It Is Surprising How Many Mistakes We Made in Budapest As First-Time Visitors. To Help You Avoid These Hungarian Blunders, Here Is A Comprehensive List of Things You Need to Know Before Going to Budapest
Budapest is one of those destinations where you know you must visit one day but don’t know a whole lot about it. Whilst we didn’t go to Budapest without doing research, we certainly could have done a lot more to avoid some of the mistakes we made. To help you with a smoother visit to the Hungarian capital city as a first-time visitor, we have compiled a list of things you should know before going to Budapest.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU WILL FIND:
- #01 – HOW TO PRONOUNCE BUDAPEST
- #02 – WHAT IS THE OFFICIAL CURRENCY OF HUNGARY?
- #03 – DON’T USE EURO ATM
- #04 – THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT STAYING IN THE JEWISH DISTRICT
- #05 – DO I NEED A BUDAPEST CARD?
- #06 – HOW TO BUY BUDAPEST PUBLIC TRANSPORT TICKETS?
- #07 – ARE KIDS ALLOWED IN SZIMPLA KERT?
- #08 – SHOULD I GO ON A DINNER CRUISE?
- #09 – HUNGARIANS ARE NOTORIOUSLY UNHAPPY
- #10 – MAKE A BOOKING AT NEW YORK CAFÉ
- #11 – IS IT SAFE TO CATCH A TAXI IN BUDAPEST?
- #12 – LOCALS DON’T GO TO THE GREAT HALL MARKET
- #13 – HUNGARIAN WINE CULTURE
- #14 – DON’T CLINK YOUR BEER GLASSES
- #15 – WHAT TO WEAR TO DOHÁNY STREET SYNAGOGUE
- #16 – BOOK AN AIRPORT PRIVATE TRANSFER
- BONUS TIP #1 – RELATED ARTICLES
- BONUS TIP #2 – WHERE TO STAY IN BUDAPEST
#01 – HOW TO PRONOUNCE BUDAPEST
Budapest is pronounced “Boo-da-PESHT”.
Yup, you have been pronouncing it wrong this whole time. I certainly did! I had no idea the ‘pest’ part was pronounced with an “sh” sound!
#02 – WHAT IS THE OFFICIAL CURRENCY OF HUNGARY?
It never occurred to me that the official currency of Hungary was not the Euro. It wasn’t until it was time to go and deciding how much cash I needed that I realised that the official currency of Hungary was the Hungarian Forint.
One of the greatest benefits of travelling around Europe is doing away with the need of having to hold too many currencies. Not to despair though, most places do accept the Euro should you be desperate, but it’s not recommended unless you know exactly what exchange rate they will be charging you.
At the time of writing, 1 Euro is 320 Forints. Not exactly an easy number to play with when you’re trying to work out the cost of something!
#03 – DON’T USE EURO ATM
Euro ATMs are EVERYWHERE in Budapest which makes it so convenient to withdraw money. But their exchange rate is dismal! We also learnt that the hard way.
Change money at a currency exchange place or at a Hungarian bank. Even the foreign banks have been known to be more expensive than the local banks.
#04 – THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT STAYING IN THE JEWISH DISTRICT
The Jewish District of Budapest is an eclectic mix of history, culture, and social gentrification. Here you will find the infamous ruin bars, up and coming dining scene and some of the best street art in Budapest.
It is the place to be seen and has an excellent nightlife. That also translates to mean that the district is constantly on the go and we certainly learnt this the hard way too. Partly due to poor research, we got a cute Air BnB apartment in the heart of the Jewish District’s ruin bars. We pretty much didn’t sleep for 4 days as the bars go on until 7am in the morning!
And what I have learnt about ruin bars in Budapest is that they all cater to different crowds, so they have rooms of different types of music. Perhaps I could have fallen asleep to a bit of repetitive trance but when its mixed with retro pop and head banging metal rock, it only gave me a headache!
Apart from the noise, it was also very grungy. Whilst the apartment was super cute, getting to the apartment was gross (we were greeted to faeces at the entrance) and dodgy. At one point I didn’t know if I would make it out of the lift alive. But then again, it was also crazy cheap.
Partying in the Jewish Quarter is still considered to be cheap by European standards. This means that it attracts a large number of unruly drunks from all over the place celebrating milestone birthdays, hens and buck’s nights or backpackers looking to get completely drunk for next to nothing. The locals are becoming exasperated by these tourists and is tarnishing the progress the gentrification of the district has made.
#05 – DO I NEED A BUDAPEST CARD?
Like most cities, you can choose to purchase a city card of which it usually covers transport, discounts to attractions, and promises to be a great saving for those travelling on a budget.
The Budapest card is no exception. The most popular cards to get (at the time of writing) are:
- 24-hour Budapest Card: 6,490 HUF / 22 EUR
- 48-hour Budapest Card: 9,990 HUF / 33 EUR
- 72-hour Budapest Card: 12,990 HUF / 44 EUR
- 96-hour Budapest Card: 15,990 HUF / 54 EUR
- 120-hour Budapest Card: 18,900 HUF / 64 EUR
Let’s break down the 24-hour Budapest card to see if it’s worth the expense:
Free Public Transport – A normal 24-hour public transport tickets in Budapest costs about 1650 HUF / 5.60 EUR. The 24-hour transport ticket covers unlimited number of trips within the Budapest area on city-trolley buses (trams) buses and metro trains.
Entry to Buda Castle – Entry to Buda Castle is free anyway! According to their website, it states “the Buda Castle Budget walking tour (also a standalone tour sold separately) guides you around on the Buda side, up in the Castle District. If you have a Budapest Card please do not register, only if you wish to buy the tour separately.”
There are many tours you can take at Buda Castle of which the Budapest Card terms state it is a separate cost. The 6 museums at Buda Castle all have separate entry fees too and not covered by the Budapest Card.
Entry to Lukacs Bath – The cost of entry to Lukacs Furdo is 3700 HUF / 12.50 EUR on weekdays or 3900 HUF / 13.20 EUR on weekends. This includes a locker usage of which it doesn’t state on the Budapest Card or on the Lukacs Bath website if the free entry includes the locker or not. Note that Lukacs Bath is not the most popular bath in Budapest. If you’re short on time, I highly recommend Szechenyi Bath or Gellert Bath.
Guided Tour Buda 2h and Guided Tour Pest 2h – In Budapest, there is an abundance of free walking tours that occur throughout the day. You don’t need to book. You just have to rock up at the appointed time and meeting place.
The Original Walk Tour goes for about 3 hours and covers most of the major site. They also run interesting tours such as the Communism Walk or the Jewish District Walk. Don’t need a Budapest Card for these.
6 Top Museum Entries – In 24-hours, I doubt anyone can see more than 1 museum and also fit in the rest of the deals that need to be used within the 24 hours. As a comparison, I will choose the Budapest History Museum of which the costs are 2000 HUF / 6.80 EUR during low season and 2400 HUF / 8.20 EUR. If you’re in Budapest during their National holidays, admission is free.
60+ Discounts (10-50%) – This is said to cover thermal baths in Budapest, museums, sights, events in Budapest, sightseeing tours, and restaurants. I couldn’t find a full list of participating suppliers, so I couldn’t tell you what services or attraction would give you a 50% discount. But after such a full day of activities, perhaps the most useful thing would be getting discounts at participating restaurants. On average, its about a 20% discount. The average cost of a 2-course menu in a good, affordable is about 2500 HUF / 8.50 EUR. So, a 20% discount will get you a saving of approximately 500 HUF or 1.7 EUR.
Travel in all Budapest Zones – Ascertained that a 24 Budapest travel covers this.
Card Delivered to Hotel – Great! You can also easily purchase them at the airport, tourism centres and most metro stations.
Let’s break it down:
- 24-hour travel card – 1650 HUF / 5.60 EUR
- Buda Castle – Free regardless
- Lukacs Bath – 3700 HUF / 12.50 EUR on weekdays or 3900 HUF / 13.20 EUR
- Guided Tour Buda 2h and Guided Tour Pest 2h – Free regardless
- 6 Top Museum Entries – 2000 HUF / 6.80 EUR during low season and 2400 HUF / 8.20 EUR (chose 1)
- 60+ Discounts (10-50%) – 2 x meals – 1000 HUF or 3.40 EUR
Savings: 8950 HUF / 30.50 EUR
Cost of 24-Hour Budapest Card: 6,490 HUF / 22 EUR
Total Savings: 2460 / 8.50 EUR
For some, a saving is a saving but for such a small amount, I was not convinced it was worth it, so I didn’t purchase one. As it turned out, Budapest is extremely walkable and in the 4 days we were there, we only took 1 metro return route. Although we could have jumped on other modes of transport as we bought the day ticket, we didn’t as it didn’t suit where we wanted to go. Besides, Budapest is gorgeous, and walking is the best way to see it all.
The Budapest Card is not worth it if you’re not structured traveller. Getting this card would only be worth it if you map out exactly where and what you want to see and taking advantage of all the discounts that is available. If you’re like me and love to wander and see how the day pans out, the Budapest Card is not worth it.Heading to Budapest? Check out all the things you'll need to know before you go based on our own travel mistakes and lessons learnt. #familytravel #travelwithkids #budapesttravel Click To Tweet
#06 – HOW TO BUY BUDAPEST PUBLIC TRANSPORT TICKETS?
All Budapest public transport tickets must be purchased in advanced. We learnt this the hard way when we tried to catch a local bus and we couldn’t get a ticket on board.
To buy a ticket, you have to do so from a ticket vending machine (TVM), of which there are over 300 of them littered around the city and major transport hubs. Of course, we had to catch the bus from the one stop that didn’t have one, so we ended up walking.
There are very few ticket counters in Budapest, in case you were hoping to speak to someone to ask their advice about tickets and which is the best one to purchase. The only ones left can be found in some of the major metro stations. No doubt this will lessen as time goes on.
Thankfully, buying a ticket from the ticket vending machine is very straightforward. Just follow the prompts in the available languages.
Be sure to have a valid ticket at all times. Ticket controllers are everywhere in Budapest and they issue on the spot fines if you don’t have a valid ticket. If you’re using the metro, insert your ticket in the orange validating machine. You’ll know when your ticket is validated when you hear the “beep”.
#07 – ARE KIDS ALLOWED IN SZIMPLA KERT?
The quick answer is yes, if you go during the day.
What is Szimpla Kert?
Szimpla Kert is Budapest’s most famous and well-known ruin bar.
What is a Ruin Bar?
The Jewish District in Budapest was once the site of the Jewish ghetto and after the deportation of over 10,000 Jews from the area after World War II, the whole area became dilapidated. The buildings were abandoned and left in a ramshackle state.
In 2002, a few friends looking for a cheap place to drink and wasn’t able to find one, decided to take over a derelict old factory to open its first ruin bar. Still standing today, this ruin bar is now iconic and the pioneer of the gentrification of the district.
Szimpla Kert is not only a pub but also hosts farmer’s markets, embraces local musicians from all walks of life with a comprehensive live music program and also does film screenings. It is a disjointed yet meticulously well-planned space with mismatched furniture that looked like rubbish collected from the side of the road to well themed rooms. You will also find art and design throughout the venue that are political as it reminds them of their communist past.
This is a must visit. The kids will absolutely love this place as they gawk at the weirdest interiors. If you want to take some great pictures, go during the day for the best light. If you’re up for a drink and loud music, head back again at night.
#08 – SHOULD I GO ON A DINNER CRUISE?
The entire purpose of getting on the cruise down the Danube of the evening was to view the Parliament at night from a good vantage point. We booked our tour through Viator and the cruise was offered by Hungaria Koncert Kft.
And since we were going at night I thought to also book dinner, so we would kill 2 birds with one stone. The first disappointment of the dinner was that we were grouped together with strangers on a table of 10. I didn’t realise this was going to happen and had hoped we would get our own table. We knew we were not going on board for a culinary experience and the buffet was reasonable enough.
During the dinner, we went up the river, did a turn and came back down. The views sure were pretty. After dinner we then went on the upper deck to secure ourselves a good viewing spot in anticipation of seeing Parliament on the way back. We were up there for a good 45 minutes. We saw the Parliament approaching and got our cameras ready. Just as we were about to get closer, our boat slowed down, stopped, and moored.
I came to the sickly (and stupid) realisation that we had passed the Parliament when we departed at daylight, so of course we wouldn’t pass it again on the way back! Duh! So yeah, we missed the gorgeous view.
Moral of the story. Don’t go for the dinner, waste of money, and make sure you get on a cruise where you can actually see the Parliament at night!
#09 – HUNGARIANS ARE NOTORIOUSLY UNHAPPY
Prior to visiting Hungary, I had no idea that Hungarians were amongst the unhappiest people in Europe. And I find it particularly interesting that I learnt this when I was in Budapest not because I experienced this first hand but rather Hungarians themselves are quite willing to talk about it.
Hungary is a nation plagued by low wages, even if you’re highly qualified, high taxes and rampant corruption. They are known to be pessimistic and feel hard done by as the country that loses everything from wars to even a football match.
After this was pointed to me, I noticed just how prevalent that was. It sure was hard to get a smile out of them, particularly the older generation. I went into a shoe store in the Jewish Quarter and the shopkeeper was very nice. Polite, engaging and very funny. I cheekily said to him “where are you from? You are too friendly to be Hungarian”. He laughed raucously and said, “I am Hungarian and yup, we deserve that much!”
This should not deter you from ever visiting this beautiful country. Just a gentle warning so you don’t feel like you’re not welcome or are taken aback because they are unfriendly.
#10 – MAKE A BOOKING AT NEW YORK CAFÉ
I discovered New York Café in Budapest upon doing some research of places to eat.
New York Café is located at 1073 Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 9-11 and is open every day from 08:00am to 24:00pm. This café has been open for over a century and is Budapest’s most beautiful and beloved coffee house in Budapest. The décor is Italian Renaissance and the best word to describe this café is opulent. It is impossible not to gawk at the beauty of the place.
The menu is good but not cheap and features classics such as Beef Goulash, Fishermen Soup, Chicken Leg Paprikash-style, Wiener Schnitzel and Grilled Foie Gras. We wanted to go there for brunch as they had a great selection and we were surprised by how good it was.
As we didn’t want to be constrained by what we were doing each day, we decided to just turn up one morning on the proviso that we left early. When we got there, there was already a queue albeit not too long. As we didn’t have a booking, we were considered lucky to have even secured a table. But as a result of not making a booking we were relegated to a table on the side and not in the main area, which is where you really want to be.
So yes, if ever in Budapest, go to this café and make a booking!
#11 – IS IT SAFE TO CATCH A TAXI IN BUDAPEST?
Almost everyone I knew who had been to Budapest warned me not to catch taxis in Budapest. It is believed that the taxi mafias are dangerous, they rip you off and despite being regulated, they often operate outside the law.
Like many around the world, they also have the same scam tactics of meters not working, taking a longer route than necessary and there have been reported incidents of assault.
Uber in Budapest is unfortunately outlawed and are not permitted to operate.
If you really must get a taxi, do not hail a taxi off the street. Most of the horror stories occur from hailed cabs. Order one for pick up instead from Fo Taxi or City Taxi.
Seeking this advice, we avoided taxis at all costs and found that we didn’t need them anyway as they have such a comprehensive transport system and this small city is very walkable.
#12 – LOCALS DON’T GO TO THE GREAT HALL MARKET
The Great Hall Market is a major tourist attraction in Budapest and many locals have told us that its not a market they go to. Prices in the Great Hall Market are inflated, and items sold are mainly for tourists to purchase souvenirs.
The Great Hall Market is also well known for its food outlets where you can find all the local delights under one roof. The prices for all the food there is also known to be expensive and locals have no idea why we would pay such exorbitant prices.
As a tourist with only a few short days to explore Budapest, we went despite knowing all this. And we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! Unless I knew exactly where to look for all the local food in one concentrated area, the Great Hall Market provided us with a one stop shop. As I had no idea how much something should have costed, I didn’t feel the pinch.
We managed to try most of what Hungarians deem as their favourite foods and being able to do so in an hour made the costs worthwhile. And whilst the Hungarians say its expensive, they do say the food is at least a good reflection of their heritage.
As for the souvenirs, well they are souvenirs! We were there to buy things to take home as a small memento of our trip. Loved their paprika range and my friends and family loved them when I brought them home.
Oh, and they also charge for toilet usage. Beware that some toilets are more expensive than others, despite being in the same building!
So, my verdict is yes, go!
#13 – HUNGARIAN WINE CULTURE
As a big wine drinker, I was surprised to learn that the wine culture in Hungary is highly prevalent. Over a hundred years ago, Hungarian wine played a very important role in wine production in Europe. This was unfortunately depleted due to the wars and communist rule.
Fast forward to the 21st century, wine production is growing again and now amount to 22 regions. They are still not producing enough to export to the rest of the world hence its not a wine producing country that is easy accessible.
Hungarians take their wines very seriously with extremely knowledgeable sommeliers at restaurants. I thoroughly enjoyed tasting a wide variety of wine so be sure to try Hungarian wines when you’re dining out as they are not so easy to find outside of Hungary.
#14 – DON’T CLINK YOUR BEER GLASSES
It is considered bad form to clink beer glasses when you say “cheers!”
It is believed that this taboo action stems from Hungary’s 1848 revolution against the Habsburgs where they were defeated, and the Austrians used to celebrate by toasting and clinking their beer glasses. Since then Hungarians vowed not to cheers with beer for 150 years. Despite that time being over, the custom remains.
#15 – WHAT TO WEAR TO DOHÁNY STREET SYNAGOGUE
No doubt you will want to visit Dohány Street Synagogue, Europe’s largest Synagogue. If it wasn’t on your radar, I urge you to pay a visit. It is not only stunning but also humbling and a place to pay your respects.
There is however a strict dress code.
Men cannot enter the synagogue without a hat or cap. You have to wear a small skullcap called kipah or yarmulke. You’ll receive one at the entrance after ticket inspection, so you’re not required to source it yourself.
No sleeveless tops, short skirts, or shorts. As we hadn’t planned to visit the synagogue that day, we were ill prepared. Luckily our apartment was only around the corner, so we went back to change to something more befitting of such a sacred place.
#16 – BOOK AN AIRPORT PRIVATE TRANSFER
Due to the dubious taxi industry in Budapest, we felt that this was not an option to get to the airport. At the same time, we couldn’t be bothered with public transport either and having to juggle our luggage. So, we investigated a private transfer option.
Upon research, we discovered that this is the most popular and safest way to get to and from the airport. We booked through Private Transfers and we couldn’t have been happier. The driver turned up on time, was extremely helpful, very polite, and friendly and we got to the airport with no issues. The costs were around 30 EUR for the car and it was worth every penny we spent. For family travellers with kids, I cannot recommend this highly enough.
And there you have it. So strange how of the 4 cities we visited in Eastern Europe, we found Budapest riddled with challenges. This is a great destination which can be further enhanced based on our lessons learnt as first time visitors to Budapest.
BONUS TIP #1 – RELATED ARTICLES
BONUS TIP #2 – WHERE TO STAY IN BUDAPEST
Budget Apartment: Maple Tree Budget Apartments
Maple Tree Budget Apartments are self-catering accommodations located near the centre of Budapest. The apartments range from 1 to 3-bedroom apartments, great for larger families or families travelling together. It offers a fully equipped kitchen, some have terraces or balconies and you can find public transport close by. The apartment also comes with a washing machine and is clean and comfortable.
Book Now Pay Later – Check Prices Here
5 Star Luxury Hotel: New York Palace, The Dedica Anthology, Autograph Collection
This hotel is located in a 19th-century building in Budapest close to the Opera and Andrássy Boulevard. the hotel features a fine dining restaurant, live piano music at the bar, spa facilities and is home to the famous New York Cafe. This opulent at its best and guests have described its finishing as exquisite and the facilities, extraordinary. For families travelling with pets, you are permitted on pet per room and they must weigh less than 5kg.
Book Now Pay Later – Check Prices Here
Jewish District: Hotel Gozsdu Court
Just a 1-minute walk from the Deák Ferenc Square in the centre of Budapest, Hotel Gozsdu Court offers fully equipped apartments with free Wi-Fi. the apartment hotel features a spa and wellness centre. There are many configurations for apartment readily available for families. Being in the Jewish District you are close to many cafes and restaurants.
Book Now Pay Later – Check Prices Here
Budget Hostel: Santico Art Hotel and Hostel
Housed in a building dating back to 1793 at the foot of Buda Castle in Budapest, Santico Art Hostel and Guest house is a one-minute walk from Danube’s riverbank. Decorated in a bohemian style, the rooms offer private or shared bathrooms and an inner courtyard to hang out in. You can get a family room with 4 twin beds at great prices.
Book Now Pay Later – Check Prices Here
Disclaimer: The Family Globetrotter’s website contains affiliate links which help us to maintain this blog and assists us with our travels, at no extra cost to you. Family Globetrotters have also posted articles based on sponsored products and/or services, but all opinions are our own, truthful and unbiased.