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Danube escape: Budapest's Margaret Island

Floating regally in the middle of the Danube separating Buda from Pest, Margaret Island, or Margitsziget, is...

Posted: Dec 13, 2018 1:10 PM
Updated: Dec 13, 2018 1:10 PM

Floating regally in the middle of the Danube separating Buda from Pest, Margaret Island, or Margitsziget, is one of the jewels in Budapest's crown.

Sandwiched between Margaret Bridge and Árpád Bridge, this beautiful two-and-a-half-kilometer long and 500-meter wide island serves as a tranquil retreat within the city for both travelers and locals.

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Although it's largely covered by landscaped parks, the island also boasts open-air swimming pools, luxury hotels and a wildlife park, and is a worthy addition to any Budapest must-do list.

Providing a whole host of activities during the summer and winter months, it's a stunning sight to behold at any time of year.

Here's a list of the top 10 things to do on Margaret Island.

Go for a ride

The easiest and most exciting way to navigate your way around Margaret Island is by hiring one of the bikes, bringo carts, golf buggies, electric scooters or Segways available for rent.

Visitors can effortlessly weave their way in and out of the many pathways linking the parks to the bars, cafes and restaurants, while taking in spectacular views of the River Danube, catching the sunset over the Buda Hills or marveling at the Pest skyline.

The added benefit of exploring the island on wheels is that it saves time, leaving you with plenty of opportunity to take in the rest of Budapest during your visit.

Go Mobility Margitsziget; +36 30 215 5152 / +36 20 353 1937

Relax at spas and thermal baths

Known as the "Spa island of Budapest," not only does Margaret Island offer up thermal pools, but water slides, wave machines and adventure areas, too.

Palatinus Baths was the first public swimming area to allow outside bathing in Hungary, offering 11 different pools for both locals and tourists all year round.

Renowned for its thermal baths and mineral waters, taken from the natural springs on the island, and its giant water slides and wave pool, which provide endless hours of fun for the children.

A wellness center boasting a Finnish sauna, steam chamber and a geothermal sauna was added in 2017.

The island is also home to the Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget, which sources water from three natural springs for its indoor and outdoor swimming pools, hydrotherapy bath, sauna, steam and aroma baths.

Palatinus Baths, Budapest, Soó Rezső stny. 1, 1003 Hungary; +36 1 236 0040

Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget, Budapest, 1007 Hungary; +36 1 889 4700

Watch the Musical Fountain

Rebuilt and enlarged in 2013, the Musical Fountain entertains visitors with spectacular shows day and night.

Spraying water in sync with music from the likes of Brahms, Bocelli, Simon and Garfunkel and Vivaldi, it's often dubbed as Hungary's version of the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas.

While there are five shows a day, the attraction is especially spectacular at night when the fountain is illuminated by colored lights.

Performance times: 10.30 a.m., 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7.30 p.m. and 9 p.m. (Check latest timings as schedule can change). Admission is free.

Catch an open-air show

During the summer months, various outdoor concerts, plays and shows take place in the center of the island.

Launched 80 years ago, the Margaret Island Open-Air Stage hosts opera shows, theater performances and musical renditions each year.

With shows like the "The Marriage of Figaro" and modern day classics on the itinerary, catching a show here is a must when visiting Margaret Island from June to September.

Margaret Island Open-Air Stage, Budapest, Zielinski Szilárd stny., 1138 Hungary; +36 1 375 5922

Check out the bars and cafes

There are a whole host of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants on Margaret Island, offering a wide selection of local and international delicacies.

The Szechenyi Restaurant positioned at the Danubius Grand Hotel serves up some of the finest examples of traditional Hungarian food in Budapest.

Meanwhile, the Hippie Island bar offers great local drink options, including pálinka and Hungarian wines and the Champs Sziget café provides visitors with an array of fast foods, soft drinks and beer.

There are also plenty of drink and food stalls dotted around the island, selling cotton candy, ice cream and Hungarian sweets.

Some venues are more sedate than others, but a handful turn into mini discos at night.

Visit the pet zoo

Margaret Island was called Insula Leporum or "the island of rabbits" in medieval times, and a whole range of animals can still be spotted here.

Often referred to as the pet zoo or deer park, the local wildlife park boasts a variety including ducks, rabbits, deer, owls and birds of prey, all housed in discreet pens that can be easily navigated in an hour or less.

It's also a popular spot for locals to walk their dogs, so be prepared to see a mix of exciting dog breeds, including the Hungarian Vizsla. Admission is free.

Explore the Rose and Japanese Gardens

Although the island is made up of beautifully landscaped park areas, the Rose Garden and Japanese Garden are particular stand outs.

The Rose Garden is situated in the center, near the Palatinus Baths, while the Japanese Gardens, which includes a fish pond, dwarf trees, rock garden and an artificial waterfall, is near the northern tip of the island.

The best time to visit is in the height of spring, when the flowers are in full bloom, but they are open all year round.

Walk through ruins

A number of religious buildings that took pride of place on Margaret Island from the 1200s were destroyed during the Ottoman rule in the 16th century.

The ruins of some are still on display, with the Franciscan Priory one of the more prominent, along with a Dominican nunnery named after St. Margaret and a chapel of St. Michael that holds the oldest bell in Hungary.

Visitors can walk upon the ruins using specially constructed walkways while taking in the history and ambience of the island.

See the Water Tower lookout and Visual Art Gallery

Still functioning today, the Margaret Island Water Tower can be seen from most parts of the island.

The 107-year-old building is located next to the open-air stage and holds an exhibition hall as well as an observation deck.

Once you reach the top, a spectacular 360-degree view of Budapest is visible from the lookout tower, open between June to October each year.

Located inside the tower, the Visual Art Gallery houses theater and urban history exhibitions, while the courtyard hosts jazz concerts each weekend.

Margaret Island Water Tower, Budapest, 1138 Hungary; +36 (1) 340 4196

Run around the track

The Margaret Island running track is one of the most popular parts of the island.

Circling the entire island on the outside edge, this recently renovated sports track showcases fantastic views of the city to joggers.

The Nike Running Club at Margaret Island Athletic Center offers team and structured running clubs, or you can take to the track at your own pace.

There's also an outdoor fitness park available for street workouts and a canoe and kayak club for those who wish to take to the water.

Finally, the famous Alfréd Hajós Swimming Pool, named after Hungary's first Olympic medalist, can be found in the center of the island.

How to get there:

Reaching Margaret Island can turn into a long walk from Budapest city center, so the best way to arrive is probably by taking the 4 or 6 tram and getting off at the Margaret Bridge stop.

Visitors can then enter via a walkway leading down to the Musical Fountain and either walk their way around, hire some wheels or take the number 26 bus.

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