There are plenty of Budapest tours you can do by bus, foot or bike. Most give no more than a quick stop on the Buda side of the river, the rest of the time navigating flatter and more compact Pest.
While Pest is a glorious place to tour museums, sample Hungarian wine, or do a Budapest pub crawl, the Buda hills are where many of the wealthiest residents live—for good reasons. This side of the city offers them forests of trees, fresh air, and rolling hills. It’s a bit of countryside in the city.
Going beyond a stop at the Fisherman’s Bastion and Buda Castle can give you a glimpse of Budapest most foreign visitors don’t see, but it’s an area quite popular with locals looking for fresh air and a view.
The Children’s Railway
The must-do experience on a day in Buda is a ride on the Children’s Railway. It was originally built in the late 1940s, borrowing from other Soviet satellite states that were establishing camps for young pioneers—the future party faithful. Having children participate in the running of the train and using it to transport others to the camps was seen as a winning combination. It’s still called the Children’s Train because kids aged 10-14 join a program to work there, supervised by adults. Most of the time they are taking tickets and giving signals to conductors when the tracks are clear.
This is one of those classic historic trains that bumps along old tracks with plenty of metal-on-metal squeals and shakes. Some of the cars are “heritage trains” pulled by one of two steam engines, others use modern equipment. It feels like a real trip through the forest, with trees whizzing by on both sides most of the time, the woods occasionally broken up by a view of a grand home or a station stop. It feels like a whole different part of Hungary, not a place a few miles from bustling Pest.
Challengeland or the Highest Point in Budapest
When you get to the end, you have a few options, starting with turning around and coming back on the train. A second is to stop at Challengeland (called Kalandpálya locally) to test your adventure skills. It’s a wonderland of ziplines, obstacle courses, rope ladders to platforms, and climbing walls in a thick canopy of trees. Or to make a real loop, disembark at Janoshegy station and get down via a different form of transportation. A short hiking path leads to the Erzsebet lookout tower, built of stone more than a century ago and the highest point in Budapest.
Back to the Bottom by Chairlift
Then keep going down the path and you can take a long hike, or get on a ski chairlift that keeps running in the warm months to transport sightseers. You can stop for a beer, snack, or soda first before getting on. Then pay a small fee, hop on, and ride it down and see the whole city spread out before you.
You can get to the Children’s Railway or chairlift (to ride up instead) on public transportation, starting with a metro ride from Pest. The railway runs daily May to August, from Tuesday to Sunday the rest of the year. To be sure of catching a steam locomotive in action, come on a weekend.
Photos courtesy of Tim Leffel.
– Tim Leffel