The SZIAROBYN Approved Guide to Budapest

So, you want to come to Budapest? Wise, wise choice, young grasshopper. Now that Budapest is my adopted city, very little makes me happier than someone from the U.S. sending me an e-mail saying I’m coming to Budapest. Where should I go and what should I do? After all, the Fulbright mission is “cultural exchange,” and I feel it is my duty to get as many Americans to come and see the splendor that is this wonderful city.

Of course, by about the third e-mail, one does get kiscit exhausted with composing individual e-mails to all potential visitors. By January, I had already created the “1.0” version of my guide for easy sharing. Now,  I’ll share it some more.

Any good guidebook, naturally, can give you more information. Indeed, if you’re looking for a good one, I’d img_1015reccommend Time Out: Budapest (particularly good for you younger, bar-hoppy types) or, for the larger (and more mature) guide, try the Frommer’s guide — it is written by two great guys named Ron and Ryan, partners who own a B&B here in Budapest (I’ve met them through the Fulbright and through Hungary for Obama, and they’re charming … and they’ve been here long enough to really know what is what) But, the following lists and pages are just some personal favorites, in my completely subjective and humble opinion.

Check below for basic orientation information and a list of links to other pages I hope they can be helpful — and, that for those who haven’t planned their Budapest trip, they inspire some immediate searching on Expedia!

Pages:

To-See and To-Do

To Eat

To Drink

To Speak

Getting Here and Getting Oriented

Money
Hungary is in the EU, but not yet on the Euro. We still use the forint, (HUF). Right now, in April 2009,  it’s not a bad time to be using US dollars with the exchange rate: it has been hovering at about 210 to 225 HUF to the dollar (it does change a lot — it was at 155 HUF to a USD when I got here; at one point, it got as high as 260 HUF to the USD). ATM machines are abundant and work with all US and European bank cards that I know of. Common bank names to look for are OTP, Erste and K&H bank.

The best exchange rates are at ATMs, which use bank rates at the moment you withdrawl, and, even if your debit card charges you an international withdrawl fee, it is usually less than what the exchange bureraus chage. When you arrive, I’d recommend getting out about 25,000 to 50,000 HUF (about $115 – $220) to cover getting to and from airport/train station and checking in at hotel/hostel.

Weather
Spring and Fall are heavenly in Budapest! (As I write this, it is mid-April, and it has been sunny and in the 70s for more than a week).  The weather tends to be warm during the days, with cool nights. Cafes and restaurants pull out their terrace tables, and you can sit for hours people-watching at one of the many pedestrian-ized streets (might I reccommend Ráday utca or Liszt Ference tér as two prime see-and-be-seen spots?)img_0104

Summer can get pretty hot and humid (it is on a river), and of course, tourist time peaks.

Winter is cold, grey and long, so be sure you have good waterproof shoes, lots of layering stuff, and an umbrella. The bonus to coming in the winter, though, is beautiful decorations up for Christmas, hot wine sold everywhere, the Christmas market at Vörösmarty tér, going to the thermal baths and sitting in a super-hot, bubbly mineral tub while it snows on you, and few other tourists about.

Style/Attire
Hungarians tend to be fairly casual. Italy this is not: you needn’t worry about your silettos or super-fancy club tops. Particularly in the winter, I went out regularly wearing jeans and big sweater and felt fine in just about any bar. (Indeed, I often went straight from yoga class — un-make-up-ed and bad-post-exercise-hair — to an evening out. Not perhaps the wisest idea, given how much one sweats during yoga to follow it up with a dehydrating glass of bor, but fashion-wise, just fine).  So, just wear what you look good in and what makes your comfortable.

A word on shoes: There are lots of cobblestone streets about in some of the historic areas, and potholes do spring up regularly. Pest is flat, but all the beauty in Buda requires climbing. Hence, it is not what I would call a high-heels friendly city (Kimmie Russo, this message goes out to you and your impractical footwear).

If you plan to go to the Opera, howver, you might want to bring one non-jeans outfit, but even hear, you don’t have to worry about ball gowns there – I usually head to the Opera in a skirt, and fit in just fine. The exception is going to an opening night of a show — I have heard these are a bit fancier.

Eating and Drinking Out:
Budapest is not as cheap as it used to be, but by American standards, it is awesome (particularly coming off of 7+ years in Washington, where you can’t go out without dropping at least $40).

Service is verrrrrrrry slow (this is Europe, my friends. None of those 20-minute meals we Americans seem to love so much)  in most cases. No one will bring your check until you flag them down multiple times, so just relax and enjoy the surroundings.

Tipping is standard here – however, 10%, not 15-20% as in the States (I mean, unless you want to flirt with a cute Hungarian waiter by over-tipping him…). What is weird is that you NEVER leave the tip on the table. Instead, when you pay your bill, you either calculate it in and tell the waiter you don’t want change, or you ask for a certain amount of change back, figuring in the tip as well (Weird, I know… and very hard when you are not exactly best friends with math!)

Safety
In general, street crime is very low in Budapest – considerably lower, for instance, than in dear old DC. In my time here, I have generally felt very safe.

However, that being said, it is a city. It is best to walk with someone else, to be sure you know where you are going, to not attract a lot of attention to yourself by screaming in English — and I usually try to walk on the big ring road (the main boulevard) as much as possible after dark, since there are always tons of people out.  Use your common sense, and you will be fine.

Pick pocketing is the same (or less) of an issue than in any European city – i.e. zip up your purse, don’t wander around with huge sums of cash, and leave your passport locked up. The only place I know of that is reported for having a “problem” with this is Vaci utca (because it is tourist clogged) and the 4/6 tram (but I only heard that in summer, when it is jam packed with, you guessed it, tourists!)

Getting Here and Getting Around:

In general, be sure you have a good map in either your tour book or get one from Google maps. Budapest’s city center is quite small and walkable, but it is not at all easily organized (a grid this city is not! Lots of teeny sideways streets and all). If you can orient yourself so you understand where the two “ring roads” are, however, you will find getting around quite easy, so it is worth looking at a map before you come to get accustomed.

By Train:
If you arrive at any of the major train stations, there are metros right there. The Déli Pályaudvar, Keleti Pályaudvar (South and Eastern stations) are on the M2/Red line and Nyugati Pályaudvar (Western station) is on the M3/Blue line. Each one will get you into the city center in a few minutes

From airport:
If you are coming in on a major airline, you will likely arrive in Ferihegy 2 terminal; from one of those loveable budget lines (i.e. EasyJet or WizzAir or Ryan Air) in Europe, you will land in Ferihegy 1 (Budapest claims that this is all one airport. This is typical Hungarian exaggeration – the two “terminals” are really several kilometers apart and function like separate airports).

From either terminal, however, you can take the 200E bus — follow signs labeled “bus” or with the picture of the bus. It is a well-marked stop at each terminal. (schedule here http://www.bkv.hu/english/busz/200e.html) to the Kőbánya-Kispest Metro stop (on the M3/Blue line). From here, it is a short ride to the center of the city — just read the map to figure out where you need to be. If your hostel is on the Yellow or Red line metros (M1 and M2, respectively), you will need to ride the M3 to Deák Ferenc ter, and switch there, as this is the only place in the city where all the lines meet up.

From main bus station:
If you are coming in on one of the European bus lines, (like Orangeways), you’ll land at Nagyvarad ter. (It might look a bit sketchy, but it is safe enough.) It is on the M3/Blue line, and just a few minutes into the bustle and fun of the city center

Public Transport:
Budapest has a really great public transport system of buses and trams, and a metro that covers the inner city well. Their English site is also very up-to-date and useful: http://www.bkv.hu/english/home/index.html

I’d recommend printing out the metro map, if your tour book doesn’t have one.

The main trams to know are the 4/6 (which runs the Big Ring Road, circling the city) and the 49/47 (which runs on the “small ring”, another circle inside the city)

To use it, you can either buy individual tickets from automatic machines located in all metro stations, or at the pénztár, or ticket office. You have to stamp the ticket at the little orange machines that will be at the entrance to every metro station, or on the bus or tram itself (usually attached to a pole near the doors).  You MUST stamp these, or the BKV Kontroll can fine you 6,000 HUF. If you don’t have said 6,000 HUF, they are within their rights to march you to an ATM and pay it. That’s not a scam – it is actually legal. And because the BKV get a cut of every caught person, they look for foreigners … hence, it’s best to just get the ticket and stamp it.

If you plan to do lots of sightseeing, I recommend just getting a pass. You have to buy these at the ticket window, and they have two-day, three-day and weeklong passes. These passes allow you to use all the BKV public transport. You need to flash the pass getting on to the metro, however on buses and trams, just have it with you in case Kontroll come by and ask for your ticket.

To ask for them in Hungarian (most ticket folk speak enough English to do this, but just in case…), here it is in Hungarian with my bad phonetic spelling (remember, I am not good at this language. If you recall, I did recently confused the word for  “memorial plaque” with the word for “fake breasts” … so don’t blame me if my meager attempts at Magyar get you nowhere!)

Two-day:  Kerek ket nap jegy (CARE-REK KET NAP J-EDGE)
Three-day: Kerek haróm  nap jegy (CARE-REK HAR-ROM NAP J-EDGE)
Weeklong: Kerek hét  nap jegy (CARE-REK HATE NAP J-EDGE)

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2 Responses to “So, You Want To Come to Budapest?”

  1. abouelharith Says:

    i am Algerian so what a should do to visit
    Boudapest

  2. Ryan James Says:

    Hi,
    I am not sure whether or not you will receive this since your blog is back in the day. However, I wanted to thank you for the referral to our B and B- BudaBaB. Thanks to this, we did receive two fabulous young guests, a couple.
    Ryan
    BudaBaB

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