- 9 Jun 2023 5:20 PM
Known as Gyermekvasút in Hungarian, this is one of the few hangovers from the Communist era that locals revere. Scenic and family-friendly, this retro wonder is both a day trip and a journey back in time.
What is the Children's Railway?
The Children’s Railway stretches for nearly 12 kilometres through the pretty Buda hills, providing panoramic views of Budapest’s landscape. You can stop off at any of the seven stations between Hüvösvölgy and Széchenyihegy, and head out on a hike through the woods, returning to the same place or picking up the train again at the next stop.
The charm is not only in the landscape but in the staff, who, as the name suggests, are children. A youngster in smart uniform will sell you your ticket, signal the train on the platform and check tickets on board
When was the Children’s Railway built and by whom?
The Children’s Railway was originally the Pioneer Railway of the kind popular throughout the Soviet Union. The first was set up in Gorky Park in Moscow in 1932.
The concept was to provide young people with practical education and instil a sense of responsibility and a strong work ethic.
Here, the idea for the railway originated during the early days of the Communist era of the late 1940s when it was proposed by MÁV, Hungarian State Rail. Construction began in 1948, and the Children’s Railway was officially opened to the public in 1950, on 20 August, a national holiday in Hungary.
Where is the Children’s Railway?
Once the concept had been proposed, several sites were considered, including the main recreation zone of Margaret Island and Népliget, an underused park on the Pest side.
Once it was decided that the line should be between Hüvösvölgy and Széchenyihegy, two prime spots for hiking, it was clear that certain stops could dovetail with other forms of transport, such as the long-established Cogwheel Railway.
The Children's Railway also connects with the Chairlift (Libegő) at Jánoshegy, so you can treat the kids to a real day out. At either end, each terminus is easily accessible by public transport from main hub in Buda.
What else should I know about the Children’s Railway?
The railway continues to be maintained and operated by young railway enthusiasts, aged 10 to 14, under the supervision of adult professionals. There’s usually a long waiting list for those who want to apply – famous Hungarian composer György Ligeti and former Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány both began their careers as young railway operators on the Children's Railway.
Reliably approaching its 75th anniversary, Budapest’s Children’s Railway has never had a serious accident, although there have been a couple of minor scrapes and derailments.
While you wait for the next service at the Hüvösvölgy terminus, you can peruse a pictorial history of this unique attraction, the longest of its kind in the world.
To sum up, why visit the Children’s Railway?
Budapest is nothing if not child-friendly, and this is best illustrated by the Children’s Railway. Allowing you to take in some of the loveliest scenery the city has to offer, and laying on a journey into a bygone era, this timeless classic can also be used as a convivial conveyance to hiking trails, picnic areas and playgrounds.
Words by Peterjon Cresswell
Peterjon has been researching the byways of Budapest for 30 years, extending his expertise across Europe to produce guidebooks for Time Out and his own website liberoguide.com
MTI Photo: Zoltán Máthé