Take a trip on one of the many river boats which take off from stops along the River Danube, cost about 600HUF about £2.00. You can either stay on, take in the history of the nine bridges each with their own story. Or you can go up to Óbudai Island or Margaret Island both with breathtaking gardens.
Along the River Danube
To celebrate 200 years since the birth of 19th century Hungarian composer Ferenc Liszt, Budapest's Ferihegy International Airport changed its name in March 2011 to Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport (Hungarians write the surname first, and Franz is Ferenc in the Magyar tongue).
Budapest Airport has two main terminals: Terminal 1 (closer to the centre in an older, original building) serves all low-cost carriers.
Terminal 2 is further away from the city, in the village of Vecses, and divided into 2A, with flights to/from Schengen countries and 2B, serving all non-Schengen destinations, such as the USA.
Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport
Tel: (+36-1) 296-7000
The airport is located approximately 10 miles from the city centre.
Terminal 1 is easily reached from the centre on a fast rail link costing about £1.
Terminal 2 is further away, and can be reached by taxi, airport minibus service or metro to Kobanya-Kispest station and then bus.
Google map: bit.ly/g6qOS3
I've used the fixed fare taxi system (a shared minibus) every time I have visited Budapest - ask for the return fare. They will come and collect you from your hotel and take you back to the airport.
NB: you have to ring 24 hrs before and confirm collection.
If you're arriving at Budapest Ferihegy Airport Terminal 1, you can now hop on a train at the airport and travel to the main downtown railway station - Nyugati (West) Station.
It costs 300 Forints (about 80p) and takes about 25 minutes. Far cheaper than other options and faster than most, expensive taxis aside.
Most of the budget airlines fly to Terminal 1. If you're flying BA or another "normal" airline, you'll arrive at Terminal 2 and this tip does not apply to you.
The public transport system in Budapest is superb, and the traffic terrible, so it's a no-brainer. The new trams are the Bentley turbos of trams. Get a carnet of ten tickets at any metro station, and they are good for all transport. You must validate a ticket for each journey or part of the journey if changing. There is a brilliant website (transport maps do not exist) with an English version. This gives all routes, maps, intersections, stops - a really informative and useful site:
It is a simple rack and pin railway that takes you up into the Buda hills, from where you can have wonderful views over to Pest and go walking on various trails through the hills. You can also walk to the Children's Railway (a model railway entirely operated by children volunteers) from here, although we did not have time to do this I would recommend it.
It is Europe's third oldest cogwheel railway and when you go up into the snow covered hills in January its very pretty and very romantic.
It is also part of the BKV system therefore if you have day tourist travel tickets you can travel on the cogwheel railway along with the buses, trams and metro.
The lower terminus is opposite the Hotel Budapest in Buda, you can catch a tram to here from Moskva Ter and it only takes 10 minutes at most.
When departing Budapest by air (and presumably when arriving too), don't bother with the various taxi/minibus services. The public transport alternative is efficient, perfectly easy to use and far, far cheaper (about £1 each way, as opposed to £6ish for the shuttle service).
From the town centre (Deak Ter) to the airport, simply take the blue metro line to the end of the line, then jump onto the clearly signposted no: 200 bus (complete with little aeroplane logo and English announcements). It goes to Terminal 1 first, then Terminal 2, and the entire journey to Terminal 1 takes about half an hour.
You need to validate one single ticket on the metro, and then another on the bus (or vice versa if arriving). True, ticket staff don't speak much English, but they are quite keen to help, and "2 single tickets" is widely understood (if various options are proffered, single tickets are the little flimsy orange ones with perforations).
The airport minibus is expensive by Hungarian standards and not a particularly good service. The standard of driving when we took it was atrocious and on our return journey, we were kept waiting & driven on a tour of the city while they tried to fill it up with other passengers.
Budapest has three metro lines that are great for getting about, but spend a few moments enjoying the look of them too. Line 1 is the oldest (as far as Hosok Tere, anyhow - the extension to Mexicoi Utca was completed in 1973) and is undoubtedly charming (even the little cartoon fanfare noises that signal imminent arrival or departure sound chipper), but I also became quite obsessed with the grimy space-age look of the other two lines, particularly the Dr Who/Kubrick/James Bond look of the Deak Ter station on lines 2 & 3. It's all in the lights, it seems - very photogenic, in it's own brutal fashion. Deak Ter station - as someone else said, it's the Kings Cross of the Budapest system. If you can't find it, you're hopelessly lost, and perhaps in the wrong city.
Remember that if you are over 65 and a citizen of an EU country, you travel free on all Budapest public transport, as long as you have proof of age.
As a foreigner you will be targetted by ticket inspectors, and will not be let off by them, as locals often are.
I am British but live in Budapest, and recommend great care with taxi rip-offs. Even meters are often doctored so you can't rely on them. City Taxis (see other tips in this section) are fine, and used by many embassies – they have English speaking phone operators.
Tel: 2-111 111
Budapest's integrated transport system puts Britain’s to shame. It comprises buses, trams, metro, commuter train and trolleybuses, all of which link up, with most running from the crack of dawn until late at night. Even in February we didn't have to wait longer than seven minutes for anything. Cheap too - a Budapest card or travel card will get you free travel anywhere within the city limits. Don't bother bringing a car as Budapest gets congested in rush-hour, even in low season. Instead, jump on a tram or metro and get straight where you want to go.
All over Budapest
There are some cycle paths in Budapest (most say too few), and it’s a really good way to see the city. You can go from Heroes’ Square to the Danube, and along both sides of the river taking in many of the sites. You can even ride all the way to Szentandre, which takes about two-three hours, and then catch the HEV (suburban train) back to Budapest (don’t forget to buy a ticket for your bike). There are lots of fish restaurants and bars along the river, which make it a relaxing day out.
A good place to hire bikes is Szoda cafe (Wesselényi utca 18), or ask at the tourist information office. They can also provide you with a map of bicycle paths in the city.
Some taxis will rip you off, but there are simple ways to avoid this:
- never take a taxi that is unmarked (except for the light on top), including the white taxis lined up at the airport; these are mafia run and will rip you off
- taxis are always cheaper if you call in advance - get some numbers from your hotel/hostel, or have the bar call for you
- some reputable companies: BudaTaxi; 6x6 Taxi; Taxi 4; RadioTaxi. There are others, but in six years I've never gone wrong with these
- it's a good idea to keep a card with your address written down on it
Like many European cities, you must validate your travel ticket in a punch machine when you get on public transport, like buses. Don’t forget to do this when you've just arrived. Transit police nab tourists who haven't done so for big fines. We were still struggling to find a place for our bags on the crowded bus and hadn't yet spotted the validation machine, when they got us for €25 each.
This was excellent value for money - getting free travel on trams, buses, metro - plus free entry to the zoo, museums etc and discount at other places including restaurants. It comes with a booklet detailing all offers.
We got ours at the hotel, they can also be bought at the airport and the stations.
Using the subway: you have to buy tickets in little ticket offices at most of the stations. Good luck with that, they won't speak any English. Ha. Pointing and waving the correct fare might do it.
The trains and trams do get checked and you will be fined if caught without a ticket - for the minimal price of the fare, it's not worth the bother. You can buy a book of tickets if you get lucky with someone to help you - they come in tens and twenties and you punch them on the tram/platform.
It might be possible to buy them at one of the big train stations, where English-speakers may be found. Maybe.
The underground railway in Budapest provides a quick and cheap way of getting around. Unfortunately, not all the travel instructions are printed in anything except Hungarian, which means that you don't find out until too late about quirks, such as the fact that buying a ticket on some lines does not allow you to transfer to others without making an additional payment.
I discovered this the hard way. My daughter and I worked out how to get where we wanted to go by studying the map, but after we switched lines we were approached by two uniformed officials who demanded to see our tickets.
We were then required to pay a fine. I'm satisfied that the two officials were genuine but I suspect that they saw us - two tourists - as an easy target, because they followed us as soon as we got off the first train and on to the second.
The fine would have paid for several taxi fares, so other visitors to Budapest might wish to use that means of transport instead of the underground.
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com