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Introduction to Margaret Island in Budapest
In spring and summer, Budapest’s Margaret Island in Budapest’s 13th District is the spot to be. A massive park filling an entire island in the middle of the Danube, Margaret Island is a great place to party, chill, exercise, stroll, eat, and more.
One of the reasons Margaret Island is so popular is its location. Sitting just north of the Hungarian Parliament building, it’s super easy to reach from Budapest’s city centre. Providing a welcome reprieve from the heat of the city, it’s a great spot for all types of travelers. Families with kids, couples, and backpackers will all find something to like, which is why this island almost always makes it on the lists of the best things to do in Budapest!
Two-and-a-half kilometers long and up to half-a-kilometer wide, there’s plenty of room to explore, and a fair number of activities to keep you busy.
Margaret Island & Its Namesake Princess
Margaret Island is known as Margit-Sziget (sig-et) in Hungarian – sziget means island.
The island’s namesake is St. Margaret, daughter of the 13th-century Arpad dynasty king, King Béla IV. During the Mongol invasions of the time, King Béla prayed for god’s help to survive the attacks. Should he and his kingdom survive, so the story he goes, he would offer his next child to the Church in thanks.
King Béla did survive, as did his kingdom. He returned to Hungary after temporary exile in what is now Croatia, and handed Margaret over to the Church as promised. Born in the 1240s, Margaret (Margit in Hungarian) was sent to live in a Dominican convent on her now eponymous island.
As it turned out, Margaret grew up to be quite the looker. Royal and attractive, Margaret was a serious catch. Despite his promise to god, King Béla was unable to resist a little strategic matchmaking. He twice asked Margaret to marry – first a Polish prince, and then a Bohemian prince – and she twice refused. She instead chose to live as a nun on Margaret Island.
Margaret died when she was 28 years old, and was survived by both her parents. She is buried on Margaret Island at the ruins of the Dominican convent where she spent her life. There’s a small marble plaque marking the spot.
The Best Things to Do on Margaret Island
Depending on how much time you have, you could spend an hour or a day on Margaret Island. Below we’ve listed some of our favorite things to do here – we hope you agree!
Run or Walk Around the Perimeter
When we want to go for a run in Budapest, this is our go-to spot. There’s a narrow 5.8km track that runs the perimeter of Margaret Island. It’s made of soft rubber, making it easier on your knees than running on cement or concrete. And the track is always busy with people of all ages and fitness levels.
The best part about the track is the scenery: you get a front row view of the Danube the entire time!
Make Some Furry Friends at the Mini Petting Zoo
Run by Budapest Zoo as a sort of mini zoo, the Margaret Island petting zoo is great for children and a fun stop for adults. The petting zoo has deer, rabbits, ponies, and quite few different bird species. Many of the birds of prey – owls, buzzards, and more – are rescues. They were previously injured and brought back to health, but can’t be released into the wild. Free to enter.
Catch a Show at the Musical Fountain
If you enter Margaret Island from the south at Margaret Bridge, you’re sure to spot the large fountain at the end of the main entrance road. In the warmer months, the fountain puts on a show at the top of every hour. Jets of water shoot from the fountain, choreographed to popular and classical music. It attracts a fairly large crowd, and kids in particular enjoy the show.
In winter, the fountain does close. From sometime in October until sometime in May, the show does not go on. If you’re unsure it will be open, we recommend checking recent reviews on TripAdvisor.
Near the fountain, you’ll find the Centenary Monument. It marks Budapest’s 100th birthday in 1972: the 100th anniversary of Buda, Pest, and Obuda uniting into one city.
Go to Palatinus Baths
Palatinus Strand is an indoor-outdoor thermal bath, pool and wellness complex suitable for adults and kids.
The complex has nine pools filled with the naturally-occurring spring water under Margaret Island. Named by The Guardian as one of the best outdoor pools in the world, the outdoor section is open in summer. It includes a kids pool, a wave pool, water slides, and more. The indoor section is open year-round, so this is a nice option any time of year.
If you like Bauhaus architecture, you’ll want to check out the building.
Grab a Beer at a Kiosk
In 2017, Budapest undertook a massive renovation and improvement of Margaret Island. Part of this was installing snack kiosks around the island. While they’re not at all fancy, we enjoy grabbing a beer or ice cream at these kiosks when we’re in the park.
Self-Drive or Peddle Around the Island
At the south end of Margaret Island (close to Margaret Bridge), you can rent different vehicles to self-drive or self-peddle your way around. We’ve only ever rented the self-peddle carts known as bringóhintó, which is a fun way to get around. But if you prefer not to exert much effort, you can also get motorized options.
Climb the Water Tower
Margaret Island has a beautiful art nouveau water tower which you’ll see from different points on the island. Built in 1911, it’s 57 meters high, with great views from the top. In the past, the tower was functional, supplying water for the island. These days, the tank has been replaced with an exhibition space.
You can climb the tower in the summer, generally from May to September. There’s no elevator, so you’ll need to be okay with stairs.
Experience History at Margret Island’s Medieval Ruins
The ruins of the Dominican convent where St. Margaret lived and died are still visible on Margaret Island. There’s also a Franciscan church. Both are from the 13th century.
Slightly older – in theory – is the Chapel of St. Michael. Originally from the 12th century, the chapel you see today has been rebuilt. The original was destroyed during Ottoman rule of Hungary, and rebuilt in the 1930s.
Stroll Through Two Lovely Gardens
Margaret Island has a small rose garden and a Japanese garden on the island. Both are nice spots for a walk, or a good destination if you’re exploring by bringóhintó and in need of a goal.
The Rose Garden is a wide open green space. The trees here have been cleared, and there’s a well manicured lawn with lovely flower beds. It’s a peaceful, quiet spot away from the sports and play going on elsewhere.
Ditto to the Japanese Garden – it’s a bit further in, and is lovely for a quiet walk.
Party at the Beach Bars
At the south end of the island, you’ll find Part Budapest terrace bar. In summer, it’s a good spot for chilling Danube-side with a drink.
On the east side of the island, just beyond the musical fountain and the white “Budapest” sign, you’ll find a few restaurants and bars lined up in a row. Champs is usually our choice here – the food is mediocre, the service is terrible, but the location is awesome. For drinks only, Hippy Island is also fine.
How to Get to Margaret Island
The easiest way to get to Margaret Island is on tram #4 or #6. Disembark at the Margrit-Sziget stop, and follow the crowds onto the island.
If you’d prefer, you can also take a bus from Nyugati train station directly into the park. Bus #26 goes all the way to the northern tip of the island and back to Nyugati, making it a convenient way to get around. That said, the bus doesn’t run nearly as often as Tram #4 or #6, so you need to time it right. Check schedules on bkk.hu/en. BKK (the Budapest public transit authority) also has an app.
Tips for Visiting Margaret Island Budapest
Bathrooms on the island aren’t free, so bring some spare change along to pay to pee. Across the Island, the bathrooms typically cost 200 Forints. There are a few “self-serve” standalone toilets, and you can also use the bathrooms attached to the kiosks (although these are seasonal).
If you take Tram #4 or #6 to Margaret Island, don’t miss the gorgeous view of the Hungarian parliament building. At the Margit-Sziget tram stop, there’s a great view from the south side of the bridge. Before you cross the bridge to the island, be sure to stop and admire the view from here!
While Margaret Island is open year round, many activities and businesses are only open from May to September. Double check in advance if you have your heart set on any one activity, and are traveling in off-season.
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