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Starboard Wow: see Budapest’s amazing riverfront by public ferry


  • Nick Robertson

05/05/2015 2.00am

Feel cool Danube breezes and the gentle swaying of flowing currents while admiring stunning sights aboard one of the city’s own boats, plying the downtown riverbanks daily for low ticket prices – or even at no charge on weekdays for anyone with a public-transportation pass. We set a course for an easy excursion of traveling through the middle of the Magyar metropolis, departing from several docks on both the Buda and Pest sides.

Since prehistoric times when especially clever mariner cavemen first came ashore in the region that is now Budapest, water travel remains an integral part of life here. While the city’s Danube banks may not bustle quite as much as they did when there were no bridges, ferryboats still faithfully ply the riverfront every day whenever the weather is warm enough to allow it, providing a relatively slow means of commuting but an extraordinarily enjoyable way of appreciating Budapest’s beauty.

Photo: László Balkányi - We Love Budapest

In addition to their buses, trams, metros, and more, the city’s BKK public-transport company maintains multiple ships that zigzag back and forth between more than a dozen stops in both Buda and Pest, travelling from the city’s southern section toward the northern outskirts and back – and a complete cruise aboard one of these spacious vessels costs less than a cup of fancy coffee, while riding on weekdays is free for passengers holding any BKK pass (even for only 24 hours). Those who ride a ship from one terminus to the other will enjoy a journey lasting almost two hours when travelling upriver, and a complete downriver trip takes about 90 minutes.

Photo: László Balkányi - We Love Budapest

Along the way, voyagers delight in spectacular views over every major waterfront landmark of Budapest – including Gellért Hill, the Buda Castle, and the Parliament House – while passing under all of the downtown bridges. Enhancing this pleasure cruise, passengers can purchase beverages aboard the ferryboats (including alcohol) or even enjoy a laid-back picnic in motion by bringing their own food and drinks (including alcohol).

Photo: László Balkányi - We Love Budapest

Perhaps the easiest way to access the BKK ferryboat from downtown Pest is through Vigadó Square (just a few steps away from Vörösmarty Square) – here we walk downstairs through the underpass beneath the tracks of tram 2 and cross the riverfront road toward the ticket office for long-distance ferries; take a left here and walk along the bank for about 100 meters to Dock 8, just past the Legenda tour-boat dock but before the Dock 8A Bar boat.

Photo: László Balkányi/We Love Budpest

Here at the dock equipped with passenger enclosures just like a BKK bus stop, the ferries arrive about once an hour (and more frequently at rush hours; see the schedule here), and tickets can be purchased when boarding the boat – but make sure to let the boat dock before you walk down the gangway. A single adult ticket for a one-way ferry ride of any duration is 750 forints or 550 forints for kids under 15 years old, while those with a BKK pass are entitled to board for free on weekdays (but must still pay ordinary ticket prices on weekends) – however, Budapest Card holders can ride the ferries freely every day.

Photo: László Balkányi - We Love Budapest

Once aboard, a pleasantly lazy feeling encompasses passengers on the awning-covered open upper deck, furnished with chairs and tables where sightseers drink beers and take selfies before the panoramic scenery. Crossing the river back and forth between Buda and Pest, we enjoy close-up views of the Várkert Bazaar, the Danube Promenade, the Chain Bridge, and many other iconic Budapest places, all from a different perspective than we’re used to when passing these places every day on land.

Photo: László Balkányi - We Love Budapest

Beyond these mammoth monuments of the Magyar metropolis, one of the most fascinating things to watch amid the cruise is aboard the ship itself – the captain in action behind the helm in the wheelhouse, with his ever-vigilant steering and docking harkening back to the golden age of riverboat travel.

Photo: László Balkányi - We Love Budapest

While leisurely voyaging the Danube waters, we are reminded of how active Budapest’s stretch of river still is – in addition to bona-fide tour boats (and even the RiverRide amphibious bus) passing close by, we spot barges, police speedboats, and long-distance river-cruise ships, all reminding us how alive this waterway remains despite Europe’s modern-day dominance of land and air conveyances.

Popular stops along the route include Haller Street (within easy walking distance to the Palace of Arts), the A38 nightclub boat, Szent Gellért Square (in front of the titular hotel and spa), and Kossuth Lajos Square (where Parliament is); some boats continue all the way north to Rómaifürdő, near the pleasant shorefront eateries of Római Part.

Photo: László Balkányi - We Love Budapest

Passengers can bring bicycles and dogs aboard for a surcharge of 750 forints. Visit any BKK info point (such as the one by the Deák Square underpass metro entrance) for complete information, or check out the BKK website.

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