Getting there & away
Everyone needs a valid passport or, for citizens of the EU (but not Denmark, Ireland, Latvia, Sweden or the UK), a national identification card to enter Hungary. It's a good idea (though not a requirement) to carry your passport or other identification at all times.
Flights, tours and rail tickets can be booked online at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel_services.
A hydrofoil service on the Danube River between Budapest and Vienna (5½ to 6½ hours, 282km) operates daily from early April to October; passengers can disembark at Bratislava with advance notice. Adult one-way/return 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 a bicycle costs €18 each way.
In Budapest, ferries arrive and depart from the International Ferry Pier (Nemzetközi hajóállomás) on V Belgrád rakpart, between the Elizabeth (Erzsébet híd) and Independence (Szabadság híd) bridges on the Pest side. In Vienna, the boat docks at the Reichsbrücke pier near Mexikoplatz.
Hungary is well connected with all seven of its neighbours by road, rail and even ferry, though most transport begins or ends its journey in Budapest.
As elsewhere in Europe, timetables for both domestic and international trains and buses use the 24-hour system. Also, Hungarian names are sometimes used for cities and towns in neighbouring countries on bus and train schedules.
Of the 65 or so border road crossings Hungary maintains with its neighbours, about a third (mostly in the north and northeast) are restricted to local citizens on both sides of the border (or, in the case of Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia, EU citizens).
Most international buses are run by Eurolines (1-219 8021; www.eurolines.com) or its Hungarian associate, Volánbusz (1-382 0888; www.volanbusz.hu). In Budapest, all international buses arrive at and depart from the Népliget bus station (1-219 8080; IX Üllői út 131; metro Népliget) in Pest. The ticket office (6am-6pm Mon-Fri Sep-May, 6-8pm Mon-Fri Jun-Aug, 6am-4pm Sat & Sun year-round) is upstairs.
From Népliget station there's a long-distance bus that runs throughout the year to Amsterdam via Frankfurt and Düsseldorf (20½ hours, 1435km, Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday). The bus continues on to Rotterdam (21½ hours, 1510km) on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Tickets cost 23, 900/40, 900Ft one way/return (to both destinations), with a 10% discount for those under 26, students and seniors over 60. From early June to late September, there's an extra departure on Friday evening.
Buses to London via Brussels and Lille (25¼ hours, 1755km) depart on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and cost 29, 900/42, 900Ft one way/return. There are additional ser- vices over the summer on Tuesday (April to late October), Thursday (late June to August) and Saturday (early July to early September). In London contact Eurolines UK (0870 514 3219; 52 Grosvenor Gardens SW1).
Other Eurolines services between Buda- pest and Western European cities, with high-season (mid-June to mid-September) one-way/return fares quoted, include the following:
Berlin (via Prague and Dresden, 16, 900/28, 900Ft, 14¾ hours, 910km, four to six days a week) If you continue on to Hamburg, the cost goes up to 21, 900/36, 900Ft. Buses depart Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday year-round, as well as on Thursday and Sunday from late June to mid-August.
Paris (via Vienna, Strasbourg and Reims, 23, 900/41, 900Ft, 21½ hours, 1460km, three days a week) Buses run Monday, Wednesday and Friday year-round. To go only as far as Strasbourg costs 20, 900/38, 900Ft.
Rome (via Bologna and Florence, 23, 900/37, 900Ft, 20½ hours, 1250km, up to seven times a week) The ticket to Bologna is 16, 900/27, 900Ft and to Florence 18, 900/30, 900Ft. Buses run Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday April to mid-September, with extra departures on Tuesday and Wednesday and one on Sunday from mid-September to December.
Venice (13, 900/22, 900Ft, 11¾ hours, 770km, up to seven times a week) Buses keep the same schedule as the Rome ones.
Vienna (via Győr, 5490/7990Ft, 3¼ hours, 254km, four buses a day)
From late June to September a bus leaves Népliget station for Pula (return 16, 900Ft, 9¾ hours, 775km) every Friday, travelling via Rijeka (return 14, 900Ft, 8¾ hours, 830km) and then carrying on to Porec (return 16, 900Ft, 11½ hours, 910km). There's a daily service year-round to Belgrade (one way/return 4100/6800Ft, nine hours, 422km) and two buses a day to Subotica (in Hungarian, Szabadka; one way/return 3700/5500Ft, 5¾ hours, 224km).
From Népliget station there are buses to Bratislava (in Hungarian, Pozsony; one way/return 3400/5400Ft, four hours, 213km) daily and to Prague (9900/16, 900Ft, 8¼ hours, 640km) year-round on Tuesday to Sunday. Extra overnight buses to Prague run on Thursday and Sunday from late June to mid-August.
Magyar Államvasutak (www.mav.hu), which translates as Hungarian State Railways and is universally known as MÁV, links up with the European rail network in all directions. Its trains run as far as London (via Munich and Paris), Stockholm (via Hamburg and Copenhagen), Moscow, Rome and Istanbul (via Belgrade).
The international trains listed here are expresses and many - if not all - require seat reservations. On long hauls, sleepers are almost always available in both 1st and 2nd class, and couchettes are available in 2nd class. Not all express trains have dining or even buffet cars; make sure you bring along snacks and drinks as vendors can be few and far between. Most Hungarian trains are hardly what you could call luxurious but they are generally clean and punctual.
In Budapest, almost all international trains arrive and depart from Keleti station (Eastern train station; 1-313 6835; VIII Kerepesi út 2-6); however, some trains to certain destinations in the east (eg Romania) leave from Nyugati station (Western train station; 1-349 0115; VI Teréz körút 55-57), while Déli station (Southern train station; 1-375 6293; I Krisztina körút 37) 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. For 24-hour information on international train services call nationwide 06 40 49 49 49 or in Budapest 1-461 5500.
To reduce confusion when requesting information or buying a ticket, specify your train by the name listed in the following sections or on the posted schedule. You can buy tickets at the three international train stations in Budapest, but it's easier at the MÁV international information and ticket centre (1-461 5500, 352 2800; www.mav.hu; VI Andrássy út 35; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri Apr-Sep, 9am-5pm Mon-Fri Oct-Mar). It accepts credit cards. For fares, check www.elvira.hu.
There are big nationwide discounts for return (only) fares from Hungary to neighbouring countries: 50% to Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Poland; 60% to Serbia and Montenegro and the Baltic countries; 50% to Belarus, Russia and Ukraine; and up to 60% to Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Also, there's a 40% concession on return fares from Budapest to six selected cities: Prague and Brno in the Czech Republic, and Warsaw, Kraków, Katowice and Gdynia in Poland. Some 2nd-class return fares are: Prague 17, 799Ft, Moscow 35, 292Ft and Warsaw 24, 276Ft.
For tickets to Western Europe you'll pay the same as elsewhere, unless you're under 26 and qualify for the 30% to 60% Billet International de Jeunesse (BIJ) discounts. For that, ask at MÁV, Express or Wasteels (1-210 2802; 8am-8pm Mon-Fri, 8am-6pm Sat) in Keleti train station.
The following are sample full-price return 2nd-class fares from Budapest: Amsterdam 52, 940Ft, Berlin (via Prague) 40, 800Ft and (via Vienna) 45, 645Ft, London 96, 696Ft, Munich 25, 143Ft, Rome (via Ljubljana) 61, 098Ft and Vienna 11, 578Ft. There's a 30% discounted return fare to Vienna/and Graz of 8823Ft and 10, 710Ft respectively if you return to Budapest within four days. The 1st-class seats are around 50% more expensive than 2nd class,
InterCity (IC) and EuroCity (EC) trains charge supplements of between 200Ft and 480Ft. International seat reservation costs vary according to the destination and fines are levied on those without tickets (2000Ft, plus full single fare) or seat reservations (2000Ft, plus reservation fee of 200Ft to 350Ft) on trains where they are compulsory.
Sleeper prices depend on the destin- ation, but a two-berth 2nd-class sleeper to Berlin/Prague/Venice/Moscow costs 5585/3570/6630/5360Ft per person per night. A 2nd-class couchette in a compartment for six people costs between 2400Ft and 3417Ft on the Transbalkan to Romania and Greece, and 4973Ft on the Kálmán Imre to Munich. Tickets are valid for 60 days from purchase and stopovers are permitted.
Covering from one to eight 'zones', Inter Rail (www.interrailnet.com) passes can be purchased by nationals of European countries (or residents of at least six months) from MÁV. There are three price groups for the passes: adult, ages 12 to 26 (referred to here as 'youth') and child (four to 11). The price for any one zone is €229/156/115 per adult/youth/child for 16 days and €317/220/159 for 22 days in two zones. Hungary is in Zone D along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. A Global pass, covering all eight zones, costs €437/308/219.
It's almost impossible for a standard Eurail pass (www.eurailnet.com) to pay for itself in Hungary. If you are a non-European resident, you may consider one of its combination tickets allowing you to travel over a fixed period for a set price. These include the Hungary N' Slovenia/Croatia pass and the Romania N' Hungary pass, offering five/10 days of travel on those countries' rail networks for adults US$200/300, youths US$140/210 and children aged five to 11 US$100/150. Buy the pass before you leave home.
Seven trains daily link Vienna with Budapest (three hours, 273km) via Hegyeshalom and Győr. Most depart from Vienna's Westbahnhof, including the EuroCity Bartók Béla and the EuroNight Kálmán Imre, both coming from Munich (7½ hours, 742km) via Salzburg (six hours, 589km). Other trains departing from the Westbahnhof include the EC 25/24 from Cologne (11 hours, 1247km) and Frankfurt (10 hours, 1026km), the EN Wiener Walzer (11½ hours, 808km) from Zürich, the Dacia to Bucharest (13½ hours, 874km) and the IC Avala to Belgrade (10 hours, 647km). The early morning EC Lehár Ferenc departs from Vienna's Südbahnhof. None of these trains requires a reservation, though it's highly recommended in summer.
Up to four trains leave Vienna's Südbahnhof every day for Sopron (75 minutes, 76km) via Ebenfurth. As many as a dozen a day also serve Sopron from Wiener Neustadt, which is easily accessible from Vienna. Three daily milk trains make the 2½-hour, 136km-long trip from Graz to Szombathely.
The EC 171/170 travels from Berlin (Zoo and Ostbahnhof stations) to Budapest (12½ hours, 1002km) via Dresden, Prague and Bratislava. The express Spree-Donau Kurier arrives from Berlin via Nuremberg and Vienna (14 hours).
In addition to the EC 171/170, Budapest can be reached from Prague (seven hours, 611km) on the EC 175/174, the express Jaroslav Hašek, and the Pannónia Express, which then carries on to Bucharest. The Amicus runs directly from Bratislava (three hours, 235km) every day.
The EC Polonia and the express Báthory leave Warsaw daily for Budapest (13 hours, 901km) passing through Bratislava or Štúrovo and Katowice. The Cracóvia runs from Kraków to Budapest (10½ hours, 590km) via Košice. Another train, the Rákóczi, links Budapest with Košice.
Three daily trains cover the 90km from Košice to Miskolc (two hours). The 2km hop from Sátoraljaújhely to Slovenské Nové Mesto is only a four-minute ride on the train, which runs just once at day at 8.40am.
The Transbalkan, which originates in Thessaloniki in northern Greece and travels via Bucharest, links Sofia with Budapest (25 hours, 1366km). Trains between Budapest and Belgrade (seven hours, 374km) via Subotica are the Beograd and the IC Avala. Two daily trains make the 1¾-hour, 45km-long journey daily between Subotica and Szeged.
You can get to Budapest from Zagreb (seven hours, 395km) on two trains that pass through Siófok on Lake Balaton's southern shore: the Maestral, which originates in Split, and the EC Goldoni, which goes from Venice to Budapest via Ljubljana (10 hours, 504km). Two other trains from Ljubljana are the IC Citadella and the EN Venezia, which also comes from Venice. The IC 817/816 linking Sarajevo with Budapest (14 hours, 616km) goes via Pécs.
From Bucharest to Budapest (14 hours, 874km) you can choose from four trains: the Dacia, the EN Ister, the Transbalkan and the Pannonia. All go via Arad (5½ hours, 253km) and some require seat reservations.
Border formalities with Hungary's three EU neighbours - Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia - are virtually nonexistent. However, as a member state that forms part of the EU's external frontier, Hungary must implement the strict Schengen border rules so expect a somewhat closer inspection of your documents when travelling to/from Croatia, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia.
Malév Hungarian Airlines (MA; Hungary 06 40 21 21 21, abroad 1 235 3888; www.malev.hu), the national carrier, flies nonstop or via Prague, Madrid and Amsterdam to Budapest's Ferihegy International Airport (1-296 7000; www.bud.hu) from North America, the Middle East and almost 60 cities in Continental Europe and the British Isles. It also flies to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in China.
Malév flights and, for the most part, those of its 18 or so code-share partners arrive and depart from Ferihegy's Terminal 2A. Malév has aticketing desk (1-296 7211; 5am-11pm) at Terminal 2A and another one at Terminal 2B (1-296 5767; 6am-8.30pm); at the latter you'll also find a left-luggage office (1/2/3/6hr 350/700/1050/1400Ft, 12/24hr 1880/2200Ft, week 6500Ft; 24hr).
Most other international airlines use Terminal 2B, which is next door to 2A and within easy walking distance. The super-discount European carriers use Terminal 1, about 5km to the west.
Other major carriers with offices in Budapest:
British Airways (BA; 1-411 5555; www.ba.com; hub London)
Lufthansa (LH; 1-266 4511; www.lufthansa.com; hub Frankfurt)
Malév flies daily to/from Tel Aviv while El Al flies there up to four times a week, depending on the season. Return flights start from around US$290. There is a Malév service to Cairo up to four times a week and EgyptAir has several direct flights each week. Return fares cost from US$245. Malév also flies nonstop to Beirut ($270; two to four times a week return) and to Damascus (US$290; three to four times a week).
Return flights from Hong Kong (with KLM via Amsterdam, Lufthansa via Frankfurt or Finnair via Helsinki) range from US$576/782 for a ticket valid for 14/21 days to US$833/1000 for one good for two/three months. These days the best place in Asia to buy discount tickets for Eastern and Central Europe is Bangkok because of the surfeit of Eastern European flag-carriers passing through Bangkok airport.
Although there are no direct flights to Budapest, there are a number of options from Australia. Qantas has direct flights from Sydney or Melbourne to London's Heathrow airport, connecting with a Malév or British Airways flight to Budapest. Another option is to fly from Sydney to Frankfurt or another European capital and then with Malév to Budapest. A standard return flight to Sydney from Budapest costs 280, 000Ft and to Melbourne 265, 000Ft; return low season fares from Sydney are around A$1865 to A$2300 and from Melbourne A$2100 to A$2400. Look out for official discounts and special deals, which are available direct from the airline from time to time.
There are a number of flights from New Zealand to European cities, with connecting flights to Budapest. Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to Heathrow and connects with a nonstop Malév flight to Budapest. Return fares in the low season are from around NZ$1800 to NZ$2150.
Malév flies nonstop to Budapest from many European cities, including the following: Amsterdam, Athens, Berlin, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, Hamburg, Helsinki, Istanbul, Kyiv, Larnaca, Lisbon, London, Ljubljana, Madrid, Manchester, Milan, Moscow, Munich, Paris, Prague, Rome, Sarajevo, Skopje, Sofia, Stockholm, Stuttgart, Thessaloniki, Tirana, Vienna, Warsaw, Zagreb and Zürich.
From Budapest, most destinations in Europe on Malév cost either 19, 900Ft (eg Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam) or 29, 900Ft, though Moscow and a few other destin- ations are 39, 900Ft. Special deals, regularly available, will see these fares halved. Of course flexibility - such as an open return ticket and the ability to change - will bump the average fare up to around 80, 000Ft.
What Hungarians call the fapados (wooden bench) airlines, the super discount carriers such as Air Berlin (www.airberlin.com), EasyJet(www.easyjet.com), SkyEurope (www.skyeurope.com) and Wizzair (www.wizzair.com), have made flying between Budapest and dozens of Euro- pean cities very affordable. Depending on the destination, availability and the time of the flight, fares can be as low as 15, 000Ft, but count on anything from 20, 000Ft upward for most flights.
Malév runs a daily nonstop flight to/from New York's JFK International Airport (return fare around US$500). Another option is to fly with KLM or Northwest Airlines to Amsterdam, and then board a Malév flight to Budapest. Malév also has a nonstop service to/from Toronto four times a week (return fare just over C$800). For Montreal fly Air Canada and Malév via Paris (CDG).