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, Budapest
The history of Margaret Island is really interesting and unique. It 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.
Shortly afterwards, the Mongols left Hungary and true to his promise, King Béla sent 11 year-old Margaret to the convent – who then went on to become Saint Margaret, still venerated today. Since then, the island has taken her name.
Nowadays, the island is a public park, connected to the city by Margit hid (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 12 cool activities and attractions, to help you plan a day on this wonderful island.
You can also explore the island on these Budapest tours!
- Budapest Daytime Sightseeing Cruise
- Budapest E-Bike Tour with Coffee Stop
- Budapest: Danube River Views Bike Ride
- Budapest 2-Hour Private Guided Segway Tour
- Budapest’s Highlights by Bike with Goulash Meal
Things to Know Before Visiting Margaret Island
Where is Margaret Island?
Margaret Island is in the middle of the Danube River, just north of Budapest city centre.
How Big Is It?
Margitsziget is just under one square kilometer in terms of size. The island is long and narrow – it’s 500 meters wide, and measures 2.5 km in length between Árpád Hid (Arpad Bridge) on the north and Margit Hid (Margaret Bridge) on the south.
You can walk an entire loop around the island in about an hour and a half, or walk from one end to the other in about 45 minutes.
How Do You Reach It?
It’s super easy to get to Margaret Island! You can walk from Pest in about 45 minutes, or take trams number 4 or 6 from Blaha Luiza Ter, and you’ll get there in 20 minutes.
A slower yet scenic way to reach the island is by boat from Pest, following the Danube. You can take public boats D12 and D11, and a ticket is only 750 HUF (about €2).
If you’re coming from Buda, your best bet would be trams number 19 or 41 running along the Danube on the Buda side. Travel time is about 30 mins.
The closest metro station to Margitsziget is Göncz Árpád, about 15 minutes walk from Árpád Bridge.
How Much Does it Cost to Visit?
Nothing! Visiting the island is free. Single attractions and the Palatinus Strand baths do charge entrance fees, as specified below.
What Time Does It Close?
The island doesn’t actually close, but naturally we recommend visiting during the daytime to explore and enjoy all the things to do around Margitsziget!
How is Margaret Island in Winter?
Like most parks around the world, the island is best visited during the spring, summer and early autumn. In winter, the island is very quiet – however, it’s still a great time to visit, especially if it’s covered in snow!
The Palatinus Strand baths are now open year round. In winter, not many people visit, making them a wonderful option if you want to have a Budapest spa experience without the crowds usually found at Gellert or Széchenyi.
Fun Things to do in Margaret Island
1) Ride in a funky vehicle
We already mentioned above that it takes about an hour to walk across Margaret Island. 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 there are plenty of vehicles to hire.
Bicycles are probably the easiest option, and can be hired from many operators at the end of Margit Bridge for just 990 HUF/hour (€2.80).
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.
2) Climb Margaret Island’s water tower
Margaret Island’s beautiful water tower was built in Art Nouveau style in 1911. It provides water for Margaret Island’s bars, 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 the Budapest Summer Festival.
It’s possible to climb the tower, to enjoy a view of Margitsziget, the city and Buda Hills from above – admission is 600 HUF (€1.70). 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 a red squirrel. And then another, and another. There may not be as many as in London’s Hyde Park, but red squirrels are a lot cuter!
4) Go for a dip
If you have visited Budapest, you’ll know that the city is famous for its thermal baths. Margaret Island’s very own baths, Palatinus Strand, 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 a famous wave pool, active once an hour in summer. Honestly, Palatinus is so beautiful, it was named one of the best outdoor swimming pools in the world!
The Palatinus baths have been renovated in 2017. The Bauhaus entrance to the baths was given a much-needed facelift, and the fresco by Pekáry István at the entrance was repainted. So, make sure you don’t head straight to the outdoor section, have a look at this architectural gem first!
Palatinus Strand it the ideal place to relax and have fun at the same time, depending on what you’re after. The baths are open year round, and entrance is 3200 HUF (€9) during the week, 3600 HUF (€10.20) at the weekend.
5) Visit the Rose Gardens
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.
6) And the Japanese Garden!
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. The Rose and Japanese garden are very different places, but both of them are well worth a visit!
7) Visit the ruins of a Franciscan Monastery
If you want to step back in Margaret Island’s history, you can take a walk through the ruins of its past.
Just down the road from the Palatinus baths, you’ll find the ruins of a Franciscan church, of which not much remains besides some walls.
The monastery was built in the 13th century, and destroyed by the Ottomans three centuries later.
8) Get Lost in the Ruins of a Dominican Convent
Further north there are the ruins of the Dominican nunnery founded by King Béla, where Margaret was sent to live. It once used to house a boarding school, but it was abandoned in the 16th century after the Ottoman invasion.
The ruins of the Franciscan Monastery aren’t much, but the Dominican convent offers more to see and explore. You can see the reconstructed well house, and the St Michael chapel, where you’ll find the oldest bell in Hungary.
If you want to take a relaxing walk in nature, you can follow the Promenade of Hungarian Artists (Művészsétány), a path lined with statues of famous Hungarian poets, writers and painters.
9) See the Musical Fountain
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 five times a day, at 10.30 am, and 5, 6, 7, and 9 pm.
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 9 pm.
10) Stay in a Fancy Spa Hotel
Did you know you can also sleep on Margaret Island? There are three hotels on the island itself, and the nicest option of the three is definitely Hotel Ensana Thermal Margaret Island (formerly known as Danubius Health Spa Resort).
This is definitely the best health and wellness hotel in Budapest, boasting its own spa and baths with low-sulphur, hydrogen carbonate medicinal water. It’s surrounded by nature, and you’ll be forgetting you’re actually in a European capital!
The hotel is ideal both to combine your stay with medical spa treatments, and just to relax in stunning surroundings – besides the amazing spa, you can enjoy a range of beauty treatments and sport activities. And if you want a night in the famous ruin bars, Pest is just a train ride away!
11) Eat at Hippie Island
With so many fun things to do and tourist attractions, you may be wondering where to eat at Margaret Island! There are a few places to choose from, including langos stalls and the fancy Széchenyi Restaurant at the Thermal Margaret Island Hotel.
Our favourite place to eat, especially on a nice summer evening, is Hippie Island. It’s a recently opened open air pub and cafe with plenty of seats on various terraces and an eclectic menu including pizza, sandwiches, risotto, and Hungarian favourites.
12) Spend the Night at Zippp
After a meal or sunset drink at Hippie Island, you can head to Zippp, an open-air beach club open from Wednesday to Saturday in summer, with music until 5 am.
There are two different dance floors, with music ranging from hip hop to electronic and rock, with local bands often performing. Zippp is spacious and never gets crowded, so it’s the perfect solution if you want to experience Budapest nightlife away from sweaty downtown clubs!
Our Budapest visit was kindly assisted by the Hungarian National Tourism Office, that provided us with a Budapest Card.