Margaret Island lays right in the middle of the Danube. It is a recreational, historical and cultural spot for the residents of Budapest as it is very easily accessible from the city center.
If you would like to spend about a half a day in the nature but still close to the center, head to Margaret Island.
Margaret Island is 2800 m long, 500 m wide at its widest point, and covers a total area of about 96.5 hectares.
What is now a single island was – for quite a long time – just small tiny islets made of material deposited by the Danube. These merged to form the island you see today.
It’s history traces back to the Roman times and the first written record about it is from 1225.
It had several names over the years like the Island of Lords, Island of Rabbits, Palatinus Island or even Kvsadasi, a name by the Turks.
Its current name commemorates a princess called Margaret. She was the daughter of King Béla IV. Margaret’s life has a special place in Hungarian history and remembered as the Legend of Saint Margaret.
The ruins you see today on the island were once home to Princess Margaret. In 1241 King Béla IV vowed to put his daughter in a convent if he succeeded in repelling the Mongol invasion. He kept his word and built a Dominican convent where, in 1251, he sent his nine-year-old daughter. She died here at the young age of twenty-nine years.
Both King Béla IV and Margaret were buried here.
The cloisters were operating for centuries and were destroyed by the Turks in the sixteenth century. The nuns fled and the buildings were used for military purposes.
The ruins were excavated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
During the excavations, the body of Margaret was found and exhumed.
Much later, the island became a recreational spot for the Habsburgs. The development of the garden started that time, modeling the gardens of Schönbrunn. The Hungarian state purchased the island back only in 1908.
Until 1901 the island was accessible only by boat, after connecting it with Margaret Bridge. Until 1919 an admission fee had to be paid for entering the island.
Thermal Waters on Margaret Island
In 1867 medicinal waters were found at almost 1200 meters depth. It was named Zsigmondy Spring and its temperature was 43°C (109,4 Fahrenheit). The discovery led to the developing of spas.
Ybl Miklós architect made the plans of a bathing complex, two restaurants, several villas, a Neo-Renaissance Grand Hotel and the artificial cliffs and waterfall of the Japanese garden. The waterfall is still fed by the spring.
Today, the temperature of the waters is 70°C. It is cooled down to 34°C, 36°C, and 40°C before being used for medical and spa treatments.
For more information, check out my blog post about the thermal baths in Budapest.
8 sites of Margaret Island
Because of its long history there are several buildings and monuments throughout the island. Each one of them can be visited, so you are free the peek inside. There are also ruins you can touch, climb up, sit for a while and kids regularly chase each other in their labyrinth.
It is shivering to think about all the things these ruins have witnessed. You can easily spend here an hour or even more.
These were the walls of the buildings where the Árpád Dynasty princess, Saint Margaret, made her home.
The octagonal tower with its symmetrical layout was created to supply water to all greenery in the area.
It is the oldest and largest water tower in the country, that offers a stunning 360-degree view of the capital.
Between the Water Tower and Grand Hotel, you can see bronze and stone statues of Hungarian cultural greats such as Franz Liszt, Béla Bartók, Zoltán Kodály, or the poet Attila József.
The Garden itself is quite “new” as it was constructed in the 1970s. You can get to the garden by crossing a small wooden bridge. There is a system of small ponds where goldfish, tiny frogs, turtles, and wild ducks live and there are water lilies all around. In the center of the fishpond sits “the Little Mermaid of Budapest” a cute statue.
Near the northern tip of the island, stands a small pavilion known as the Music Well (Zenélő kút).
Built in 1936, it is a replica of the original well that was created in 1820 by Péter Bodor. It is often called Bodor Well in honor of its creator.
The fountain plays turn-of-the-century music every hour.
A fountain near Margaret Bridge.
The fountain program features a musical selection played every hour on the hour (from 1 May until 31 October) with curtains of water that in the evenings are lit up by a spectacular laser show.
The water springs out according to music so that the fountain seems to dance at the beats.
The Music Fountain and the Water Tower are protected UNESCO sites.
This beautiful flower garden lays right in the center of Margaret Island. The garden has a geometrical layout and is planted with colorful flowers from a wide variety of species.
Grand Hotel and Hotel Thermal
Grand Hotel Margitsziget was built in 1873 after a design by one of Hungary’s most famous architects, Miklós Ybl.
Danubius Health Spa Resort Margitsziget was built in the 1970s at the site of a spa resort that was damaged during the Second World War.
The two hotels share natural thermal baths.
10 things to do on Margaret Island
Visit the free, tiny Zoo
To see animals is always a treat!
Margaret Island’s miniature game reserve harbors a deer enclosure at one end which, in addition to deer native to Hungarian forests, is also home to several hopping meadow rabbits.
On the other side of the reserve, visitors can marvel at a variety of water birds and other decorative avians, among them Bahama, Mandarin, and Caroline ducks and Asian silkie hens.
Inside the reserve, area is a stable which, when the weather is good and the pedestrian traffic high, offers pony rides. Beyond these, the park also houses numerous owls and other birds of prey.
If you would like to see more animals, visit Budapest Zoo, too! 😊
Rent pedal-cars, go-karts
The island is 2.5 km long and 500 m wide, so if you’re traveling with kids or elderly parents, touring it on foot is probably not an option.
Bus number 26 runs the length of the island (from Nyugati Railway station), and on the island itself there are plenty of strange vehicles to hire and you can’t go wrong with any of them.
Arrive to the island by boat
During the summer months, arriving by boat is a cool thing to do, so check the BKK timetables and head to the island by one of the small, white boats.
Evening open-air theatre performances
Symphony and popular music concerts, ballet performances, and opera and folklore shows are held in the theater from the middle of June.
Try the pools of Palatinus strand
The near-century-old Palatinus bath is protected as a national monument, but on the inside, it is a modern bathing complex with numerous pools, slides (it has a multimedia slide that lets you enjoy a music and light show as you slide down) and a wave pool.
Relax in the Japanese Garden
Choose a bench and sit for a moment. Watch to fish as they swim by and thecae little frogs hopping around.
Go squirrel spotting
There may not be as many as in London’s Hyde Park, or New York’s Central Park, but Margaret Island’s red squirrels are very cute and friendly.
Have a look at the trees of Margaret Island
Throughout its history, island caretakers have been developing, beautifying, safeguarding, and propagating the zone’s many trees.
For example, there is a 40 meters high, 190-year old virgin sycamore between the chapel and the convent ruins. It is one of the biggest of its species in Europe. Another sycamore, that stands opposite the Palatinus strand is called the “Seven Leaders Sycamore” as it sprouted seven fresh trunks after it’s almost destroyed by a World War I bomb.
In the Japanese Garden, there are three, about 20 meters high Chinese dawn redwoods, while a Chinese Ginkgo Biloba stands near Saint Michael Chapel
There is a running track which is around 3.3 miles around the island.
Climb into the Centenary Monument
As you arrive from Margaret Bridge, you find this statue not far from the entrance of the island.
The inner sides of the bronze flower petals are decorated with motives from the past century: drawings of main historical events, the coat of arms, the crown, tools, objects, and inscriptions.
The lines of the lawn around the Monument represent the streets of Budapest.