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
My wife and I used them from the airport to our hotel in Prague and it was brilliant. The drivers are all English speakers, mostly expats, and they give you lots of information about the city on the way to your hotel as well as bar/restaurant tips and local scams, the price was the same as the airport taxis, about £15.
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.
The summit of the railway shows you the city in all its glory - from the beautifully crafted government buildings, hidden churches, right the way along the river and even into the slightly more “suspect” areas of the city. Buy an ice cream at the top and enjoy the view.
I Clark Ádam tér; Bus 16, 86, 105, Tram 19; Open: 7:30am-10pm daily; Closed for maintenance every second Monday
Taking photos on the metro will attract the attention of the metro police and a modest but inconvenient fine having to be paid. On the positive side, the police are very helpful giving directions when your knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet fails you in the stations.
Buy a day ticket for the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus. I would seriously recommend the downtown tour for your first day-there is a tour guide on each bus if you’re interested in the history of the places, and if not, you can sit back and enjoy the views or try to follow your route on a map to get your bearings! You can get on and off at any stop-which are at all the main downtown attractions, buses are quite frequent and the tour guides are very friendly-pleased to answer any questions or help you figure out which stop you need!
During weekends in the summer it's possible to take a helicopter tour above St Petersburg. The cost is around $30 and the helicopters take off and land on the lawn beyond the northern wall of the Peter and Paul Fortress. Just follow the deafening noise…
There are plenty of short-trip riverboats that ply the Neva near the Hermitage, but there are also ones that go much further afield, heading up the Neva River and across Lake Ladoga in the summer. Valaam monastery is a popular and stunning destination and can be visited on a one day/two night excursion. There are lots of other destinations and options.
River Terminal, near Proletarskaya metro station; tel: 262 02 39;
We stayed at the Holiday Inn next to Casablanca's train station and then caught the train down to Marrakech. It was cheap and also really interesting. They run old French trains, which are in carriages for eight people, and we struck up conversation very easily.
Casablanca, Marrakech train stations
For a near-free tour of HK island's major attractions, travel on the upper deck of the old electric tram, from Kennedy Town in the west, through central to Quarry Bay and beyond in the east. You can peel off at Wan Chai for Happy Valley and the horse races.
Though very slow, you see virtually the whole of HK island and savour its flavour at street level, jumping off wherever you want - each trip is just HK$1-2 (20p). Avoid rush hour. Watch out for pickpockets. Anyone tall should find a seat quick, or face a crick neck all week.
If there's a few of you, hire your own tram, complete with its own bar for a Friday night trawl. Ask the tourist board.
All major HK island MTR stations, just look for the tracks, listen out for the clanking bell
Great for getting from San Francisco to your hotel if you're centrally located. The BART is San Francisco’s underground system and covers (as it says in name) most of the bay area.
Depending on your arrival time it’s really easy to get the BART to the centre of the city. This will save forking out $40 on a cab.
Once you arrive at the airport and have picked up your bags follow the BART signs. Trains run every 15 minutes and you can buy single tickets from the machine for $4.95. All you need to do then is get off at Powell Station for Union Square. Believe me, I'm a cab fiend but this was easy and makes you feel less touristy.
The hotel can get you cabs when you depart to the airport and it takes around 30 - 45 minutes to get there.
Bergen’s funicular (the Fløibanen) is modern and well used and connects the heart of the harbour side shops and houses with the top of the hill that rises sharply behind them. When you reach the top you realise just how high the hill is; there’s an observation point next to the funicular entrance that gives a superb panorama of the scope of Bergen.
Take the trip on the Manly ferry from Circular Quay. Walk down the Corso (directly ahead when you leave the ferry terminal), turn right along the promenade (ocean beaches) and walk to Shelley Beach. Stop off at Le Kiosk for Moreton Bay 'bugs' or sashimi.
Try to time your return for nightfall for great views of the city lights.
Manly ferry from Circular Quay
Symi is amazing, however it's overrun by day trips from Rhodes - between 11 and 4 every day.
Luckily, they seldom leave the harbour, so if you catch a water taxi to one of five adjacent beaches (with tavernas) in the morning, and return in the evening, you'd never know they had been.
Agios Marina is the best for swimming and food, but it’s not as quiet as some of the others, which may or may not be a good thing.
On return to the harbour, sit for an hour outside Oranges & Lemons and watch the ridiculously expensive looking yachts return. The harbour's busy then, but in a good way. Easily the best part of the day.
The harbour's tiny and the taxi boats are obvious.
Oranges & Lemons is on the Old Town side, opposite the clock tower (where the Catamaran is often moored).
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