There is a railway, hidden in the leafy Buda Hills above Budapest, that is operated almost entirely by children and teenagers. Sounds weird, right? It is.
Built just after World War II, the Gyermekvasút sprung from the Soviet era, and ascending the hills on a chain-link tram, I couldn’t help but wonder if it would now be little more than a faded relic of Hungary’s turbulent past. It was eerily quiet when we arrived in the small village that housed the station, and this instinct grew stronger.
However, upon arrival at the station – which looked like a typical establishment but for the stalls outside selling sugary treats – we were greeted by a pre-teen girl with a pleasingly sullen disposition, who furnished us with tickets for our ride on this odd locomotive.
Emerging onto the sunny platform, we were greeted with the view of a shiny red and white train. It looked like a larger version of the wooden trains you sometimes see in theme parks or at the seaside.
There were a number of teenagers in the navy and white station uniform stood on the platform, and they helpfully seated us on the wooden benches of the train before competently checking our tickets. As the children waved colourful flags, and one of them blew a whistle, we were off!
The kids who run the railway take it very seriously, and it felt a bit like we were at some sort of underwhelming Scout camp. In a sense this was a bit disappointing: we’d essentially taken an arduous journey up from Budapest for a pretty standard train journey. I think we’d expected that the ‘children running a railway’ concept would take a comedic turn, but in fact it seemed better run than most other train lines I’ve been on.
The journey itself is pleasant enough, but nothing spectacular. The train makes its way very slowly through a leafy forest, periodically stopping at small stations along the way. The whole journey takes about 45 minutes, but we disembarked after about 20 – jumping off at Janos Hill so we could ride the chairlift back down the mountain!
A 20-minute uphill walk from the station took us to the top of the chairlift. While we’d previously just assumed it would be a quick way to get down the mountain, the chairlift turned out to be the highlight of the afternoon.
There’s a bit of a rocky start to the journey, as you have to jump on the seat quickly – much like a ski lift – but once we were on our way, the experience was extremely peaceful.
We sailed down from the heights of the Buda Hills, over trees and houses, feeling totally immersed in the calm, wonderful scenery beneath our feet. It only lasted 10 minutes or so, but I would have happily stayed on it for hours!
It had been an interesting afternoon in the Buda Hills, and I’m glad we made the effort to visit. However, if you don’t have long in Budapest I’d recommend skipping the Children’s Railway and just riding the chairlift up and down the hills, potentially all day.