Spending time in a park or any green space is a blissful escape for many of the city dwellers who cannot actually retreat from the city for some countryside getaway to recharge their mental batteries.
Popular Margaret Island (Margit-sziget) has an interesting royalty-related history going back to King Béla. He vowed that if he were successful in the Mongol invasion from 1242 to 1244, his daughter Margaret would be brought up as a nun. Well he was, so when she was 10, she was brought to the island to live a life of pious chastity. On the island, there are the ruins attesting to the religious who lived here. You can walk around what is left of the Dominican Convent where you'll find signs mentioning St. Margaret, a 13th-century Franciscan church. The island was once called Rabbit Island since it seemed to be infested with them. No bunny was able to leave without a bridge connecting the island to shore at the time. The island has been open to the public since 1908, but visitors were charged a fee, double on Sunday. It was not until 1945 when it was declared free for all. The long, narrow island is a leisurely escape from the hectic city.
In the summertime, you will find the large fountain plays classical music every 20 minutes and all of the selections are posted on a pole nearby. The flower gardens are well kept, so it is not unusual to find crowds gathered on the lawn or benches surrounding it.
Connected to both Buda and Pest via the Margaret and Árpád bridges all but local buses are banned from the island with few other exceptions. The island holds many attractions including the Palatinus Strand open-air baths, the Alfréd Hajós Sport Pool, and the Open-Air Theater. In the warm season, there is a restaurant called the Holdudvar, which serves good food at reasonable prices. It features outdoor movies and is very popular with the university set.
Sunbathers line the steep embankments along the river, and bikes are available for rent. There is a small petting zoo, many walking trails, and lots of green areas for spreading a blanket out. Several snack vendors and even clubs can fulfill your hunger or thirst needs. With what may seem like a near-overload of options, Margaret Island remains a tranquil place for a city break within the city. Margaret Island is best reached by tram no. 4 or 6, but construction on the bridge will continue through 2012, closing the bridge to all traffic. You will need to walk over the bridge from the last tram stop, Jászai Mari tér.
City Park (Városliget) sits behind Heroes' Square and is just as popular as Margaret Island for lazy walks, picnics in the grass, and the many attractions located in and around the park. It was built in stages, but the first stage started in the mid-1800s. The famous Hungarian poet, János Arany (Arany János u. fame), wrote a poem called "Song of the City Park" in 1877. The park, along with Heroes' Square, has been privy to many demonstrations as well as celebrations during its long history. The Vajdahunyad Castle located by the lake is magical when lit at night. The lake is used for small boat rides in the summer. Near the lake, an area is flooded to provide a frozen surface for ice skating in winter. The park also embraces Animal Garden Boulevard (Állatkerti körút), where the zoo, the circus, and the amusement park are all found. You will also find Széchenyi Baths on one outer rim of the park. The Transport Museum is off at the southern end of City Park, which is considerably less crowded, but also less landscaped making it less attractive as a relaxation area. The nearby Petofi Csarnok is the venue for a variety of popular cultural events, concerts, and the weekly flea market. The Yellow metro line makes stops at Hosök tere (Heroes' Square), at the edge of the park, and at Széchenyi fürdo, in the middle of the park.
There are numerous parks and nature reserves in the Buda Hills. You can ride the Children's Railroad through the hills or take the János Hill chairlift to its highest point.
The Buda Hills are an easy place to explore on your own; but depending on where you go, you may want to spot a bus or tram line for your return. Moszkva tér is the best place to start an excursion into the hills. Pick up tram no. 56 or bus no. 21, 22, or 28; get off when you see an area you like.
If you have time to saunter through Budapest, there are some well-maintained parks that are worth taking a seat in for a few moments rest. The Hungarian word for playground is játszótér (or játszó kert) or just kert for garden. Karolyn kerts is a small enclosed park in the city, just a couple of blocks from the Hungarian National Museum. This is a perfect place to relax or for children to release some energy. It is bordered by Ferenczy István utca, Magyar utca, and Henszlmann Imre utca. Enter the park through a wrought-iron gate. Once inside, you'll find swings and seesaws, a sandbox with a slide, and a stretch of green grass on which to run. In the middle of all this is a fountain surrounded by flowers. This is a busy and popular park for mothers with their children and for seniors who like to sit and relax. It once belonged to the adjacent Károlyi mansion, which was the home of Mihály Károlyi, who served briefly as Hungarian prime minister in 1918. The mansion functions as the Petofi Museum of Hungarian Literature (tel. 1/317-3611, ext. 203; www.pim.hu). Its location in the Inner City makes it a convenient destination. Admission is 480 Ft and it is open Tuesday through Sunday 10am to 6pm.
Instant Picnic -- Before heading off on a hike, taking a leisurely stroll in a park, or going to Margaret Island, make the trip extra special and plan to have a picnic. Make your first stop at Duran Szendvics VI. Bajcsy Zsilinszky út 7 (tel. 1/267-9624) or V. Október 6 u. 15 (tel. 1/332-9348). This Viennese chain has an extensive selection of more than 20 varieties of artistically assembled open-faced sandwiches, which they will box to go. You can buy bottled drinks or pick them up at one of the kiosks at or near the park. Voila! Instant picnic with disposable waste, so there is nothing to carry when you are done. Both locations are open weekdays from 8am to 6pm and Saturday 8am to noon.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.