Insider’s Guide: Margaret Island in Budapest

  • 12 Jun 2023 5:53 AM
Insider’s Guide: Margaret Island in Budapest
This island in the Danube is a tranquil retreat, offering a blend of nature, history and recreational activity. In the latest in our series focusing on Budapest’s best attractions, we delve into the fascinating story of Margaret Island and uncover why it is a must-visit for those seeking a slice of serenity in the Hungarian capital.

What is Margaret Island in Budapest?

Located in the heart of Budapest, Margaret Island is nestled between the Buda and Pest sides of the city, stretching approximately 2.5 kilometres in length.

Accessible via Margaret Bridge on the frequent 4/6 tram line, the island offers a peaceful sanctuary away from urban hustle and bustle. With its extensive green spaces, pretty gardens and picturesque views, it provides the perfect setting for outdoor activities, picnics and leisurely strolls.

The island is also home to numerous recreational facilities, swimming pools, tennis courts and a petting zoo, ensuring there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Beyond its natural beauty, Margaret Island contains a number of landmarks presented on signboard maps as you enter, including a Neo-Romanesque Water Tower and a Japanese Garden.

Morever, the island’s strategic location along the Danube provides lovely vistas of iconic sights on either side, such as the Parliament Building and Buda Castle.

Explore further, and you may discover that Margaret Island is steeped in intriguing tales and legends that add an air of mystique to its allure.

What is Margaret Island's history?

Margaret Island, known as Margit-sziget to Hungarians, hides a fascinating heritage that dates back to the 13th century.

It was named after Saint Margaret, the daughter of King Béla IV, who sought refuge on the island during the tumultuous Mongol invasions.

The island was originally established as a Dominican convent, with Saint Margaret residing there until her death. Over the centuries, it transformed into a royal garden, a recreational space, and eventually, a beloved public park that it is today.

You can still see the convent ruins, one of many attractions that draw thousands of visitors to this traffic-free idyll.

The transformation of Margaret Island began in the 19th century during the reign of Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph I. Extensive landscaping and development took place, including the creation of landscaped gardens and grand promenades.

Today, Margaret Island stands as a testament to the vision and efforts of various architects and urban planners who contributed to its development.

What else should I know about Margaret Island?

One award-winning architect showcased here is Alfréd Hajós. The first Hungarian to win gold at the Olympics, for swimming in the Aegean Sea at the inaugural Games in 1896, this polymath also won a gold medal for stadium architecture at the Paris Games of 1924.

The stadium in question is still a sporting landmark, and has recently been modernized in order to stage two prestigious FINA World Aquatics Championships, in 2017 and 2022, with one more to follow in 2027.

Nearby, the Palatinus is the oldest open-air lido in Budapest, a family favourite for generations, its main building another architectural masterpiece, dating back to 1937.

Another popular attraction, close to the entrance near Margaret Bridge, is the musical fountain. According to local folklore, anyone who drinks from the water of the fountain will be blessed with eternal youth and beauty. 

They will also be assailed by whichever Hungarian and evergreen hits a committee has agreed upon to broadcast on a loop that summer, from ‘The Blue Danube’ to Herman’s Hermits.

Locals and visitors alike gather around the fountain, enchanted by its synchronised water and light performances – or for wedding photos, as this is a particularly favourite backdrop.

The name of a successful Hungarian pop group, Margaret Island also has a musical heritage. The Open-Air Stage hosts a summer-long agenda of concerts and performances by renowned artists, part of an annual festival.

From June to September, symphony orchestras, rock bands and evergreen Hungarian singers entertain large crowds at the foot of the island’s Water Tower.

Finally, if you don’t wish to see anything in particular but are happy just to wander, you can hire bicycles or pedalos at the Margaret Bridge end of the island.

The only traffic here are service vehicles and the occasional 26 bus that runs every 15-20 minutes from Nyugati station, connecting the key points of the Palatinus lido, Alfréd Hajós pool, musical fountain and several hotels.

One of the island's hotels includes the Ensana Thermal, one of many wonderful spas in the Hungarian capital, and open to non-guests as well.

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

Related links

Watch: Spectacular Musical Fountain on Margaret Island

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