Budapest has taken great strides in recent years in making public areas and facilities more accessible to the disabled. Wheelchair ramps, toilets fitted for those with disabilities and inward-opening doors, though not as common as in Western Europe, do exist. Audible traffic signals for the blind are commonplace, as are Braille plates in public lifts.
Hungarian Federation of Disabled Persons’ Associations Travellers with disabilities who are seeking information can contact this umbrella group.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Don't even think of riding 'black' (without paying a fare) on public transport in Budapest – you will be caught and heavily fined.
- Taxis are much more regulated now but avoid the 'freelancers’ with no company name on the door; these are just guys with cars (though licensed) and more likely to rip you off.
- Excessive billing of customers still occasionally happens in some bars and restaurants, so check your bill carefully.
- Pickpocketing is quite common in busy public places.
Any crime must be reported at the police station of the district you are in. In the centre of Pest this is the Belváros-Lipótváros Police Station, for example. It's best to bring along a Hungarian speaker.
Budapest Card (www.budapestinfo.hu; per 24/48/72/96/120 hr 6490/9990/12,990/15,990/18,900Ft) Free admission to selected museums and other sights in and around the city; unlimited travel on all forms of public transport; two free guided walking tours; and discounts for organised tours, car rental, thermal baths, and at selected shops and restaurants. Available at tourist offices but cheaper online.
European Youth Card (www.eyca.org; one year 4500Ft) Wide range of discounts for under-26s.
International Student Identity Card (ISIC; www.isic.org; one year 3000Ft) Discounts on some transport, and cheap admission to selected museums and other sights for full-time students.
International Teacher Identity Card (ITIC; www.isic.org; one year 3000Ft) Similar benefits to the ISIC for full-time teachers.
International Youth Travel Card (ITYC; www.isic.org; 1yr 3000Ft) Similar benefits to the ISIC for nonstudents under 26.
Embassies & Consulates
Selected countries with representation in Budapest are listed here. The opening hours indicate when consular or chancellery services are available, but be sure to confirm these times before you set out as they change frequently. The nearest embassies representing Australian and New Zealand citizens are in Vienna, Austria. The Canadian Embassy in Budapest can provide some consular assistance to Australians in Hungary.
Emergency & Important Numbers
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Hungarians are almost always extremely polite in their social interactions, and the language can be very courtly – even when doing business with the butcher or having one's hair cut.
- Greetings Young people's standard greeting to their elders is Csókolom ('I kiss it' – 'it' being the hand, of course). People of all ages, even close friends, shake hands when meeting up.
- Asking for help Say legyen szíves (be so kind as) to attract attention; say bocsánat (sorry) to apologise.
- Eating and drinking If you're invited to someone's home, bring a bunch of flowers or a bottle of good local wine.
- Name days As much as their birthday, Hungarians celebrate their name day, which is usually the Catholic feast day of their patron saint (all Hungarian calendars list them). Flowers, sweets or a bottle of wine are the usual gifts.
- A travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a good idea. There is a wide variety of policies available, so check the small print.
- If you need to make a claim regarding a loss or theft of possessions, you will need to produce a police report and proof of value of items lost or stolen.
- Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online any time – even if you’re already on the road.
Wireless (wi-fi) access is available at all hostels and hotels and very few hotels charge for the service. Many restaurants and bars and most cafes offer wi-fi, usually free to paying customers.
Some hostels and hotels have at least one computer terminal available to guests either free or for a nominal sum. Internet cafes are rapidly going the way of the dodo, due to the proliferation of smartphones and wi-fi hotspots, though a couple are still operating.
Electric Cafe Large place with attached laundrette.
Vist@netcafe One of the very few internet cafes open late.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs in Hungary are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
There’s zero tolerance – a 100% ban – on alcohol when driving. Police conduct routine roadside checks with breathalysers and if you’re found to have even 0.005% of alcohol in your blood, you risk having your licence confiscated. If the level is over 0.5% there’s a fine up to 300,000Ft and a driving ban of up to a year. In the event of an accident, the drinking party is automatically regarded as guilty.
Budapest offers just a reasonable gay scene for its size. Most gay people are discreet in public places and displays of affection are rare. Lesbian social life remains very much underground, with lots of private parties. There have been a couple of violent right-wing demonstrations in response to the Budapest Pride celebrations in recent years. Attitudes are changing, but society generally remains conservative on this issue.
www.budapest.gayguide.net Good listings and insider advice.
Háttér Society (Háttér Társaság; 1-329 2670; www.hatter.hu) Information and Counselling Hotline (1-329 3380) open 6pm to 11pm daily.
www.labrisz.hu Info on the city’s lesbian scene.
ATMs are everywhere, including at the airport and train and bus stations. Visa, MasterCard and American Express widely accepted in many hotels and restaurants.
- ATMs are everywhere in Budapest, including in train and bus stations and at airport terminals.
- All major banks have ATMs and most ATMs accept cards issued outside Hungary.
- There's a proliferation of Euronet ATMs dispensing both forint and euros, particularly in Budapest's touristy neighbourhoods. They offer comparatively poor exchange rates and visitors are better off using the ATMs of major banks instead.
Some convenient bank branches:
- Hungary’s currency is the forint (Ft). Notes come in six denominations: 500Ft, 1000Ft, 2000Ft, 5000Ft, 10,000Ft and 20,000Ft. There are coins of 5Ft, 10Ft, 20Ft, 50Ft, 100Ft and 200Ft.
- Prices in shops and restaurants are always quoted in forint, but many hotels and guesthouses state their prices in euros. In such cases, we have followed suit – you can usually pay in either euros or forint.
Avoid moneychangers (especially those on V Váci utca) in favour of banks if possible. Arrive about an hour before closing time to ensure the bureau de change desk is still open.
- Credit cards are widely accepted. Use them at restaurants, shops, hotels, car-hire firms, travel agencies and petrol stations, but don’t assume they are accepted at all supermarkets or train and bus stations (though you can use them to purchase tickets from ticket machines).
- Many banks give cash advances on major credit cards, but these involve both fees and interest.
- Contactless payment, in which you wave or touch your card or handheld device over a reader at the point of sale terminal without inserting your card or entering your pin, is widespread in Hungary. The limit is set at 5000Ft.
Gratuities in Hungary are commonplace.
- Bars For drinks served at table, 10% of total.
- Hairdressers 10% of haircut price.
- Hotels 500Ft for luggage, 200Ft to 300Ft per day for housekeeping.
- Petrol stations & thermal spas Attendants expect some loose change.
- Restaurants For decent service 10%, up to 15% in more upmarket places; 12.5% service is often included in the bill nowadays.
- Taxis Round up the fare.
- You can change travellers cheques at most banks and post offices, but shops never accept them as payment. Bureaux de change generally don’t take a commission, but exchange rates can vary; private agencies are always the most expensive. OTP bank offers among the best rates.
- A good option is the Travelex Cash Passport (www.travelex.co.uk/cash-passport) – a prepaid travel card that you load up with funds before departure and then use to withdraw cash in local currency as you go along.
Banks 7.45am or 8am–5pm Monday to Thursday, to between 2pm and 4pm Friday
Bars 11am–midnight Sunday to Thursday, to 2am Friday and Saturday
Businesses 9am or 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm or 2pm Saturday
Clubs 4pm–2am Sunday to Thursday, to 4am Friday and Saturday; some weekends only
Grocery stores and supermarkets 7am–7pm Monday to Friday, to 3pm Saturday; some also to noon Sunday
Restaurants 11am–11pm; breakfast venues open by 8am
Shops 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday
Businesses almost always post opening hours on their front door. Nyitva means ‘open’, zárva ‘closed’. In summer, some shops close early on Friday and shut down altogether for at least part of August.
The Hungarian Postal Service (Magyar Posta; www.posta.hu) has improved greatly in recent years, but the post offices themselves are usually fairly crowded and service can be slow. To beat the crowds, ask at kiosks, newsagents or stationery shops if they sell stamps (bélyeg).
Hungarian addresses start with the name of the recipient, followed on the next line by the postal code and city or town and then the street name and number. The Hungarian postal code consists of four digits. The first indicates the city or town (‘1’ is Budapest), the second and third the district (kerület) and the last the neighbourhood.
Conveniently located post offices:
Central post office In the centre of town.
Nyugati train station branch Just south of the station.
Keleti train station branch Most easily reached from platform 6.
Hungary celebrates 10 ünnep (holidays) each year.
- New Year’s Day 1 January
- National Day 15 March
- Easter Monday March/April
- Labour Day 1 May
- Whit Monday May/June
- St Stephen’s Day 20 August
- 1956 Remembrance Day/Republic Day 23 October
- All Saints’ Day 1 November
- Christmas holidays 25 and 26 December
- Smoking It is illegal to smoke indoors in public places as well as at bus stops and railway stations. It is also prohibited now in all restaurants and bars, too. Smoking outdoors in public places is still common. In nightlife areas like Budapest's district VII, there are often more smokers on the pavement than inside the bars.
Taxes & Refunds
ÁFA, a value-added tax of up to 27%, covers the purchase of most new goods in Hungary. It’s usually included in the price quoted, but not always, so check. Visitors are not exempt, but non-EU residents can claim refunds for total purchases of at least 55,000Ft on one receipt as long as they take the goods out of the country (and the EU) within 90 days.
The ÁFA receipts (available from where you make the purchases) should be stamped by customs at the border, and the claim has to be made within 90 days of exporting the goods. You can collect your refund – minus commission – from the VAT-refund desk at Terminals 2A and 2B at the airport. You can also have it sent to you by bank cheque or deposited into your credit-card account.
Hungary has extensive mobile-phone network coverage. You can make domestic and international calls from public telephones with both coins and phonecards, though public phones are virtually obsolete with the advent of cheap mobile phone calls and WhatsApp, Skype and other VOIP services.
The following are useful numbers (with English spoken).
Local & International Calls
- All localities in Hungary have a two-digit telephone area code, except for Budapest, which has just a ‘1’.
- To make a local call, dial the phone number (seven digits in Budapest, six elsewhere).
- Cheaper or toll-free numbers start with 06 40 and 06 80, respectively.
- To make an international call, dial 00, then the country code, the area code and the number.
- The country code for Hungary is 36.
- For an intercity landline call within Hungary, dial 06 and then the area code and phone number.
- You must always dial 06 when ringing mobile phones, which have specific area codes depending on the company:
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Local SIM cards can be used in European and Australian phones, as well as most North American ones. Other phones must be set to roaming, which can be pricey. Roaming fees are not applied on EU phones when used in EU countries.
Budapest lies in the Central European time zone. Winter time is GMT plus one hour and in summer it is GMT plus two hours. Clocks are advanced at 2am on the last Sunday in March and set back at 2am on the last Sunday in October.
Hungarians tell the time by referring to the next hour – not the one before, as we do in English. Thus 7.30am/pm is ‘half eight’ (fél nyolc óra). The 24-hour system is often used in giving the times of movies, concerts and so on. So, a film at 7.30pm could appear on a listing as ‘f8’, ‘f20’, ‘½8’ or ‘½20’. A quarter to the hour has a ¾ in front (thus ‘¾8’ means 7.45) while quarter past is ¼ of the next hour (eg ‘¼9’ means 8.15).
- Public toilets in Budapest are relatively common but often in poor condition.
- A fee of 200Ft to 300Ft is typically payable.
- Toilets in restaurants and shopping malls are always a better bet.
The Budapest Info office near Deák Ferenc tér is about the best single source of information about Budapest; stocks information about attractions and has purchasable maps; can be crowded in summer.
The main Budapest Info has limitless brochures and flyers about Budapest and environs but its selection of maps is limited to the paid-for commercial variety and it does not make accommodation bookings.
Less crowded is the City Park branch and especially the underused Bálna branch. There are also information desks in the Terminal 2A and Terminal 2B arrivals sections of Ferenc Liszt International Airport.
www.xpatloop.com A handy source of info from the city's extensive expat community.
www.spasbudapest.com Gives you the low-down on the city's spas.
Travel with Children
Budapest abounds in places that will delight children, and there is always a special child’s entry rate (and often a family one as well) to fee-paying attractions. Visits to many areas of the city can be designed around a rest stop or picnic – at City Park, say, or on Margaret Island.
Need to Know
- Babysitting An ever-growing number of hotels in Budapest offer babysitting services, but try to book at least six hours beforehand.
- Public transport Children up to age six travel free on the BKK; fares are discounted between ages seven and 16.
- Car hire Most car-hire firms have children’s safety seats for hire at a nominal cost, but book them in advance.
- Hotels and restaurants High chairs and cots (cribs) are standard equipment in many restaurants and hotels, but numbers can be limited; request them when booking a table.
- Children's menu Most restaurants won’t have a set children’s menu but will split the adult portion.
Come Rain or Shine
Raining cats and dogs? Some favourite wet-weather options include the playful, interactive science exhibits at the Palace of Wonders and Hungarian Natural History Museum and the the bathing and whirlpool delights of the Széchenyi Baths.
The Hungarian Natural History Museum has a lot of hands-on activities on offer, including Noah's Ark, which is part of an interactive exhibit on Hungary's natural world called the Variety of Life. Both the Palace of Wonders and the aquarium complex called Tropicarium were custom-made for hands-on learning. The granddaddy of museums for kids, though, is the Hungarian Railway History Park, with vintage locomotives to clamber about, a miniature locomotive ride, and carriages and trains to ‘drive’ via a high-tech simulator. It closes in winter, though.
Not many museums here – in fact, anywhere – are suitable for the very young, but the Museum of Fine Arts has an excellent program in which kids are allowed to handle original Egyptian artefacts and create their own master works of art. The Hungarian Agricultural Museum has all kinds of stuffed animals (for real) and mock-ups of traditional ways of life such as hunting and fishing. The Aquincum Museum has lots of interactive exhibits including virtual duelling with a gladiator.
Thermal Baths & Pools
Both the Széchenyi Baths and the Gellért Baths are huge and have an abundance of indoor and outdoor pools. Gellért’s outdoor pool has a wave machine, Széchenyi’s has a whirlpool. Palatinus Strand is vast and great for lounging and playing around on a summer’s day.
Aquaworld in northern Pest, a favourite with kids of all ages, is a bit far out of the city but easily reached by a free shuttle bus and public transport. Some of the slides reach five storeys in height (kids have to be 150cm tall to use these), and there’s a baby-swimming program available.
Most kids will be transfixed by the marionette and other shows at the Budapest Puppet Theatre, even if they don't speak Hungarian.
Táncház (a folk music and dance evening) is always a big hit with kids, whether they participate or just watch. Most of the children’s ones have instructors, with folk musicians playing the tunes. The best are the children’s programs at the Budavár Cultural Centre and the Municipal Cultural House in Buda and the Aranytíz House of Culture in Pest.
Kids love transport and the city’s many unusual forms of conveyance will delight. The Cog Railway and Children’s Railway in the Buda Hills and the Sikló funicular climbing up to Castle Hill are particular favourites. But even the mainstays of getting around town – the trams, trolleybuses and little M1 metro, commonplace to young Budapesters – will be a lot of fun for kids who rarely (if ever) board such forms of public transport.
The Budapest Zoo, at the northern end of City Park, is an excellent place to while away the day; it's due for an expansion and the addition of a futuristic biodome.
Great playgrounds include ones on XIII Margaret Island, about 50m northeast of the fountain at the southern end; on III Óbuda (Hajógyári) Island, about 200m along the main road (take the H5 HÉV suburban train to the island’s footbridge); and in XIII Szent István Park. Smaller playgrounds are at V Hild tér, VII Hunyadi tér and VII Almássy tér.
Apart from volunteering opportunities for backpackers at Budapest's numerous hostels in exchange for a bed and meals, there are several organisations that welcome English-speaking visitors. Budapest Bike Mafia (www.bbm.hu) makes deliveries to homeless people and supports animal shelters, while Noah's Ark Animal Shelter Foundation (www.noeallatotthon.hu) can use short-term and long-term volunteers at its animal shelter.