I'm a teacher and experienced (but non-paid!) Europe travel organizer/director/guide (the only thing I don't do is drive and cook in Europe) with no experience in Budapest. Will be there for one afternoon and one full day (two nights) with my grade 9 students in March 2010. What to do , what to avoid - suggestions? I've already read Rick's books of course. Just want some other perspectives.
House of Terror--headquarters of Hungary's version of the Gestapo. This museum had some excellent displays AND teachers got in free when we went!
Szechenyi Baths --fun in the outside "whirling" pool. I think it was the cool lap pool where the pool gestapo blew whistles at you if you didn't wear a bathing cap!
The Great Hall -- lots of souveniers to choose from. Try a fast food lunch, Hungarian style--should fill up those Grade 9 boys.
Just riding the Metro could be interesting, with the long, steep elevators and the beautifully tiled walls of some of the stations. Quite different from our SkyTrain.
Dear Craig The Brave,
I enjoyed climbing up Gellert Hill to the Liberation Monument, passing by the Cave Church on the way. Nearby is Castel Hill with the Fishermen's Bastion: spectacular views! And of course, there's the funicular; not exactly a rollercoaster ride, but fun anyway.
I don't know what your transportation situation will be, but if it's do-able, Statue Park is really memorable.
First, you are brave! But hey, it should be a blast for all of you.
For just an afternoon, I would do Castle Hill. Walk around, do Fisherman's Bastion. You may want to pay for the actual bastion area which if I recall is something like $2 per person. With 45 kids, that would fill the free section REALLY fast and not let them experience it very well. Mathias Church is great. I think that the funicular is a rip off to get to the top (I did it, and felt like I paid way too much). I preferred to walk through the Vizivaros neighborhood and take the grand stairs up to the top. There is also a "hidden" entrance past the Hilton that goes along the ramparts through a pretty garden, which also connects to the Vizivaros area. Easy metro connection at Batthyani Square.
For a full day, concentrate in Pest. Start the morning walking from the Parliament through Pest, passing St Stephens, and then end at the House of Terror. It is moving, interesting, and has many interactive exhibits. Plus, it is indoor, and it could be cold in March. Take the Metro to City Park and end the day at the pool (that is, if you are able to trust 45 kids in that kind of environment). If not, then skip the pool and head to the Great Market, which would be a good opportunity to souvenir shop. Then after the market, do the Synagogue.
Riding the metro would be fun, and easy to work into the schedule. Plus, the trams are cool and allow you to see the city.
FYI, here is a good website http://www.urbanrail.net/index.html
it has public transportation maps and links, which I always find helpful when I travel.
Full Day: walk down Andrassy Boulevard from Deak Square to Heroes Square. Along the way, stop by and peak in at the Opera House and stop for a 1-2 hour visit the House of Terror. There are all kinds of quick serve restaurants to grab lunch on your way. I'm guessing March won't be eat outside weather, but you could also do picnic supplies and eat at Heroes Square or in the park behind it. When you end at Heroes Square (which is about 2 miles total from Deak Square, but since it will be broken up with stops, you won't even notice it), depending on the time and interest, there are two art museums on either side of the square. Finish by walking over the Szenchenyi baths. I think they close around 7pm at that time of year, and when you're done, you can hop right back on the metro and go back to your hotel with 43 kids relaxed kids. the Baths are just like a regular swimming pool, but warm, so everybody loves them. If the weather is cold enough still in March, there is also an iceskating rink just behind Heroes Square but before the Baths.
Short day: walk around central Pest - start at the Grand Market Hall for lunch and souvenir shopping, walk down the Danube to the Chain bridge, stopping to rub that statute that is so famous, and up to Castle Hill OR just keep going past the chain bridge and go to the Parliament building instead. Try one of the baths in the Pest area, such as Gellert Baths. I guess I think Castle Hill would be a little boring for freshmen, but the view up there is fantastic and for that reason, its worth the hike (or you can fork out 8 euros for a 5 minute tram ride).
Hats off to you for braving Budapest with 43 freshman. Hope you all have a wonderful time.
I am sure Budapest is not your only destination, so the students will have plenty of opportunities to see history and castles in other cities. But the one thing you can't really do in other big Central European cities is go to the thermal baths, they'lll love it. I should know because I have taken students to Europe before. Not Budapest, though. The students want to see some history, but you need a variety of activities. The market hall should be good for their shopping.