Destination Hungary

This page is divided into to sections. The first section contains general information about Hungary, like history, description of culture, currency, visa, ravel to and in the country and crime / safety. The second part contains information about all the cities I have been to.  

General information about Hungary
Hungary  is a country in Central Europe bordering Slovakia to the north, Austria to the west, Slovenia and Croatia to the south west, Serbia to the south, Romania to the east and Ukraine to the north east. The country is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Border-less Europe Agreement.

Hungary offers many diverse destinations: relatively low mountains in the north-west, the Great Plain in the east, lakes and rivers of all sorts (including Balaton - the largest lake in Central Europe), and many beautiful small villages and hidden gems of cities. Top this off with Hungary's great accessibility in the middle of Europe, a vivid culture and economy, and you get a destination absolutely not worth missing if you're in the region.

Visitors will notice that (except for touristy attractions and restaurants) many items cost less in Hungary than in Western Europe. Hungarian salaries are lower also, to the extent that when compared to income, the relative cost of living is actually quite high. Unemployment is also high, and many people are employed in low-paying jobs, so a higher proportion of the population has difficulty making ends meet. Even university-educated middle class citizens with "good" jobs generally have less disposable income for luxuries and conveniences than their counterparts in Western Europe.

The country is one of the 15 most popular tourist destinations in the world, with a capital regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world. Despite its relatively small size, Hungary has numerous World Heritage Sites, UNESCO Biosphere reserves, the second largest thermal lake in the world (Lake Hévíz), the largest lake in Central Europe (Lake Balaton), and the largest natural grassland in Europe (Hortobágy). In terms of buildings, Hungary has the largest synagogue in Europe (Great Synagogue), the largest medicinal bath in Europe (Széchenyi Medicinal Bath), the third largest church in Europe (Esztergom Basilica), the second largest territorial abbey in the world (Pannonhalma Archabbey), the second largest Baroque castle in the world (Gödöllő), and the largest Early Christian Necropolis outside Italy (Pécs), the second underground in Europe and the third all over the world after New York and London (Millennium Underground).

You can expect to find safe food and water, good safety and a generally stable political climate.

Hungary has been ethnically diverse since its inception, and while today over 90% of the population are ethnically Hungarian, pockets of ethnic and cultural Slovaks, Romanians, Germans and others dot the country. Due to the border changes of Hungary after World War I, over 2 million ethnic and cultural Hungarians live in bordering countries, as well. The Hungarians, otherwise known as Magyars, are the descendants of several tribes from Central Asia, who were believed to be fierce, nomadic horsemen and came to Central Europe in the 9th century.

Hungarians are rightly proud of their unique, complex, sophisticated, richly expressive language, Hungarian. It is a Uralic language most closely related to Mansi and Khanty of western Siberia. It is further sub-classified into the Finno-Ugric languages which include Finnish and Estonian plus a handful of minority languages spoken in Western and Northwestern Russia; it is not at all related to any of its neighbours: the Slavic, Germanic, and Romance languages belonging to the Indo-European language family. Although related to Finnish and Estonian, they are not mutually intelligible, being about as closely related as English is to Hindi. Aside from Finnish, it is considered one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn with the vocabulary, complicated grammar, and pronunciation being radically different. So it is not surprising that an English speaker visiting Hungary understands nothing from written or spoken Hungarian. Hungary did adopt the Latin alphabet after becoming a Christian kingdom in the year 1000.

English-speakers tend to find most everything about the written language tough going, including a number of unusual sounds. Since English is widely taught in schools and universities, if you address people below age of 50, you stand a good chance that they will speak very good English.

However, due to Hungary's history, the older generation will tend to not speak English. These Hungarians may speak Russian, which was compulsory in the Communist era, although most have not used it since. As with practically all post-communist countries, people might be hesitant to speak Russian and may be prejudiced against people who do. It is wise to try and start a conversation in some other language and if you cannot understand each other, ask if switching to Russian would be acceptable.

Travel to Hungary
Hungary's main international airports are Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport in Budapest and Debrecen Airport in Debrecen. Only these two have scheduled flights. There are other less used international airports; the Hévíz-Balaton Airport has seasonal charter flights, the Győr-Pér and Pécs-Pogány airports serve mostly general aviation.

Hungary does not have a flag carrier airline. Alternatively, a bus connection exists between Vienna International Airport and the capital, which is a 3 hour ride.

Budapest is an important railway hub for the whole country and large part of Central Europe, with frequent train connections from AustriaGermany, the Czech Republic,Slovakia and Romania. There is at least one daily train to/from CroatiaSloveniaPolandSwitzerland and Ukraine. As of 2019, rail traffic is discontinued between Budapest and Belgrade, due to track construction works in Serbia.

To enter the country by car, ensure that your International Motor Insurance Card is valid for Hungary(H) along with the Vehicle Registration and a Power of Attorney from the owner if the car is not yours. The border guards are very strict about allowing cars through without these documents. 

Several international bus lines go in or through Hungary. It is possible to enter Hungary by international shipping lines on Danube or Tisza rivers.

Travelling within Hungary
Hungary presently has no regular domestic flights. As Budapest lies in the center of the country and pretty much any point can be reached within three hours by train or bus, there isn't much need for scheduled domestic flights.

The Hungarian National Railway is MÁV and GYSEV (some lines in the west of the country). MÁV has an online schedule and pricing site, which can be used in English as well.

The train network is star-shaped (hub-and-spoke), fanning out from the centre at Budapest. This is caused by history because half of the once complete train system went to the neighbor countries after World War I. If neither the starting or ending point is Budapest, expect to travel for a long time often with change in Budapest.

Hungary’s national bus network is operated by 28 state run companies, united under Volán Association. Connections are frequent, prices are close to those on non-Intercity trains. Buses, especially longer distance ones are efficient and quite similar in speed to the train, sometimes even faster as they do not need to connect through Budapest unlike the train. Demand for bus transport is high and buses tend to get overfilled. To guarantee a seat on a long-distance bus it is therefore recommended to queue on time for the bus at its departing platform. Tickets are purchased from the bus driver, this usually includes most long-distance buses. Have sufficient cash on you as it is not possible to pay by card. It is a good idea to reserve your tickets for national holidays, Friday and Sunday evenings beforehand.

Most roads in Hungary are two lane apart from modern motorways. Main roads are mostly in good shape, however cracks, potholes and bumpy roads are common on minor roads and in major cities though they are constantly being repaired. Usually you can travel by using a map and the road signs.

Places to sleep 
You may use i .e. hotels.combooking.com or hostelworld.com to find somewhere to sleep. If you want to rent a private home Airbnb.com could be something for you.

Money and banking
Hungary is part of the European Union bus has it's own currency. The unit of Hungarian currency is known as the forint (HUF). The Hungarian "cent" (fillér) is long since obsolete. Bank notes come in denominations of HUF20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and HUF500, coins are HUF200 (two coloured, similar to a one euro coin), HUF100 (two coloured, similar to €2), HUF50, HUF20, HUF10 and HUF5.

Euros are now accepted at most hotels and some of the restaurants and shops. Make sure you check the exchange rate though, sometimes even well known places (like McDonald's) will exchange at unrealistic rates.

You can use major credit cards (EuroCard, Visa) in major shops and larger restaurants, but never expect that without checking first. Small places cannot afford to handle cards. ATMs are available even in small cities, the coverage is good.

Exchange rates for EUR and USD are roughly the same downtown (at least in Budapest and Eger). Rates will likely be much worse in airports and large train stations - so change exactly what you need to reach downtown. A good habit is to compare the buy and sell rates: if they are drastically different, you're best going somewhere else. Official exchange offices always give a receipt and normally have a large glass between client and a cashier making all steps transparent for client.

If you arrive to Budapest at late nights or state holidays it is quite likely you won't be able to find any working bank or exchange office. In this case you may attempt to exchange your money with any random taxi driver. They will rip you off by HUF100-200 (around €1), but it's better than nothing. There is an ATM in the arrival hall at Budapest Ferihegy, and the rates for using ATMs with a card are often better than the bureau de change. There are many banks machines in Budapest which will accept European and North American debit/credit cards, if it becomes necessary, it maybe in your best interest to draw a sufficient amount for your stay and it will often give a more much favourable rate.

Vaccine and health
Food and water is generally safe, even in remote villages. 

Private health care providers are high quality, but limited in scope once outside Budapest. Dentistry is both famously high quality and cheaper than in Western Europe, and physiotherapy also, but check the price with the provider before you confirm the appointment. Outside Budapest and Sopron you will likely have to speak basic Hungarian to communicate your needs as few doctors will have any English or German skills.

Public health care is free for qualifying (insured) people, and is of adequate quality in urban areas. The country has joined the EU, so basic coverage is present for EU citizens, but check before entering the country how far are you insured and what you have to pay for. Do not expect at this time that the local doctor will know the EU rules, prepare to provide info.

The European Health Insurance Card is required from EU citizens applying for free treatment under this regulation; European health card for 1 June 2004.

Pharmacies are everywhere, you may expect high prices, but very good pharmaceutical coverage. The only problem might be communicating with the pharmacist as most of them speak only Hungarian outside Budapest. Even some rusty Latin might come handy quite unexpectedly. For travelers from Eastern Europe, some of familiar medications might be unavailable -- so be prepared to find a substitute in advance.

Visa
Hungaryis a member the European Union and the Schengen Agreement. Because of this there are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).

Crime 
Hungary is, in general, a very safe country. According to the 2012 study of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Hungary had an intentional homicide rate of only 1.3 per 100,000 inhabitants. This is lower than the European average intentional homicide rate of 3.5, and also lower than the North American average intentional homicide rate of 3.9 per 100,000 inhabitants.

However, petty crime in particular remains a concern, just like in any other country. Watch your baggage and pockets on public transport. There is a danger of pickpockets. Passports, cash, and credit cards are favorite targets of thieves. Keep items that you do not store in your hotel safe or residence in a safe place, but be aware that pockets, purses and backpacks are especially vulnerable, even if they close with a zipper. There are also reported cases of people who got their baggage stolen while sleeping on the train, so watch out for that. Bag- and wallet- snatching, while rare, is not unheard of.

The general emergency number is 112. While other emergency numbers exist (104 for ambulance, 105 for the fire service and 107 for police), they are becoming obsolete and should not be used. 112 can and should be called for every emergency.

Generally, Hungary is rather quiet during the night compared to other European countries, and crime to tourists is limited to pickpocketing and eventual cheating on prices and bills and taxi fares.

Some people mainly in the rural areas show a protectionist attitude and this may manifest as intolerance against people of colour. There were several cases in the last years, when local people notified the police because of a group of tourists who they believed were illegal immigrants.

Everyone is required to carry their passport or (for EU/EFTA/Monaco nationals) ID card. Not doing so can end you in trouble with the police. The police will be most pragmatic if a color copy of your passport is provided.

The police force is professional and well trained. However, one must have a good knowledge of Hungarian to ask them for assistance as most of the policemen hardly speak any English.

Hungarians generally display a more modern progressive balance towards homosexuality and have legal protections in place, such as a by-law which protects same-sex civil partnerships. While public displays of affections amongst same-sex couples might be met with stares on the casual budapesti street, Hungarians generally display a let-live attitude to others' affairs.

Cuisine and drink 
Hungarians are quite proud of their cuisine (Magyar konyha), and most of the time not without a reason. Food are usually spicy (but not hot by general standards), and it's tasty rather than healthy — many dishes are prepared with lard or deep-fried. The national spice is paprika, made from ground sweet bell peppers and which actually has some flavor when fresh. The national dish is, of course, goulash, but Hungarians call the thick paprika-laden stew known as goulash elsewhere by the term pörkölt and reserve the term gulyás for a lighter paprika-flavoured soup.

Meat is popular- especially pork (sertés), beef (marha) and venison (őz). Less common is lamb and mutton. The best fish in Hungary are river fish: Carp (Ponty) and Fogas (Zander), though many restaurants will serve fish from far away. Chicken (csirke) and Turkey (pulyka) are common, and you will also find game birds excellent in smarter restaurants and country areas- Pheasant (Fácán), Partridge(Fogoly) and duck (Kacsa). A typical meal will involve soup, often like a consommé (erőleves), meat with potatoes (burgonya) and a side salad, and a dessert like pancakes (palacsinta).

Less well known in the rest of the world are paprikás csirke, chicken in paprika sauce, and halászlé, paprika fish soup often made from carp.

Goose is also quite popular in Hungary. While tourists gorge on goose liver (libamáj), still cheap by Western standards, probably the most common dish is sült libacomb, roast goose leg. Stuffed (töltött) vegetables of all kinds are also popular, and Hungarian pancakes (palacsinta), both savoury and sweet, are a treat. Common snacks include kolbász, a Hungarianized version of the Polish kielbasa sausage, and lángos, deep-fried dough with a variety of toppings (mostly sour cream, cheese and/or garlic).

A Hungarian meal is almost always — even at breakfast — accompanied by Hungarian pickles called savanyúság, literally "sourness". These are often dubbed saláta on menus, so order a vitamin saláta if you want fresh veggies. Starch is most often served as potatoes, rice or dumplings (galuska' or nokedli), the primary Hungarian contribution in this field is an unusual type of small couscous-like pasta called tarhonya.

It is worth to visit a "Cukrászda" if you are in Hungary. These are very popular with delicious cakes and coffee. Try the traditional Krémes (with vanila cream), Eszterházy (lots of nuts) or Somlói Galuska. You should visit Auguszt, Szamos or Daubner if you want the best! Daubner is a little out of the way, Auguszt Cukrászda is an absolute must. They have a shop downtown near Astoria metro station, founded in 1969.

Hungary most renowned wines are the dessert wines originating from the Tokaj region in NE Hungary. Lesser-known but still high quality wines are produced at the Villány, Szekszárd and Eger regions. Among red wines the best are Kékfrankos, Egri Bikavér „Bulls Blood”, and Cabernet Franc, while white wines such as Szürkebarát, Cserszegi fűszeres and Irsai Olivér can be very pleasant and refreshing. You should at least try the Hungarian spirit, pálinka, a clear brandy made from fruit. The most popular are made from honey, plum, apricot, sour cherry or Williams pear.

Places I have been to in Hungary

Budapest
Budapest (Hungarian pronunciation approximates to "boo-dah-pesht") is the capital city of Hungary. With a unique, youthful atmosphere, a world-class classical music scene as well as a pulsating night life increasingly appreciated among European youth and, last but not least, an exceptionally rich offering of natural thermal baths, Budapest is one of Europe's most delightful and enjoyable cities. Due to its scenic setting and its architecture it is nicknamed "Paris of the East". In 1987 Budapest was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List for the cultural and architectural significance of the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy Avenue.

Modern Budapest is the result of a historic amalgamation of the separate cities of Buda and Pest, in addition to the smaller and more distant Óbuda. It is still typical to refer a restaurant on the "Buda side" or "living in Pest". Administratively, the city is also divided into 23 numbered districts.

Budapest is the economic, historic, and cultural capital of Hungary, with approximately 2 million inhabitants and approximately 2.7 million visitors per year. Hungarians are proud of what their beautiful capital has to offer and of its contributions to European culture. They also take pride in their unique language which is very different from all other European languages.

While Buda has been the capital of Hungary - or that of the Osman-occupied territory - for the better part of a millennium, it has become a grand cosmopolitan city during the country's fast industrialisation in the late nineteenth century. The population of 2.1 million in 1989 decreased formally due to suburbanization.

The main public transit connection from the airport to the city is to take bus 200E from the airport to metro M3 (blue line) terminus 'Kőbánya-Kispest' (~25 minutes). From 6 April 2019 the 200E is operating non-stop, day and night, on an extended route between the Airport and Nagyvárad tér (~35 minutes), while line M3 is being refurbished. Between Kőbánya-Kispest and Nagyvárad tér, it also stops at Határ út and Népliget. Then continue within the metro system (~20-30 minutes to city centre from Kőbánya-Kispest, ~10 minutes from Nagyvárad tér).

One public transport ticket for each leg. (See Get Around for ticket information.) The route is well marked with signs and the bus runs frequently. The bus stops almost right next to the metro stop, but be prepared to carry luggage up or down some stairs.

Bus 100E is a special fare airport shuttle bus that operates directly between 'Deák Ferenc tér' metro station in the Pest city center and 'Liszt Ferenc Airport Terminal 2' (~40 minutes) every 30 minutes. Tickets costs HUF 900 (approx. 3 EUR) at BKK customer centers, cash desks and automated ticket machines. 100E buses have a special design to make them easy to recognize and you validate your ticket in the machine next to the driver. These buses also stop at 'Astoria' station and 'Kálvin tér' and in the city center of Pest each way. These special fare buses operate from 04:00 - 21:00 from 'Deák Ferenc tér' and 4:45 - 21:00 every day from the airport. It is also possible to take the 200E bus to the local Ferihegy train station and continue on the MÁV network to Nyugati station in Budapest or other rail destinations.

The river Danube splits the city approximately in half, with the west side called Buda and the east called Pest. North/south orientation can be referred to relative to the city's bridges. 

Most of Budapest's highlights are within easy walking distance of each other and the city centre. All major areas have sidewalks and crosswalks for pedestrians. Drivers generally obey traffic signals, and similar to other major European cities, pedestrians should firmly indicate their intention to cross at a crosswalk. Many sidewalks and paths tend to be mixed-use for both pedestrians and cyclists.

Budapest's extensive public transit system is generally convenient and easy to use. Tourists can navigate most central areas by metro, but a few major destinations, particularly on the Buda side, are served by buses or trams. Unfortunately, compared to similarly-sized cities in Western Europe, Budapest's public transit infrastructure is generally more worn-down, more outdated, dirtier, less reliable, and less comfortable. Ticketing systems are not automated

Metro (underground) stations throughout the capital and within proximity to many tourist attractions, usually indicated with large "M" signs. Tickets are available at kiosks and at automatic ticket machines (newer ones accept coins, banknotes and credit cards as well). If buying single tickets remember that they must be validated (punched) at the machines in front of the escalators (or if travelling on buses and trams at the machines inside the vehicle). Single tickets are valid for one journey on one service. If you change between metro lines, you don't have to validate a new ticket, but in any other cases (changing from metro to bus or tram, bus to bus, tram to bus etc.) you have to use a second ticket. If you make only occasional journeys, save by buying a book of 10. However, be warned that many ticketing staff do not speak English and some times it is best to use the available ticket machine which has an English option. However, if you do plan to see a number of attractions with public transport, it is best to get a 24 hour travel card. It is valid for a full 24 hours from the time of purchase. There are also 3 day and weekly tickets. If you buy a three day Budapest Card, this includes public transport and entry to many museums. Many travelers will find that there are metro ticket inspectors virtually at every stop. If you are caught with invalid fare, you will be asked to pay a fine of 8000 HUF on the spot or you will be taken to the police station.

When you approach the ticketing machine, you will see a number of options. Short fare is intended for only 3 stops, and only on metro lines, regardless of which one you catch or change to. Regular fare instructions is as listed, but be sure to validate your fare or it'll be considered invalid. 

Historic buildings that's worth a visit is the Parliament, royal palace, Fisherman's Bastion, Vajdahunyad Castle, State opera house and The Central Market Hall. when it comes to museums the National Gallery, House of Terror, Hall of Art and theEthnographic Museum. The Margaret Island is a nice area that's worth a visit. St. Stephen (István) Cathedral is the highest church in Budapest. Matthias Church is a dominant neogothic church crowning Budapest's cityscape and the synagogue is unique in size and shape. 

Citadella, the former fortress on top of Gellérthegy, offers a superb panorama over Central Budapest including bank of the Danube River, Buda Castle and Pest city. To get good views up and down the Danube, take the steps going down in front of the Liberty Statue in front of the Citadella. There are several outposts offering good photo opportunities. 

Budapest is famous for its thermal baths, where tourists and locals go to swim, relax, and soak in hot or cold mineral waters. Thermal baths differ from normal baths or swimming pools because their hot water is drawn up from deep under the earth's surface where temperatures are higher. The thermal hot water saves on heating bills and also has different mineral contents compared to normal tap water. Soaking in certain types of mineral water is considered to have health benefits for some types of health problems, so it's not uncommon for Hungarians or visitors to come to the baths for therapeutic reasons, sometimes even prescribed by a doctor. Thermal bathing is more popular in Hungary than in other destinations for several reasons. First, because of Budapest's geography, thermal waters run closer to the surface here than in other places. Secondly, thermal bathing was (and is) popular among many Turkish cultures, and Hungary was occupied by the Turkish people of the Ottoman Empire for many years. In Budapest, some thermal baths are large, historic complexes visited as a cultural as well as a bathing experience. Other thermal baths are operated more as spa hotels, with thermal water but in a modern, spa-like atmosphere.

If you are up to free walking tours check out Sandemans New Europe tours. They take you through the city center and lasts prox 2.5 hours. 

I have made this map in Google My maps that displays sights, museums, places to eat, shops, meeting points, public transportation, police, ER, hospitals etc in Budapest. I have added lots of extra places on the map that is not mentioned in this article. It is possible to view this map on your computer, tablet and telephone.