On our quest to discover urban nature around Europe, we’ve taken a trip to Budapest and visited the city’s very own Central Park, Margaret Island.

A quick history of Margaret Island

London has Hyde Park, NYC has Central park, Paris has Jardin du Luxembourg. Budapest’s green oasis is Margaret Island or Margitsziget, an island in the river Danube that runs through the city.

Margaret Island used to be called Rabbit Island in the middle ages, and it was a royal hunting reserve. Following the Mongol invasion, the Hungarian King Béla founded a nunnery on the island, and vowed to send his daughter Margaret to it if he was able to retake the country from the Mongol invaders.

Margaret Island song

Buskers playing in Budapest Metro, near the exit to Margaret Island

Shortly afterwards, the Mongols left Hungary and true to his promise, King Béla sent 11 year-old Margaret to the convent. Since then, the island has taken her name.

Nowadays, the island is a public park, connected to the city by Margaret Bridge. It’s a popular place for Budapest locals to spend an afternoon, relaxing, doing sports or simply walking around. Here we share with you seven cool activities to do on the island, to help you plan a day on this wonderful island.

1) Ride in a funky vehicle

Margaret Island car

Ride in a golf cart…

The island is 2.5 km long and 500 m wide. if you’re travelling with kids or elderly parents, touring it on foot is probably not an option. But fear not, bus number 26 runs the length of the island, and on the island itself there are plenty of vehicles to hire.

Bicycles are probably the easiest option, and can be hired from many operators at the end of Margaret Bridge. If you’re after something a little more unusual, you can also rent cyclo-pousses/bringo carts, golf carts, electric scooters and even funny egg-shaped cars.

Margaret Island egg car

…or in an egg-car?

2) Climb Margaret Island’s water tower

Margaret Island Budapest Water Tower

The water tower

Margaret Island’s beautiful water tower was built in Art Nouveau style in 1911. It provides water for Margaret Island’s residents, restaurants and hotels. In 2012 it was open for visitors, and since then it has been used as a venue for art and photography exhibitions, as well as being the location for Budapest Summer Festival.

It’s possible to climb the island, to enjoy a view of Margaret island, the city and Buda Hills from above. When we visited it had just closed for the day; reason enough to go back!

3) Go squirrel spotting

My favourite activity around Margaret Island was walking around, enjoying the shade and tranquillity of a late summer afternoon. It’s the perfect place to spend a day relaxing with a book, so close yet so far away from the busy city centre. While I was sitting on a bench, I spotted this little guy. And then another, and another. There may not be as many as in London’s Hyde Park, but Margaret Island’s red squirrels are a lot cuter!

4) Go for a dip

Margaret Island Palatinus bath

Palatinus Baths – Credits: Budapest Card

If you have visited Budapest, you’ll know that the city is famous for its thermal baths. Margaret Island’s very own baths, Palatinus, have a lot more to offer than your standard, stuffy thermal baths. Not only are there thermal pools, there are also adventure pools, water slides and wave pools, making it the ideal place to relax and have fun at the same time.

5) Visit the Rose and Japanese Gardens

Margaret Island Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens – Credits: Budapest Events Guide

Just opposite Palatinus you’ll find the stunning Rose Garden, a wonderful place to visit especially in late spring, when the flowers are in full bloom. On the northern tip of the island there’s a Japanese garden, with a fish pond, a rock garden, dwarf trees and an artificial waterfall. Two very different places, both of them well worth a visit.

6) Visit Margaret Island’s ruins

Margaret Island ruins

The Franciscan ruins on the island – Credits: Petr Smerkl, Wikipedia

If you want to step back in Margaret Island’s history, you can take a walk through the ruins of its past. Not far from Palatinus you’ll find the ruins of a Franciscan church, of which not much remains besides some walls.

Further north there are the ruins of the Dominican nunnery, the one founded by King Béla where Margaret was sent to live.

7) See the Musical Fountain

Margaret Island fountain

Margaret Island’s musical fountain – Credits: traveladventures.org

The Musical Fountain is located near the southern end of the island. It was renovated in 2013 and it’s beautifully illuminated at night. Music is played four times a day, at 10.30 am, 5, 6, 7 and 9pm. A variety of pieces are played, from Brahms to Bocelli, from Simon and Garfunkel to Vivaldi. If you want to hear the whole repertoire, head there at 6 or 9pm.

Our Budapest visit was kindly assisted by the Hungarian National Tourism Office, that provided us with a Budapest Card.

23 Responses

  1. Meg Jerrard

    I love, love, love Budapest! Though I can’t remember visiting Margaret Island – will have to go back through my photos and check because it sounds amazing. Ruins, Japanese Gardens, Pools and Squirrels – what more could you want?!

    • Liz

      It looks great and in all my times of going to Budapest I can’t believe I’ve never been! I’ve been to Sziget festival on Obuda island though.

      Next time…

  2. Angie @ReasonstoDress

    Now that I’m here in Europe I feel like I have a big responsibility to see all of the city Centres and Capitals. however, this last year I’ve become so tired of the city and have really started to long for nature.

    I love that you are on a quest to discover the urban nature around Europe! If it wasn’t for your blog I would have never known about these gardens in Budapest.

    They look beautiful, especially the public thermal baths with water slides!

  3. Anda @ Travel Notes & Beyond

    Isn’t Margaret Island a gorgeous place to visit? We have an apartment in Budapest just a few steps away from it and we enjoy visiting the attractions on the island every chance we have. Beautiful description of each one of them, Margherita.

  4. antonette - we12travel

    Sounds like a great place to hang out for a while. We’ve never made it to Budapest but ever since my mother came back from there last summer we’d love to. She told us that she liked Budapest better than Vienna and Prague (two cities she visited on the same trip) so she kind of convinced us …

  5. Samantha

    This looks like a fun place to visit! I love how you included squirrel watching, it’s not an activity I expected but those little guys certainly are cute. I’ve actually never driven a golf carts and those look really fun!

  6. Beverly Burmeier

    I’m putting Margaret Island on my list for a visit to Prague next summer.

    • Margherita

      Hey Beverly! You should, but this is Budapest, not Prague! Thanks for your comment though!

  7. Jenna

    I love those little vehicles!! The park looks really great–especially the Rose and Japanese Gardens. I would love to head there and explore!

  8. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    My hubby has been to Budapest tons of times on business, but I have yet to visit. The kids and I need to accompany him and visit Margaret Island. We like exploring urban parks, too, and this one looks like so much fun. We’d definitely be riding an egg-car, and I’d hang out in the thermal springs while the youngsters hit the adventure pool and water slides. I kind of feel sorry for Margeret. I’m wondering what she thought of being sent off to a nunnery.

  9. Lauren

    I’ve never heard of this place before, but it looks so cool! I’d love to ride around in one of those funky vehicles, lol. And Japanese Gardens are ALWAYS on my list, I love visiting them and they’re always on my list in cities that I visit!

  10. Dave Cole

    I’ve missed spending time on Margaret Island when in Budapest in the past, but will certainly be visiting it the next time. I had no idea there was so much to do there and it looks like it would be perfect for a morning run, as 5 km would be about all I could handle after some drinks the night before at a ruin pub.

  11. Anne Reilly

    Heading to Budapest in a week and I’m really excited about Margaret Island.

  12. Chris Boothman

    Such a diverse range of things to do here!! Can imagine it would be really relaxing to wander around the Rose/Japanese botanical gardens and then take a dip in the Palatinus Baths! But my favorite would be exploring those ruins.

    I love how major cities have these areas of green space that allow visitors and locals the opportunity to just get away for a while from the hustle and bustle of city life. I love Central and Hyde Parks so this definitely looks like a spot worth exploring when in Budapest!

  13. Christina

    Relaxing, sports, or seeing the sights.. Good tips for a great time.

  14. Michael

    Hi, These tips above is very very useful for me when I have a plan to travel to this island. Thank you your post!

  15. Jennifer.c

    Budapest has always been one of the places that I hoped to visit one day. You offered some really great suggestions for places to visit! I can’t wait to see it all for myself.