By DEREK LEM
Taking a family vacation to the Hungarian capital? Most travel articles focus on the things that older travelers will enjoy, like architecture, museums and food. But when you’re in a group featuring a mix of ages, you need to find some activities that will appeal to the young as well as the young at heart. Here are several fun things to do with children in Budapest.
Budapest Zoo and Botanical Gardens
Fun for all the animal lovers in the family, the Budapest Zoo has a wide array of well-cared-for animals from around the world. A cute treat: The zoo’s youngest residents all come together at the “kindergarten” area. After visiting the animals, children will love a stop at the zoo’s playground. Some summer nights, the zoo offers evening walks where you can tour in the evening and see what the animals get up to after dark.
The zoo’s buildings and botanical gardens add another level of interest for older kids and adults in your party. The main entrance and other structures were built in the Art Nouveau style in the 1800s.
If you’re looking for local wildlife, try the Vadaspark in Budakeszi, in the Buda Hills. Hungarian pine marten, boars, and bears will give your children an understanding of Central European forest animals. For an extra dose of fun, get there using the Children’s Railway, which is run by children and supervised by adult railway workers. While in the Buda Hills, enjoy a pony ride or book a horseback-riding lesson from one of the riding centers in the city.
Children can relax in the city’s famous spas and baths just as adults do, but families enjoying Budapest sightseeing in the summer months will find hours of cool entertainment at Aquaworld. Here, babies, toddlers and children up to 6 years old can enjoy a special pool just for them — as long as a guardian is in attendance. Older kids can have fun zipping down water slides and splashing in the outdoor pools. Don’t know how to swim? Swimming lessons are available, and for the more adventurous, surfing and scuba diving lessons too. Aquaworld bills itself as one of the biggest water parks in Europe. It is located in the north part of Budapest, and can be accessed by private car or by a free shuttle bus from Heroes’ Square.
The same thermal waters that create the bubbling springs travelers love to enjoy have also formed some exquisite caves in the Buda Hills. Children, especially the science-inclined, will love exploring these limestone caves and marveling at the formations of crystals and limestone stalactites. Szemlő-hegyi Cave is easier for smaller children, while Pál-völgyi Cave is more challenging and requires some climbing and squeezing to navigate the tunnels. Guided tours are offered hourly and begin at the entrance. At almost five miles long, Pál-völgyi Cave is the third-longest cave in Hungary. The caves are chilly, even in the summer, so make sure you bring sweaters and hiking shoes for everyone in the family, even if it’s sweltering outside.
Buda Castle Labyrinth
Under the castle’s impressive stone walls lies a dark but fascinating underworld: the Buda Castle Labyrinth. The Turks used this underground complex of corridors and cellars in the 16th century for military storage and a harem. It was also used as a prison — and the historical figure Vlad Tepes, better known in literature as Count Dracula, was once held here. Special tours with kids in mind are held on Sundays, but your family can visit the labyrinth any day of the week.
Even if you don’t understand Hungarian, Budapest’s puppet theater is a treat for kids. Offering daily shows of marionettes and hand puppets, the story lines, sets and stagecraft will captivate young and old alike. The theater is on Andrassy Way, near the Vörösmarty Street subway station.
A short walk from the Nepligét subway station brings families to the city’s Planetárium, where you can learn about the night sky, our planet and the images made possible by the Hubble telescope. Shows are available in English, and some are meant especially for children.
Derik Lem is an expert on Budapest and surrounding area. He blogs about things to see and do in the Hungarian capital.