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Budapest’s best parks and green getaways

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  • We Love Budapest

16/06/2022 12.58pm

One of Europe's greenest capitals, Budapest has an island dedicated to relaxation right in the middle of it and a large park full of sports courts near the centre. Here we present the many attractions of Margaret Island and City Park, and show you the lesser-known getaways where you might find an outdoor gym, a historical site or newly opened craft-beer bar.

Photo: Kiripolszky Csongor - We Love Budapest

Bikás Park

1/11

1119 Budapest, Bikás Park

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Growing in popularity since it gained its own metro station on green line 4, Bikás Park is one of Budapest’s top recreational areas for outdoor exercise. One of the city’s most active basketball communities convenes here, and you’ll also find tennis courts, jogging courses for runners on two legs and four, a stationary bike, lat-pulldown machines and other contemporary facilities more typically found in upscale gyms. If fitness takes second place to beer, craft experts Jónás have recently swapped a terrace by the Danube at Bálna Budapest for a spot by the lake in in Bikás Park. As well as pouring sought-after variations of the Reketye label, Zoli Reketye-Trifán and crew will be putting on events and entertainment.

Photo: Bódis Krisztián - We Love Budapest

Margaret Island

2/11

1138 Budapest, Margitsziget

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Margaret Island (Margitsziget) is the green heart of Budapest. It lies in the middle of the Danube between Margaret Bridge and Árpád Bridge, equally handy for those in Pest and Buda. Apart from a couple of hotels and sports facilities, there are no buildings on the island – it’s a huge recreational space with promenades and benches, cycle paths and a jogging track, great for a date or a picnic. Here is where you’ll find the Hajós Alfréd National Sports Swimming Pool, the popular Palatinus lido, a petting zoo, a musical fountain and a Japanese garden. Few cars are allowed – the island is served by the No.26 bus from Nyugati station, and it has its own stop on the frequent 4/6 tram route, halfway along Margaret Bridge. All kinds of bikes, tandems and pedalos can be hired. Towards the north end of the island, in the shadow of the Water Tower, an open-air concert venue operates in summer for mainstream entertainment. Close by, the ruins of a medieval Dominican convent are historically linked to former resident Margaret, daughter of Béla IV, after whom the island is named.

Photo: Szabó Gábor - We Love Budapest

Molnár Island

3/11

1238 Budapest, Molnár-sziget

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Molnár Island lies on the Ráckeve branch of the Danube, on the north-eastern side of Csepel. Although it’s a short journey from the city centre, you soon forget about the hustle and bustle of the capital while you spend time amid peaceful, romantic nature. Dating back to the 1800s, it takes its name from the many mills that once operated here – molnár meaning ‘miller’. Since the mid-1960s, more and more holiday properties have been set up in these bucolic surroundings, and with them, an infrastructure. There’s plenty to do around here: you can hike, cycle, row, feed the ducks, go fishing or simply just sit on a bench and admire the picturesque landscape. A fairy garden, a leisure attraction in the southern part of the island, is ideal for smaller visitors.

Photo: Fortepan / Bauer Sándor

Népliget

4/11

1101 Budapest, Népliget

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Népliget is the largest public park in Budapest, but is far from the most popular, set outside the city centre, in what was a rather shady area until various attractions and landmarks were built nearby. Two sports stadiums and the vast steel-and-glass HQ of mobile giant Telekom now dominate the skyline at the major junction on the south-west corner of the park, served by Népliget metro station on the M3 line. The ‘People's Park’ wasn’t always so prosaic. A former sand quarry, it was landscaped to deal with Budapest’s ever-expanding population in the later 1800s. Although a strong competitor to City Park in its 1930s’ heyday – it even held the first Hungarian Grand Prix in 1936 – it only really appealed to the workers from the nearby Ganz-MAVÁG factory complex and their families. The city's biggest restaurant, the largest rollercoaster in Central Europe, the toboggan course and shooting galleries have long gone. Even the planetarium opened in 1977 has fallen out of use. With work soon taking place to provide better transport links between south Pest and Buda, more outlets and facilities are bound to follow. For the time being, Népliget is ideal for anyone in need of no-frills greenery.

Photo: Szabó Gábor - We Love Budapest

Népsziget

5/11

1138 Budapest, Népsziget

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Still commonly referred to as Mosquito Island and therefore left to its own devices, Népsziget has gained a certain hip cachet thanks to the bohemian, dog-friendly bars to have opened here in recent years, most notably Kabin, the Sziget Sörkert and a few others, offering a lost-in-the-woods feel, often with Danube views. The island was once connected to Újpest in the 1830s but a part still belongs to District XIII. There is also a riding hall, a dog school and a goat farm on the island, much of which is still abandoned – perhaps not for much longer.

Photo: Szabó Gábor - We Love Budapest

Normafa

6/11

1121 Budapest, Normafa

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Part of the undulating Buda hillsNormafa is a popular hiking destination at all times of the year. There used to be an ancient beech tree on top of the incline, which – so legend has it – sprouted in the year of King Matthias’ birth in the 15th century. In 1850, a grandiose performance of Bellini’s opera Norma was held around the tree. From that time on, the area previously called Viharbükk (‘Storm Beech’) was renamed Normafa (‘Norma Tree’). Sadly, it was struck by lightning and destroyed in 1927. Here you can go for a run on the refurbished running track or hike up to nearby János-hegy, accessed by several forest trails. The view from the peak is amazing, as well as from Elizabeth Lookout Tower. The other main attraction is the Ski House, built in the early 1900s to accommodate those coming for winter sports. It carried on serving mulled wine and warming soups long after the last skier departed, and recently underwent a revamp and a rebrand. The terrace comes into its own in summer and there’s delicious strudel sold at the kiosk alongside. You can reach Normafa from Buda transport hub Széll Kálmán tér by buses 21 or 21A, from Hűvösvölgy by the Children’s Railway or from Városmajor by the Cogwheel Railway.

Photo: Hartyányi Norbert - We Love Budapest

Óbuda Island

7/11

1033 Budapest, Óbudai-sziget

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This island is famous because of the week-long Sziget festival which takes place here every August, showcasing some of the world’s most famous bands. On June weekends by the same site, its family-friendly offshoot, Gyerek Sziget, puts on outdoor entertainment for kids. For the rest of the year, you find an oasis of peace and tranquillity. The quiet among the trees is only broken by the sound of dogs running around in the fields or the laughter of children at the slide park. Also known as Hajógyári (‘Shipyard’) Island after the factory established here in the 1830s by Count István Széchenyi of Chain Bridge fame, it has so far resisted bids by redevelopers to establish hotel complexes and casinos around the former royal hunting grounds. Its somewhat remote location in its namesake district of Óbuda also helps keep crowds to a pleasant minimum – for most of the year, in any case.

Photo: Balkányi László - We Love Budapest

Szent István park

8/11

1137 Budapest, Szent István park

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Popular urban leisure spot Szent István Park is located on the Danube embankment, offering great views of Margaret Island and the Buda Hills. Originally named Lipótvárosi Park, it was opened on the site of a former parquet factory in 1928. Among its statues is one honouring Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis, many from this neighbourhood. In good weather, events and concerts are held here, but it’s also a great location for a romantic stroll, a picnic or a dog walk. The park is surrounded by elegant Bauhaus façades, which hide the first penthouse flats in Budapest. For atmosphere, pop into the adjoining Dunapark Café, opened in 1938 and later done out like a luxury liner.

Photo: Hartyányi Norbert - We Love Budapest

Városliget/City Park

9/11

1146 Budapest, Városliget

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The main public park in town, Városliget (‘City Park’) was the central venue of the Hungarian millennial celebrations of 1896. It may not be the largest park in Budapest (that title goes to Népliget), but it certainly is the most revered, and family-, sport-, and pet-friendly. A massive redevelopment, the Liget project, has seen the installation of a dog park, new sports courts and an illuminated running track, with the House of Hungarian Music, the Museum of Ethnography and the National Museum Research and Storage Centre following on. These features will change the timeless character of this sprawling green zone, something that doesn’t sit well with all locals. Certain landmarks remain in place, however, most notably the ornate Széchenyi Baths and, just over the road, Budapest Zoo, incorporating features from the former Amusement Park that once stood alongside. Another major child-friendly attraction here is Budapest Circus, providing old-school entertainment. In summer, you can also fly up in a tethered balloon and row on the lake surrounding faux historic Vajdahunyad Castle. Rowing and skating also take place on the larger watery expanse near Heroes’ Square – as the atmospheric City Park Ice Rink, it operates through the depths of winter. After skating, enjoy a warming drink at the Városliget Café.

Photo: Kőrösi Tamás - We Love Budapest

Városmajor

10/11

1122 Budapest, Városmajor

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If you feel that the bustle of the city is too much, take a trip to Városmajor park in Buda, a short hop from the transport hub of Széll Kálmán tér. Amid the greenery, you might wish to visit the Heart of Jesus Church of Városmajor, or take a ride on the Cogwheel Railway and enjoy the views of the Buda Hills. The park also has sports courts, an outdoor gym and a jogging course. In summer, the Városmajor Open-Air Stage hosts plays, concerts and other cultural events. Buda’s oldest park will also soon undergo a revamp, with recently published plans calling for a lake, and themed green areas for sport, dogs and sunbathing. All should transform the city’s first public park in the not too distant future.

Photo: Hartyányi Norbert - We Love Budapest

Vérmező

11/11

1012 Budapest, Vermező

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Blood Meadow’ was given its name for a reason. Open land in the shadow of Buda Castle until the military used it for training following the Ottoman defeat of 1686, the former General’s Meadow witnessed the execution of seven leaders of the Hungarian Jacobin movement in May 1795. Thereafter, it became Vérmező. Today, it’s a pleasant green space offering relief from the swarming hordes at nearby Déli station heading for Balaton. Note, too, the statue of poet and novelist Mihály Babits, who lived alongside the park for the last ten years of his life.

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