(First published on http://welovebudapest.com/budapest.and.hungary/explore.the.fun.filled.wonders.of.margaret.island, 8 July 2014)
“Margitsziget”, as Hungarians call it, is a Danube island between Margaret Bridge and Árpád Bridge stretching 2.5 kilometers long and up to 500 meters wide. Some parts of Margaret Island feel like they're stuck in the 1980s, while some visible rejuvenation over the past decades is visible here and there, and other areas such as the nightclubs and green spaces feel fresh and inviting. Trams 4 and 6 take passengers to the entry point on Margaret Bridge, while Bus 26from Nyugati train station traverses the island's entire length. The lush parklands here are popular for picnics, walks, and the somewhat challenging 5.8-km run on the rubberized path that surrounds it. However, there’s actually far more than meets the eye here, with hidden gems dotted throughout this tree-shaded urban retreat.
Walking down the ramp from Margaret Bridge, you can't miss one of the island's best-loved attractions. The recently renovated Musical Fountain shoots out colorful jets of water high into the air in time with music by Vivaldi, Andrea Bocelli, the Rolling Stones, and many other musicians. Quite a crowd gathers for these cool extravaganzas that happen several times a day (approximately hourly).
At the far end of the island from downtown is the Music Well, known as the "Bodor kút". It dates back to 1936 and also used to play music, although it's no longer operational. Fun fact: the little statue of Neptune on top of the well used to spin around too. Sweet.
Sports and recreation
Palatinus Bath is a popular summer spot for kids and the young at heart who want to cool down and have fun. A wave pool, thermal pools, and water slides all await here, along with a vast grassy area for sunbathing between swims.
The Alfréd Hajós National Aquatic Center is where many of Hungary's best swimmers, water polo players, and synchronized swimmers train, but everyone's welcome to use the indoor and outdoor pools that include a 50-meter lap pool.
The Margaret Island Athletic Center is also hidden on the island. Here visitors find track-and-field facilities along with soccer, Judo, handball, and table tennis equipment. Go for just a session or sign up for proper training. Nearby is the Margaret Island Tennis Club, where you can book a court or get lessons.
Of course, one of Margaret Island's most popular attractions is the 5.8-km free running track. Orange rubber covers most of the path to boost ease on the knees.
Public gym equipment is also installed, and bike rental is available too. Because car access to the island is limited, biking to the island is a great option.
In medieval times, Margitsziget was known as "the island of rabbits" although these days we don't see too many bunnies hopping about. However, don't be surprised if you come across a deer or peacock instead! The island's petting zoo is open during the warmer months; here pony rides are especially popular with kids.
Playfully designed multiple-passenger bikes are available for rent, and a traditional playground is sure to keep children happy.
Parks and Gardens
Despite being just minutes from the city center, Margaret Island feels like a peaceful escape. The grassy areas closest to Margaret Bridge are often filled to the brim with sunbathers and picnickers. However, head further away from downtown to discover a luscious green park near the Water Tower (see below). Here tranquility surrounds lazing loungers amid the big swaying trees, include the several hundred-year-old plane trees.
Head even further back toward Árpád Bridge, and you'll come across a Japanese Garden – the setting for many marriage proposals. The Oriental garden has a fish pool and rock waterfall, although these aren't always operating at full steam.
This statue was erected in 1973 to mark the 100th anniversary of the merging of Buda and Pest as one city. It's an iconic site of the island and well worth a look. In case you're wondering, it represents two intertwining leaves.
The UNESCO-listed Water Tower is more than 100 years old, and is one of Budapest's iconic sights. Its Art Nouveau design draws visitors from afar, and there's a 360-degree panorama of the city from the top. Exhibitions and concerts are held amid the huge amphitheater below it, Budapest's only permanent open-air concert and theater center, currently hosting the Budapest Summer Festival. Nearby is the Promenade of Hungarian Artists, with busts honoring writers, artists, and musicians.
Margaret Island was named after Princess Margaret, a nun in the Dominican convent on the island back in in the 1200s. Ruins from this Dominican church and convent, as well as a 13th-century Franciscan church, remain for history buffs to admire. Nearby, remnants of the Chapel of St. Michael date back to the 12th century. Try to find the marble plaque marking the burial spot of Saint Margaret.
Hotels and nightclubs
The two hotels on the island, the Danubius Grand Hotel Margitsziget and theDanubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget, channel old-style charm. The thermal spa facilities can be used by guests of both hotels.
Although the island is not located in the downtown part of Budapest, a huge number of revelers still flock to the island's nightspots during the summer months. Popular nightclubs and bars include Holdudvar, WNDRLND, Zippp Club and Champs.
If you get hungry while exploring, there are plenty of food vendors offering burgers, sausages, ice cream, and snacks. You could always pack a picnic!
Plenty of benches are scattered islandwide to take in the view of the Danube and look out at the banks of Buda or Pest. At the isle's Árpád Bridge tip, you can walk right to the very edge of the island and see a lovely view out toward Óbudai Island. Meanwhile, on the Margaret Bridge tip you can see the Parliament House and the inner-city area from a different perspective. From here you can get up close and personal with the underside of Margaret Bridge – it's worth taking a look at its design.