There’s more to Budapest than a Danube Cruise – as great as that is! Try relaxing with a stroll through one of the city’s lovely ‘Hidden Gem’ parks, scattered throughout Budapest like little green diamonds.
Budapest was recently voted the Greenest City in Central Europe, primarily due to the number and size of its parks. Lots of green grass, lots of trees, lots of shady spots for watching the neighborhood dogs romp, lots of sunny areas to read a good book and catch a nice tan – Budapest parks have it all. Everyone knows the bigger parks: Varosliget, Margit Sziget, Nepliget, Millenaris – these are the granddaddies of Budapest green spaces, the ones everyone knows. But there are also so many, wonderful little magical ‘hidden gem parks’ dotting the city, parks with winding paths around colorful flower gardens and benches to relax on under centuries-old trees.
So, for the true city explorer, here are some of the best of Budapest’s hidden parks
The oldest and probably the most beautiful and well-kept small public garden in Budapest, this charming park lies behind the Classicist Károlyi Palace (Károlyi utca 16, off Múzeum körút, district V). It used to be the Károlyi family’s private garden and is now open to the public from dawn till sunset. Due to the several universities nearby, it’s quite a popular place among students; no dogs and no alcohol allowed, however. The Károlyi Palace provides shelter from the traffic and noise of downtown Budapest, which is why the park is an ideal place to relax after a walk in the city center. The two towers of the Egyetem tér Church in the background overlook this tranquil scene.
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This place is a bit off the beaten track, but once you arrive, you will be amazed by the contrast with the ‘outside world.’ In the park you can also find the Hungarian Museum of Natural Sciences, sports facilities, adventure park, a pretty lake, lovely green fields and flower gardens.
Orczy Park was Hungary’s first botanical garden and a place of special cultural importance. The property now belongs to the ELTE University, which sells entrance tickets. Once in the park, you can relax under 150-year old ferns, observe several varieties of orchids, and pick out different kinds of cacti and exotic plants in the palm house. It’s best to take a walk in the garden after visiting the Natural History Museum next door.
There is also a small playground and an adventure park (Orczy Kalandpark) with canopy, climbing and other fun outdoor activities. For the weary stroller, many old trees provide shade in the garden. Behind a small lake there is a memorial to the Hungarian soldiers who died in the 20th Century’s two world wars.
Once you are on the Buda side of the river, it’s a little easier to find a peaceful green corner. Although it’s not technically a ‘hidden gem,’ visit Városmajor and you’ll understand why the locals love this huge public park so much. Enjoy the fresh air, take a stroll with Beethoven and in the summer time make sure not to miss the open air theatre.
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Filozófusok kertje (Garden of Philosophy)
If you decide to climb Gellért Hill, don’t miss this hidden park with fantastic views on the north of the hill. Right above the water reservoir is a beautiful park where Jesus meets Buddha “for better mutual understanding” and where Buda and Pest fall in love. The statues are meant to symbolize different times, cultures and religions from all over the world.
Feneketlen-tó (Bottomless lake)
This sparkling gem is actually an artificial lake, constructed in 1877, and of course it has a bottom. It is popular among locals and the tourist hordes have yet to find it. A perfect romantic, peaceful getaway to feed the ducks.
Japanese Garden (north end of Margit Sziget)
Well, the island itself is not so hidden, but there’s a tiny Japanese garden on the north end of the island that is definitely worth a visit!
This small park and playground is a tribute to Hungarian Olympic champions. It’s located between the Parliament and Margit Bridge on the Pest side of the Danube’s bank. It’s an adventure-themed park and is usually packed with kids having fun on the various structures of the playground. The symbol of the Olympic Games, the five rings painted in the Hungarian tricolor, stands on the side facing the river.
Kopaszi Dam & Park
This little green gem on the Buda side south of Rákóczi bridge in District XI is a perennial family favorite. The 10-hectare riverside park is a fairly recent development that has quickly became popular with locals in district XI and people living a bit further out.
This quiet green venue offers paved walkways, terraced bistros and cafes with wonderful views of Gellért Hill and the tall stacks of the Kelenföld Power Plant. There’s also a playhouse with a pretty good cafe (try their fantastic hot chocolate). Of course, if you don’t want to sit in a restaurant, you can grab a bite and drink at one of the lángos/pancake/chimney cake stalls.
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Joggers and bikers also visit the park, although the trails do get rather crowded at weekends and afternoons.
Mechwart Liget – Buda
District II has another Hidden Gem of a park, at the junction of Margit körút and Keleti Károly utca. It contains a lovely bust of one of Budapest’s most famous engineers, Andras Mechwart, which greets visitors at the entrance. It’s just short walk from Széll Kálmán tér and is easy to find, as the clock behind it plays bell music.
After the refurbishment in 2010 the park is wheelchair-friendly, with large trees that provide shade in the hottest hours. A central fountain is surrounded by a pergola seat, making it an ideal romantic spot for a rendezvous. Two playgrounds provide entertainment for children and there’s also an outdoor fitness park. Lots of flowers add touches of color throughout the green park.
Kiscell Castle Garden & Park
Although this little park is not on everyone’s Must-See List, if you can find the courtyard of the Kiscell Museum-Zichy Castle in Obuda you’ll be rewarded with a nice place to take a rest while exploring Óbuda. In addition, the Kiscell Museum has exhibitions about the city’s history.
Credit for feature image: Charles Netzler.