Where do the Locals go in Budapest if they want to feel far away from the bustle of city life and escape the concrete jungle? They spend a couple of hours on Margaret Island, a green oasis and Budapest’s gem, effectively closed to private vehicles. So we did the same to enjoy one of the last days of summer. Our first stop was the Japanese Garden located at the northern end of the island, close to the Árpád Bridge. Winding paths, foot bridges, water lilies, little ducks and terrapins in the warm water make the place really charming and a perfect place to hide from the world.
It’s hard to imagine that this part of the island hadn’t existed, it was created by flood-control works in the 1920’s. In the middle of this relaxing garden visitors can find a lovely artificial lake with a waterfall both are supplied by the Zsigmondy Spring. (It’s not a coincidence if the name ‘Zsigmondy’ sounds familiar. The same gentleman, Mr. Zsigmondy, was responsible for the drilling of the artesian well of the Széchenyi Spa.) Once this spring gave the water of a gorgeous spa on the island designed by the Opera architect Miklós Ybl.
Nowadays you can find a hotel on the site of the spa, nothing remained of the stunning building, since it was badly damaged in the Second World War and by floods in the 1950’s. The Margaret Island is 2.5 km long and 500 m wide. If you’re coming to Budapest only for a couple of days and you don’t have too much time, touring it on foot is probably not an option.
The bus number 26 runs the length of the island, but don’t hesitate to hire one of the funny vehicles that goes around. So we rented a fun bike cart, kind of a cycling equipment with four wheels – you can find their main office close to the Japanese garden – heading to the ruins of the convent, where Margaret, the eponym of the island spent her days as a nun.
Beside relaxing Margaret Island can also boast a long and interesting history. Firstly let’s see how Margaret Island got its name. In the Middle Ages the island was called the Island of Rabbits simply because it served as a royal hunting reserve. The present name was given later, in honour of Princess Margaret who started her training in a Dominican Convent on this island. The story goes that his father, King Béla IV., made a vow that if his kingdom was liberated from the Mongol invasion (1242-44), his daughter Margaret would be brought up as a nun. Well, the country more or less survived, so after the withdrawal of the Mongols the 9-year-old princess was brought to the island and spent her all brief life here, hence the name Margaret Island. Amongst the ruins of the Dominican Convent you can find a red marble slab which marks the spot where her tomb once lay.
After a good afternoon we returned back to the city refreshed in both body and soul. How lucky we are since going to the island is free today though a hundred years ago visitors were charged a fee, double on Sunday! Margaret Island may not be a must-to-see, but if you are looking for a refuge from the heat of the city or a nice break for picnic, definitely a good decision.
Getting to Margaret Island:
Tram 4 and 6 have stops on Margaret Bridge. You can walk easily onto the island from the bridgehead. If you are coming from the other side, from the direction of the Árpád Bridge, just a couple of steps and you can find yourself easily in the Japanese Garden.
If you are fitness fanatic try the excellent rubber – coated jogging track around the island (3.3 miles / 5350 meters)