Europe Travel

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Travel to Budapest, one of the most beautiful cities in central Europe

Straddling the romantic Danube River, with the Buda Hills to the west and the start of the Great Plain to the east, Budapest is the most beautiful city in central Europe. And the human legacy is just as remarkable as Mother Nature’s. 


Architecturally, Budapest is a gem, with enough baroque, neoclassical, Eclectic and art nouveau (or Secessionist) buildings to satisfy anyone’s appetite. With parks brimming with attractions, museums filled with treasures, pleasure boats sailing up and down the scenic Danube and Turkish-era thermal baths belching steam, the Hungarian capital is a delight both by day and by night. The food and wine are excellent, cheap and in abundance and the nightlife is hot. Indeed, in recent years, Budapest has taken on the role of the region’s party town, especially in the warmer months when outdoor entertainment areas called kertek (literally ‘gardens’) heave with party makers.

Budapest does have its scars, of course, with organised crime, pollution, international fast-food eateries at every corner and mindless graffiti covering much of that gorgeous architecture. But come a fine spring (or summer or brisk autumn) day and all that will go by the by. Stroll along the Duna korzó, the riverside embankment on the Pest side, or across any of the Danube bridges past young couples embracing passionately. It’s then that you’ll feel the romance that, despite all attempts from both within and without to destroy it, has never died.

Getting there and around

Local transport
Taxis in Budapest are not expensive compared to other European countries, but with such an excellent public transport network available, you don't really have to use them very often. We've heard from many readers who were grossly overcharged and even threatened by taxi drivers in Budapest, so taking a taxi in this city should be approached with a certain amount of caution. However, the reputable firms listed here have caught on to the concept of customer service, and they take complaints very seriously nowadays.

Avoid taxis with no name on the door and only a removable taxi light-box on the roof; these are just guys with cars and the ones most likely to rip you off. Never get into a cab that does not have a yellow licence plate and an identification badge displayed on the dashboard (as required by law), the logo of one of the reputable taxi firms listed here on the side doors, and a table of fares posted prominently.

Not all taxi meters are set at the same rates, and some are much more expensive than others, but there are price ceilings under which cab companies are free to manoeuvre. From 6am to 10pm the highest flag-fall fee that can be legally charged is 300Ft, the per-kilometre charge 240Ft and the waiting fee 60Ft. From 10pm to 6am the equivalent fees are 420/330/80Ft.

Budapest residents - local or foreign - rarely flag down taxis in the street. They almost always ring for them, and fares are actually cheaper if you book over the phone. Make sure you know the number of the landline phone you're calling from as that's how they establish your address (though you can, of course, call from a mobile phone, too).

The following are the telephone numbers of reliable taxi firms.
Buda - 233 3333
City - 211 1111
Fő - 222 2222
Rádió - 377 7777
Tele 5 - 355 5555

Bus and tram
An extensive system of almost 200 buses serves greater Budapest. On certain bus lines the same number bus may have a black or a red number. In such cases, the red-numbered one is an express, which makes limited stops and is, of course, faster.

Some buses (always shown with a blue line on a Budapest map or atlas) that you might find useful include the following:

4 - Runs from northern Pest via VI Hősök tere to V Deák Ferenc tér (the red 4 follows the same route but crosses over Chain Bridge into central Buda).

7- Cuts across a large swathe of central Pest from XIV Bosnyák tér and down VII Rákóczi út before crossing Elizabeth Bridge to Kelenföld train station in southern Buda (the red-numbered 7 follows the same route with limited stops).

86- Runs the length of Buda from XI Kosztolányi Dezső tér to Óbuda.

105- Goes from V Deák Ferenc tér to XII Apor Vilmos tér in central Buda.

Night bus 906- Follows tram 6's route along the Big Ring Road.

Night bus 907- Traces an enormously long route from the M2 Örs vezér tere metro stop in Pest to Kelenföld train station in Buda.
Long-distance and international

All international buses and some domestic ones (especially to/from north and north-central Hungary) arrive at and depart from Pest's Népliget bus station(219 8000; IX Üllői út 131; M3 Népliget). The international ticket office(6am-6pm Mon-Fri Sep-May, 6pm-8pm Mon-Fri Jun-Aug, 6am-4pm Sat & Sun) is upstairs. Eurolines(219 8021;, an association of more than 30 European bus companies that link Budapest with points abroad as close as Bratislava and as far as London, is represented here as is its Hungarian associate, Volánbusz(382 0888; There's a left-luggage office(per piece per day 190Ft; 6am-9pm) downstairs.

Stadionok bus station(251 0125; XIV Hungária körút 48-52; M3 Stadionok) serves cities and towns to the east of Budapest. The ticket office(6am-6pm Mon-Fri, 6am-4pm Sat & Sun) as well as the left-luggage office(per piece 200Ft; 6am-7pm) are on the ground floor. Buses to southwest Hungary use Etele tér bus station(382 4900; XI Etele tér; 6am-6pm; red-numbered 7) in Buda.

The Árpád Bridge bus station (329 1450; XIII Róbert Károly körút; ticket office 6am-8pm; M3 Árpád híd), on the Pest side of Árpád Bridge, is the place to catch buses for the Danube Bend and parts of northern Hungary. The small Széna tér bus station(201 3688; I Széna tér 1/a; ticket office 6.30am-4.30pm; M3 Moszkva tér) in Buda handles some traffic to and from the Pilis Hills and towns northwest of the capital, with a half-dozen departures to Esztergom as an alternative to the Árpád Bridge bus station.

Trams are often faster than buses in Budapest and usually more pleasant for sightseeing. The most important tram lines (always marked with red lines on a Budapest map or atlas) are the following:

2 and 2/a -Scenic trams that travel along the Pest side of the Danube as far as V Jászai Mari tér

4 and 6 -Extremely useful trams that start at XI Fehérvári út and XI Móricz Zsigmond körtér in south Buda respectively and follow the entire length of the Big Ring Road in Pest before terminating at II Moszkva tér in Buda

18 -Runs from southern Buda along XI Bartók Béla út through the Tabán to II Moszkva tér

19 -Covers part of the same route as 18, but then runs along the Buda side of the Danube to I Batthyány tér

47 & 49 -Link V Deák Ferenc tér in Pest with points in southern Buda via the Little Ring Road

61 -Connects XI Móricz Zsigmond körtér with Déli train station and II Moszkva tér in Buda

Budapest can be reached directly from destinations around the world, including the USA, but its most important gateways are in Continental Europe, especially now that what Hungarians call the fapados (wooden bench) airlines - the super discount carriers such as Air Berlin(, EasyJet(, SkyEurope( and Wizzair( - have arrived, bringing the cost of flying between Budapest and dozens of European cities to a level that fits most travellers' budget. Fares vary greatly depending on the destination, availability and the time of the flight.
Note that there are no scheduled flights within Hungary.

National carrier, Malév Hungarian Airlines (MA; in Hungary 06-40 212 121, from abroad 36-1 235 3888;, flies nonstop or to Budapest via Prague, Madrid or Amsterdam from North America, the Middle East and almost 60 cities in continental Europe and the UK. It also flies to/from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in China.

The main Malév Customer Service Centre(235 3222;; XIII Váci út 26; 8.30am-7pm Mon-Fri, 10am-6pm Sat and Sun; M3 Nyugati pályaudvar) is just northwest of Nyugati train station. Malév also has ticket-issuing desks at Ferihegy airport.

Other major carriers serving Budapest:
Aeroflot (SU; 318 5955;; hub Moscow)
Air Canada(AC; 266 8435;; hub Toronto)
Air France (AF; 483 8800;; hub Paris)
Alitalia (AZ; 483 2170;; hub Rome)
Austrian Airlines (OS; 327 9080;; hub Vienna)
British Airways (BA; 411 5555;; hub London)
CSA Czech Airlines (OK; 318 3045;; hub Prague)
El Al (LY; 266 2970;; hub Tel Aviv)
EgyptAir(MS; 266 4300;; hub Cairo)
Finnair(AY; 317 4022;; hub Helsinki)
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines (KL; 373 7737;; hub Amsterdam)
LOT Polish Airlines (LO; 317 2444;; hub Warsaw)
Lufthansa(LH; 266 4511;; hub Frankfurt)
SAS (SK; 266 2633;; hub Copenhagen)
Tarom Romanian Airlines (RO; 235 0809;; hub Bucharest)
Turkish Airlines (TK; 266 4291;; hub Istanbul)

Budapest's Ferihegy International Airport(296 7000;, 24km southeast of the city centre, has two modern terminals side by side and an older one about 5km to the west.

Malév flights and, for the most part, those of its 18 or so code-share partners arrive and depart from Terminal 2A. Most other international airlines use Terminal 2B, which is next door and within easy walking distance. Malév has a ticketing desk at Terminal 2A (296 7211; 5am-11pm) and another one at Terminal 2B (296 5767; 6am-8.30pm); at the latter you'll also find a left-luggage office (per item per 1/3/6hr 350/1050/1400Ft, per day/week 2200/6500Ft; 24hr). The super-discount European carriers, recent arrivals to Budapest, now use the refurbished Terminal 1.

The Airport Minibus Service(296 8555; mini; one way/return 2300/3900Ft) ferries passengers in eight-seater vans from all three of the airport's terminals directly to their hotel, hostel or residence. Tickets are available at a clearly marked desk in the arrival halls. You need to book your journey to the airport 24 hours in advance but remember that, with up to seven pick-ups en route, this can be a nerve-wracking way to go if you're running late.

If you want to take a taxi, call one of the taxi companies with a mobile or from a public phone at arrivals (dispatchers understand English) and expect to pay about 5000Ft. If you book in advance, Tele 5 (355 5555) charges 3490Ft between the airport and Pest and 3990Ft for Buda. Its taxis are just down the road, awaiting your call.

The cheapest - but most time-consuming - way to get into town from Ferihegy is to take the airport bus (look for the stop marked 'BKV Plusz Reptér Busz' on the pavement between terminals 2A and 2B), which terminates at the Kőbánya-Kispest metro station. From there take the M3 metro into the centre. The total cost is 320Ft.

Car and motorcycle
Driving in Budapest, especially during the daytime, can be a nightmare: ongoing road works reduce traffic to a snail's pace, there are more serious accidents than fender-benders, and parking spots are difficult to find. The public-transport system is good and cheap. Try to use it.

Foreign driving licences are valid for one year after entering Hungary but if you don't hold a European driving licence, obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP) from your local automobile association before you leave. It is usually inexpensive and valid for one year only. Remember that an IDP is not valid unless accompanied by your original driver's licence.

Third-party liability insurance is compulsory in Hungary. If your car is registered in the EU, it is assumed you have it. Other motorists must show a Green Card or they will have to buy insurance at the border.

In general, you must be at least 21 years old and have had your licence for at least a year to rent a car. Drivers under 25 sometimes have to pay a surcharge.

All the international car-rental firms have offices in Budapest but don't expect many bargains. An Opel Corsa from Avis(318 4158; in Hungarian; 1054 Budapest, Szabadsag ter 7; 7am-6pm Mon-Sat, 8am-6pm Sun; 1/2/3 Deák Ferenc tér), for example, costs €33/198 per day/week plus €0.33 per kilometre and €23 CDW and theft protection insurance. The same car with unlimited kilometres and insurance costs from €99 per day or €88 per weekend. The 25% ÁFA (value-added tax) doesn't apply to nonresidents paying with foreign currency or by credit card.

One of the cheapest, most reliable outfits for car hire is Anselport(362 6080, 06-20 945 0279;; XXII V utca 22; 9am-6pm; 14 or 114) in south Buda. A Suzuki Swift is €19 to €43 per day, including unlimited kilometres and insurance, depending on the length of rental (one day to three weeks). Another good bet is Fox Autorent(382 9000;; XXII Nagytétényi út 48-50; 8am-8pm; 3, 14 or 114), which charges from €46/230 per day/week for a Fiat Seicento, €55/320 for a Smart car and €59/349Boat

Between May and mid-September passenger ferries run by BKV (369 1359; depart from IX Boráros tér beside Petőfi Bridge between six and eight times daily and head for III Rómaifürdő and Csillaghegy in Óbuda, a two-hour trip with 10 stops along the way. Tickets (adult/child 600/300Ft from end to end or between 500/250Ft and 200/150Ft for intermediate stops) are sold on board. The ferry stop closest to the Castle District is I Batthyány tér, and V Petőfi tér is not far from Vörösmarty tér. Transporting a bicycle costs 500Ft.

A hydrofoil service on the Danube between Budapest and Vienna (5½ to 6½ hours, 282km) operates daily from early April to October and allows passengers to disembark at Bratislava with advance notice. One-way/return adult fares for Vienna are €79/99 and for Bratislava €69/89. Students with ISIC cards pay €67/84 to Vienna and €59/76 to Bratislava and children under six go free. Taking along a bicycle costs €18 each way.

In Budapest, ferries arrive and depart from the International Ferry Pier (Nemzetközi hajóállomás; V Belgrád rakpart), which is between Elizabeth and Independence Bridges on the Pest side. In Vienna, the boat docks at the Reichsbrücke pier near Mexikoplatz.

In April and from mid-September to October there is a daily sailing at 9am from both Budapest and Vienna. From May to mid-September the boats leave both of these cities at 8am.

For information, tickets and reservations contact Mahart PassNave (484 4013;; V Belgrád rakpart; 8am-6pm).

Magyar Államvasutak (Hungarian State Railways; in Hungarian), or MÁV, links up with the European rail network in all directions, running trains as far as London (via Munich and Paris), Paris (via Munich), Stockholm (via Hamburg and Copenhagen), Moscow, Rome and Istanbul (via Belgrade).

Budapest has three main train stations. Most international trains arrive and depart from Keleti train station (Eastern train station; 313 6835; VIII Kerepesi út 2-6; M3 Keleti pályaudvar); trains to certain destinations in the east (eg Romania) leave from Nyugati train station(Western train station; 349 0115; VI Teréz körút 55-57; M3 Nyugati pályaudvar), while Déli train station(Southern train station; 375 6293, 355 8657; I Krisztina körút 37; M2 Déli pályaudvar) handles trains to some destinations in the south (eg Osijek in Croatia and Sarajevo in Bosnia). These are not hard-and-fast rules, so always make sure you check which station the train leaves from when you buy a ticket.

The handful of secondary train stations are of little importance to long-distance travellers. Occasionally, though, a through train will stop at Kelenföld train station (203 1687; XI Etele tér 5-7; 19 or 49) in Buda. For 24-hour information on international train services call 461 5500 or 06-40 494 949.

Budapest's train stations are generally pretty dismal places, with some unsavoury-looking characters hanging about day and night, but all have some amenities. The left-luggage offices (normal/large piece per 6hr 150/300Ft, per day 300/600Ft) at Keleti station(24hr) is next to platform 6. At Nyugati station(4am-midnight) and at the Déli station(3.30am-11.30pm) they are beside the information and ticketing hall. You'll also find post offices and grocery stores that are open late or even round the clock in the stations.

The three main stations are on metro lines, and night buses serve them when the metro is closed. If you need to take a taxi, avoid the sharks hovering around the stations. At Déli, cross over to I Alkotás utca and hail one there. At Keleti station, get into one of the legal cabs at the rank on VIII Kerepesi út, just south of the terminal. Nyugati tér is a major intersection, so you'll have no problem finding a legitimate taxi there.

You can buy tickets at the three international train stations in Budapest, but the queues are often long, passengers are in a hurry, and sales staff at the stations are not the most patient in the city. It's easier at the MÁV international information & ticket centre(461 5500, 352 2800; VI Andrássy út 35; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri Apr-Sep, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri Oct-Mar; M1 Opera). For fares, check

More and more cyclists are seen on the streets and avenues of Budapest these days, taking advantage of the growing network of bike paths. The main roads in the city might be a bit too busy and nerve-wracking to make for enjoyable cycling but the side streets are fine, and there are some areas (City Park, Margaret Island etc) where cycling is positively ideal.

Cyclists may have problems crossing Hungarian border stations connected to main roads since bicycles are banned on motorways and national highways with single-digit route numbers. In general, border crossings that allow pedestrian crossings also allow cyclists through. for a Fiat Punto, kilometres and insurance included.

Source: lonelyplanet


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