I have decided to write my tips and tricks for Budapest as I were very disappointed in the danish travel guide “Turen går til Budapest”. The series “Turen går til…” is of varying quality, but none of the books have been as disappointing as this.
–UPDATED JULY 2014–
Budapest is a clean and beautiful city. The people are very friendly and polite and most of them speaks English, German and Russian besides their native language. This makes Budapest a lovely place to visit for everbody: couples, families and friends – just get going! The city center is pleasing to the eye and have a lot of parks and squares, where you can rest your feet or cool down in the shadow.
Buda and Pest is divided by The Danube. The Buda side is hilly and has a castle and roman ruins, while Pest is the modern side with restaurants and shops. Of course you also finds museums and culture in Pest! But you see the difference if you take a stroll by The Danube – on the Buda side you have a road, while Pest offers a pedestrian alley with bars, restaurants and music.
Compared to Denmark everything is cheap in Hungary, and even though the airport isn’t located near the city center, a trip to your hotel with a taxi will be less than 7000 forints (the local currency). The taxis have zones like busses or trains and you book a taxi trough a shop or your hotel, and they tell you the price beforehand. This way there a no illegal taxies.
Most hotels give you brochures and a map, but there are also turist office stands all over the city center. They are marked Turist Point and the staff are wearing bluet-shirts. You find the tourist office at Sütő utca 2 near Deak tér.
Food is also cheap in Budapest. Several restaurants, are in the Michelinguide, and students can eat there. A cheap way to try out the local cuisine, is visiting one of the Trofea Grill restaurants with a buffet of traditional Hungarian food and local beer. Note on the cheque or in the menu if service is included, otherwise give 10-15%.
Pastries is a big thing in Hungary, just as is Austria. If you like cakes do try some. Gerbeaud is widely famous, but I think Szamos Gourmet Palace (which is found a few places around the city, but the main store is just opposite Gerbaud), and New York Café are just as good, if not better (read more about my visits here). Hotel Gellert also make great pastries. Make sure to make room for some cake 😉 You also need to visit Central Kavehaz to taste the coffee, but the pastries are also delicious. If you do not want coffee try the lemonade. Taking about pastries, do not forget to try the Hungarian speciality kürtöskalács, a tower made of sweet bread with cinnamon, vanilla, almonds or chocolate. The best are from Molnar’s Kürtöskalács on Vaci utca.
If you are a foodie you can get a Dining city map at the Tourist Office. Live music is not seldom in Budapest, so you can expect anything from piano to folk music with your food 🙂 At Karpatia is Lajos Sárközi and his gypsy band entertaining – you get everything from Vivaldi, waltz to ABBA! They are very talented indeed!
Shopping on Vaci utca, the main shopping street, is a mixed experience. You can find regular stores, but it is mostly tourist traps. Fashion street, also in the city center, has high end stores like La Coste and Ray Ban, while you find Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Burberry and the like on Andressey. Locals shop in malls like Westend City Center. It has 400 shops, and you get there by the blue metro line. Walk from either Nyugati or Lehel tér. You can find a smaller mall by Batthyany tér on the red metro line. On most shops the price is written in both euro and forints, and you can pay with credit card.
If you wish to visit the Parliament go to the visitorscenter, buy your ticket and arrive in the lobby at the given time. Remeber your passport! At the given time a guide will arrive and you will go through security (like at the airport). From here the tour of 45 minutes begins. It is very efficient, and there is no time for questions or variations. I found it very disappointing. The Budapest ZOO is nice and big. It is modern and you get close to the animals. In one end of the zoo, there is an amusement park, which is included in the price. You can spend a whole day at the zoo this way. If you go and get hungry, try out Bagolyvar (the owl castle) in the zoo. It is the cheaper alternative to Gundel (one of the best restaurants in Budapest).
Hop-on hop-off-busses are very popular, and there are staff selling tickets everywhere. There are at leat 4 different kinds (red, brown, blue and green. Possibly more). If you want to go, choose the green.The ticket is valid for 48 hours and you get a free boat trip on The Danube. The blue busses does not have enough busses to be of any use, and the guides are of a varying quality. The brown busses have a roof, which quite often are too hot! The green have a lot of busses, and have been voted the best for 3 years.
Public transportation is easy to use. You can buy tickets in the stations. You pay by stops, and 3 stops is maximum price.3 or 6 stops is the same price. It is also possible to buy tickets for 24, 48 or 72 hours. Tickets are for both metro, tram and bus. You can get a map showing all the routes at the tourist office. Tram no. 2 runs along the Danube and is both practical and beautiful, if you need to visit the parliament, the market halls and the bridges if you want to cross the Danube. Bus no. 16 takes you to the castle, the Matthias church and the Fisherman’s Bastion. It’s a small blue bus by Deak F. Ter i the center.
The water tastes of chlorine, so you might want to buy water bottles. Public toilets are nice and clean. The use them you pay 150-200 forint to the cleaning staff. The toilets are quite small.
Remember to give a tip to the porter when you arrive at your hotel, and leave 500-1000 forint to the cleaning lady as well. Their wages are very low.
If anything is missing let me know!