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Discover Budapest on two wheels with Ildi Tóth of the Budapest Bike Maffia, who shares her tips for cycling in the Hungarian capital.
In recent years, cycling has experienced something of a boom in Budapest, with ever-increasing numbers of commuters shunning cars and public transport in favour of bikes. This phenomenon is largely born out of the rapid development of cycling infrastructure in the city. Today, over 200 kilometres (124 miles) of cycling paths traverse the Hungarian capital, and Route 6 of the EuroVelo international cycling route runs through the city along the banks of the Danube. Budapest’s embrace of biking is never more prominent than on the annual Earth Day (in April) and International Car-Free Day (in September) when many city streets are closed to traffic and taken over by more than 80,000 riders.
Experiencing Budapest by bike as a visitor is both convenient and enjoyable, with plentiful options for bike rental. There’s a sightseeing route for every kind of cyclist – whether it’s pootling along the banks of the Danube, spinning through the flat streets of Pest or crossing the river and tackling the scenic hills of Buda.
The Budapest Bike Maffia (BBM) is among Hungary’s fastest-growing charitable organisations; it was established at Christmas in 2011 by a small group of young cyclists. Today, its key mission is the distribution of food and fundraising, focussing on helping those who are homeless and families in need. Each year, the BBM team – made up of over 100 volunteers – take to their bikes to distribute over 100,000 meals, in addition to operating 12 innovative charity projects. These include Sweet Home, which sees volunteers working to create comfortable homes for local families living in council housing; the Seeds of Hope gardening project; and the BBM 50! initiative, which has the goal of increasing empathy and changing negative attitudes towards Budapest’s homeless population.
Not having your own bicycle with you is most definitely not an excuse for not exploring Budapest on two wheels. Renting a bike in Budapest has never been easier, not least thanks to the MOL Bubi bike rental scheme. There are over 140 docking stations and more than 1,840 MOL Bubi bikes in Budapest, meaning it’s possible to take a bike, ride it to another part of the city and leave it at another docking station. Usually no more than half a kilometre apart, these docking stations are conveniently located near major landmarks and tourist sites.
Start the day in the heart of Budapest’s Jewish Quarter with breakfast at STIKA – known for its extensive menu of variations on the classic eggs benedict – before picking up a bike at the nearby MOL Bubi bike docking station at the corner of Klauzál Square. From here, the route to the expansive City Park (Városliget) is easy. Follow Budapest’s most famous street – Andrássy Avenue – up to Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere), dating back to 1896 and notable for its statues of key Hungarian national leaders from history. After admiring the colossal statue complex, head into the park, which is Budapest’s largest. Here you can make stops at Vajdahunyad Castle, modelled after a Gothic fortress in Transylvania; the Budapest Zoo; or the famous Széchenyi Baths, which is among the largest natural hot-spring spa baths in Europe and known for its grand Neo-Baroque architecture.
From the City Park, admire the spectacular Neo-Renaissance mansions as you cycle back down Andrássy Avenue to the city centre. Stop at Erzsébet Square for a break on the terrace at the buzzing bar Fröccsterasz, before cycling south along Károly körút, Múzeum körút and Vámház körút towards Fővám tér, where you will find the majestic Central Market Hall. Fuel up for an afternoon cycle by picking up some fresh fruits, having some salami and smoked paprika, and visiting the second floor to try lángos, deep-fried dough often topped with sour cream and shredded cheese.
From the Central Market Hall, wheel your bike over Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) to the Buda side of town. This bridge is the shortest and arguably most beautiful one in Budapest, with each pillar topped by a turul – the mythological Hungarian bird of prey. Heading straight up Kelenhegyi utca, Gellérthegy Jubileumi Park – a verdant garden ideal for stretching your legs or enjoying a break on the grass – will appear on your right. A short cycle through the park brings you to the Liberty Statue (Szabadság-szobor), where you will be rewarded with panoramic views of the city.
Cycle down from the hill (on the western side of the park, behind the Citadella), taking Sánc utca towards Naphegy Square to reach Dózsa György Square, where you will start the uphill ride to Buda Castle. If you don’t fancy the steep ride, take the rather less strenuous lift from Dózsa György Square to reach Buda Castle and explore its storied history. The first royal castle was built here in the 13th century but was left in ruins after the Ottoman occupation. In the 18th century, a Baroque palace was built, and Castle Hill quickly became the seat of government. Buda suffered severe damage during World War II, with the necessary reconstruction beginning in 1950. Today, Castle Hill is recognised as part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, in part thanks to the integration of the ruins of the earlier Medieval palace into the new complex.
After a walk around the castle, cycle leisurely down from the hill to reach the Danube. For a truly magical souvenir, cycle a little farther north to Batthyány Square, where you can take pictures with a backdrop of the Danube and the ornate Neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building.
After a very active day, while away the evening at the beautiful Budapest Garden. At this quirky beer garden, you can enjoy drinks and burgers al fresco, along with on-site activities including trampolines and beach volleyball. If this sounds a little too energetic, head to Margaret Island. During the summer months, this island of parkland plays host to the spectacular Margaret Island Musical Fountain, which sets dancing water jets to eclectic music. Alternatively, put your bike to good use by joining the Budapest Bike Maffia in its evening mission – check out its upcoming events here.