Budapest serves up two cities for the price of one, meaning there's loads for families to see and do.
Pest on the east bank has the lion's share of the sights, but there's plenty of family fun to be had in Buda and Óbuda on the west bank too, including breathing in the fresh air of the green Buda Hills.
From watching shark feeding at the city's aquarium to a ferry trip on the Danube, here are our favorite family-friendly activities to keep the little ones happy in Budapest.
Is Budapest good for kids?
While Budapest's architecture and history will keep adults enthralled, with kids in tow, you may need to go beyond the must-sees to keep the entertainment levels dialed up to 10. The good news is that Budapest's famous thermal waters offer fun for the whole family, and there are plenty of kid-friendly parks, museums and attractions.
Budapest has a very good, reliable and well-connected public transport system, so there’s no need to rent a car or take a taxi, even with little ones. Trams, buses and metro trains can take you absolutely everywhere – you can get from downtown to the top of Budapest in about 20 minutes, fuss-free. The most important thing to note is that the system is still very old-school – tickets need to be purchased and also validated onboard for each ride.
The city transport network is run by BKK, and travel passes valid for one day to one month are usable on all trams, buses, trolleybuses, HÉV suburban trains (within the city limits) and metro lines. Kids will enjoy the trams more than buses or the metro. Note that several boat lines form part of the public transport system and can be used with a travel pass, making for a cheap river cruise.
Where is best in Budapest for kids
Budapest is made up of calmer, quieter Buda on the west bank of the Danube and lively, buzzing Pest on the east bank, with the outlying settlement of Óbuda merging into the northern fringes of Buda. The inner city is fairly compact, however, and there isn't one specific neighborhood that stands out for families when it comes to picking accommodations.
Many local families live on the Buda side, but staying here will put you further from the big sights and you'll have fewer choices when it comes to accommodations. We recommend staying on the Pest side to be within walking distance of the top sights and make getting around much easier. Avoid inner District 7 when booking your accommodation – this is Budapest's party district, and it overflows with noisy tourists and bachelor parties in summer.
Best things to do in Budapest with kids
The cornerstone of a successful family trip is finding activities that keep the kids entertained without wearing them out. Here are our top recommendations for families in Budapest.
The Children’s Railway transports kids to the hills
One of Budapest’s most unique attractions, the Children’s Railway chugs past some of the most popular spots in the Buda Hills, offering a perfect kiddie-sized adventure. The railway is almost entirely staffed by school children ages 10 to 14, with just a little adult supervision to keep things on track, so kids will really be in their element.
This is the world’s longest railway of its kind, earning inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records. The railway's pint-sized staff wear cute uniforms and fill all sorts of positions, from signalmen to ticket controllers; only the engineers are grown-ups.
Connecting Hűvösvölgy with Széchenyi Hill and linking up with the historic Cogwheel Railway, the Children’s Railway passes by one of Budapest’s favorite picnic spots, Normafa, a forested parkland with a huge playground and wonderful views over the city.
The upper station of the Zugliget Chairlift – another fun ride with kids – is also at Normafa; break the journey here and you can add on a rewarding walk up to the Elizabeth Lookout Tower, the highest point in Budapest.
Margaret Island packs in a lot of family fun
When the weather is warm, Margaret Island – facing the Hungarian Parliament building on the Danube – is a great place to spend an afternoon. Stretching for 2.5km (1.6 miles), the island is a green oasis dotted with centuries-old trees and medieval ruins, and there's a lovely Japanese garden with a lake, turtles, goldfish and a waterfall.
You can rent a four-seater wheelie bike for the whole family to pedal around the island – cars are banned, so apart from the island bus and meandering bikes, there’s no traffic on the main road. Make your way to the south end of the island, where a musical fountain lights up and dances to different songs every hour from spring to winter. The 9pm evening show is enhanced by a multimedia screening.
On sultry summer days, you'll get a lot of splashes for your buck at Palatinus, the city's largest open-air swimming complex, complete with cool slides and 15 different pools, warmed by the city's famous geothermal waters. It's far and away the best way to keep cool on a muggy summer day in Budapest.
Budapest Zoo has more than just animal appeal
The 150-year-old zoo in Budapest's City Park is hard to miss. From the moment you walk through the ornate art nouveau entrance – guarded by four friendly stone elephants – the experience is pure family fun.
Inside you can introduce the kids to hundreds of animal species and thousands of plants in the attached botanical garden, as well as some amazing architectural quirks. Be sure to visit the temple-like Elephant House and the Palm House designed by Gustave Eiffel. A handful of areas let visitors walk with some of the gentler animals, and there’s a petting zoo for children who want to get hands-on with the residents.
Within the zoo, the Holnemvolt Vár (Once Upon a Time Castle) offers even more fun for kids, with carousels, games, another petting zoo, a riding stable, arts and craft workshops and an indoor playground where each room is a nod to a different Hungarian folktale.
The Tropicarium brings the deep sea to Budapest
The Tropicarium is a huge aquarium and zoological center in the Campona shopping mall, about a 30-minute bus ride from Bikás Park or Kelenföld. Here, little explorers can meet sea life from all over the world, alongside alligators, exotic birds, reptiles and freshwater fish, such as piranhas.
The main attraction is a 12m (39ft) underwater tunnel through a tank full of sharks and other big critters. At 2:30pm every Thursday, divers hand-feed the sharks in front of visitors, and at 2pm on Mondays, it's the the snakes' turn on dry land. Tropical rain is released every 15 minutes over the alligators in the rainforest, and braver mites can gently pet the rays in the ray tank.
A boat trip on the Danube turns sightseeing into an adventure
Getting out onto the Danube provides a novel vantage point for sightseeing and a fun ride for kids. Public passenger ferry D14 runs between the National Theatre and Margaret Island on a circle route, departing from Vigadó tér Pier every two hours between Tuesday and Sunday – an inexpensive, informal boat tour.
Alternatively, organized tourist cruises leave from riverside locations including Vigadó tér, across the river from the Királyi Palota palace. The amphibious boat rides offered by RiverRide are particularly entertaining for younger kids.
These are the best thermal baths for families
A trip to a thermal bathhouse is a key part of the Budapest experience, but not all of the bathhouses are suitable for families. The best options for kids are outdoor swimming lidos, such as the Palatinus complex on Margaret Island, and Dagaly Lido, close to Arpad Bridge.
Of the big, historic thermal baths, the Gellért Baths admits children, but the pools are only recommended for kids over 14 years of age because of concerns about the effects of the hot water on younger children.