Running on a narrow gauge track, the Budapest Children’s Railway provides a scenic 11 km ride through the wooded scenery of the Buda Hills at the back of Budapest. Although very close to the city, it takes you into open countryside and makes a pleasant excursion for families and people of all ages. But what is the Childrens Railway and how did it come into being?
What is the Budapest Children’s Railway?
The Children’s Railway in Budapest is a curious relic from the Soviet era – a railway staffed by children and teenagers as a way of equipping them for a future career on the railways. At one time there were over 50 such railways in Russia, and many more across the eastern bloc. Many are still in use today, including two in Hungary (Budapest and Pecs).
Today the railway is staffed by children from the age of 10. Although the drivers are adults, all other jobs are done by the students: checking and issuing tickets, operating signals, making announcements and giving information to passengers. They each work approximately one day per fortnight, rotating the tasks, so that they can fit their duties around attendance at school. As you watch the young people working on the Railway, dressed in immaculate uniforms, and saluting smartly as the trains pass, it is obvious they are very proud of their responsibilities.
Through the Buda Hills
The Children’s Railway starts at Széchenyi-hegi and from here it is a 40 minute ride through the Buda Hills to Hüvösvölgy, with several stops along the way where you can get off and follow waymarked paths through the woods. If you alight at János-hegy, you can walk up to the Erzsébet lookout tower, the highest point in Budapest.
The adventure playground at Csillebérc is designed for both children and adults. It includes a selection of treetop walkways and wireslides for all ages and abilities. There are also playgrounds at some of the other stations. You may also like to visit the Museum of the Railway’s History at Hüvösvölgy Station.
Exploring the Woods
The Buda Hills form an arc around the city, on the Buda side of the River Danube. Although very close to the city, they provide an opportunity to escape into the countryside and are popular with walkers and mountain bikers. They are also a place for skiing in the winter.
Note that the area can become quite crowded at weekends, so you may prefer to visit during the week and enjoy the relative solitude. On hot days, you will also welcome the shade and the breeze at the top of the hills.
When walking through the woods, the occasional clearing offers spectacular views over Budapest. You may also be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the wild boar that still roam this area. If you visit during mushroom season, the woods provide rich pickings and, when you return to the city, you can take your haul to one of the specially designated stalls in the city markets to make sure that you have not picked any poisonous specimens!
Travelling on the Budapest Children’s Railway
You can get to the Railway via the Cogwheel Railway, a steep hillside route which is an interesting experience in itself. The Cogwheel Railway starts on Szilágyi Erzsébet fasor, which is a ten minute walk, or a short tram ride, from Széll Kálman tér metro station. This takes you to Széchenyi-hegi, which is a hundred yards or so from the start of the Children’s Railway. Hüvösvölgy (the other end of the line) can be reached by a tram from Széll Kálman tér. An alternative, if you do not want to do the full return trip on the Children’s Railway, is to return to Budapest via the chairlift close to the Erzsébet lookout.
Trains run approximately once an hour, every day from May to August, and Tuesday to Sunday the rest of the year. Note that, because the Railway is staffed by children, they ask for payment by cash in local currency (the current single adult fare is HUF600). Unless you are travelling on a family ticket, you will need extra tickets if you break your journey at intermediate stations.
Cafés and snack bars are available along the route and at both ends of the route.