Sightseeing and Public Transportation in Hungary
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- Learning a Few Hungarian Words
- Budapest History
- Hungarian Currency
- Public Transportation
- Must See Attractions - Budapest City Guide
We were so excited to make our way to Hungary! We took a train from Didsburry, United Kingdom (outside of Manchester) to London, and then flew to Budapest, Hungary. We generally prefer to take a train, but getting from the UK to Hungary is a bit more challenging to do by rail. It’s possible, but it would be a lengthy and costly journey (Rome2Rio). We usually have flexibility when we travel and can get a low fare and quick flight because of it. However, on this journey, we had a bit of a time constraint. We were finishing a house sit in Didsburry on a Saturday and starting another house sit in Budapest on Sunday. Our best option to get to Hungary in time was to take a train from Didsburry into Manchester, and a subsequent train into London. The cost was minimal, £57.11 for both of us. We then flew out of London (LTN) on a budget airline (Wizz Air) for just £129.00, for both of us. The base tickets were £40.99 each, but our bags are bigger than the free carryon size. So, we paid an extra £16.00 each, plus a £15.00 admin fee. We landed at 12:20 AM on Sunday morning, Budapest time, and found a $26 taxi (mini-bus) to get us to our house sit. The homeowner was gracious enough to welcome us at that early hour, and was happy to let us immediately go to bed and rest up before we met the whole family in the morning.
Learning a Few Words in Hungarian
One of the first things we learned was that locals pronounce Budapest as ‘boo-da-pesht’. It took a couple of times of saying it to correct our pronunciation, but we thought it was important, not only to fit in a bit more, but to be respectful. One of the things we try to do when arriving to a new place where the native language isn’t English, is to learn one or two key phrases in the local language. Being able to say “Hello” and “Thank you” go a long way in helping people feel we’re making an effort to communicate and not expecting everyone to speak English. It seems to help in getting a positive response when we need help or want to strike up a friendly conversation. We found a couple of very helpful YouTube videos (Eszter Gottschall and hungariantutor) to learn a few key phrases. Like “Jo Napot” for good afternoon. We watched both videos to be sure we got a decent handle on the pronunciation of the words. Another great resource to help with pronunciations is How to Pronounce.
Things to Know about Budapest
Two Cities Become One
Budapest is split by the Danube River, so it may be interesting to know that it was once two separate cities. In 1873, Buda and Pest joined to make one city. The two sides are easy to tell apart. Buda is full of hills, with many small suburban neighborhoods and is home to Castle Hill. Pest is flat, home to Parliament and Heroes Square, and is the commercial hub. Either side gives great views of the opposite side of the city along the Danube River.
Their Revolution Was Not So Long Ago
We like to know a bit about the history of a city when we visit. We learn about the area we’re visiting from doing research online, as well as museums we visit while sightseeing. Budapest just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution where they overcame the communist regime. Be sure to read about this significant part of history at Budapest by Locals.
While Hungary is part of the European Union, local currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF), not the Euro. We also noticed that HUF and FT (Forint) are used interchangeably, although FT is more often used for smaller values, like coins. While we were visiting, $1.00 USD was worth 300.00 HUF. The higher you get in value, the more zeros you’re dealing with, so it can be a bit tricky to do the conversion. Be sure to have a currency conversion app on your phone if you aren’t quick at doing the math in your head, we use XE Currency.
Bank notes, or paper bills, start at 500 and go up to 20,000. It’s important to always double check your bills when getting change; a 1,000 can look very similar to a 10,000. We’ve heard warnings that tourists can sometimes be taken advantage of when change is given. Knowing that tourists aren’t used to the large denominations of the currency and may not notice the difference between a 1,000 and a 10,000 bill.
If you’re dealing a lot with cash, it won’t be a surprise if you quickly end up with a pocket full of coins. Their value is low, but at least they don’t have pennies! Coins come in 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 FT.
As we mentioned above, Hungarian (Maygar) is the local language. It’s hard to read, pronounce and speak. However, like most places, learning a few words will go a long way.
We found, that while many people told us that most Hungarians speak English, the majority of the time we spoke with someone, they actually didn’t speak English. This, of course, has some to do with our travel style of not solely sticking to tourist areas, hotel lobbies, and city centers. Naturally, our chances of finding someone who we could communicate with in English went up when we were in city center, tourist areas and when we spoke with someone who was younger. Our Google Translate app (iTunes or Google Play) came in handy several times! We used it to ask for directions and get help navigating transportation signs.
The Basics of Public Transportation
Public transportation is similar in most cities. They’ll almost always have buses, and large cities will likely have trains, trams, and an underground system. However, what tickets, how to use the tickets, and how to get from place to place will vary in each city and country. Not knowing the language complicates things a bit more. Here are a few things we learned on navigating Budapest public transportation:
Public transportation is run by BKK.
Tickets can be purchased at automated machines. They can be found at most tram and metro stations and are easily spotted by the dark purple side panels. You can pay with cash (Hungarian Forint) or with a credit card. The machines are touch screen capable, have a language option to choose English, and are straightforward to navigate if you follow the guided prompts. There are a few options for tickets and the ‘best’ one will depend on how long you’ll be in Budapest and how often you plan on using public transportation.
- Single Ticket – Good for one trip, one-way and isn’t valid for transfers. That’s worth saying again, they aren’t valid to transfer from a bus to a tram, a bus to another bus or any other transfer, even if you’re on the same journey. If your journey is split in anyway, you’ll have to purchase another ticket, or a transfer ticket.
- Block of 10 Tickets – Same as the single ticket, just a pack of 10. If you’re doing several single journey’s, you’ll save a bit by purchasing the 10-pack.
- Transfer Ticket – Similar to a single ticket but allows one transfer. This ticket will cost a bit more than the single ticket, but less than two individual single tickets.
- Short Section Metro Ticket – Valid for up to three stops and for 30-minutes after validation. Saves a bit off the ticket price of a Single Ticket.
- Metropolitan Area Ticket – Valid for a single trip on the bus in the Budapest metropolitan area and the first bus stop within the administrative boundaries of Budapest. This ticket is good for 60-minutes after validation. This ticket is a bit less than a Short Section Metro Ticket.
- 24-Hour Travelcard – Valid for 24-hours of unlimited travel on buses, metros and trams. No validation is needed on this ticket. However, you can’t buy this ticket in advance. The machine will print the time and date of purchase as the beginning of the ticket’s validity period. Purchase this instead of Single Tickets if you’re traveling five or more segments/journeys in a day.
- 72-Hour Travelcard – Similar to the 24-Hour Travelcard, but it’s valid for 72-hours after purchase.
- Seven-Day Travelcard – This ticket is valid for seven days (00:00 on starting day until 02:00 on the seventh day) for unlimited travel within Budapest. You can buy this ticket in advance and no validation is needed when traveling (the start date you choose is printed on the ticket). This ticket is non-transferable and requires your name and ID number (passport or photo ID) to be printed on the ticket. If inspected, an ID must be shown with the ticket for inspection.
- 5/30 BKK Travelcard – A set of tickets that contain five 24-Hour Travelcards for unlimited travel in Budapest. The five tickets are valid for a 30-day period and are printed as one document. Don’t separate the tickets as they’ll be invalidated. When purchasing, you will indicate the date of start, which will start the 30-day period. When using a ticket, use a pen to write the time, day, month, and year on the ticket. This will validate the ticket. Do this for each of the five 24-hour tickets.
- Monthly Passes – There are 15-day passes and monthly passes available.
See ticket pricing information on the BKK web site.
Methods of Transport
There are over 200 lines in the bus network. Some buses are front door boarding only, pay special attention to the notices on the timetables posted at the stop. Lines are numbered 1-299 and run 4:30 am to 11:30 pm. Night buses are numbered 900-999 and run from 11:30 pm to 4:30 am. All night buses are front door boarding only.
Recognizable by their yellow color, there are over 30 tram lines. Trams are slower than Metros, but the views, especially from Tram 2 along the Danube Promenade, are worth it. Tram 6 operates 24-hours a day.
There are four Metro lines. They run 4:30 am to 11:10 pm. This is an underground/subway service.
- M1 – The oldest underground railway on Continental Europe (1896). Serves city center, including Andrássy út.
- M2 – Runs through City Center in an East-West direction. Serves Keleti pályaudvar train station.
- M3 – Runs on the Pest side of the city, between Újpest-Közpnt and Kőbánya-Kipest stations. Connects to Bus 200E for Airport service.
- M4 – The newest metro line, connects Kelenföld Railway Station in South Buda to Keleti Railway Station in North East Pest. The Great Market Hall and Gellert Thermal Bath are both served by the M4.
Suburban railway that serves the metropolitan areas of Budapest. If you stay in city center, you likely won’t use this service. Five lines: H5, H6, H7, H8, and H9.
Electrically powered trolleybuses that run on the Pest side of town. There are 14 lines and they're distinguished by their red color.
Public Transportation Tips
- Always validate your ticket. At the beginning of your journey, use the stamping machine on the platform or on the bus to stamp and validate your ticket. If you don’t and your ticket is inspected, you’ll be fined. We can’t stress this enough. Inspectors aren’t lenient and even if you’re a tourist and explain that you forgot to validate, they will still fine you. The fine is 16,000 HUF, but the inspector will decrease to 8,000 HUF if you pay the fine on the spot.
- For planning, if you’re just staying in the city center and don’t mind a bit of walking, you can get to all of the major attractions by foot.
- Keep in mind that the Buda side of town is full of hills, and the trek up to Castle hill is steep. If you’re adverse to the climb up to Castle Hill, there is a funicular that you can take. The funicular is independent of public transportation tickets and requires a separate ticket that you can purchase at the funicular entrance.
- Going to or from Ferenc Airport? You’ll probably want to take Bus 200E. 200E connects with Metro line M3 during the day and buses 914, 950 and 950A during night hours. Check the Trip Planner or Google Transit for exact directions.
- Like any large city, public transportation is crowded during rush hour. Plan accordingly.
- Not all doors open automatically; you may need to press the button to open the doors.
- To indicate your stop and ensure the vehicle stops, press the stop button well in advance.
- Food consumption is prohibited on board and at metro stations.
- Download the BKK app to get real-time information on service. Find the app, BKK FUTÁR, on Google Play or iTunes.
- Find accessibility information on the BKK site.
- Dogs – Small pets and dogs in a carrying case travel for free. Large dogs require a ticket and must be muzzled and on a leash. There’s a dog pass available if you're traveling frequently with a dog.
- Bicycles – To travel with your bike, you need an extra ticket. Bicycles are only allowed on rail (H5, H6, H7, H8, H9), bus lines 65 and 165, tram lines 59, 59A, 59B, 60, trolleybus line 77 and riverboat lines D2, D11, and the D14 ferry.
Want more information on Budapest public transport? The BKK has an informative PDF: Your Practical Guide to Budapest Public Transportation. It includes ticket and validation information, how to get real-time public transport information by downloading the app, maps, accessible information, and more.
Must See Attractions in Budapest
The best way to see a city is to walk it and to take public transportation. When we’re walking around town we almost always see a neighborhood, store or hidden gem that we wouldn’t have seen if we were in a car. Walking outside of city center and the tourist areas gives a good peak into the city and what it would be like to live there. We enjoy staying a few minutes outside of downtown and being able to see everyday life. This is also how we’re able to find good markets to shop at, places to get a haircut, and meet local people.
We spent three days seeing Budapest, with time built in for walking around. We left one full day to take a relaxing walk around town and enjoy the view from the Danube on both the Pest and the Buda side.
Budapest City Guide, in 4 Days
- Castle Hill – Dating back to the 13th century, this part of town has great history to explore. It’s easily visible from anywhere in town and is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site. There are many things to do and see on Castle Hill. Cars are limited to those who live or work on Castle Hill, those who are staying at the Hilton, and to taxis. We recommend walking up or taking the funicular.
- Matthias Church – Built in the 13th and 14th century when Buda was founded, it’s one of the oldest buildings in Buda. The building was restored in the late 19th century. There’s a small fee to enter; information on cost and hours can be found on the Matthias Church website.
- Holy Trinity Square (Szentháromság tér) – The center of Budapest Castle District, and where Matthias Church and Old Town Hall are located.
- Fisherman's Bastion – The climb up Castle Hill is well worth it when you see the view from Fisherman’s Bastion. Entry to the lower parts are free.
- Change of the Guards – It takes a couple of minutes and is worth timing your trip to see it. The change of the guards occurs in front of the Hungarian Presidential Palace daily, between 9 am and 5 pm, every hour, on the hour. We were lucky enough to experience it when it was accompanied by live music, which happens only once a month on Saturday. It’s located near the top of the Funicular and near the Turul bird statue.
- Hospital in the Rock – A nuclear bunker museum located in a six-mile stretch of interconnected caves beneath Buda Castle Hill. The museum covers the history of the emergency hospital, beginning during World War II and running through its use during the 1956 Revolution and it’s expansion during the Cold War. The museum can only be seen by one hour guided tours. For hours and ticket prices, see the Hospital in the Rock museums website.
- Citadella – A fortress on top of Gellért Hill that is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1851 by Habsburg Monarchy following the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Head here for great views of Buda Castle, the bridges over the Danube and the Pest side of town, including Parliament.
- Funicular – A fun way to make your way up to Castle Hill. Find information on hours and ticket prices on the BKV site. The lower station is located at the end of the Chain Bridge on the Buda side. The top station is on Castle Hill between the Royal Palace and Sándor Palace.
- Andrássy Avenue – One of the main streets in Budapest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a picturesque walk and worth the walk from Heroes’ square to the House of Terror, the State Opera House and into city center. Schedule extra time to wander through a few of the side streets to experience more of the city.
- Margaret Island – An island in the middle of the Danube, it can be reached by the Margaret Bridge and Tram lines 4 and 6. There’s much to see and do here. There are 11 outdoor pools, religious ruins, the Centennial Memorial, a Japanese Garden, a small zoo, a music fountain, and an art nouveau water tower. If you’re a runner, there’s a rubber-coated jogging track that runs around the island (3.3 miles). Cars are prohibited.
- St. Stephen's Basilica – (Budapest Cathedral) The largest church in Budapest, holding up to 8,500 people. Given the title of Basilica Minor by the Pope in 1931. For a small fee, you can climb the stairs to the observation deck.
- Shoes on the Danube Bank – A memorial along the Danube River by sculptor Gyula Pauer that honors those who were murdered during World War II. The victims were forced to the bank of the Danube, made to remove their shoes, and shot. Ultimately, their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. A touching, and popular memorial. Show up early to reflect and avoid the crowds.
- Hungarian Parliament Building – Located on the Danube River, on the Pest side. The building is worth pictures from both sides of the river. It currently houses the National Assembly of Hungary and is the third largest parliament building in the world. To see the inside you must schedule a guided tour.
- Heroes' Square – The largest square in Budapest, located on Andrássy Avenue, next to City Park, the Museum of Fine Arts and Kunsthall (Hall of Art). The Millennium Monument commemorates the history of the Magyars (Hungarians). In the center, the Archangel Gabriel is atop the center pillar, with the seven chieftains below him, who led the Magyar tribes to Hungary. Statues of historical figures stand on the colonnades to either side. Designed in 1894.
- Széchenyi Thermal Bath – Budapest is known for their thermal baths, and if you’re going to visit one, this is the one to visit. It’s one of the largest in Europe and is over 100-years-old. It contains 18 pools and is open year-round. Prices and opening times are available on the Széchenyi Thermal Bath website.
- Vajdahunyad Castle – Built in 1896 and located in City Park. In the summer the terrain around the castle is a boating lake, and in the winter a skating rink.
- Hungarian State Opera – Opened in 1884 and considered to have some of the best acoustics in the world. Visit by seeing a performance or get a guided tour.
- House of Terror – The museum commemorates the victims of the Communist and Nazi regimes in Hungary. The building was the headquarters of the Nazi Party in Hungary and then the State Security. Almost every room has a handout with information on the history of the room. We arrived at opening and by the time we left the line to get in was wrapped through the corridor and outside to nearly the end of the block. We suggest arriving first thing. Find hours and ticket price information House of Terror website.
- Szépművészeti Múzeum (Museum of Fine Arts) - Located at Heroes’ Square. It houses an extensive collection of 19th and 20th century art, and has the largest Spanish art collection outside of Spain. This museum is closed for renovation until early 2018, but worth a visit to see the architecture of the building.
- Széchenyi Chain Bridge – A suspension bridge that runs over the Danube, connecting Buda and Pest. Opened in 1849.
- Central Market Hall – The largest indoor market in Budapest. Everything from fresh produce and souvenirs, to spices and prepared food. It's free to explore all three floors, but it's difficult not to buy stuff.
- Szabadság híd – (Liberty Bridge) Connects Buda and Pest across the River Danube. One end is at the Gellért tér public square, and the other is at the Fővám tér public square by the Central Market Hall.
- Budapest Zoo & Botanical Garden – It's not only a great place to view the animals, but also to view the Art Nouveau architecture. Home to around 1,050 animal species and 2,000 plant species. Open to the public since 1865. Visit the Budapest Zoo website for hours and admission prices.