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, Kraków 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.
Official Tourism Information
Quality of life
Homeless people are fairly commonly seen in some of the inner city metro stations and sleeping in doorways in both Buda and Pest.
Ferihegy International Airport (IATA: BUD , Ferihegyi Nemzetközi Repülőtér; pronounced "Ferry-hedge") 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, often mentioned as Ferihegy-1 and Ferihegy-2, respectively.
The small but renovated Terminal 1 (gates 1-10; originally opened May 7, 1950) is being used by discount air companies. There are numerous low-budget airlines serving Budapest; most important are EasyJet (from Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland), SkyEurope (from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, Netherlands and Spain) and WizzAir (from Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden). Other low-fare companies also operate regular flights to/from Budapest: AirBerlin (from Germany), Blue1 (from Finland), Germanwings (from Germany), Jet2 (from Great Britain), Norwegian Air Shuttle (from Norway), SmartWings (from Czech Republic and Spain) and Sterling (from Denmark and Sweden).
The more spacious Terminal 2 (which opened November 1, 1985) is further split into terminal 2A and 2B. Terminal 2A (gates 20-30) is used by MALÉV Hungarian Airlines and its partner airlines, Aer Lingus, Aeroflot, Carpatair, ČSA Czech Airlines and Moldavian Airlines. Terminal 2B (gates 11-19) is used by the major international carriers.
It is always wise to double check your arrival and departure terminal; while Terminal 2A is within a short walking distance from 2B, the distance between Terminal 1 and 2 is sizable, a trip takes 6-8 minutes by car or 12 minutes by bus.
Budapest is connected with the major European cities and most of the EU countries by direct flights. There is scheduled service between Budapest and North America, operated by Malév and Delta Airlines. The city is connected with some countries of the Middle East, Asia and North Africa.
In winter (Dec-Mar) Malév's Budapest Winter Invasion  offers discounted fares for international flights to Budapest, and its 45 partner hotels provide 4 nights accommodation for the price of 3.
For travelling between the airport and the city center the best options are taxi or public transport; taxi is the fastest, public transportation is the less expensive way to get in.
In 2006 a taxi company named Zóna Taxi  +36(1)365-5555 won monopoly for the right to take passengers from the airport. The company has received good reputation from the clients. You will have to first queue up at the stand, where you will get a receipt stating the price. You then pay the driver directly at the destination. This system eliminates any rip-off. The fare varies according to the zone you go. A trip to Budapest costs HUF 3000-4300 (EUR14-19); a Terminal 1/Terminal 2 transfer is HUF 1600 (EUR 7). From the city to the airport the same company tends to be the cheapest and their fares are actually lower going that direction - HUF3000-3500 (EUR14-16). If you get the hotel to order the taxi for you, make absolutely sure they call the right company; they will often have a specific company they tend to use. The fare can be paid in euro as well as in florints, so if you have euros you don't need to worry about changing money in the airport. Of course it is a good idea to have exact change.
Unless you have a pre-ordered taxi from a different company, do not accept any offer from taxi drivers waiting in the terminal main hall or around the entrance. For further information read also Safety section.
The less expensive way to Budapest from Terminal 2 is bus 200; from Terminal 1 is bus 200 or bus 93 to Kőbánya-Kispest metro station (terminus of metro 3). Buses leaving for Budapest stop outside the terminal buildings. The same bus stop serves Terminal 2A and 2B.
Vehicles on the line 200 are modern, low floor buses equipped with a reliable display and sound information system and spacious luggage holding facilities. The trip to the metro takes 26-30 minutes from Terminal 2, or 15-17 minutes from Terminal 1. Buses run every 8-20 minutes from 04:55 to 00:15 from Terminal 2, and from 05:05 to 00:25 from Terminal 1. The last four departures are connected to the night buses 914 and 950 which replace the metro. There is no night bus service between the airport and the city.
Bus 93 operates only on weekdays, it is slower and less frequent, being intended mostly to serve residential areas between Terminal 1 and the metro.
Public transport tickets are available in the main terminal halls for HUF 230. On bus 200 the driver sell them for HUF 260.
When travelling from the city to Terminal 1 on bus 200, pay attention to get down in time, since terminal building is not visible from the main road where the bus stops.
If you travel alone, it is worth considering using the Airport Minibus service, a shared taxi like operation that rounds up passengers going in the same direction and will take you to or from anywhere in Budapest for HUF 2300 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 (at least 24h beforehand) and they'll be there to pick you up.
If your final destination is an East Hungarian city like Debrecen or you intend to proceed to Romania, from Terminal 1 you can reach Szemeretelep railway station walking. The distance is not more than 800 m, but do not expect directions on your way. Train staff will sell you a ticket without any extra fee - Szemeretelep is not served by a ticket office or a vending machine. Otherwise it is easier to get to Kőbánya-Kispest metro-railways station by bus or by taxi, and catch your train there. Find your connection at Hungarian Railways timetable.
According to the latest news (February 2007), the completion of a new railway station for serving Terminal 1 is expected to June 2007.
Duty Free Shopping at Terminal 2
Duty free stores are operated by Travel Value . Be advised that Customs authorities in German airports may not allow you to bring duty-free items purchased at the airport in Budapest through Germany.
Among dedicated brand shops, there are only Hugo Boss and Swarowsky.
The traditional alcohol-tobacco-sweets assortment shop has a decent choice of local wines, mainly by Gundel.
The local souvenirs shop has particularly useless stuff.
Terminal 2B pre-boarding area has half a dozen of cafes.
Due to its ideal location in Central Europe, Budapest is easily reachable by train from other European countries; there are daily connections to/from Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine; Budapest is also well connected to other Hungarian cities.
The city is also an ideal starting point to visit The Balkans, Russia or Ukraine by rail. Trains coming from Austria and Western Europe are clean and safe, the ones arriving from other countries tend to be shakier. Night trains coming from The Balkans and Romania are supposed to be less safe; take normal precautions.
Hungary’s rail system is operated almost entirely by Hungarian State Railways (Magyar Államvasutak, MÁV). If you arrive to Budapest from another Hungarian city, you can choose among a wide range of services. Travelling by Intercity is more expensive but vehicles are much cleaner and faster than regular trains (2nd class price sample as of February 2007: Győr-Budapest Intercity, 1h 26 min, HUF 2230; regular train 1h 45 min, HUF 1710). Always check if your train is subject to compulsory reservation; for prices and further information check MÁV’s timetable. It is wise to reserve your Intercity tickets for national holidays, Friday and Sunday evenings beforehand. It is still NOT possible to buy rail tickets via Internet.
Note that EU citizens under 26 years get 33% discount on trains between Friday 22.00 and Sunday 24.00; EU citizens older than 65 years travel for free on every train on second class. On Intercity trains extra fare is applicable. Discounted rates are NOT available on international rails. For your international travel plan check Deutsche Bahn's European Timetable.
Major Budapest stations are still are not up to western quality standards; they are hard to access for people with disabilities and their facilities are very limited. Do not expect luggage trolleys or clean toilets. Having food or a coffee at a Budapest railway station is unlikely to give you a gastronomic buzz; it's also difficult to find a good nearby cafe if you didn't research in advance. Be prepared for long queues at the ticket office; English is rarely spoken.
Depending on where you are coming from, some outer stations can be useful to you; trains arriving from Vienna, Bratislava, the lake Balaton or other western locations stop at Budapest Kelenföld station, which is a good public transport hub for Southern Buda. Trains arriving from Romania, Ukraine and Eastern Hungarian cities regularly stop at Kőbánya-Kispest station, a good place to get to Eastern Budapest or to Ferihegy Airport.
If you intend to use taxi on your way from the station, do not accept any offer from drivers waiting around the station entrance. For further information read also Safety section.
While many travellers leave out this possibility, arriving to Budapest by bus can be an easy and painless option. The city is connected to Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine by direct lines. Although most of connections are not as frequent as they were before the low-fare airlines revolution, they still run two or three times a week; from Austria and Slovakia daily. Prices tend to be slightly lower than train fares, but higher than a discount air ticket. Travelling by bus is a very competitive option if you catch your bus to Budapest in a city not covered by budget airlines (in Strasbourg, France, for example). All the international lines are logoed by Eurolines , whose site offers a good way to check prices, timetables and book your ticket. Some special discounts may not be available via Internet.
Hungary’s national bus network is operated by 28 state run companies, united in Volán Association . If you arrive to Budapest from another Hungarian city, bus is often the best option. Connections are frequent, prices are lower than Intercity, but somewhat higher than regular train rates (price sample as of February 2007: Győr-Budapest, 1h 50 min, HUF 1890). It is expected a joint tariff system for railway and bus network for late 2007. Long-distance buses are clean and safe, but often subject to delays. Buy your ticket at the station ticket desk before boarding; if you do not take your bus at a main station, it is possible to buy a ticket from the driver. It is a good idea to reserve your tickets for national holidays, Friday and Sunday evenings beforehand. It is NOT possible to book a national ticket via Internet, but you can check Volán’s official timetable . It is available only in Hungarian, but easy to use: “honnan” means ‘from’, “hová” is ‘to’; write your departure date in format year/month/day, leave the other parameters alone and press “keresés”, ‘search’. Check the results on the next page. (“Autóbusz állomás” will mean ‘bus station’, while “naponta” is ‘daily’).
Budapest’s main bus stations are very well connected to the rest of the city, although they are located in outer zones. All of them are safe and (relatively) clean. Use your common sense and sit only in taxis logoed by bigger companies. Most useful bus stations for travellers are following:
Public transportation in Budapest is run by BKV, which has a useful English-language site. As of February 2007, single tickets cost HUF 230 (HUF 260 if you buy them on board - note that tickets are sold by the driver only on selected routes). If you intend to travel a lot, it's a better option to get a one-day travel card (HUF 1350) or a discount coupon book (10 tickets for HUF 2050, 20 tickets for HUF 3900) or a three-day travel card (HUF 3100). Information about tickets and prices can be found on BKV's ticket and pass information site. One ticket is good for only one journey; anytime you take a new vehicle, you should validate another ticket.
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 costs HUF 6450, the 3-day card is HUF 7950.
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 square; M2 (east-west) from Southern railway station, to Örs vezér square and M3 (north-south) from Újpest-city center, to Kőbánya-Kispest. It's in good condition, not overcrowded and an excellent way to get around the city.
The yellow M1 line runs shorter trains and sometimes still uses old wooden metro cars--a fun change from the ordinary, Soviet-style steel metro cars seen on the red M2 line and the blue M3 line, as well as elsewhere in Central Europe. M1 stations are also surprising, like as you find a tram in a normal pedestrian underpass.
Sometimes called the Millenium 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 line is a historical memory of Budapest's richest period (around 1880-1910). It is the first underground in the Continental Europe (and the second in the world, after London; Paris was only the 3rd -- and Hungarians are really proud of having the oldest continental subway). The stations covered in white and dark brown-red ceramic tile signs are the originals.
Be careful of ticket inspectors who prowl the platforms and stations of Budapest's metro really frequently 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 arm banded officers, it is cheaper to pay on the spot (HUF 2,500, or about $12) than later by mail (HUF 7,000, or about USD 35, if paid within 30 days). The transit authorities have no power to 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 square 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. Be careful about doors--they open on different side of the tram on different stations.
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.
Tram lines 4 and 6 are supposed to be the most useful vehicles by many tourists. Both follow Nagykörút, 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.
In 2006 the world's longest trams started 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 and at taxi ranks often charge foreigners inflated prices.
Bikeways separated from automobile roads are all around the downtown and, possibly, in the outskirts as well. There are many cyclers on the streets even in winter time. Renting a bike doesn't seem a problem also, even in winter time.
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 (see Orientation above), especially the Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) are really attractive and make it worthy to promenade along the river bank. Lánchíd (pronounced “laance heed”) means chain bridge and the suspension structure of the bridge is made of chains whose links are huge dog-bone shaped metal bars linked by pins at their ends.
You can have a superb glimpse over the bridges 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:
Theatre and opera
Hungary has a surprisingly rich theatre scene and, not surprisingly, Budapest is the epicentre of it. Season begins in mid-September and ends in June. Productions range from classic dramas and traditional operas to post-modern performances. There is much to discover around Budapest theatres, even if you don't speak Hungarian; the following venues can be particularly interesting for non-Hungarians. Tickets are bookable about one month beforehand at Interticket, the Hungarian theatres' official booking engine for a small (10% + HUF 50) booking fee.
Budapest’s cinema life has developped around malls. Since the shopping center revolution in the late 90’s, more than two third of the city’s cinema screens are run by international chains and franchises. Mainstream cinemas mainly show subtitled Hollywood films and Hungarian romantic movies. For contemporary European and Hungarian titles turn to Budapest’s excellent art house movie chain, Art mozi – most of their branches are provided with a café or pub and offer pleasant atmosphere to spend your evening.
Budapest is a famous spa city, so go "bathing".
The baths are really the last vestige of Turkish culture in Budapest, left over from their occupation of the city. Budapest does not have a large Turkish culture the way a city like Berlin or Munich does: instead the Hungarians have modified and molded this tradition into something of their own.
All baths are built around hot springs, and their central part is one or several thermal pools. They are usually complimented with several steam baths, saunas and massage services.
Tourist mix: after locals, Russians seem to be most frequent in Budapest's baths; Italians and Americans come next (and for many Americans, baths are the main reason for visiting Budapest).
Traditional public baths
Traditional public baths (like Gellért, Széchényi) have quite complicated navigation and soviet-time service and admission system, but it's worth going through to experience authentic bathing with locals around you. At the cash desk at the entrance, you are expected to select treatments / areas to access in advance. Time to spend in baths is not restricted, but if you're finished earlier, some part of your payment may be returned. The only thing that can't be paid at the entrance is rental of towels and bathrobe (and/or deposit for it)--it should be paid inside, right where they are given. There're two types of place to change clothes: a common room with lockers is cheaper (male/female-separate, of course); cabins can be used by families and may differ in size (2 or 3 persons). For cabins, you're handed a token with a number, which is also written on a chalkboard inside as a security code; you need to remember cabin number. To open your cabin, show your cabin and a token to attendant, and s/he'll check it against the number inside. In swimming pools, swimming caps are recommended (and are available for rent), although this is not always strictly enforced.
There're also very modern baths (like Danubius Grand Thermal Hotel) which are usually called spa, although their central component are thermal pool and multitude of steam baths/saunas, which is not always typical for spas in the rest of the world.
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.
You definitely want to visit the Great Market Hall (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.
Also, chain stores can be found along the Váci utca (C&A, H&M, Clinique, Estee Lauder, New Yorker, etc).
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.
Absynthe is available for purchase with in common liquer stores, a must have purchase for the european traveler.
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.
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.
Budapest has many great places to eat, but an unfortunate number of tourist traps as well. Avoid restaurants in touristy areas like Váci utca, especially if the customers are all foreigners, or you'll more likely than not be served mediocre food with an exorbitant bill padded with all sorts of bizarre charges. In other restaurants too, note that anything you don't explicitly ask for, but appears on your table anyway, is likely to be charged for.
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: Gundel and Mátyás Pince in Pest.
Only cross-district chains are listed here; see district articles for individual restaurants.
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)
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 from the small cheap pension to the luxurious 5-star hotels, 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 most expensive digs are on or near Castle Hill, while backpacker hostels are mostly across the river in the suburbs of Pest. However, Buda has better air quality due to the closeness of the hills and the forests lying to the west from the city.
Mobile phones work perfectly in metro even in tunnels between stations.
The first question travellers have about an unknow city is often related to safety. ”Is it safe? Is there anything dangerous?” If you've never been to Hungary, be assured that Budapest is not less safe then any western European metropolis – basically, you're unlikely to have any problem if you follow some basic rules you would follow in Paris, Bruxelles or Vienna. Most of Magyars are very friendly with foreigners. Racism or xenophobia against tourists is practically unknown.
Hungarian policemen rarely speak English or any other foreign language, but you have no reason to be afraid of them unless you break the law.
Luckily, Budapest has no off-limit zones, particularly not in the touristy areas or nearby. As a traveller you only should take normal precautions; don't show off your money and don't wear flashy jewellery. Beware of pickpockets, especially at pubs, crowded restaurants, fast food eateries and on public trasportation vehicles. Petty crime is quite common, but is mainly limited to robbery and petty theft. Major railway stations (especially Keleti Pályaudvar), dark underpasses in the suburban area and some outer zones of district 8th in Pest are supposed to be the most dangerous zones by locals. Violent crimes are very rare. Remember: most locals live their whole life without having their purse robbed.
There's no reason to have concerns about Budapest by night. In practice the whole city, including all the touristy areas, Pest within the inner ring road (the line of Szent István körút–Teréz körút–Erzsébet körút–József körút–Ferenc körút, popularly known as Nagykörút), and Buda are completly safe even before dawn. Most locals avoid walking alone by night in outer zones of districts 8th and 9th in Pest, as these are shady, though not particularly dangerous areas. Bigger public parks as Városliget, are surely to be avoided.
Night buses passing through the city center, mainly line 906 along the inner ring road can be extremly crowded on Friday and Saturday nights. There is a serious risk to come across with agressive drunk youngsters on the vehicles or at the stops. Keep low profile or avoid night public transportation system on weekends.
Like in several cities of the world, in Budapest there are two major risks for the inexperienced tourist: taxis and restaurants.
Taxi was travellers' nightmare, mainly for those arriving from / going to the airport. Luckily the situation is slowly getting better. In 2006 Zóna Taxi, a reliable company have won monopoly for the right to take passengers from the airport; for the details read Airport transfer chapter. Unless you ordered a cab from a different company, do not accept any offer from taxi drivers waiting around the terminal entrance. Some of them may want to mislead travellers, demanding them as much as EUR 100 for a single trip. If you travel the other way around (from the city to the airport), pre-order your taxi on the chosen company's phone number.
Unfortunately situation around railway and bus stations is still not regularized. The worst is probably Keleti Pályaudvar: never trust drivers hanging around the arrival side, rather pre-order a car. Whether it's not possible, take only taxis logoed by one of the bigger companies. As a general rule, make sure the taximeter is on or bargain the price with the driver beforehand. Even in 2006 many cases have been reported when taxi drivers extorted hundreds of Euros from inexpert foreigners.
Similar abuses have happened also in restaurants and pubs, almost all of them in the vicinity of Váci utca in Pest. You should absolutely avoid Váci utca's eateries and bars, mainly between Elisabeth bridge and Vörösmarty tér. Many of them are simply tourist traps, offering bad quality for ridiculously high prices. The majority of restaurants and pubs in Budapest are reliable. In Hungary it's compulsory to put the menu card outside the entrance; if it's not the case, don't enter. Eat only where locals eat, drink where locals do.
If you're a male tourist, don't accept any invitation for a drink from the not-so-beautiful girls hanging around Váci utca. You can be sure that they will have fake French champagne and you will only have the bill, but nothing else. It's unlikely that a small talk with them is worth hundreds of Euros. You'll find the same girls in erotic and topless bars; avoid them unless you're ready to pay your monthly salary for a glass of wine.
Unlike in many democratic countries of the world, violent political demonstrations have never been frequent in Hungary. In September-October 2006 and in March 2007, however, some anti-governmental demonstrations resulted in heavy street fights and affrays. Hungarian State Television (MTV) and other public buildings were besieged, police and private cars burned up. Police's rule in the demonstrations has been widely discussed, as obtrusive demonstrators and bystanders apparently were arrested with no distinction. Since then the situation calmed down completely. While political demonstrations are not to be avoided, never participate in violent, illegal or nocturnal demonstrations (if they occur), as your personal security can not be guaranteed.