Even young children will be impressed by the grandeur of the city’s famous baths. Széchenyi and Gellért baths are perfect for all-weather fun, with multiple indoor and outdoor pools. Gellért has a wave pool, Széchenyi has a whirlpool. Dagály and Palatinus complexes have vast lawns for lounging or playing in the sun.
Budapest can be a true winter wonderland for children. If you’re visiting in late November or early December, take the kids to the City Park for some fun times on the ice. The western edge of the lake, overlooked by the fairy-tale Vajdahunyad Castle, becomes Europe’s largest outdoor skating rink.
Children’s dance houses in Budapest have instructors who will put your kids through their traditional paces to a soundtrack of live folk music. Check the calendar at the Budavár Cultural Centre and the Municipal Cultural House for upcoming shows.
The marionette and puppet shows at the Budapest Puppet Theatre will mesmerise your little ones regardless of the language barrier. Shows designed for children are performed two or three times daily.
At Széchenyi-hegy, you can board the narrow-gauge Children’s Railway (Gyermekvasút). Built in 1951 by Pioneers (socialist Scouts), the line is now staffed almost entirely by schoolchildren aged 10 to 14. The little train chugs along for 12km, terminating at Hűvösvölgy. Departure times vary depending on the day of the week and the season; consult the website but count on one every hour or so between 9am or 10am and 5pm or 6pm. The line is closed on Mondays from September to April.
When the sugar levels start to drop, head to one of Budapest’s ubiquitous cukrászdák (pâtisseries). Hungarians love sweets and pastries such as Dobos torta, a layered chocolate and cream cake with a caramelised brown sugar top, and piték (fruit pies). These are usually consumed mid-afternoon, a perfect time to revive flagging spirits. For a classic Budapest treat take the kids to Centrál Kávéház, which has been satisfying sweet teeth since 1887, or Művész Kávéház, which opened in 1898.
Take tram 17, 19 or 41 to Kolosy tér and head inside the shopping centre to the first floor. The Palace of Wonders is a hands-on exhibition with 250 interactive games that teaches you all about science.
Fun at the circus
The Capital Circus of Budapest is situated in the City Park, Pest’s green lung. The clowns, acrobatics and animals will keep the kids enthralled; performance times vary so it’s best to check the website or call ahead.
If the children are getting beastly, it’s best to visit the Budapest Zoo. This large city zoo and garden, which opened with 500 animals in 1866, has a good collection of animals (big cats, hippopotamuses, polar bear, giraffe). Make sure you pay a visit to the Magic Mountain, a three-level interactive exhibition with educational games and displays that will keep your kids busy.
Away from the beasties, have a look at the Secessionist animal houses built in the early part of the 20th century, such as the renovated Elephant House with pachyderm heads in beetle-green Zsolnay ceramic, and the Palm House with an aquarium erected by the Eiffel Company of Paris.