Difference between revisions of "Budapest"
Revision as of 02:36, 30 January 2007
Although Budapest is administratively divided into 23 numbered districts, always written in Roman numerals, it can most simply be divided into the two cities of which it is comprised (Buda and Pest) and one historic district:
Regarded by many as one of World's most beautiful cities, Budapest (the "Paris of the East" and the "Queen of the Danube") has become the most popular travel destination in Central Europe along with Vienna and Prague. Millions of tourists visit the city every year. Located on both sides of the Danube River and featuring both the rolling hills of Buda (on the west bank) and the organized, gridlike layout of Pest (east bank), these two very different cities united by convenience into one city offer the traveller a Viennese-style aura at half the price. But Budapest (pronounced "BOO-dah-pesht") is still very much its own city. The people are charming, and for the most part very helpful. They are proud of what this ancient capital has to offer, and proud of their contributions to European culture, especially in the field of music, a universal language one doesn't need to speak to appreciate.
Budapest first appeared on the world map when the Romans founded the town of Aquincum around 89 AD in what is today Óbuda. It soon became the capital of the province of Lower Pannonia, and the Romans even founded a proto-Pest known as Contra Aquincum on the other side of the river.
The Romans were eventually driven out by the Bolgars from present-day Bulgaria, who left behind the name Peshta (today's Pest), but were replaced around 900 by the Magyars, who went on to found the kingdom of Hungary. The Mongols dropped in uninvited in 1241, but the Magyars bounced back and built the royal castle that still today dominates Buda in 1427.
In 1541, Buda and Pest fell to the Ottomans and stayed in the hands of the Turks until 1686, when the Austrian Habsburgs conquered the town. Now at peace, both sides of the river boomed, and after an abortive Hungarian revolution in 1848–49 the great Compromise of 1873 made Budapest the united capital of the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.
Budapest emerged from World War I battered, but now the capital of an independent Hungary, and its population reached one million by 1930. Air raids and a terrible three-month siege towards the end of World War II resulted in the death over 38,000 civilians, and 20-40% of Budapest's Jewish community of some 250,000 were murdered during the Holocaust.
After the war, the city recovered and became a showcase for the more pragmatic policies of Hungary's relatively mild Communist government. Today's Budapest is by far the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan city in Hungary and increasingly popular with tourists. In 1987, it was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.
Ferihegy International Airport  (BUD, Ferihegyi nemzetközi repülőtér; pronounced "Fery-hedj'") is the country's largest airport and the hub of the Hungarian national carrier Malév. It has two terminals a few kilometers apart, imaginatively entitled Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.
As of September 2005 the small but renewed Terminal 1 (originally opened May 7, 1950) is being used by discount air companies. There are numerous low-budget airlines serve Budapest including, EasyJet, Wizz Air, Sky Europe, Air Berlin, Germanwings, Malmo Aviation, Norwegian Air, Sterling and Jet2.
The more spacious Terminal 2 (dated November 1, 1985) is further split into terminal 2A, used mostly by Malév, Air Malta, Moldavian Airlines, CSA Czech Airlines, Carpatair and 2B, used by everybody else.
One way of getting to and from the airport is to take the Airport Minibus, a "shared taxi"-type operation that rounds up passengers going in the same direction and will take you to or from anywhere in Budapest for a flat fee of 2100 Forint (approx. 8 or 9 EURO) per person. Join the queue at the airport and you'll be on your way in 15 minutes; for the trip back, call the center (pref. with 24h advance notice) and they'll be there to pick you up.
Another option is to take a normal taxi. It's somewhat faster than the Airport Minibus and if you're not traveling alone it will also be cheaper; the official fare if you ask for an Airport Transfer is around 4000-5000 forints per car, depending on whether you go to Buda or Pest. Unless you do so, it can cost a fortune for a foreigner, especially when you choose a freelancer for your trip. As of 2006 a taxi company named Zóna Taxi won monopoly for the right to take passengers from the airport, please only trust this company (unless you have a pre-ordered taxi from a different company you or your host trusts). You will have to pay the price in advance at the stand, where you will get a receipt, this eliminates any rip-offs.
The cheapest way is to take Bus No.200 from Terminal 2 or Bus No. 93 from Terminal 1 to Kőbánya-Kispest, from where you can continue on to central Pest with the blue metro for a total cost of two tickets (370 forints at time of writing). Note: Bus No.200 replaces "Reptér" Bus as of April 14, 2006.
There is an even cheaper way of getting into the city and to destinations east of Budapest (Debrecen, Romania) from Terminal 1: Take a local train from Szemeretelep. This station is about 800 meters from the Terminal. A ticket to Budapest-Nyugati or Budapest-Zugló cost 198 Forint. Kőbánya-Kispest - about 100 Forint. If you take a train east, consider taking the hourly local train to Monor, then the next local train to Szolnok or Cegléd, where different IC trains or international trains are available. Find your connection at: http://www.elvira.hu or http://www.bahn.de. Train staff will sell you a ticket without an extra fee for the normal price because Szemeretelep is neither served by a vending machine nor by a ticket office.
In winter time (Dec 1-Mar31) Malév offers discounted fares for international flights to Budapest, and its 45 partner hotels provide 4 nights accommodation for a price of 3 (: see Hotel List for a list of 3..5-star hotels).
Budapest has a number of train stations (pályaudvar), the main ones being Keleti (Eastern), Déli (Southern) and Nyugati (Western). Be sure to check where your train is leaving from! The stations aren't named for their geographic location in the city, nor for the direction of the destinations served by each. For instance trains to Vienna leave from Keleti. Transferring is fairly painless, as Keleti and Déli are both on the subway red line, while Nyugati is just a few stops away on the blue line.
The online timetable of Hungary's state railway company is located at http://www.elvira.hu.
Public transportation in Budapest is run by BKV, which has a useful English-language site. As of January 2006, single tickets cost 185 Ft a pop, or 210 Ft if you buy them on boarding. It's probably best to get a day pass, one-day travel card (1150 Ft)or a discount coupon book (10 tickets for 1665) or a three-day travel card (2500 for 3 days) rather than try to understand the byzantine system of transfers, however, or risk getting fined (currently you have a chance that you can buy a tourist ticket instead of paying the fine which is 2500). Most up-to-date information about tickets and prices can be found on BKV's ticket and pass information site. One ticket is good for only one direction on one line. Ticketing is apparently based on the honour system, but they do check tickets at major exits quite frequently.
The Budapest Card is an excellent discount card for travel in the city. There are 2 and 3 day versions, and besides allowing free travel on all public transport, it gives you discounts at museums, restaurants, etc. The 2-day card is 5200 HUF, and the 3-day card is 6500 HUF.
You might get lost in Budapest or be unable to find a bus or tramline using the maps found in some foreign published guidebooks. Many tourists experience this problem. Buy a map of Budapest published in Hungary, which may help prevent problems. You can get them at Budapest bookshops (könyvesbolt or könyváruház in Hungarian) for about 1000-1300 HUF (4-5 €).
Car drivers generally respect pedestrians and give advantage on a cross-walk even if there's no traffic light.
Don't wear high-heeled shoes in the downtown as there's lots of stone pavements, especially in the Castle Hill.
Budapest's metro, consisting of three main lines M1 (southwest-northeast) from Mexikói road, to Vörösmarty sqare; M2 (east-west) from Southern railway staion, to Örs vezér sqare and M3 (norh-south) from Újpest-city center, to Kőbánya-Kispest. It's in good condition and an excellent way to get around the city. The yellow M1 line sometimes still uses old wooden metro cars, and is a fun change from the ordinary, Soviet-style steel metros seen elsewhere in Central Europe. Sometimes called the Millenary Metro, because it was built to celebrate the thousandth year of Hungarian nationhood in 1896 along with the Millenary Monument, the yellow line was recently renovated for its hundredth anniversary. It is the first underground in the European dryland (if we tell the truth: it's the second in the World, just afterwards the first, built in London, UK). The stations covered in white and dark brown-red ceramic tile signs are the originals. They are easily distinguished from the Soviet-style metro stations and cars on the other two lines, the red M2 line and the blue M3 line.
Be careful of ticket inspectors who prowl the platforms and stations of Budapest's metro and seem particularly keen to target tourists. You must have a ticket for each trip or interchange on the metro; pleas of ignorance will go unheard. If you're issued with a fine by one of these blue-green armbanded officers, it is cheaper to pay on the spot (HUF 2,500, or about USD 12) than later by mail (HUF 7,000, or about USD 35, if paid within 30 days). The transit authorities have no power of arrest. The ticket inspectors usually speak enough English, German or Russian to get their point across.
The city council started to build the M4 from the Kelenföldi railway station to Bosnyák Square. The Kelenföldi railway station-Eastern railway station fare stage should be done by 31 December, 2009 and the Eastern railway station-Bosnyák sqare fare stage in one more year. The path will connect south Buda, and northeast Pest (southwest-northeast line).
All the metro lines are well represented on maps scattered on platforms. A midlet for Java enabled mobile phones is also available here.
Trams are a tourist-friendly way of getting around, slower but more scenic than the subway and particularly useful on the nearly subway-less Buda side of the river.
The two lines serving along the Danube (no. 19 on Buda and no. 2 on Pest) are considered a part of the cityscape. Let yourself ride the yellow trams and enjoy the view from them.
The 4-6 tram is easily the most useful tram in the city, following Pest's inner ring road, providing access to all three metro lines at multiple stations, and crossing over to Buda on the Margaret Bridge - another beautiful view. Although technically two lines, 4 and 6 only diverge for their last two stops, which the tourist is unlikely to visit.
This year, in 2006, the world's longest trams are starting their service on lines 4 and 6.
Where the trams don't go, there are buses. Budapest has a dense bus network, which also connects to the surrounding cities. (Note: you have to validate an extra ticket if you leave Budapest.) In some case there are red (rapid) and black (normal) lines; they can be hard to distinguish because sometimes red lines are only marked with a framed number. An "A" marker means a slight difference between the "black" (normal) bus path, and an "E" marker means that it has only 2 stations: the starting and final station.
There are 13 trolley bus lines in north-east and central Pest (mainly in the XIV, VI, VII districts). Some of them pass through the Városliget (City Park) and cross Andrássy Road, giving you beautiful views while using this eco-friendly mode of transport.
Budapest has a good night transportation system. Nightbus line numbers are triple-digit, starting with number '9'. Buses run every 15-60 minutes from around 11 p.m. until 4 a.m.; you need the same ticket that you do during the daytime. The main linking points of the nightbus network are Moszkva tér and Astoria, but you can find a night line in any tourist part of the city. It's a good idea to buy a map of the nightbus network (available at BKV ticket offices), because there are 29 lines leaving for several parts of Budapest. Don't expect to see ticket inspectors on night buses.
You can also use BKV Plc.'s site for checking the actual lines.
HÉV suburban railways connect central Budapest to several suburbs but are of little use to most visitors, with the notable exception of the line to scenic little upriver Szentendre. The same train takes you to Sziget Fesztivál, Central Europe's biggest summer festival. Connect from Batthyány tér on the subway red line.
Apart from the summer holiday Budapest has a heavy traffic with long-lasting traffic jams in the morning and in the afternoon. If you don't want to spend your visit to Budapest in a traffic jam, leave your car in the hotel's garage, and use the public transport.
If you drive across downtown, plan your journey otherwise you can get into tough situations. For example you cannot turn left in most of the crossings of the Great Boulevard (Nagykörút) or on the main avenues like Andrássy út, Váci út, Üllői út or Rákóczi út.
Use one of the taxi companies with English speaking switchboards, e.g. City Taxi - these are efficient and reasonably priced. When you call from a telephone box, they may be able to tell your location from the number, which saves having to work out how to pronounce "Nagymezo".
Taxis hailed on the street or at taxi ranks often charge foreigners inflated prices.
Aside from the river itself, the best reference points for orienting yourself are the bridges crossing the river. From north to south, they are:
The main sights on Castle Hill are:
Other museums on the Castle Hill:
The Danube Bridges, especially the Chain Bridge (see Orientation above) are really attractive and make it worthy to promenade along the river bank. You can have a superb glimpse over them from the Citadella on the top of Buda's Gellert Hill (Gellérthegy). Riding a boat is very recommended since you can enjoy both riverbanks at the same time - they are very spectacular at night.
Margaret Island (Margitsziget) and its large parks (see Buda) is a very pleasant place to relax and wander. Perfect for a sunny afternoon!
Downtown (Belváros) of Pest is the administrative and business centre of Budapest and the whole of Hungary. The main sights here are:
Museums in at the city centre:
On Buda side there are:
Most of the visitors from far away end up shopping in Pest in the middle of the city: Váci utca and nearby. It is historically the most expensive part of the city. You'll find Hungarian linens and lace, pottery, and other items, in souvenir shops. Also, chain stores can be found along the strip (C&A, H&M, Clinique, Estee Lauder, New Yorker, etc). Off of Vaci, away from the river, you'll find a small cafe, named Gerloczy Cafe, which is a nice place for coffee. (During the warmer weather, have a meal at one of the outside tables.) From there, walk down a side street and you'll find a small shop called "Hollo Muhely." Be intentional about looking for it because it's easy to pass by. There are nice painted eggs, wooden boxes and candlesticks, and even furniture there. If you are in town for a while, have the man there personalize your egss or jewelry box with your name- it's free. You definitely want to visit the "Nagy Vásárcsarnok" at "Fővám tér" the recently renovated markethall with essential atmosphere (it's at the south end of Vaci). The prices aren't set in stone, so be sure to bargain.
There are hypermarkets like "Auchan, Tesco, Cora" where daily stuff and food is cheap, and they offer an usually wide range of goods. (If you want to take some paprika as a souvenir, buy it here. It's much cheaper!) The "plazas" are usually good for buying clothes, but prices may vary wildly even in shops next to each other; if you are looking for international clothing shop chains like Mango or Zara, you can find them here. For electronics the cheap supermarkets like Electro World and Media Markt are good targets, but the quality is on par with the prices.
Local specialties include paprikás, gulyás, Lake Balaton pike-perch (fogas), pörkölt (a goulash-like stew with lots of onions), halászlé (fishermen's soup served differently by regions), stuffed cabbage, and liberal use of paprika. There is also a great variety of wonderful pastries, many of which you will recognize if you are familiar with Viennese pastries. As in other spheres, the Hungarian approach to food combines pride in their own traditions with a readiness to accept outside influences. The result is a vibrant restaurant scene where an Asian-Hungarian fusion restaurant may well be of genuine interest.
Liszt Ferenc Tér, close to Andrássy Út and Oktogon, has several trendy restaurants and bars popular with tourists and locals; it's a nice place to stroll around while choosing. Another place gathering many restaurants is Raday ut.
Coffeehouses (kaveház) are a Budapest institution and a visit to one should be on every traveller's agenda. As the name implies, these are places for a cup of coffee and a delectable pastry, not a full meal.
Tea is often accompanied with a small bottle of lemon juice.
Several all-you-can-eat restaurants are available in the city:
Top-notch quality food (1st category restaurants) charge a wide range of prices (from starters around 1000F, main courses around 3.000ft-10.000ft, and menus from 5.000ft). Some of the most famous ones are:
Budapest offers plenty of places to drink, from cool and ultra-hip to rowdy and downmarket. One particularly Hungarian experience is to visit a borozó (wine pub), where cheap but tasty Hungarian wine is available on tap, at ridiculously low prices if you find one off the tourist circuit.
Budapest offers a wide range of accommodation in all price classes, although the costs of staying here are notably higher than elsewhere in Hungary. The most expensive digs are on or near Castle Hill, while backpacker hostels are mostly across the river in the suburbs of Pest. Arriving trains are often met by touts offering free rides to hostels, as well as little old grannies offering their apartments for rent. Try to figure out exactly where you're going before you choose - or, better yet, visit any of the many travel agencies to browse the many options in a more comfortable environment.
Mobile phone seem to work perfectly in metro even in tunnels between stations, at least in the central part of the city.
Budapest is one of the safest cities in Europe, however as with all big cities you have to look out for the following: