Budapest is the capital city of Hungary. Home to some 1.8 million inhabitants, it is the country's commercial and administrative center.
The Danube River and the leafy hills of Buda
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.
The Chain Bridge and a view of Pest
Aside from the river itself, the best reference points for orienting yourself are the bridges crossing the river. From north to south, they are:
- Árpád Bridge (Árpád híd), a modern bridge linking to northern Margaret Island. The longest bridge in Budapest with its 973 meters.
- Margaret Bridge (Margit híd), easily identified thanks to its distinctive angled shape with a mid-bridge branch to Margaret Island; trams 4 and 6 cross the Danube here
- Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchid), completed in 1849, the oldest, arguably most beautiful and certainly the most photographed of Budapest's bridges, floodlit at night
- Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet híd), completed in 1903. Originally it was a chain structure bridge as the Chain Bridge; it was exploded by the Germans in 1945. The present modern cable bridge opened in 1964.
- Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd), elegant but simple, opened 1896; connects the Gellert Baths on Buda with the Great Market Hall on Pest
- Petőfi Bridge (Petőfi híd), for a long time the southernmost bridge, with quite large traffic, linking the Great-boulevard of Pest with Buda.
- Lágymányosi Bridge (Lágymányosi híd), the newest bridge in Budapest, with modern architecture and a spectacular lighting system, where mirrors reflect the beam of the upward facing floodlights.
Budapest is administratively divided into 23 districts, but for time being Wikitravel uses a simpler division:
- Buda — the hilly west side of the Danube (Districts I-III, XI-XII)
- Castle Hill — District I of Buda, the oldest part of the city containing the eponymous Castle and many of Budapest's best-known attractions
- Pest — the flat east side of the Danube, covering the modern commercial core of the city (Districts V-IX)
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.
As of September 2005 the small but renewed Terminal 1 (originally opened May 7, 1950) is being used by discount air companies.
The more spacious Terminal 2 (dated November 1, 1985) is further split into terminal 2A, used mostly by Malév - Hungarian Airlines, and 2B, used by everybody else, but this distinction is largely theoretical since these two 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 you're not travelling alone it will also be cheaper; the official fare is around 3500-4500 forints per car, depending on whether you go to Buda or Pest.
The cheapest way is to take Reptér busz 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 (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.
There is a scheduled hydrofoil service on the Danube to and from Vienna and Bratislava daily between early April and early November operated by Mahart .
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 4700 Ft while the 3-day card is 5900 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 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 as for 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 suggested to buy a map of the nightbus network (available at BKV ticket offices), because there are 29 lines leaving for several parts of Budapest.
You can also use BKV Plc.'s site for checking the actual lines (unfortunately there's only a Hungarian version of this page yet, because of the night network's renewal - the English version is hopefully coming soon)!
Most of Budapest's famous sights are concentrated on Castle Hill on the Buda side, in downtown Pest and along the riverside walkways.
The Chain Bridge with Buda Castle Hill in the background
The main sights on Castle Hill are:
- The Royal Palace (Királyi palota). The most popular attraction on the hill.
- The National Gallery (Nemzeti Galéria), inside the Royal Palace wings B, C and D houses an astounding collection of paintings.
- The Fisherman's Bastion and lookout terrace (Halászbástya). For great view across the Danube to Pest.
- Matthew Church or Church of Our Lady (Mátyás templom). Dominant neogothic church crowning Budapest's cityscape - nowadays is under reconstruction.
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:
- The Parliament Building (Országház). A neogothic confection.
- St. Stephen Cathedral (Szent István Bazilika). The main church of Budapest is an important example of neoclassical architecture, recently renovated.
- Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum (Dohány utcai Zsinagóga) The biggest Synagogue in Europe.
The Andrássy út boulevard in Pest stretches from Downtown (Belváros) to the City Park (Városliget). It is listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List and has some important sights along it, including:
- The State Opera House
- The House of Terror (Terror Háza) . An impressive but depressive museum about Nazi and communist terror.
- The City Park (Városliget) at the far end is probably the most pleasant of Pest's districts and houses a number of interesting if low-key attractions which are often overlooked:
- Heroes' square (Hősök tere) - with the Millenium Monument
- Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum) has an incredible range of European artwork from Greek and Roman times to the present.
- Budapest is a famous spa city, so go bathing! The most famous spas are the Gellért Baths, which is the tourist option, on the Buda side, or the Széchényi Baths right next to the Zoo on the Pest side where the locals go.
- Catch the opera at Pest's spectacular State Opera or a performance of classical music at any of Budapest's many concert halls.
- Cinemas (mainly in Pest) are a favourite pastime. Not just the big American blockbusters showing in badly subtitled versions all over the continent, but also smaller art films most people in their countries of origin haven't seen. Films are almost always subtitled rather than dubbed, which makes movie-going convenient for non-Hungarians.
- Cave walking in the Buda hills. Another way of passing a few hours is to visit the Caves on the Buda hills. There are 2 major caves, Pálvölgy Cave and Szemlő Hill Cave. Some of the guides do not speak any English but they give a free English pamphlet for the tour.
- Buda Hill Labyrinth. The Labyrinths are accessible by two points on the Buda hills. Originally parts were formed from hot water springs and then during WW2, they were linked with some of the cellars on the hill to create an air raid shelter for up to 10,000 people and a military hospital. The labyrinth is now a popular tourist attraction.
- Enjoy the many cafés all around Budapest. High concentration of popular cafeterias are found in Ráday utca and Liszt Ferenc tér. Or board the A38 boat (at Petőfi Bridge, Buda side) for a beer and various music performances. It is floating on River Danube and considered as one of Europe's coolest clubs.
- Jump in one of the luxurious baths and spas.
- The Sziget Festival at Obudai Island (=Sziget) attracts rock fans, world music hippies and the usual festival crowd every year in august. with cheap beer, great acts and a multitude of cultural, culinarian and musical offers, it's definitely a good deal. Day ticket are highly affordable, a week's ticket is about euro 100,-. More infos at http://www.sziget.hu
- Budapest University of Technology and Economics: B.Sc. and M.Sc. engineering courses available for foreigners in English and German language at the International Education Center of the university.
- Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music: world-famous music academy in the heart of the city. Check their English language pages for more information.
Paprika and more, Great Market Hall
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.
- The Backpacker Guesthouse in Buda. A favorite of backpackers, this small-to-mid size hostel is laid back and extremely friendly and personable. Kitchen access, inexpensive beer for sale, a great lounge with lots of (free) movies to watch, hammocks in the backyard, in a residential neighborhood near the 51/53 tramline and near a grocery store. If you can, definitely go caving. Plan to stay several days. I highly recommend this hostel.
- Diáksport Hostel in Buda. Flagship of Budapest's largest hostel chain. Huge and impersonal, but a good way to meet... other backpackers.
- Mellow Mood Central Hostel in Pest. Large hostel in a good location. Full of backpackers and a 24hr bar, staff are friendly if somewhat inept... By far not the cheapest hostel accommodation available though.
- Mellow Mood Marco Polo Hostel in Pest. Address: Nyar utca. Staff were not particularly welcoming or helpful. Very clean and well maintained. Expensive compared to other hostels in the area. Easy to find. Internet access was very expensive (250Ft/half hour) in the portal here. There are plenty of internet cafes locally charging 100Ft/half hour. Excellent buffet breakfast included. You do not have to stay: the breakfast can be purchased on its own for 460Ft per person. Hostel's website.
- The Station Guesthouse, near Keleti train station. This happening joint sees a constant stream of backpackers from around the world; a small bar and a common area with a pool table and couches mean that every night has the potential to become something of a party. If you don't mind the noise, the friendly staff and guests will likely make your stay very enjoyable. Accommodations include 4- and 8-bed dorm rooms with generous locker space and balconies. Visit their website for more information or to make reservations.
- Aboriginal Hostel in Pest, Bródy Sándor utca 46 (1st Floor) (8th District). Staff very helpful and speak very good English. The Hostel's website. They have also recently (as of Sep. '05) set up the Boomerang Hostel, Bank utca (2nd Floor). Both are highly recommended. The Boomerang is more modern, with a very new clean kitchen. Both have twin private rooms priced at 5000Ft (Sep. '05) per person per night.
- Leo Panzió in Buda. Centrally located near Váci utca, this is a small, friendly and modern three-star hotel
- Radio Inn in Buda. Small 3-star apartment hotel in a quiet upscale neighborhood, within easy walking distance of City Park.
- Hotel Wien in Buda. 15 minutes from the Castle Hill, with very good transportation, even at night!
- Hilton Hotel in Buda. Excellently located to the north of the Mátyás Templom. You can decide if the modern architecture with mirrored windows is a triumph of commercial design or a hideous blight.
- Hotel Gellért in Buda. The Hotel Gellért**** is one of the most traditional Hotels in Budapest and Hungary. The Hotel Gellért located in picturesque environment at the foot of the Gellért Hill, on the bank of the Danube is ideally situated for both business and leisure travellers. This impressive location is within walking distance to Budapest's most fashionable shopping and business district with one of the most beautiful sights of Budapest, the Liberty Bridge. The Bath operated by the Budapest Association of Spa and Thermal Baths, all courses of cure can be offered to the Hotel guests. The hotel's webpage.
- the most up-to-date list of wireless internet hotspots is available on this page
- Beware of the pickpockets (virtually everywhere you go nearby humans but especially on crowded trams and subway).
- Watch your steps: most of the pathways and grassy places are covered with dog faeces.
- Never give money to policemen (except for bribing, usual bribe amount varies around 10,000 HUF, but risky): they are not allowed to take cash by law.
- Avoid walking in the night alone (especially leaving the major roads.). Survival chances are good but below 100%.
- The Skanzen  open air museum, just outside Szentendre (40 minute train ride from Budapest) is easily reached by bus from the Szentendre HÉV (communal train) station. This is a huge tract of land to which ancient buildings have been moved from all parts of the country. Small farm villages, mostly with thatched roofs, now dot the landscape, along with barns, outbuildings and even churches. Many are furnished inside. Buy the English guide book, some of the attendants are very knowledgeable (and some not so) but few speak English. You could spend a whole day there (we have spent several) and still have things left to see. There are many ongoing events offered, especially for families with children.
- Statue Park with the collected memorials of the fallen Communist regime is located south of Buda.