdvisor but it wasn’t anything spectacular. We barely found any instructions in English, so could not figure out much about what to do. Plus, it is quite expensive (but you do get a 30% discount with Budapest Card). If you’re short on time, skip this.
The plan for Day 2 was to spend half a day at the Buda side. I would recommend starting with lunch/brunch at Gresham Palace across the road from the chain bridge. Originally, the palace has served as an office building, a residence for senior staff of the Gresham company, barracks for the Red Army during the occupation after World War II and is now a hotel owned by Four Seasons. A landmark on one of Europe’s most scenic rivers, Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace Budapest embodies historic grandeur and stunning decor.
What to Eat at Gresham Palace: We had lunch at the Lobby Lounge where the chef offered to make a vegetarian version of their Fried Rice. It was fantastic, the kids lapped it up and we ended up ordering it twice more! Hubby and I enjoyed Pita with Hummus and Tabbouleh, followed by a stellar Cappuccino. You could even visit here for High-tea, drinks or just coffee. I was also pleasantly surprised by the bill, we had expected a meal at Four Seaons Gresham Palace to be more expensive. But then again, I’m Singaporean, so hardly any place outside the home country ever seems expensive.
Spend the second half of the day in BUDA: Chain Bridge & Castle Hill
A stone’s throw from Gresham Palace, click the mandatory pictures at the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and walk across to Clark Adam Square at the base of Castle hill on the Buda side. From there take Funicular or Bus #16 and spend the day exploring Castle Hill & Castle District. From Buda Castle, enjoy beautiful views of Budapest. If you take the Funicular to the top (if only to cross it off the list), buy a one-way ticket. We bought return tickets which was a waste since we did not want to walk back to the funicular station when we were ready to leave, especially since the transportation inside is free with the Budapest card.
Castle Hill is recognised as a World Heritage Site, and has many must-see attractions, Gothic arches, eighteenth-century Baroque houses and cobblestone streets. With small kids in tow, half a day here is enough. You’ll alight near the Buda Castle; explore the area, take in the views and then continue to check out the other attractions on Castle Hill, the main ones being Holy Trinity Square, Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. Another interesting attraction is The Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum, we had to skip this as kids under 6 are not allowed and those under 12 are discouraged.
Day 3 in Budapest
- Dohany Street Synagogue and Jewish Quarter
- Hero’s Square
- Szechenyi Thermal Baths
Another amazing experience is the Dohany Street Synagogue with its vast interiors with impressive Oriental-Byzantine decoration. The admission ticket includes a basic 45-minute tour, which is good enough when you’re travelling with kids. The guide will talk about the historical significance of the synagogue and the external spaces – Tree of Life Holocaust Memorial, Holocaust Cemetery with the mass graves and Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park. The synagogue also houses the Hungarian Jewish Museum.
Jewish Quarter – Ruin Bars, Karavan for Hungarian Street Food: If you’re planning a trip to Budapest, you probably know about the Ruin Bars, especially the first ruinbar: Szimpla Kert. While it’s true that the Ruin Bars and Szimpla Kert are best to experience Budapest’s unique nightlife, these are open during the day as well and nothing’s stopping you from going there with kids. We wanted to see what the fuss is all about, so we did walk over (it’s a short walk from the Dohany Synagogue). There was a Farmer’s Market ongoing at the time, with a selection of breads, cheeses, jams and much more. The place was abuzz during lunch hour but we saw only one more family with kids. A quick 5-minute peak is still recommended to tick this off the list.
For lunch, just next door is Karavan, a must-visit place to experience Budapest’s street food with several vegetarian and vegan options. There are basically a few tables in the middle with food trucks all around, offering different cuisines. It was hot and crowded and for good reason. Power through people, wait for a table and it will be worth it. There was so much variety, with plenty of vegan and vegetarian food, the highlight being Lángos. Lángos is the ultimate Hungarian street food and you absolutely have to try it at least once although it seems loaded with calories – think deep fried flat bread with cheese and sour cream being the most common toppings. The Langos we had at Karavan was amazing – you can choose from a variety of toppings so I got creative while the kids stuck to the classic – sour cream and grated cheese and loved it. We also had Mexican food, and vegetarian and vegan burgers at Karavan.
After lunch, walk to the train station and board a train to Hero’s Square, Budapest’s largest square, constructed in 1896 to mark the millennium of the Magyar Conquest of Hungary. You can combine your trip to Hero’s Square with a stroll along Andrassy Avenue or a visit to City Park. Inside the City Park are the famous Szechenyi Thermal Baths and we’d planned our visit such that we could head over to the baths after a visit to the square. I had trouble deciding which Thermal Bath to choose especially since all of them suggest keeping kids out of the thermal waters. We chose Szechenyi simply because it is the most famous. We had a great time but it was really crowded. Also, Szechenyi is pricey and for a family of 5, you do not get your money’s worth as you can’t really stay too long since the kids can’t go into the Thermal water for long. If I had to do it over, I would probably visit the Lukacs Thermal Bath, which is free with the Budapest Card.
Day 4 in Budapest (Optional)
As is inevitable when you travel with young kids, there will be hits and misses and it typically takes longer to do stuff than you anticipated.
There were a few other things that we were unable to see because of lack of time. If you have an extra day, New York Palace, Gellert Hill (one of the best views of the city) & Liberty Square, Pálvölgyi Cave, are some other attractions to check out. We really wanted to visit Margaret Island – Budapest’s most scenic park, a Danube isle between Buda and Pest – but fell short on time. The park holds two swimming pool complexes, a padded jogging path, a petting zoo, an open-air theater, a musical fountain, a restaurant and many picnic spots so I’m sure it would be a great spot when you visit Budapest with kids in tow.
Where to Eat Vegan & Vegetarian in Budapest
Napfényes Restaurant and Pastry Shop is the pioneer of vegan cuisine in Budapest. They have a varied menu, we had the Stuffed Cabbage à la Kolozsvár (cabbage leaves stuffed with seitan, brown rice, faux sausage, oatmeal, garlic; served with sauerkraut, marinated-grilled seitan cutlets, grilled soy-wieners and soy yogurt) and a Margherita Pizza (with spelt pizza dough and non-dairy cheese), which were both good but the best part was that I was able to try a vegan Goulash Soup.
Dobrumba for Middle Eastern food. They have a great menu with lots of vegetarian dishes that we unfortunately, could not try as they were chock full and unable to accommodate us. So make a reservation beforehand.
Szimply: This cute little cafe offers fine crafted healthy all-day breakfast. The menu changes monthly and features dishes like Avo Toast and Cream of Wheat, Cold Pressed Juices and Acai Kombucha.
Near the Hungarian Parliament Building
There’s a café inside the parliament where you could grab a bite (couple of vegetarian options available). There are also 3 lovely restaurants near the parliament building that we were unable to visit and they all have great reviews and a few vegetarian options as well – Da Mario for Italian food; Hungarikum Bistro for local food; or if you’re willing to walk a few extra minutes, Mazi is a great option for Greek & Mediterranean food.
Near New York Palace
Barack & Szilva Restaurant is a top rated Hungarian restaurant. Veg options are limited but if you want to try local food, you’ll find something here.
Near Dohany Synagogue and Jewish Quarter
Karavan for Street Food, with several vegan and vegetarian options.
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