Margit Sziget is the recreational hub of Budapest. Walking the island early one fall morning, I am joined by the whippet thin and most serious runners from the city. They jog the five kilometer rubberized track which rings the perimeter. I also pass a number of bikers, a handful of dogs and the sole chirping bird. The tram rumbles across Margit Hid creating a near constant rumble while the runners crunch over brown, dry fallen leaves. Although the island is a historic venue and a fitness playground, the background noise reminds me I am in the center of Budapest – an island claimed by Pest but wedged equally close to the shores of Buda.
Eight hundred years ago, the island was named for the rabbits that lived here. Then, it became a religious center. A reminder of this era exists in strewn remains of a 13th century Dominican monastery. The monastery housed the daughter, Margaret, of the Hungarian King Bela VI. He committed her to lifelong church service as his faith dictated as fair payment for sparing Hungary from defeat in one of the constantly waged wars. Margaret eventually became a saint and the namesake of both this island and the neighboring bridge.
During the 16th century Turkish conquest of Budapest, the monastery was missioned as a harem. And after the Turkish withdraw, it fell into its current ruinous condition. A bit further down the path from the monastery is a church, Szent Mihaly, also dating from the 13th century. The church was destroyed by the Turkish invaders in the 16th century and rebuilt 100 years ago. A 15th century church bell, located underground at the base of a nearby tree, was reinstalled in the tower and is one of the oldest in Hungary.
As I enter the island from Margit Hid, it feels like I am walking into a county fair with food and drink huts lining the road. Personally, I forgo these options preferring to bring my breakfast or a snack and eat on one of the many benches sprinkled across
the island. A tall, brass pod shaped statue surrounded by swirls of colorful pansies is the first welcome sight. Inside the pod are carvings which seem to represent the history of the city. Just behind the pod is the magic water fountain which plays a music and light show every few hours from early spring to late fall.
I follow the road around the fountain to the left back to the Palatine center, a complex of 11 pools ranging from a the play pool with its primary colored fun slides to a dedicated water polo and swimming arena. The tiny country of Hungary perennially produces one of the best water polo teams in the world as well as a small stable of decorated swimmers. Although this venue has housed the European swim championships, most days the pools will be overrun with weary parents and screaming children escaping the summer heat.
I eventually cut across the island to the right. Here, along the trails, are the stone busts of famous Hungarians, the previously mentioned monastery and church, and eventually an Art Deco style water tower surrounded at its base by an outdoor theater.
On fair weather days, Margit overflows with Hungarian families. I come here to walk the park, stretch my legs, and enjoy the historical monuments. No matter your interests, Margit Island has a bit of something for everyone.
The 4 and 6 tram stop on the Margit Hid (Bridge) in the center and directly across from the island entrance. You can not miss this.
The #26 bus runs from Jaszai Mari Ter on the Pest side of the bridge (near the McDonald’s). Or from the Nyugati train station (coincidentally also in front of a McDonald’s!). The bus stops at multiple points on the island making the island completely accessible to even those who can not walk for long distances.
And, of course, you can walk or bike to the island on the path dedicated for non-motorized travelers.
Categories: Insiders Budapest