Budapest offers itself up as a feast for the eyes—glorious architecture, vibrant street art, and the Danube. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and it can get overwhelming. When you’re feeling overloaded, take this delightful adventure into the Buda Hills. You’ll ride a nineteenth century cogwheel railway, take the Children’s Railway into the woods, enjoy a homemade lunch from a rustic café, have a lovely walk through the woods, and ride a chairlift with sweeping vistas of Budapest back down from the hills. You’ll head back into the city refreshed and with tales to tell your friends, all for the price of about $5USD (not including public transit pass and lunch).

You HAVE to go on the Children’s Railway!

“You HAVE to go on the Children’s Railway!” my friend exclaimed when I told her I was going to Budapest. “You’ve seen Travel Man, right?”

I hadn’t. “Richard Ayoade!” she exclaimed, and I knew that I had to check it out. That guy’s hilarious.

He’s also, it turns out, a terrible traveler. It’s kind of the whole thing, the reluctant, sardonic Brit out and about in the world. In the Budapest episode, he traveled with Aisling Bea, and among other adventures (Ayoade at the Szechenyi Baths is particularly amusing), they took the Children’s Railway (you can watch a brief clip of their adventure on the show’s YouTube channel). It’s clear how strange they find the experience.

Tip

Check out travel shows as part of using your Wanderlust List to plan your trip

The Children’s Railway is adorably disturbing

The Children’s Railway is odd. It’s an entire railway in the forest run by children. They run the trains, call the stations, charge the fares, and salute as the trains pass. They wear old-fashioned conductor uniforms and perform their duties in all seriousness.

It is absolutely adorable, and not a little bit disturbing.

Built in the late 1940s by the Communist Youth Brigade, the Children’s Railway (Hűvösvölgy) retains a Soviet whiff. People ride it for the spectacle (and the lovely views from the Buda hills). I had to check it out.

Vacation Photos
Boys working on the Children's Railway. This is one strange little attraction, a holdover from the Communist days. Budapest, Hungary

You don’t need to plan ahead to take the Children’s Railway

After a few days of running around bustling Budapest, taking in all the majestic architecture, a little jaunt in the forest on a sunny day sounded refreshing. I decided over morning coffee that I would take the Children’s Railway that day ahead of a traditional Hungarian meal through EatWith. Perfect. A nice thing about solo travel, I can keep my plans loose and do what I want when it makes sense for me.

The Cogwheel Railway, a chairlift, and lunch as well

The Children’s Railway would be the highlight of the day, but I’d also take the Budapest Cogwheel Railway and a chairlift to get around the Buda hills. According to my guidebook, there was a lunch spot along the route. I wasn’t exactly sure how to get to everything, but I’d figure it out as I went.

 

Tip

Budapest has outstanding public transportation, with fare machines that accept credit cards. The trams are a great way to see the city, and the subway and bus network are reliable, modern, and fast

Getting to the Cogwheel Railway from Pest

I picked up the 4 Tram outside my apartment, which took me across the Danube from Pest to Buda, around 11. I then picked up a bus from Széll Kálmán tér, a busy transfer stop, to Városmajor. From there, I walked over to the Budapest Cogwheel Railway, the first leg of the journey. On the way, I stopped to snap a photo of a crime against buildings. Budapest boasts glorious architecture, but it also has some boobie prizes.

Gallery: The Budapest Cogwheel Railway

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The Budapest Cogwheel Railway

The Budapest Cogwheel Railway (Fogaskerekű) is a late 19th century cog railway that still functions as part of the Budapest public transit system—meaning that it didn’t cost any extra to ride it with my pass. The train runs every ten minutes, and I saw one leave as I walked up to the station. The station itself is run down and overgrown, but a few people had gathered waiting for the train.

It’s a short, but scenic, ride on the Cogwheel Railway up to Szechenyi-hegy (hegy means “hill” in Hungarian). The train had nice rhythm to it. I didn’t get the ideal seat in the back, but I still enjoyed the ride.

I met some fellow travelers

In trying to figure out what to do, and Google Maps wasn’t a ton of help, I met three women from Tampa, Florida, who had done a little more research and had their guidebook with them. I hadn’t really talked to anyone in a few days, so I said hello asked them if they knew how to get to the stop. Two appeared to be in their sixties, the other one in her fifties.

“Yes,” the one in her fifties said. “Where are you from?” she asked, smiling.

“Boston,” I said, walking over to them.

“We’re from Tampa,” she replied, pointing at her friends. They were old friends on a trip to cities along the Danube. “Were you thinking about doing the chairlift down? Why don’t you join us?”

As that was my plan, I said, “Why not?” I said, happy to have some conversation. While I love not having to talk while traveling solo in countries where I don’t speak the language, sometimes it just feels good to talk.

Budapest Children's Railway
Look at that kid's adorable glasses!

The Children’s Railway station

When we got to the top of the hill on the Cogwheel Railway, we first went in the wrong direction, but quickly found the Children’s Railway station. We went inside, and oh my goodness. So cute. This adorable little boy in glasses and a tie sat behind the information window.

I was consulting Google Translate for my saved “May I have one ticket, please,” but I didn’t need it, because he had let one of my travel companions know when to expect the next train and that we should wait on the platform.

All aboard the Children’s Railway!

Outside, there were a few other passengers waiting for the train, which pulled up to the station. Children, dressed in conductor uniforms motioned for us to get on the train, after one of them called the station.

The passengers cooed a bit, including us. The cheerful red, white, and blue Children’s Railway train, the children, it was just all too cute. Once we were seated, the train started moving, and the boy in the ticket window, along with some other children, saluted us from inside the station.

We rode further into the woods, the trees still green on a late September day. As there weren’t a lot of passengers, my companions and I spread out a bit so that we’d get a good view.

Gallery: All aboard the Children’s Railway!

Click on an image to view the galllery.

Fares collected, and I goofed

And then our conductor came to have us purchase our tickets. Our plan was to ride the Children’s Railway  to Szépjuhaszné and have lunch and then ride back a stop and walk to the chairlift, so I thought that a return ticket would do the trick.

A very smartly dressed young man in a cap asked me what kind of ticket I was buying, and I garbled out my Hungarian request for a return ticket. Smiling, he quoted me the fare in English, $1,400 HUF (about $4.50). And this was when I realized that I had gone to the ATM that morning and that I had not yet changed my bills. I got out my smallest bill and smiled weakly.

His eyes widened. “One moment,” he said, and he went to try and get change.

Oh no. I looked sheepishly at my companions. “Do you have any change? I totally forgot that I didn’t have any.”

Alas, they did not. “Oh dear. I am torturing a child.”

The conductor came back. He had change for the bill, and he was so sweet about it. “Köszönöm,” (thanks), I gushed. “Sajnálom” (I’m sorry). He smiled and told me that it was fine.

Tip

It's cash only on the Children's Railway. Don't be like me: break large bills before you get on board!

Chatting with the conductor on the Children’s Railway

The conductor had finished collecting his fares, so my companions and I chatted with him for a bit (in English). He told us that his name was Patrick and that he got school credit for his work on the Children’s Railway. He liked being able to duck school for his railroad days.

“Your English is excellent,” one of my companions said. It was.  He must have been learning something in school. We watched the scenery, and he told us a little bit about the railway, that it had been built by the Communists but that they had kept it going, because it because it was a good learning experience for the children and tourists loved it.

“It’s true,” I said. We did.

Chatting with my companions

Patrick went to check on the other passengers, and we got to chatting a bit. The trip had been the grumpy one’s idea. She’d traveled a lot, mostly tours and cruises. The one who befriended me asked me about my trip, and I said that I’d wanted to travel more in Eastern Europe and that I’d talked to a friend about Budapest vs. Prague, and she’d recommended Budapest. I’d done some additional research and decided on Budapest.

Different traveling styles

We’d all arrived on the same day; they’d come from Prague, which was fabulous, they said. I asked them what they’d been doing since they had arrived. They’d ridden the trams, visited Parliament, and spent a lot of time in the tourist area near the Ferris wheel.

“What have you been doing, Boston?” That was what the woman who’d befriended me called me. I liked it.

“Oh, the first night I was here, I rode the Ferris wheel and then got down to the river just as the lights came on. I didn’t know that happened. It was so beautiful, I almost cried. After wandering around a bit, I got a beer by the Chain bridge. Have you checked that out? It’s so cool. It’s just a bunch of chairs along the riverbank, and you can get a beer or bring something yourself and hang out. I went back again.”

They hadn’t been, but one of them looked interested.

Gallery: Lunch Stop

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Lunch at Szépjuhászné Bufe

We got off at Szépjuhászné stop to have lunch at the Szépjuhászné Bufe,  a rustic restaurant that serves simple, homemade old-fashioned food you order from a window. One companion just stated “English” to the waitperson, who did not speak it. Visibly annoyed, she just pointed to a picture of pasta and handed over some cash. Using Google Translate, I translated the menu for the other two, and we fumbled through the process in Hungarian. I ordered tasty chicken dish and a vegetable soup.

The restaurant doesn’t just serve tourists. A number of workers, some from a nearby greenhouse, were buying lunch. It’s a bit of a mix of tourism and nostalgic authenticity.

It was a bit chilly to eat outside at the picnic tables, so we joined other diners in the cafeteria-style indoor seating area. The Bufe has memorabilia from the Soviet era, showing the heyday of the Children’s Railway. A recent poster from children who’d visited the restaurant adorned the walls. We chatted about the food we’d eaten around Budapest and about the delightful strangeness of the Children’s Railway.

Tip

Google Translate has an option make a language available for offline use and can translate from photos. You can use it to “speak” and “listen” to replies for you when you’re really stuck

Back on the Children’s Railway

After lunch and a bit of an adventure finding the bathroom (we had better luck asking in Hungarian and thanking the old woman who pointed it out to us than the “English, English” approach taken by the one companion), we got back on the Children’s Railway for one stop. The children working at the station saluted us as we left. So cute, and so very strange.

I snapped a few more photos of the adorableness, and chatted with my companions as we looked out the window. Patrick once again took our tickets, and I was most relieved not to have to send him scrambling for change again. We had a good laugh as I handed him my ticket.

Gallery: Back on the Children’s Railway

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A stroll through the forest

We got off at Jánós Hegy to walk through the forest to a chairlift. Had I been feeling more energetic, I might have climbed up to the Erzsébet lookout tower, which sounded like an adventure. However, the evening before, I’d hiked up Gellért-Hegy, a steep hill along the Danube, and I’d had enough hiking for a couple of days. I left it up to my companions that they could keep going if they wanted, but they decided to skip it, too.

Gallery: The Zugliget Chairlift

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Zugliget Chairlift

Instead, we had a pleasant walk that got only a little bit steep toward the end to the Zugliget Chairlift. We had a coffee in from the café, as our lunch had us feeling a little sleepy. I noticed some Lays Potato Chips with the flavor “Strong” that gave me a giggle. I was full, or I might have given them a try.

We then purchased tickets for the old-fashioned chairlift from the machines (single ticket 200 HUF/about .65 USD), and then headed out to the top. Staff helped us into the chairs, and then we dangled over the hill, looking down from the hills to Budapest. I went down with the woman I’d hit it off with, and we kicked our feet a bit. I wish that I could have taken photos, but I feared losing my phone somewhere on the hillside!

Tip

This chairlift is an old-fashioned ski lift. It’s a load of fun, but make sure that your belongings are secure!

Heading back into town

At the bottom of the chairlift, we walked through a fun little campground called Zugliget Niche Camping, a popular spot (it does appear to be undergoing renovations now). Two old trolley cars mark the gate. From there, we walked a short distance to the bus stop. On the way to the bus, we met up with some people who’d taken the Children’s Railway with us who’d hiked up to the watchtower while we were having lunch.

We then took the 291 suburban bus back into town (about 25 minutes). We got off at Margit híd (híd means “bridge” in Hungarian) around 3:30. My companions were off to the park. I bid them farewell there, saying that I needed to get ready for my dinner. That was true, but I was also ready to return to my solo adventure. They walked to the park, and I walked across the bridge, refreshed and excited for my dinner.

Have you been on the Children’s Railway?

See below for details on how to plan your trip on the Children’s Railway! Have you been on this adventure? Let me know in the comments!

Take this delightful journey into the Buda Hills: what you need to know

  • To start the journey, take public transport to Városmajor and then walk over to the Budapest Cogwheel Railway.
  • Return via the bus. This will depend on when you take your trip—a weekday trip will have you picking up the bus at a stop 2-3 minutes from the end of the chairlift. Consult Google Maps.
  • The journey described includes a moderate walk along well-groomed trails in the Buda hills and an old-fashioned ski chairlift ride.
  • Allow at least a half-day for the journey, best taken during daylight hours
  • This adventure is a bargain: Not counting lunch and public transit, you’ll pay about $5 USD for the trip.
Budapest Cogwheel Railway

Budapest Cogwheel Railway

This is known as Tram 60 and is part of the Budapest public transit system. If you have a transit pass, it will be good on the Cogwheel Railway. For more information, check the website.

Budapest Children's Railway

Budapest Cogwheel Railway

A delightful and odd relic of the Communist era, the Children’s Railway is run by children. Highly recommended for an afternoon respite on a nice day.

The Children’s Railway runs 11km  through the Buda Hills from Széchenyi-hegy near the end of the Cogwheel Railway to the Hűvösvölgy bus terminal in the suburbs (and in reverse). A one-way trip takes approximately 40 minutes, and riders can get off at several stops along the way. For the adventure above, I got off at the Szépjuhászné stop to have lunch and then the János-hegy stop to walk to the Zugliget Chairlift.

In the summer, there are “nostalgic” train engines, and there is a moderate surcharge for these trains. See the website for details.

Cost for a return ticket:  1,400 HUF (about $4.50 USD as of this writing). CASH ONLY! Bring small bills.

Szépjuhászné Bufe

Lunch spot: Szépjuhászné Bufe

This is a simple, rustic restaurant where you order at a window and then take your lunch either to the picnic tables outside or in the cafeteria style indoor dining area. Don’t expect anything fancy, but the food is homemade and tasty. Prices are along the lines of other cafés in Budapest. See website for details.

Zugliget Chairlift

Zugliget Chair Lift

Old-fashioned ski chairlift that gives you a great view of Budapest. It takes about 15 minutes to get down the hill, and it’s a total bargain. See website for details.

Single ticket: 200 HUF (about .65 USD)