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Budapest, plopped lazily on the banks of the Danube River, is a difficult city to characterize. It’s not as cultured as Vienna or as edgy as Belgrade, but sits in the middle of the two cities—and not just geographically.
There’s certainly no shortage of Budapest attractions and things to do. Many of the city’s amusements and its hipster scene can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Have a Bath
Budapest is spotted with public baths in the grand Ottoman tradition. None is more spectacular than the Széchenyi Baths in the heart of the sprawling Varosliget Park in Budapest’s XIV District. Széchenyi itself is sprawling too, with dozens of indoor baths and three massive outdoor pools ranging in temperature from the tepid 50 metre swimming pool at 28 degrees Celsius to the thermal pool at 38 degrees. It also has impossibly hot sauna rooms, with temperatures rising to an astonishing 80 degrees. Best of all, you can enjoy food, drinks, massages, pedicures and manicures on site. This is one of the main Budapest attractions, and shouldn’t be missed.
Children over 3 are welcome at Széchenyi. Teens over 14 can use any of the facilities, but kids under 14 are advised to stay out of the hotter rooms and pools, at their parents’ discretion.
There are many more family-friendly baths in Budapest, including Palatinus Baths on Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube and the nearby Dagály Baths in District XIII, but Széchenyi is the mother of all bathhouses in Europe and is worth a visit.
Széchenyi Baths: Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 9-11, 1146 Hungary
Palatinus Baths: Budapest, Margitsziget, 1138 Hungary
Dagály Baths Budapest, Népfürdő u. 36, 1138 Hungary
Take a Quick Stop at the Zoo
Széchenyi Baths are the most conveniently located of the three baths for one key reason: the zoo. Budapest’s zoo is one of the oldest in the world, and has been welcoming visitors for over a century to see beasts and birds from around the globe. There are over 1,000 animal species on display at the western edge of the City Park, only a short walk from the baths (away from the lake and castle in the center of the park). The zoo is open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., though it closes slightly earlier during the winter months and stays open until 7 p.m. during the summer.
Budapest Zoo: Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 6-12, 1146 Hungary
Hit the Markets
One of the most under-appreciated Budapest attractions is the Ecseri Piac, one of the largest flea markets in Europe. It’s open daily, but weekends draw the most vendors and biggest crowds, and can be the most fun for the family. Prices are fair, too, as long as you’re willing to bargain hard for that strange Central European trinket: a fizz bottle from the 1930s, an old gramophone (you’ll see dozens), traditional dolls or just some sticky pastries (these are unlikely to last for as long as the fizz bottle or the dolls).
Hungarian is a notoriously difficult language, not related to any other European language, so bartering with nuance can be tricky. When digging for those once-in-a-lifetime souvenirs, it’s helpful to have the calculator on your phone—or an actual calculator—handy for the negotiations. At the time of writing, 1,000 Hungarian forints is about $4.50 CAD, so think twice before forking out 100,000 forints on a dusty guitar to teach the kids “Red River Valley.”
Ecseri Piac is in the suburbs of Budapest (most easily reached by taking the metro to Határ út station and then any of the 4E, 89E or 94E buses—ask the driver to stop at “Piac”), but there are other market experiences closer to downtown. The Central Market Hall is worth wandering with kids, especially if they’re hungry. The downstairs is packed full of Hungary’s most notable contributions to the world’s culinary scene: sausages and pickles.
On alternating Sundays, Szimpla (a fabulous ruin pub in District VI) runs a farmers market and a used bicycle market, but the farmers market is far tastier. The pub is open from 11 a.m., and Szimpla is definitely kid-friendly. Most pubs in Budapest are likely to encourage you to come in with your kids and sit and have a pint while the kids putter around nearby; that’s the European way, and Budapest is no different.
Ecseri Piac: Budapest, Nagykőrösi út 156, 1194 Hungary
Central Market Hall: Budapest, Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093 Hungary
Szimpla: Budapest, Kazinczy u. 14, 1075 Hungary
Cruise the Mighty Danube
Dinner for the kids, drinks for the adults: all on one of the world’s greatest rivers. The Danube separates Buda from Pest and offers one of the best ways to see the city. The most popular cruises depart daily at 7 p.m., offering breathtaking views of the city lit up at night. If your kids won’t make it to 9 p.m., when the two-hour cruise finishes, you can always opt for the cheaper, quicker, daylit lunch cruises starting at 2 p.m. every day. The ships are kid-friendly and the food runs the gamut, so even picky eaters will find something to munch on.
GoToHungary’s Danube lunch cruise: Budapest, Zrínyi u. 5, 1051 Hungary (in front of the palace)