Budapest off the beaten path

Budapest off the beaten path

Budapest. July 2011. My third visit in the Hungarian Capital. This time we took a different approach: visiting everything off the beaten path! Since we decided to stay in a camping (Haller Camping, close to Nagyvarad Metro Station on Line 3), it only made sense to pack our water bottle and walking shoes, as well.

On Tuesday morning, before 9 a.m. we were on our way to Széll Kálmán tér (Metro station on Line 2), the starting point  of our long walking tour. To get there, we took the M3 to Deak F. Ter (Metro station linking all three lines) and from there we switched to M2 to get to Széll Kálmán tér. Once there, it was time for a quick snack before the long day (the pastries are amazing in Budapest). We also filled our water bottle and away we went.

We took the tram 61 to Városmajor (2 stops; the tram station is opposite the metro station). From here, we took the Cogwheel Railway train to Széchenyi-hegy. If you already have a 24 hour travel card (or any other travel card, including Budapest Card) you don’t need to pay anything else, otherwise you need to get tickets (from the automatic machines). Széchenyi-hegy is the last stop on the Cogwheel Railway. From here, just walk up the hill (there’s a signpost showing the direction to the Children’s Railway) to the railway station (also called Széchenyi-hegy).

The cheapest way is to get a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) even if you don’t travel with kids.(Later edit: buy it at your own risk, the fine is up to 50 euros if you do not have children travelling with you) That gives you the possibility to travel all day long, on any routes of the railway. There are quite a lot of departures daily and the last train back to Széchenyi-hegy is around 7 p.m.

In order to get to the Elisabeth Lookout Tower (the highest lookout in Budapest), you need to stop at János-hegy. Or you can do what we’ve done: take the train all the way to the last stop, at Huvosvolgy, spend a bit of time there (refill the water bottle, maybe get a snack), then take the train back to János-hegy. Once here, you need to do a bit of walking in the woods (15 minutes, or so, leisure walk). You’ll get to the The Libegő (chairlift) . But forget about the chairlift now. Fill the water bottle and start the hike to the Elisabeth Lookout Tower (Erzsébet lookout tower). Again, you’ll be walking for about 15 minutes, but this is steeper incline.

If you are not afraid of heights, climb all the way to the top (with two intermediate stops along the way, from where you can see the superb Buda Hills panorama). It was hot but very windy when we were there, but it surely was worth it.

Now, get back down to the chairlift. From there you have two options: take the chairlift down to Zugliget (about 15 minutes ride) or walk back to the János-hegy stop on the Children’s Railway and take the train back to Széchenyi-hegy.

We’ve taken the second option because we wanted to visit the Roman ruins of Acquicum on the same day (and we had to take the HEV to get there).

The Children’s Railway is a scenic ride worth taking, especially if you have kids. Children check the tickets and practically run the railway, of course, under the adults’ supervision. You can buy souvenirs from the train which will remind you of the trip.

Since we’ve done this on a really hot day, it was absolutely amazing to take the ride in the woods. However, the air is humid on the hills so the hikes were a bit challenging (yes, you do need some stamina for this, but medium fitness level is quite enough).

You’ve read that I’ve mentioned the water bottle quite a lot of times. Do not forget it. And I mean it. Particularly if it’s hot, you need to stay hydrated. Thankfully, there are plenty of water fountains along the way so you can refill the bottle. Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes and light clothing. Keep your head covered and wear sun protection.

How to get to Budapest: if you are in Romania, probably the best choice is to get the train to Budapest Keleti; unless you have a car and drive there. If you are in other European country, look for low-cost flights to Budapest (there are quite a lot, from Western Europe). Otherwise, you are stuck to the train or car, again. Where to stay in Budapest: if you travel during summer, consider staying in a camping. It’s cheap (about €20 for 2 persons and a tent, per night) and you get to socialize with fellow travelers from all over Europe. Other choices include a hotel or a hostel. I’ve noticed that this year the room rates have increased quite a lot.Practical tips: if you know you’ll be using the public transportation a lot, get a travel card (24 h, 48 h or weekly; get a family card if you travel with kids under 12 years old). You’ll save quite a lot as it covers the metro, tram, buses, trolleybuses, Cogwheel Railway and HEV.

About the author: For the past four years, Cristina has been writing BootsnAll’s Greece Travel Guide