The Gyermekvasút, or Children’s Railway, is staffed almost entirely by children ages 10 to 14. They sell the tickets in the little ticket booth and then collect them once the train is underway. They also give direction to the adult conductor when the train pulls into stations and approaches street-crossings. The train is smaller than your typical passenger train, the perfect scale to make little ones feel welcome.
It’s the biggest children’s railway in the world, according to Atlas Obscura, and it’s pretty old, too, having begun way back in 1947. Its original purpose, in the lean post-war years, was to give youth a useful skill and a job they could be proud of. For decades, it was a happening way for locals to get from one place to another. Its popularity did eventually wane, though, as things do. The railway languished until in 1990, as Hungary was shedding the shackles of Communism, the line gained interest as a tourist draw, and the tracks and cars were refurbished. Today, it’s obvious that the youth who work for the line again take great pride in being able to run the train through the Hungarian hills.
The route wends among copses of trees and cuts along the grassy Buda hillsides. A short portion of the route opens up to expansive views of the verdant valley below. Every so often, a small, unmanned railway station slides into view, and the train chugs to a stop so a passenger or two can clamber aboard. On the warm days of summer, the opens sides of the train welcome a refreshing breeze. In winter, the bright view of the snow-blanketed landscape makes up for any chill.
Whom is it for?
Families are the obvious answer. Our boys loved this Children’s Railway, not only because it was a train, but also because it was run by other kids.
But families aren’t the only ones who will enjoy this attraction. The railway is also a great vehicle for anyone interested in exploring the hills outside the city proper; the route offers gorgeous views of God’s green nature. Anyone looking for a cheap, cheery break from the brick-and-plaster streets of Budapest will enjoy this jaunt through the trees.
Hours and fees
We took the train one way, from Hűvösvölgy to Széchenyihegy, so we paid for one-way tickets. The fares were the equivalent of a little more than $2 for the adults and half that for the children. Round-trip tickets also are available, as are partial tickets for when you get on mid-route.
Trains run daily from morning to mid-afternoon. The exception is Mondays from September to April, when the railway is not in service.
We’d recommend making this trip from Széchenyihegy in the south to Hűvösvölgy in the north. There’s a restaurant and museum in the Hűvösvölgy station, if you want to make an afternoon of it.
Also nearby: Tram line 60, the Cogwheel Wheelway, is a funky uphill ride to the Széchenyihegy station from near Szent János Kórház (St. John Hospital).
The area through which the train passes is criss-crossed by walking and hiking trails, some of which lead to the gorgeous Elizabeth Lookout watchtower and its stunning views of the surrounding countryside (and even, far off in the distance, downtown Budapest). To visit the watchtower, get off at the Jánoshegy station; the tower is a 15-minute walk away.
Are you having a birthday party or celebrating some other special occasion? The Children’s Railway has a car for that. You’ll have to ask for it a few days in advance, though. Check out the website (after having Google translate it) for more information.
Is English spoken?
Well, not really. If you’re lucky, the kids running the show might have learned a few words in school, but it’s best to be prepared to stumble through in your best Hungarian. This is what I said to order five tickets: Kérek szépen öt jegyet. If I remember right, the boy’s response had something to do with whether I wanted a round-trip. At this point, I pointed to the right fare on the sign. When Hungarian fails, there’s always non-verbal communication.
Is it stroller friendly?
It’s easy enough to get a stroller on board the train, and the end stations are reachable by accessible public transport. The only thing you might want to avoid are the older tram lines that run to and through Széll Kálmán tér; most of them have large steps and offer little interior space.
Is there food nearby?
The Hűvösvölgy station at the northern end of the route has a small restaurant. It was morning when we were there, and the restaurant wasn’t open yet, so we can’t vouch for its quality. There also were a few restaurants along the street below the Széchenyihegy station.
Are restrooms available?
Both the Hűvösvölgy and Széchenyihegy stations have bathrooms. I’m not sure about the small stations along the route, but there are lots of trees in the area.
What to bring
If you want to take advantage of the walking and hiking trails in the area, bring a good pair of shoes and whatever else you might need (snacks, in our case, and lots of them).
From Széll Kálmán tér, a large metro/tram station on the Buda side near the Danube, take one of many public transit options a couple stops up the street to Városmajor. Once at Városmajor, hop on tram line 60 (the Cogwheel Railway) and head up the hill to Széchenyihegy. From there, the Children’s Railway is just a short walk away. For more detail, follow the lines on this PDF map from BKK, the Budapest public transit authority. The BKK website is worth exploring, because it really does an excellent job of explaining the public transit options in Budapest.
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