We had only one full day and two nights in Hungary, Budapest to be exact, and the choice of things to see and do was overwhelming. The key here is to focus and plan. I used the seven-hour rail journey from Prague in the Czech Republic to Budapest, the capital of Hungary, to plan our limited time. What was there to do during the day? Far too much, was my first thought, and to see the city properly you will need a decent length of time. If you don’t have that luxury, here’s an idea for you.
Budapest by bus
We spend much of our city breaks on our feet. We’re a couple of walkers, and usually see a city armed with a map, a camera and a good pair of boots. Walking is not for everyone of course, but tours by bus are available and a hop-on-hop-off bus ride is a less foot weary option. All good hotels in the city will have details of the sightseeing bus trips, but you can also buy tickets on the street. There are hundreds of ticket sellers, it seems. You can’t avoid being approached by young people on street corners waving maps at you and cheerfully offering day tickets in multiple languages. I gave up counting of the number of times we were approached, but each ticket seller was acting legally, was friendly, spoke English and was helpful. There was no pressure, and you’re quite welcome to say ‘No thank you,’ if you’ve already secured a tour. The tickets are also available from travel agencies and at the clearly marked bus stops.
There are two main bus tours, the Red Line and the Yellow Line. They are colour coordinated, so you don’t miss your bus, and either route, if taken in one journey, lasts for two hours. You can jump on an off (make sure the bus has stopped first), and with a schedule that runs every 30 minutes, you never have to wait long for your next pick-up. The flexibility means you can pause to take in the views of the Danube, the river that separates Buda from Pest, the Basilica, the third largest parliament building in the world, and Buda Castle, probably the most famous tourist sight in the 2,000-year-old city, if not in Hungary itself.
The Red Line bus tour operates from 09.00 in the morning and the Yellow Line from 09.30. If you’re a night owl, the Night Tour runs at 18.15, has five stops and the full tour is for one and a half hours. The bus tours are conducted in 22 languages (recorded) and tickets cost €20.00 for the 24-hour ticket and €24.00 for the 48-hour ticket. As you can break your journey as often as you want, you don’t have to complete a full tour in one day. You don’t even have to complete a full tour, but if you only want to get from A to B, then the local bus service, taxis or Metro are probably more cost effective. For full details of the bus tours, check out Giraffe Budapest Bus Tours.
A Miniversum distraction
You will have noticed that we arrived in Budapest by train, and then took a bus tour. I love travelling by train and the journey from Prague, where we had spent two nights, was a joy. Mind you, we were in first class (€37.00 each), but second class also looked comfortable (€21.00). A buffet service and a dining car took care of catering, the train was clean, and the journey ran smoothly. By the way, one of the best train travel information sites I have found, certainly for Europe, is Seat 61.
A delicious train journey one day and a chilled-out bus tour the next. What could be better than travelling first class by train? Well, how about visiting a first-class model railway. Not, perhaps, the first thing on the agenda for two middle-aged men when visiting Budapest, the Hungarian capital, known for its stunning architecture, the famous Chain Bridge, Castle, and baths. But we like to get off the known tourist routes and, in this case, the bus tours, and see what else is out there.
A perfect distraction for children
We came across the Miniversum by chance as we were heading towards the Opera House. The Miniversum is one of the largest model railways in the world, and it’s a perfect distraction for children and parents alike. It is found only one block away from the Hungarian State Opera House on Andrássy út, so it is well on the beaten track. Entry costs 2,400 Huf (around €7.60) for singles over 14 years, half that for children under 14 years, and roughly €18.80 for a family ticket. Ticket prices vary according to how many adults and children are in your family and, the next best thing about it, it’s interactive.
Budapest in miniature
I had never before seen a 46-year-old man spend so much time pressing buttons to see what they do, but my partner (who is not as much of a train fan as I am) spent an hour examining every perfectly made model and pressed every interactive button. The Miniversum is a massive model railway, spread over two large rooms, with replicas of some Budapest landmarks, and scenes representing other cities, such as Vienna. It also has miniature people doing all kinds of things. The Miniversum isn’t just a model railway where the same train goes around in a circle, it’s a whole world. There are farms, men digging up roads, cafés in full swing, palaces, stations, crossings, working signals and even paramedics no taller than two centimetres resuscitating an accident victim. You have to press the correct button to get the rescue started; press the wrong one and a helicopter takes off, or a light comes in in a church, a lorry sets off on a route around a small town, or you send the 14.26 from Keleti station to an outlying hamlet.
Other Miniversum attractions
This perfectly scaled and detailed model railway will appeal to children of all ages, and they are welcome to take photos. Apart from its realistic models and action, we found an educational exhibit showing life in Budapest under communism complete with pictures and texts. Visitors can watch videos, see the control room, buy souvenirs from the shop and, if you pay extra, take a guided, backstage tour to see how it all works. Despite its name, the Miniversum is large, and so, even when it was busy, we didn’t feel cramped or tempted to barge in front of a twelve-year-old to see what we could make the model do next. There is also a welcome café to use while your partner, or children, follow one of the 100 trains around 1,300 meters of track.
The Miniversum, in Budapest, is open from 09.00 to 19.00 every day including Sundays and to 21.00 on Friday and Saturday. Although we were limited to one full day in the city, we spent a good hour marvelling at this easy to miss but great to find attraction. It’s a fun and informative side-step away from city sightseeing. Once done, it was back to the bus and off to another of the many attractions that Hungary has to offer.