Budapestians lovingly refer to the “Children’s Railway” as the most pleasant remnant of socialism in Budapest. Its history is deeply rooted in Hungary’s dark-red communist past and the Pioneer Movement (“Úttörőmozgalom”) – an organisation for children operated by communist parties all across the Soviet Bloc.
From the 1950s onwards almost every single child was part of the movement. Its main purposes were to raise all kids according to the communist ideology and bring manual labour closer to them from their early childhood onwards. And although this sounds crazy and tastes a bit like North Korea today, being an “Úttörő” came with all kinds of fun, games, being outside in nature, as well as a sense of teamwork and “belonging” to a group.
The so-called “Pioneer’s Railway” (its former name before the Transition) was built in 1948 with the goal of connecting the Buda hills and bringing the love for rail traffic closer to the “little pioneers”, i.e. giving them a sense of the “virtue of honourable manual labour”. Ever since, the Children’s Railway is regulated by kids between 10 and 14. And although they are not old enough for actually driving the train, they do everything else: Selling and controlling the tickets, dispatching the trains, making announcements and even changing the switches.
So what happened after the Transition? With the railway, not so much. They renamed it from “Pioneer’s Railway” (Úttörővasút) to “Children’s Railway” and changed the colour of the neckerchiefs from dark red to a more politically neutral blue. It’s still kids who do the same tasks at the trains, although they’re not pioneers anymore, but “normal” schoolchildren. The fun-factor stayed the same (it was and is a big thing for the kids to work at the railway) and the dark-red past of the railway recedes more and more into the distance. Although the shiny colour of the vehicle still reminds us with a wink of its original roots.
There are many ways to enjoy the Children’s Railway today. The route is a scenic and beautiful ride through the Buda hills. You can simply get on at “Széchenyi Hill” or Hűvösvölgy” (the two final stops), sit back and just enjoy the 11.2km-long train-route through nature. But it’s also perfect for a whole day full of hiking and panoramas. Here is our suggestion for an amazing day trip in the Buda Hills.
Day Tripping-Route: Ride the Children’s Railway and Hike through the Budda Hills: Approx. 15km
Suggested time: 5-6 hours (half a day)
General tip: Use a free offline map-app like maps.me on your smartphone. Makes it much easier to follow the smaller hiking tracks (which are not shown in Google Maps).
- Take the Zugliget Chairlift up to János Hill. This is another awesome Budapestian vehicle that will take you almost straight to the highest peak of Budapest. The whole ride takes 15 delightful minutes.Note: to get to the Chairlift, you best take bus nr. 22 from Széll Kálmán tér to Labanc út.
- Walk up the short way to Elisabeth Lookout (Erzsébet-kilátó). Now you’re on the top of the city. At 527m, this is the highest point of Budapest. From here you can see everything, including the whole entire Danube Panorama from afar.
- Make your way over to Normafa’s Anna rét, then stuff yourself with the best rétes (strudel) there is in the city (marked in the map below!) and keep enjoying the view over Budapest.
- Now it’s finally time for the Children’s Railway (we bet you’re excited!) – get on at the “Normafa” stop and ride all the way to “Hárshegy”. This is a half-hour ride through the hills, forests and greenery of Buda with an amazing scenery. Absolutely enchanting!Note: Don’t forget to check the time-table of the railway beforehand! You can by your tickets directly on the train from the kids; a single ticket costs 800HUF, as of 2018.
- Once you got off at “Hárshegy”, climb your way up the Kaán Károly-lookout. This is a truly secret and concealed little hideaway – even most Budapestians never make it here. And to be honest – the view is even a tad more romantic and stunning from here than from the Elisabeth-lookout. The extra bonus is that literally no other person will be here except for you. You’ll literally feel like having the whole forest and all the Buda Hills for yourself.Note: The lookout is really easy to find, as there is only one path leading up from the station. When in doubt or at a crossroads, always choose the direction which leads upwards and you’ll be golden. If you’re still unsure, just ask the kids at the station and they will give you instructions. The hike takes around 30 minutes.
- Walk down to Hűvösvölgy (the Budapest-neighbourhood below your feet) from the Kaán Károly lookout and have a bite at Náncsi Néni. This place is your grandma’s cosiest-ever living room and terrace. It serves mouthwatering gulyás directly out of a kettle together with a lot more other homecooked food . You clearly deserve this now!
- Walk to Hűvösvölgy bus- & tram-stop and take tram nr. 61 back to the city. It’s one of the most beautiful tram lines and will make your trip come to its end just perfectly.
Map & POIs for Walking Route through the Budda Hills incl. Children’s Railway ride
To sum the route up: The starting point is right in the middle at the “Zugligeti Libegő” (Zugliget Chairlift). Once you reached János-hegy (top station of the chairlift), you can easily walk to Elisabeth Lookout, Normafa Anna rét and the Normafa Children’s Railway stop (all points are shown in the map below).
We have connected the dots between the suggested two stops of the Children’s Railway (Normafa & Hárshegy). From there, you can reach both the Kaán Károly lookout and afterwards Náncsi Néni Restaurant and the Hűvösvölgy tram stop on foot.
By clicking on the small arrow-symbol in the left top corner of the map, a clickable sidebar with all points of interests (POIs) will appear.
And if you click on the POI’s on the map below, you’ll see their description pop up.
We really hope you’ll enjoy your day trip through the giant mountains of Buda! Do you have any further advice or tips for us and others? Share them in the comments below! Did you like what you just read and do you think it could be useful for your friends, too? Don’t forget to share it!
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