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BUDAPEST ..... Pearl of the Danube

Hungary's capital is a great place for families. Budapest is divided into two parts by the river, the hilly side of Buda on the western side and the flat plain of Pest on the eastern side. These two parts of the city were once separate towns and were merged together with Ancient Buda (Óbuda) only in 1873. But its the beauty of Budapest is that really makes it stand apart - its broad avenues, leafy parks and harmonious blend of architectural styles has earned it the nickname the 'Paris of Eastern Europe'. It is this blend of beauty and culture, combined with a variety of wonderful attractions and places to visit that will enthrall the whole family.

The kids will love exploring the walled Castle District and Old Town which contains some of Budapest’s most important monuments and museums, whilst parents will appreciate the sheer ambience. It consists of two distinct parts: the Old Town, where commoners lived during medieval times; and the Royal Palace, the original site of a castle built in the 13th century. The Old Town is filled with attractively painted streets, decorative churches and the famous Fishermen's Bastion, completed in 1905 on the site of a former fish market and named after the guild of fishermen responsible for defending this stretch of wall in the Middle Ages. It has commanding views over the city and the kids will love climbing the seven castellated bastions (representing the seven Magyar tribes who entered the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century). The most exiting way of getting to the Castle District is by taking the Funicular, a little cable car that takes you up the Castle Hill.

Immediately south of the Old Town is the Royal Palace which has been razed, rebuilt and redesigned over the past seven centuries. The palace houses a number of museums, including the National Gallery, which has an enormous collection devoted exclusively to Hungarian art. In a city that manages to surprise and enthrall in equal measure, reminders of Budapest's rich and often tragic history are ever present. Renovation of many fine buildings and the opening of new luxury hotels continue apace, while the scars of the nation's crushed 1956 uprising are still evident from the bullet hole ridden buildings yet to receive attention.

My advice for family visitors would be to head along the magnificent Grand Boulevard to Heroes’ Square and Millennium Monument, with City Park right behind. Heroes’ Square was built in 1896, to celebrate the millennial anniversary of the Magyar conquest. Here the Archangel Gabriel at the top of a 36m (118ft) column is half-encircled by statues of the seven victorious Magyar tribal chiefs on horseback and Hungary’s most honoured rulers, from King Stephen to Kossuth. Mounted on two colonnades are groups of Hungarian rulers and princes representing Work, War, Peace and Knowledge.

Main Attractions

Budapest’s largest park, was designed by the French landscape-designer, Nebbion, and is where locals go for leisurely strolls. The park is full of playgrounds, sports fields, small gardens and green esplanades. Attractions include the botanical gardens, the artificial lake which in winter is the largest outdoor skating-rink in Central Europe featuring special night-lights and a disco, and Vajdahunyad Vára – a castle that displays Hungary’s varied architectural styles right up to the 19th century, with the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture housed in the Baroque-style section. A statue of George Washington stands in the park, erected by grateful Hungarians who had been allowed to settle in America. Also, the world famous Gundel Restaurant is located on the inner avenue. Built at the turn of the century, this fine restaurant and its garden has gained an international reputation and has become one of the highest standard restaurants and most popular in the capital.

GRAND CIRCUS BUDAPEST CITY PARK This world famous circus has performances at 3pm on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 10.30am – 3pm – 7pm on Saturdays and 10.30am – 3pm on Sundays
BUDAPEST ZOO CITY PARK Website: Transport: Metro Széchenyi fürdo; trolley bus 72, 75 or 79; bus 4, 20 or 30. Opening hours: Daily 0900-1900 (May-Aug); daily 0900-1700 (Sep-Apr). The whole family will enjoy visiting what has been described as one of the most beautiful zoos in the world. The wonderful blend of nature and exquisite architecture is unique. Many of the buildings that house some of the 2000 animals, such as the art nouveau Elephant House with a look-out tower that gives you wonderful views of the Zoo and City Park, were designed by some of the most famous Hungarian architects.

FUNFAIR CITY PARK This traditional funfair doesn’t compare with the modern ‘white-knuckle’ ride variety but still has a lot to offer, especially for the younger children. There’s a Ferris wheel, roller coaster, shooting gallery, merry-go-round, dodgem cars, etc, and the 19th century carousel has recently been restored.Open: 10am – 7pm Apr-Sept; 10am – 8pm May-Aug; 10am – 6pm Oct-Mar.

FUNICULAR Opened in 1870, authentic-style carriages travel between Clark Adam Square and Buda Castle on a journey that takes just a few minutes. At the lower terminus, at the foot of Chain Bridge, stands the 0 kilometre stone, from which all distances are measured in Hungary.In service: daily 7.30am – 10pm; closed on Mondays of every even-numbered week.

PALACE OF WONDERS Central Europe's first interactive, scientific playhouse with more than 100 spectacular, hands-on scientific games and experiments over an area of 1000 square metres. The interactive playhouse offers practical science for both younger and older kids, who may try out the "miracle bicycle", and numerous visual effectsOpen: Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm; Saturdays and Sundays 10am – 6pmWeb:

SIGHTSEEING BALLOON This helium-filled version of a hot-air balloon floats to a height of 180m above the city and provides the most wonderful views of the city and the Danube, especially after dark. The viewing balloon, one of just a handful in the world, is tethered by a cable operated by a winch system. The gondola is perfectly safe for children with high sides and rails, although it does get quite chilly at that height so wrap up warm.Open: Daily - 10am–midnight, May – Sept; 10am-8pm, Oct – April(Note the balloon does not operate when windy – above 45km/h)

TROPICARIUM OCEANARIUM The largest marine aquarium in Middle-Europe has a wide variety of marine life on show. Apart from sharks and seawater aquariums, there’s reptiles and a rain forest with alligators.Open: All year – daily 10am – 8pm

CHILDREN’S RAILWAY This fascinating service is operated by 10-14-year-old uniformed children - except for the train driver - under the supervision of adults. The narrow-gauge railway, with some open carriages, takes about 50 minutes to cover the 11km route, mostly through natural woodland. The train calls at János Hill, the city's highest point, with the 23.5 metre, four-terraced Erzsébet Lookout Tower and chair lift.In service: 15 Mar-23 Oct - Mon-Fri 10.00-18.00, Sat, Sun 9.45-18.15 24 Oct-14 Mar - Tue-Fri 10.00-16.00, Mon, Sat, Sun 10.00-18.00

THE NOSTALGIC RAILWAY PARK & MUSEUM The whole family will enjoy visiting here. Apart from the many steam engines and carriages on show , there’s hand cars and self-powered rail cars, operational turntables, museum shop with buffet facilities, café, and children’s playground.Open: daily April – October 10am-6pm November – March 10am-3pm (Closed Mondays in Winter)

CHAIR LIFT This amazing ski lift lookalike with chairs hanging from a haulage cable has an elevation between the two terminals of 262m. The journey takes around 15 minutes and you will get some amazing views on the way.In service: 9.00-17.00 16 May-15 Sept, 9.30-16.00 16 Sept-15 May; closed: on Mondays of every even-numbered week.

BUDA CASTLE LABYRINTH - CAVE SYSTEMS Kids just love caves and here on the Castle Hill almost every house in the quarter has cellars several storeys deep running down into the hill. These cellars were connected into a several-kilometre-long corridor system in the Middle Ages and served a useful purpose in times of war. Defenders of the area used the systems to speedily relocate troops to more threatened points of the district, suggesting far greater numbers to the enemy than they actually were. One section of the cellar system was turned into what is known as the Labyrinth of the Buda Castle with remarkable historical walk-through tableaux.Open: daily 9.30-19.30 1 Jan-15 June; 9.30-21.30 16 June-31 Aug; 9.30-19.30 15 Sept-31 Dec.

PAL-VOLGYI CAVE The stalactite-rich cave, the longest in the Buda Hills and the third longest in Hungary, was discovered in 1904 during quarrying and has been a nature-protected area since 1944. So far more than 7200 meters of winding passageways have been explored; the vertical dimension is 104 meters. Guided tours every hour.Open: Tuesday-Sunday, 10.00-16.00

CASTLE CAVE Another section of the cave system under the Buda Hill has been recently been opened to the public. The cave consists of cavity turned cellars and man-made deep cellars. During the 40-minute guided tour you will see wells, former storerooms, and the remains of baths and combat stations used by the Germans in World War 11.Open: May to September, Tuesday-Sunday 10am-6pm.

MARGARET ISLAND Wedged in a loop of the River Danube and linked by a bridge at each end to Buda and Pest, the two-kilometre Margaret Island is one of the calmest and greenest spots in Budapest. No cars are allowed or needed – the island from bridge to bridge can be crossed on foot in 20 minutes. The island is named after the devout daughter of King Béla IV, who lived here in a Dominican convent in the 13th century. The ruins of her convent still stand on the east bank, near the remains of a Franciscan church. Other points of interest include a 100-year-old park, the 1930s reconstruction of a 12th-century chapel, sculptures of Hungarian artists and writers, an open-air theatre and UNESCO-listed water tower. In summer the island is bursting with people heading for a swim at the Hajós Alfréd swimming pool or Palatinus pool, which are fed by warm underground springs. The best way of exploring the island with the kids is by Bringohinto Cycle Car, a pedal-driven four-wheeler for two or four passengers.Opening hours: Daily 24 hours. Admission: Free. Website:


Eight bridges link Buda to Pest but the Chain Bridge is the first and most famous, with its solid arches and lion statues. Count István Széchenyi commissioned the Englishman responsible for London’s Hammersmith Bridge, William Tierney Clark, to design a bridge, and the Scotsman, Adam Clark, to oversee construction. Completed in 1848, the bridge was inaugurated in 1849, allowing for the integration of Buda, Pest and Óbuda in 1872. The Nazis having done considerable damage, the bridge was repaired and re-inaugurated on 21 November 1949. Adam Clark is honoured in a small square at the foot of the bridge.

BUDA ROYAL PALACE MUSEUM First inhabited by King Béla IV, after the 1241 Mongol invasion, the Royal Palace had its heyday during King Mátyás’s reign (1458-90). In the late 18th century, Empress Maria Theresa rebuilt and enlarged the palace. The Royal Palace has risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of many wars – the Turkish siege (1541) and invasion (1686), the 1848-49 War of Independence and the latter stages of World War II. The result is a hotchpotch of styles from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, ranging from Baroque to modern. Within the palace’s partially reconstructed walls, lies a vast museum complex, which includes three museums – the Budapest History Museum and Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, the Hungarian National Gallery – and the National Széchenyi Library. Visitors to the palace can book a tour, with an English-speaking guide, in advance. Budapest History MuseumWebsite: Opening hours: Wed-Mon 1000-1600 (Nov-Feb); Wed-Mon 1000-1800 (Mar-Oct).

LUDWIG MUSEUM Website: Opening hours: Tues-Sun 1000-1800.

HUNGARIAN NATIONAL GALLERY Website: Opening hours: Tues-Sun 1000-1800 (Apr-Oct); Tues-Sun 1000-1600 (Nov-Feb).

HOTEL GELLERT AND THERMAL BATHS Prudes are not advised to try out the Gellért Baths – valued since the Turkish occupation for their medicinal qualities – or any other thermal spas in the city, for that matter. Upon entrance, a strip of cloth is given to men and a tiny apron to women. Massages last 15 or 40 minutes – a vigorous experience not to be embarked upon by the faint-hearted. Bathing suits are donned before entering the main mixed swimming pool – an Art Nouveau beauty surrounded by columns. There are separate thermal pools of varying temperatures, steam rooms and sauna – one side for men and the other for women. Website: Opening hours: Mon-Fri 0600-1800, Sat and Sun 0600-1600.

BUDAPEST PARLIAMENT Imre Steindl’s design for Budapest’s Parliament, inspired by London’s Houses of Parliament, won first prize in a competition to celebrate the 1000th year of the Hungarian nation. The edifice, with its elegant neo-Renaissance dome, topped by a pointy neo-Gothic spire, stretches for over 250m (820ft) along the River Danube. It was here that the crowds assembled on 23 October 1989, when Mátyás Szurös declared the Hungarian People’s Republic from the balcony on Kossuth Lajos tér. Guided tours, which depart from gate ten, allow entrance to a wealth of marble and gold, columns and statues within. Opening hours: Mon-Fri 1000 and 1400, Sat and Sun 1000, subject to parliamentary sessions (guided tours only). STEPHEN’S BASILICABudapest’s largest church, designed by József Hild, was built in 1845, although not consecrated until 1905. A storm destroyed the original dome in 1868. The building was rebuilt from scratch in neo-Renaissance style but suffered damage during World War II. The building seats 8500 and is currently undergoing restoration, begun in 1980 and set to continue for the foreseeable future. Inside, Gyula Benczúr’s painting of Szent István offering the Hungarian crown to the Virgin Mary, symbolises the alliance between Hungary and Western Europe. The church’s undisputed highlight is a glimpse of Szent István’s mummified hand, which lights up when Ft100 is slipped into a slot. The basilica’s tower offers excellent views of the city. Organ concerts are given on Mondays at 1900, July-October. Opening hours: Mon-Sat 0700-1900, Sun 1300-1900. Stzent Jobb Chapel: Mon-Sat 0900-1700, Sun 1300-1700 (Apr-Sep); Mon-Sat 1000-1600, Sun 1300-1600 (Oct-Mar). Cupola: daily 1000-1700 (Apr, Sep and Oct); daily 0900-1400 (May-Aug). Tower: daily 1000-1800.

TRANSPORT MUSEUM Railway locomotive models unique in Europe (made on a scale of 1:5), old cars, motorcycles, trams, and models of ships show the development of transportation in Hungary. Tue-Fri 10.00-16.00 1 Jan-30 Apr10.00-17.00 (18.00 weekends) 1 May-30 Sept Sat, Sun 10.00-17.00 1 Oct-31 Dec

AVIATION MUSEUM Original passenger planes and gliders are displayed along with models and the space capsule of the first Hungarian cosmonaut. 10.00-17.00 (18.00 weekends) 1 May-30 Sept.10.00-16.00 (17.00 weekends) 1-15 Oct Closed: Mon

SZECHNYI BATHS & SWIMMING POOL It is one of Europe`s largest bath complexes. The atmosphere of Roman bathing culture may be felt in its light, spacious pool halls, while Greek bathing culture is reflected in the tub baths, but traces of Nordic traditions may also be found in the heat chambers, saunas and dipping pools. This first spa of Pest owes its existence to the well dug by Vilmos Zsigmondy in 1879. The present bath building was constructed in 1913. The swimming pool was built in 1927, but it was only open from May till September until the 1960ies, when, in 1963, it was made suitable for winter swimming as well. Since then it has been open throughout the year. The two `public bath` units were established also in 1927, today housing the mixed baths and the complex physiotherapy units (day hospital)
HUNGARIAN NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM The interactive permanent exhibition and the interesting temporary exhibitions present an inside view of the colourful world of minerals, primordial beings, plants, animals and people. Open: 10.00-18.00 1 Apr-30 Sept Closed: Tue10.00-17.00 1 Oct-31 Mar Closed: Tue

STATUE PARK Until the recent political changes in Hungary, the gigantic monuments collected in this park used to ornament the parks and squares of Budapest. Just as Lenin Boulevard and Marx Square no longer exist in Budapest, so their statues and monuments have been sent into exile to the Statue Opening hours: Daily 1000-2000 (mid-Apr-Oct); Sat and Sun only 1000-dusk (Nov-mid-Apr).

LAZAR EQUESTRIAN PARK Although located some 35km from Budapest, Lazar Equestrian Park is well worth visiting. The park was established by the horse-driving world champion Lazar brothers, and combines the atmosphere of Hungarian culture and hospitality with their outstanding horsemanship. The whole family will marvel at the skills and presentations displayed during the entertaining exhibitions. They have a children’s animal park and a new playground is soon to be built in the parkland. The restaurant serves the most wonderful Hungarian food. Open: It is advisable to call and check when the displays are taking place because these only take place at certain times according to the number of visitors. Tel: +36 28 576 510 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting28 576

HEREND PORCELANIUM Herend Porcelain is famous throughout the world and the modern visitor complex gives visitors the opportunity to see just how this unique, expensive porcelain is made and crafted. The museum is a treasure-trove of priceless porcelain pieces, the present day range is on display in the Victoria Herend Shop, then if you have any money left there’s an excellent café and restaurant.

GODOLLO ROYAL PALACE The magnificent Royal Palace of Godollo is the largest baroque palace in Hungary. It has been open to the public since 1996 and there’s a continuous program of renovation as more and more parts of this impressive building are being restored. The Palace is surrounded by 28 hectares of parkland and there’s a café and gift shop on the ground floor.Open: 10am-6pm April – October; 10am-5pm November – March (Closed on Mondays)

LAKE BALATON This oblong lake, about 100km from Budapest, is one of the largest in Europe, covering an area of almost 600 sq km. Often called 'the nation's playground,' Balaton is divided into two quite different shores: the south, which is essentially one long resort of high-rise hotels and minuscule beaches; and the north, where there are more historical towns and sights, mountain trails, better wine, and is much less commercialized.

Dominating the south is Siófok, the largest of Balaton's resorts. The dedicated pursuits here are eating, drinking, swimming and sunbathing - and whatever comes in between. If you get bored with the beach and the crowds, you can take a trip to nearby Szántódpuszta, a recreational centre of perfectly preserved 18th- and 19th-century farm buildings, barns, workshops, and a Baroque church. Further west is Keszthely, a pleasant town of grand houses, tree-lined streets and funky cafés, with unique views of both shores of the lake.

The north's oldest and most popular resort is Balantonfüred. During the 19th century it was the gathering place for politicians and cultural leaders, then a writers' colony and, by 1900, a summer retreat for the country's emerging middle class. It remains a sophisticated, yet peaceful place, and counts among its attractions a splendid promenade, a number of artist's museums and warm-water springs. South of here is the historical village of Tihany, while east is Badacsony, a region renowned for its scenery, excellent hiking trails and wine-producing towns.

BALATON BOB This bobsleigh on rails will really thrill the kids, large or small! A pulley system will tow you to the top of a hill before releasing the Bob for you to travel down at whatever speed you wish. There is a braking system to control your speed so younger children can sit on your lap, the older ones will want to take the faster route of course!

The Budapest Card is simple to use and excellent value. The card provides free travel on public transport, entrance to 60 museums and attractions – such as the Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest Zoo and the Museum of Fine Art – half-price city sightseeing programmes, reductions on cultural and folklore programmes and further discounts at spas, shops, restaurants, airport minibus and car hire services, sports facilities and flights. Full details are provided in the information guide that accompanies the card. The Budapest Card costs 3950 HUF for two days and 4950 HUF for three days and is valid for one adult and one child under 14 years. Cards are available at tourist information offices, hotels and at main underground ticket booths. Budapest Tourism Office provides online details of the discounts available at each location. (Hungary Forint - 1 USD = 219.486 HUF)

The Hungarian language belongs to the Finno-Ugric family. Unlike other European languages, the family name precedes the given name. In Budapest many service providers generally speak German and/or English, hotel staff members understand several languages, and so communication isn’t a big problem. It’s a different story however outside the main cities where little English is spoken or understood! If you do need assistance try to locate a young person because many schools in Hungary now teach English.

TOURIST INFORMATION Tourinform Budapest Website: Opening hours: Daily 0800-2000.

MALEV – HUNGARIAN AIRLINES www.malev.huUK tel: 020 7439 0577 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting7439 0577end_of_the_skype_highlighting

Park Hotel Flamenco
Flamenco is a comfortable and very pleasant four star hotel situated in a leafy suburb of Buda. Rooms are spacious and elegantly furnished with views overlooking the nearby park - Feneketlen-tó - which boasts a supposedly bottomless
Check out the Danubius website for a full list of their Hotels and Spas.
Fortuna RestaurantFortuna House is situated in the heart of the Castle. It was built in the 14th century and there is an exclusive restaurant on the first floor with the atmosphere of medieval ages. There is also a Taverna Restaurant with a spirit of the renaissance surrounded by archaic walls of the
Karpatia RestaurantThe restaurant was built at the beginning of the last century on the ground floor of a residential building going back to the 19th century and located in the heart of historic downtown Budapest close to the Pest side of Elizabeth Bridge. Its internal design reflects Hungarian early
Gundel RestaurantThe Gundel is a ‘must visit’ restaurant and the place where the rich and famous from throughout the world visit when in Budapest. The menu is based on traditional Hungarian cuisine as once practiced by Károly Gundel and his staff. They prepare refined versions of Hungarian dishes, revive traditional fares once eaten at the tables of East European aristocracy and offer specialties of the worlds major culinary cultures. www.gundel.huout the following web site for further details of these restaurants and much more useful information about Budapest and Hungary.

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