Considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Budapest is rich in culture and heritage in a way that puts many eastern European cities to shame. From the 10th century St. Stephens Basilica to the Vajdahunyad Castle, travelers will get more than their fill of Hungarian culture. However, on the days where you just can’t take anymore, Budapest also has a plethora of activity sites where people can just relax and get some well deserved downtime. Below are our top 5 mini-escape destinations.
Margitsziget (Margaret Island)
Formerly a small cluster of islands, the Margaret Island, which was once home to Saint Princess Margaret, has been conjoined and transformed into a full blown recreational park. The island’s main leisure spots are the Japanese garden, mini zoo and water tower, although it now serves as a premiere location for cyclists, runners, and swimming enthusiasts at the Alfréd HajÃ³s swimming pool.
Margaret Island is not devoid of history either. People have access to 3 different churches of separate denominations, including the ruins of a 13th century Franciscan church and Dominican cloister, and a 12th century Pre-monstratensian church.
The Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden
One of the oldest in the world, the Budapest Zoo located in City Park is a great place to spend an afternoon with the kids. With more than 5,000 animals, the zoo encapsulates an unprecedented diversity of animals including Siberian tigers, Polar bears, hippos, giraffes, and an American bald eagle.
The zoo is as affordable as it is majestic, with going adult rates at only 1850 HUF (roughly $8.20) and only 1290 HUF ($5.74) for children up to 14 years old. If you happen to be in town during the summer months, enjoy the zoo’s Wild Summer Nights Concert Series every Wednesday night at either the Palm house or the Japanese garden. The concerts feature some of Hungary’s best known artists.
Millenáris (Palace of Wonders)
Palace of Wonders at Millenáris is a virtual playhouse chalk full of interactive features children and young adults would undoubtedly get a kick out of. The latest exhibit allows visitors to drive a very realistic car simulator, run a race against a virtual opponent, and use a body heat detector.
The fun is not just for kids however, as Millenáris also offers temporary exhibits dealing with science and modern technology that aim to educate visitors on the ways and functionality of how things work.
MÅ±csarnok (The Palace of the Arts)
One of Budapest’s newest additions, The Palace of the Arts, is Hungary’s best known cultural institution. It houses 3 main facilities including the BartÃ³k National Concert Hall, with no shortage of seating — over 1800 — and is home to the Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra, and Budapest festival Orchestra. MÅ±csarnok also contains the very modern Theater Festival, and the Ludwig Museum, which most impressively houses hundreds of Picasso’s works, a large collection of Russian Avantgarde, not to mention works from local favorites such as Imre Bukta and Laszlo Feher.
This huge complex, which was recently opened in 2005, also contains a restaurant, cafés, and shops.
Széchenyi Medicinal Bath and Spa
Affectionately dubbed the “City of Spas”, Budapest is known for its historical pension for public bathing. The largest of which is the Széchenyi Bath and Spa, conveniently located in City Park. In fact, it is the largest in Europe, fueled by 2 thermal springs that reach temperatures of 75 Centigrade. If you happen to be in Budapest during the cold winter months and are feeling adventurous, take a dip in the spa’s open air bathes, which remain open all winter. The spa, which also includes a refreshing swimming pool, was recently renovated in 1999 and ranks amongst the highest standards of modern thermal treatment.
– Phil Heijmans