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Budapest's party boats divide Hungary’s capital

Pablo Gutierrez in Budapest


The Danube is one of Europe's most famous rivers, renowned for its beauty and its crucial role in the region's economic, cultural and political development. Cutting through the heart of central and eastern Europe, it continues to draw crowds from all over the world. However, in Hungary's capital, Budapest, many residents have long complained about pollution and noise.

Thousands of tourists flock to riverboats every day along Budapest's Danube Riverfront. Some seek scenic cruises and dinners, while others are drawn to party boats offering cheap alcohol at volume. 

"These people don't really leave the neighborhood," community advocate Martha Kiszely tells CGTN. "There is no proper infrastructure, there are no public restrooms here, so they climb into the park, do their business between parked cars, and they are noisy, they vandalize trees, turn over garbage bins. There are lots of problems."


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Kiszely and her neighbors have been pushing to relocate most riverboats outside Budapest's city center. Besides the nuisance from party boat patrons, Kiszely says a more serious issue caused by the boats is affecting residents.

"There are no boats with environmentally safe engines running, no boats at all. They are all outdated with worn engines," Kiszely noted.

A recent air quality test by Greenpeace found the neighborhood near the riverboat docks is one of the city's most polluted areas. Activists say the daily air pollution from docked boats and tourist buses is causing health problems.

"It's very dangerous, it's really bad for our health. If you have respiratory problems like asthma, it's very suffocating," Kiszely added.

Fewer boats, fewer tourists? 

The city has responded to residents' complaints by promising to reduce the number of docks along the river. Riverboat operators, though, are not pleased with that plan.

"They've said that only five ports can stay, and these ports could be used to drop passengers off or get on the boats. The reason we see this as a problem is because it will increase pollution and traffic jams on the water, posing a safety issue because many ships will wait on the water," said Mihaly Tóth from the National Association of Hungarian Shipping.

Last year, Budapest's riverboats hosted around four million visitors. Operators argue that the reduction in docks will not only impact their businesses but could also push tourists to neighboring cities like Vienna and Bratislava, potentially leading to job losses.

Riverboat operators say the city of Budapest should build more docks along the Danube to reduce congestion. They also want docking permits to be issued every 10 years instead of annually and government subsidies for cleaner engines.

Approximately 50 vessels could be forced to relocate under the city's plan to less central, suburban mooring locations that have not yet been built. Operators say they are planning to fight back against the city's plan.

"The whole city was built around these ships in past centuries, so we say there should be regulation, there should be good practices, but banning the ships is not a solution," Tóth said.

Budapest's party boats divide Hungary’s capital

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