Budapest is the capital city of Hungary. Home to some 1.8 million inhabitants, it is the country's commercial and administrative center.
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.
Aside from the river itself, the best reference points for orienting yourself are the bridges crossing the river. From north to south, they are:
Budapest is administratively divided into 23 districts, but for time being Wikitravel uses a simpler division:
Ferihegy International Airport (BUD, Ferihegyi nemzetközi repülőtér; pronounced "Ferry-hed'") 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", but since all international flights now use Terminal 2 and there are no scheduled national flights, you are unlikely to ever see Terminal 1. This is a Good Thing, since Terminal 1 (opened May 7, 1950) was built by the Soviets and looks like it, while Terminal 2 (dated November 1, 1985) is spacious, well-lit and squeaky clean. Terminal 2 is further split into terminal 2A, used exclusively by Malév, and 2B, used by everybody else, but this distinction is largely theoretical since the terminals are in the same building and about 5 mins on foot from each other.
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 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 your not travelling alone it will also be cheaper, the official fare is around 3500 forint per car.
A third common option is to take the Centrum Bus, which runs every half hour and, for 600 forints, will take you to central Deák Ferenc tér/Erzsébet tér and let you fend your way from there.
The cheapest way is to take Reptér busz to Kőbánya-Kispest, from where you can continue on to central Pest with the blue metro for a total cost of two tickets (320 forints at time of writing).
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, but 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.
Public transportation in Budapest is run by BKV, which has a useful English-language site. As of July 2005, single tickets cost 170 Ft a pop, or 200 Ft if you buy them on boarding. It's probably best to get a day pass (1750 Ft)or a discount coupon book (10 tickets for 1450) or a tourist ticket (2700 for 3 days) rather than try to understand the byzantine system of transfers, however, or risk getting fined. 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 within the city. You can get it in 2 or 3 day versions, and along with allowing free travel on all public transport, it also gives you discounts at museums, restaurants etc. At time of writing, the 2-day card is 4350 Ft while the 3-day card is 5450 Ft.
Budapest's metro, consisting of three main lines, is the oldest in continental Europe. 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. 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.
Please note that the red M2 line is being renovated this summer (2005). From June 11th till August 19th you'll have to use a replacement bus between stations Deák tér and Stadionok. Batthány tér station will also be closed and can be reached by bus from Moszkva tér. Detailed information can be found here.
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 an on-the-spot fine by one of these red armbanded officers, it is cheaper to pay on the spot than later on by mail. The transit authorities have no power of arrest.
Trams are 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 as 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.
Where the trams don't go, there are buses. Budapest has a dense bus network, also with connections to the surrounding cities.
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.
Budapest has a less frequent and extensive, but still good night transportation system. Nightbuses have a letter 'É' (éjszakai = night in Hungarian) in their name like "6É" or "42É". Buses run every 15-60 minutes from around 11 p.m. until 4 a.m.; you need the same ticket as for daytime. If you don't want to spend a lot of money on taxi, they can be very useful. Check the Budapest Transport Plc.'s site for the actual lines!
There are plans to extend night bus system in the near future (more lines, more buses.)
The main sights on Castle Hill are:
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).
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:
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 may want to check Nagy Vásárcsarnok at Fővám tér the recently renovated markethall with essential atmosphere.
Prices may vary greatly.
There are hypermarkets like Auchan, Tesco, Cora where daily stuff and food is cheap, and they offer usually wide range of articles. The "plaza"s are usually good for buying clothes, but prices may wildly differ even in the shops next to each others. For electronics the cheap supermarkets like Electro World, Media Markt are good targets but their prices match the quality.
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.
Coffeehouses (kaveház) are a Budapest institution and visit to one should be on every visitor's agenda. As the name implies, these are places for a cup of coffee and a delectable pastry, not a full meal.
Budapest offers plenty of places to drink, from cool and ultrahip 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. 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.