Heading to Budapest? Here are some helpful hints!
General It is important to know the difference between Buda and Pest (pronounced ‘Pescht’). Until a few hundred years ago, they were separate cities. Buda is on the west side of the river, is a hilly, residential area that also is home to the Castle district. Pest is on the east side and contains the business district, the Jewish Quarter, and more affordable accommodations and fare.
1. In the airport, there is an ATM in baggage claim, which is an easy way to get forint (Hungarian currency or HUF). 200 HUF roughly equals $1.
2. From the airport, the best way to get to your hotel is to take the minibuses, which are very reasonable (look to your right when exiting customs). One way the cost is 2,990 HUF or about $14.50. www.airportshuttle.hu
1. Only take a taxi from your hotel, never hail one from the street. Taxis are not as safe in Budapest as they are in cities elsewhere. If you do need a taxi and you’re somewhere other than your hotel, go into a restaurant or pub and ask one of the staff to call one for you. They’ll call one from a reputable company and you’ll be less likely to be ripped off. Fortunately the transit system in Budapest is very good so you shouldn’t need them too often.
2. Do take the buses, trains, and trams whenever possible. They’re everywhere, frequent, and cheap. When you get on the bus/train/tram, no one will take your ticket. You have to use the orange boxes to validate your ticket each time. To do so, simply stick the ticket in the slot. If a ticket checker audits the car and your fare isn’t validated the fine is 6,000 HUF. Also, tickets aren’t for sale on the street, so you’ll need to get them from a hotel or train station. I found a weeklong pass was the best.
3. Do not buy the Budapest card, a transportation and museum pass all in one. Unless you plan a museum marathon for 72 hours (the longest length available), it is less expensive to pay for transport and museum fees separately as needed.
What to do when you’re there
1. As I mentioned in previous posts, do join a free walking tour. From this overview you can decide which are the most important highlights that will best match your interests.
2. The best place to buy food and souvenirs is the Grand Market Hall. It’s a two-story building with all sorts of delights. A traditional market is on the ground floor with vegetables, meats, grocery goods, bakery items aplenty. On the second floor are local textiles, souvenirs, restaurants and food stalls.
3. When booking a hotel room, make sure it has air conditioning if you’re planning on a summer visit. I found this one out the hard way!
4. Do go at night to the little bars in the Jewish Quarter called ruin bars or ‘romkocsma’ in Hungarian. They’re fun and a part of the culture.
5. The language is hard, there’s no way around it. Do at least know a few basic words, thank you in particular…you don’t want to be a rude American after all!
Hello or Bye = Szia (sounds like “See Ya”)
Goodbye = Viszlát (sounds like “veeslat”)
Yes / No = Igen / Nem
How are you? = Hogy vagy?
Thank you = Köszönöm (sounds like “kozonom”)
Thank you very much = Köszönöm szépen
Good morning = Jó reggelt
Good afternoon = Jó napot
Good evening = Jó estét
Cheers! = Egészségédre!
You’re welcome = Szívesen
Sorry! / Excuse me! = (to apologize = Bocsánat!) (to gain attention = Elnézést!)
1. More often than not, salad refers to pickled vegetables as opposed to the green leafy variety.
2. Noodles are really small but dense dumplings.
3. Hungarian wines are surprising good – an undiscovered secret in my opinion. Explore beyond the usual hype of Bulls Blood (not really blood, but it is a red) and Tokaj (white) – there are many very good varieties to choose from. My favorite wines came from the Villany region.
4. Try anything that is made with cottage cheese – sounds weird but trust me! Also, a must – bread with fat….I’m still dreaming of it!
5. If you’re in a restaurant and don’t know what to order and can’t communicate, when all else fails, order paprikash.
6. Most Hungarians eat a heavy lunch and a lighter dinner. As a result, many local restaurants close at 3 or 4 (tourist areas excepting).
Above all, just relax and have fun – Hungary is a country with so much to offer, you can’t go wrong!