Budapest is the capital of Hungary, and is actually two cities in one. It is situated in the north of the country on the Danube River, which divides the city into two parts: Buda on the west and Pest on the east. The two sections are very different in character, with Buda featuring hilly residential areas and terrace buildings along the river, and Pest featuring mainly commercial areas. The city is sprawling, but well laid-out, and it is easy to get around. Budapest is known for its amazing architecture, much of which dates from the turn of the 20th century, giving the city a historic feel. The city is an interesting mix of Western luxuries and more quaint and traditional aspects. Some refer to Budapest as “the Paris of Central Europe” because of its rich cultural history and flourishing arts scene, and it has also been called “the Queen of the Danube.” The city is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, with over 20 million visitors a year.
Budapest enjoys some of the sunniest weather in all of Europe, and no matter when you visit during the year, your chances of fine weather are good. Spring and autumn tend to be the best seasons to visit because the weather is at its most beautiful and there are fewer tourists. The winters do get fairly cold, but not until around mid-December. January is the coldest month, and temperatures average around -2¢ªC (28¢ªF). Even in winter, there are blue skies and plenty of sun. You can expect rain showers in late spring and in November, but these generally do not last long. August is the hottest month, with temperatures averaging between 21-30¢ªC (70-86¢ªF).
The Hungarian language is also known as “Magyar,” and is very unlike most other European languages. It is not an Indo-European language, but rather a member of the Finno-Ugric family, and is distantly related to Finnish and Estonian. The most common foreign language that Hungarians speak is German, but many also speak English, particularly the younger generation.
The most common religion in Hungary is Catholicism, which includes about 68% of the population. Many are Roman Catholic, but there is also a variety of Hungarian Catholicism with slightly different traditions. There are also Protestant denominations, with 20% of the population being Calvinist and 5% Lutheran. About 5% of Hungary is Jewish. Muslims, Hindus and other religions make up a very small percentage of the population.
The currency used in Hungary is the forint, abbreviated as either ‘Ft’ or ‘HUF.’ There are notes in denominations of 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000 Ft, and the coins in use are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Ft.
In Hungary, it is common to tip about 10% in restaurants. You should tip immediately when you pay the bill by rounding up, rather than wait to leave it on the table. It is also normal to tip taxi drivers, hairdressers, and even doctors and dentists. For all of these services, a tip of about 10% is common, but if you are unhappy with the quality of the service, it is acceptable to tip less or not at all. You can also give petrol-station and restroom attendants, and ushers in movie theatres a small tip.
The normal sales tax in Hungary is 20%, but some medicines and other necessary goods only carry a 5% tax. Tax is included in all prices that you see in stores. As a tourist, you are entitled to a refund of up to 16% of the taxes you pay on goods in Hungary. Exceptions to this are works of art, collectibles and antiques, for which you cannot ask a tax refund. In order to be entitled for a refund, you have to spend at least 50,000 Fr in one place, and must take the items you have bought out of the country within 90 days. You will need to get a “VAT Reclaim Form” from the shop where you make your purchase, and then present it to customs officials at the airport when you leave.
The country code for Hungary is 36, and the area code for Budapest is 1. To call Budapest from abroad, dial 00 36 1 followed by the local number. There are a number of public telephones in Budapest, from which you can make both local and international calls. They accept both coins and phone cards, which you can buy at phone shops and any post office. They come in amounts of 800, 1800 and 5000 Ft. If a telephone box has a black and white arrow and red target on the door, it displays a number and you can be phoned back there.
There are several internet cafés in Budapest, most of which have 20 or more terminals. At many internet cafés, you can also play games, burn CDs and DVDs, print and photocopy. 200 Ft per hour is around the average price. Most internet centres stay open until 11 pm or midnight.
Most shops are open Mon- Fri from 9 am - 7 pm, and food stores typically open earlier, usually at 7 am. Some food stores are open on the weekends, but generally only in big shopping centres. Department stores are usually open Mon - Fri from 10 am - 6 pm and Sat from 9 am - 1 pm. Some stores are open late on Thursday night. Tobacconists and sweet shops have more limited hours than other stores, usually closing every day in the afternoon.
Banking hours are Mon - Thurs 8 am - 1 pm, though some banks stay open an hour or two later. Post offices are open Mon - Fri from 8 am - 7 pm and Sat from 8 am - 1 pm.
On the following days, most shops will be closed, as well as banks and post offices. Public transportation may also be more limited.
1 Jan, New Year''s Day
15 Mar, Anniversary of the 1848 uprising against Austrian rule
9 Apr, Easter Monday
1 May, Labour Day
28 May, Whit Monday
20 Aug, National Day (Feast of St Stephen)
23 Oct, Republic Day (Anniversary of 1956)
1 Nov, All Saints'' Day
25 Dec, Christmas Day
26 Dec, Boxing Day
Budapest does not have any more or fewer safety problems than the average European city. It is always important to be savvy to avoid becoming the victim of a crime, but you do not need to worry or feel unsafe. As a tourist, it is more likely that you will be the target of pickpockets or scam artists, however. So follow common sense, and don’t place valuables where they could be snatched. Also, be wary of any people who approach you on the street and ask you to do something, however friendly they might appear. Changing money on the street is actually forbidded in Budapest, and it is a bad idea anyway. Try not to carry too much cash on you. Places to be most on the lookout for pickpockets include the Castle District, Vaci utca, the metro, and trams.
Budapest is an extremely beautiful city, with a variety of old and distinctive architecture, some lovely parks, and of course the serene Danube river. The Buda side of the Danube is quite hilly, and the tops of some hills offer spectacular vantage points over the rest of the city. Budapest is not a very large city, and though it does sprawl a bit, most of the attractions are very near to each other. Sites that are not within walking distance are easy to reach with public transport. Budapest’s history is ever-apparent in the city, with both pleasant and tragic aspects. There are still many buildings with bullet holes from the 1956 uprising for example. But one of the most charming things about the city is its quaint winding streets, many of which look much the same now as they did a hundred years ago. There are also Roman ruins that still remain, and some old Turkish bathes dating from the Ottoman era. The city has become much more modernized and more like western European countries in recent decades, though has also retained its own unique character.
It is housed in a Classical style palace designed by Mihály Pollack. Its collection posesses over 1 million items since 1846. The exhibitions show the history of Hungary from the foundation of the state until 1990.(Open: Tue-Sun 10am - 6pm)
The monumental building of the Parliament is one of the biggest attractions of Budapest. It hosts the diet and the crown jewels.
The medieval part of Budapest with its narrow streets and old citizenhouses.The Royal Palace houses different museums and exhibitions
Fishermen's Bastion and Matthi
Rebuilt several times, the Matthias Church is a mixture of architectural styles. Organ concerts are held regularly
Hungarian National Gallery
Collection of the Hungarian art since the foundation of the state. Late Gothic altarpieces, the works of Benczúr, Munkácsy, Szinyei Merse, Rippl-Ronai and Csontváry are just some examples.
(Open: Tue-Sun 10am - 6pm)
This is one of the most scenic squares of Budapest. In addition to being beautiful in and of itself, it offers some wonderful views of the Parliament buildings, the Danube, and other sites. Many postcards of the city are taken from this location, as it offers unobstructed views of some of the best areas of the city. There are some nice little cafés and snackbars on the square, as well as the big Market Hall which is always an interesting place to shop.
This charming historic area lies just north of the Royal Palace and features a network of medieval streets which have been largely unaltered over the centuries. Many of the old buildings have been recently restored, as some sustained severe damage during World War II. The Castle District is located within the old castle walls and contains the ruins of a Dominican monastery, old churches, and a couple interesting cemetaries with Turkish tombstones. The district has become fairly touristy, and there are many places to eat and buy souvenirs in the area.
This old building is located behind the Matyas Church in the middle of the Castle District. It is called a bastion but has never really been used for defensive purposes. According to old stories, the fisherman used to live here and keep watch over Castle Hill, however. It was built around 1900 by the same architect who designed the church, and is an interesting stone building with turrets. You can climb up for a small fee and see some magnificent views of the city.
This popular summertime amusement park is located next to the zoo, and is a perfect place to take kids. There are all manner of rides, from classic merry-go-rounds to more creative and unique varieties. One of the main attractions is the wooden “big dipper,” supposedly the oldest in Europe. In addition to rides, there are thermal baths, a circus, and a nice open park with lots of greenery where people have picnics and kids can play.
Opening times: Summer only, Tues - Sun 9.45 am - 8 pm
A peaceful respite in the middle of the city, Margaret Island is a popular spot where the locals go to relax. You can rent a bike, swim, jog, or just walk around in the charming surroundings. The island was originally a religious centre, used by the nuns of St. Margaret’s Dominican nunnery. The ruins of this nunnery can be seen on the east side of the island, near to ruins of a Franciscan church. The Ramada Grand Hotel is also located on the island, and you can have an elegant lunch here before continuing on your way.
The planetarium is a delightful and educational attraction, with a 75 foot dome on which fascinating star shows are presented. You will learn about constellations, the orbits of the planets, the lives of a star, and much more. In the evenings there are often laser shows, accompanied by either rock or classica music. Favourite tunes to do the shows to include the Carmina Burana and the music of Pink Floyd and the Beatles.
Show times: Tues - Sun 9.30 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 2.30 pm and 4 pm
A royal palace has stood on this site since the 13th century, but the structures have frequently needed to be rebuilt because of war. The palace as it now stands was rebuilt in the 60s and 70s. You can reach it by cable car, but it is more interesting to take the winding path with many staircases to the top of the hill. The palace contains multiple museums and art galleries, including a featured exhibition on artefacts and other finds from the medieval palace. The Matyas Fountain in this collection is particularly impressive.
The zoo is located in an active and tourist-friendly area of the city, very near to Heroes’ Square, some great museums and the amusement park. The zoo is slowly upgrading and renovating to become more modern and to improve the facilities. It features animals from all over the world, from dramatic lions, tigers and hippos of Africa, to exotic reptiles from South America, and many beautiful rare birds. Many areas of the zoo preserve some of its original art deco designs, such as the entrance hall. There are many places to buy refreshments and souvenirs.
Opening times: Daily 9 am - 5 pm (4 pm in winter)
Entrance price: 650 Fr
This is the site of a very old church, built around 1255, which was destroyed by fire in 1526 when the Turks set it ablaze. The present-day church dates from 1743, and is famous for its turbulent history. After being burned down in the 16th century, it was rebuilt, but taken over by the Turks soon after and turned into a mosque. It was reclaimed as a church in the 18th century and renovated extensively on the interior. Another of the church’s claims to fame is that the famous pianist and composer Franz Liszt played many concerts here and was a regular in the congregation.
Church of St Mary Magdalene
This church is now in ruins, but the Baroque tower has been reconstructed and is now the only intact element of the once-grand structure. The church was built during the mid-13th century in the Gothic style. It became a mosque during the Turkish occupation in the 17th century, and was badly damaged during the liberation of 1686. It was partially reconstructed and some new Baroque elements were added, but it subequently damaged during World War II. The garden does feature a beautifully reconstructed Gothic window, however.
Like many other churches in Budapest, this one was built in the 13th century, damaged during various wars including World War II, and recently rebuilt. Unlike many churches in the city, however, this one was never converted into a mosque. It was restored in the 1960s, primarily in the Gothic style. One of the original 14th century portals does survive on the south side. The interior is refreshing and very colourful, decorated with weavings and paintings. You can visit the crypt, and there are often nice organ concerts here.
Opening times: Mon - Sat 9 am - 5 pm, Sun 1 pm - 5 pm
This is a lovely park that is well worth visiting, as it includes the Vajdahunyad Castle, the Museum of Agriculture, and a lake where you can go boating. In the winter, the lake becomes a popular ice skating rink. The Vajdahunyad Castle was built in 1896 for the turn-of-the-century celebrations, and represents virtually every style of Hungarian architecture. Whether you visit the castle and museum, or simple stroll through the park, it is a peaceful and interesting place to spend the afternoon. There is also a statue of George Washington in the park, built to thank the Americans for admitting so many Hungarian immigrants in the early 1900s.
Located in Pest, this garden offers a beautiful respite from the surrounding narrow streets and the bustle of the city. It is one of the only green areas in this part of Budapest, and is a popular picnic spot with the locals. There is lots of lush grass and some nice trees, and the park is surrounded by some scenic historic townhouses. No dogs are allowed in the garden, and there is an enclosed playground for children.
The name of this park means “bottomless lake” in Hungarian, and does contain a nice lake with rushes and several ducks. Some locals go fishing here, but rarely catch anything. There is also a children’s playground with some very fun rides, a tennis court, and an open-air theatre in the summer months which is a popular venue during summer festivals.