There’s nothing quite like an excursion into the Buda Hills any time of year. Whether the spring flowers are out, the leaves are turning a shade of gold, or even when the snow falls, there’s something magical about going through the Buda Hills, but one of the best ways to enjoy this is by taking the Children’s Railway, a single-gauge railway that runs from Hűvösvölgy to Széchenyi-hegy operated by children under the age of 15.
So, if you’re done with sightseeing downtown with the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, get up into the hills to see Budapest a different way.
How can you install good work ethics into children? Well, that was the idea behind MÁV (Hungarian State Railways) initiative in 1947. The company decided to build a railway that would be operated by children to give them the skills and values needed to become good workers and get them into the whole socialist ideals early on. Initially, they planned to build the railway in several sights, like Gödöllő, Margaret Island, and Népliget, but the Hungarian Communist Party picked the Buda Hills as the location for the initiative.
They began constructing the railway in the spring of 1948, and the first section was from Széchenyi-hegy to Virágvölgy was completed, with the remaining route to Hűvösvölgy opening in 1950.
The idea behind the narrow-gauge railway, which originally got the name Úttörővasút, meaning Pioneer Railway, was to have children learn the skills needed to become good workers. The term “Pioneer” refers to what was pretty much communist scouts. Today, not much has changed in the operation of the train, except the name and the communist ideology once behind it has now been scrapped. Now the Children’s Railway gets the name “MÁV Zrt. Széchenyi-hegy Gyermekvasút”, the Children’s Railway of Széchenyi-hegy.
If you’re anxious about riding a railway run by kids under 15, rest assured, that the drivers and engineers are all adults, and the posts operated by children aged 10 to 14 years old are under adult supervision.
The Children’s Railway runs along an 11.2 kilometer-long single gauge track from the stations of Hűvösvölgy and Széchenyi-hegy, with 6 stops in between. To get the best out of your route, start at one of the end stations and ride all the way to the end.
You can reach Hűvösvölgy with the 61 or 56 trams, which you can grab from transport hubs like Móricz Zsigmond körtér or Széll Kálman tér. The tram ride itself is very scenic as it goes through the lush green villa-clad valleys around Zugliget. Take the tram to the end of the line and follow the signs to the railway. There is even a little museum about the railway’s history you can visit while you wait for the train.
If you come back to Hűvösvölgy then take the steps down to the tram.
For Széchenyi-hegy, the best and most fun way to come up is by taking the cogwheel railway! It’s part of the BKV transport network (it’s labeled as tram 60), so usual tickets and passes are valid, and just take it to the end of the line. The trams 56 and 61 stop right by the final stop, so just change at the stop called Városmajor.
There is a ticket office staffed by children at both ends, and even at some of the stops in between, so buy your ticket here (cash only) and then wait for the train. Single tickets cost 800 HUF end-to-end without a stopover.
But the good news is if you want to explore the stops on the way, you can get a transfer ticket for 1400 HUF which includes a stop-over or a day ticket for families (up to 2 adults and 3 children), which includes unlimited stopovers for the day and costs 4000 HUF.
If you get a ticket that allows for a layover, then there are a few interesting stops you may want to explore and make it a day. The most popular stop is János-hegy, which is where you’ll find the famous Elizabeth Lookout tower and the chairlift. You can get off here, hike up to the lookout, grab a lángos, a deep-fried pastry topped with sour cream and cheese, and then walk back to the train. You could even get on at the next stop like Virágvölgy or even hike along the path to Normafa and get on the train there.
Normafa is another popular stop, as it’s great for picnics and walks, plus you’ll find kiosks here selling strudels and more.
Mad about trains and can’t get enough of Budapest’s retro transport like the Children’s Railway? The fun doesn’t have to stop there! Head out to Újpest to the Hungarian Railway History Park for fun for all the family. It’s located in a former railway station and a workshop of the Hungarian State Railways (MÁV), covering about 70,00 square meters and with over 100 exhibits of railway vehicles and equipment, it can be fun for anyone who is into trains and retro technology.
Other curiosities to check out are the metro museum at Deák Ferenc tér in the underground, which covers the history of the Millennium line. And also the Budapest Transport Museum out in Kőbánya (which shares space with one of the locations of the Hungarian State Opera, too!)
- Do children operate the railway in Budapest?
- The maintenance and the drivers on the Children’s Railway in Budapest are done by adults. The children only take on tasks like selling tickets, making announcements, checking tickets, saluting, signaling and such, all under the supervision of an adult.
- Where is the Children’s Railway in Budapest?
- You’ll find the Children’s Railway in the Buda Hills, running between Hűvösvölgy and Széchenyi-hegy.
- Does the Children’s Railway operate even on school days?
- Yes, only the children who are high performers at school get to take part, and usually only once or twice a month. They are given special permission from the school to work on the railway on a school day, and it’s an honor only given to children who are doing very well in school.