It's okay to bargain at markets and it may be possible to negotiate a discount if you're staying in lower or midrange accommodation for several nights, but otherwise you have to pay the set price.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Pickpocketing is common at popular tourist sights, inside foreign fast-food chains, near major hotels and in flea markets. Sometimes pickpockets work together, with one causing a distraction by running into you and then apologising profusely as an accomplice takes off with the goods.
- Thefts from rental vehicles are not uncommon. Don’t leave anything of value, including luggage, inside the car.
- Excessive billing of customers occasionally happens in some bars and restaurants, so check your bill carefully.
There are isolated incidents of taxi drivers, particularly in Budapest, taking advantage of passengers unfamiliar with local currency by switching large denomination notes for smaller ones and demanding extra payment. Only ever take taxis from reputable companies and make sure you know exactly how much cash you're handing over. Reputable companies include Fő Taxi and City Taxi.
Those planning on travelling extensively in the country might consider buying a Hungary Card (www.hungarycard.hu), which comes in three denominations (basic/standard/plus 5000/8000/12,000Ft). Depending on the denomination, benefits may include free admission to many museums nationwide; a 50% discount on a number of return train fares and some bus and boat travel, as well as other museums and attractions; up to 20% off selected accommodation; and 25% off the price of the Budapest Card. Cards are available at Tourinform offices nationwide.
A number of regions in Hungary offer region-specific discount cards. These include, among others, the Budapest Card, Balaton Card and Badacsony Card.
Student & Youth Cards
The International Student Identity Card (ISIC; www.isic.org; 2610Ft) gives students many discounts on certain forms of transport, and cheap admission to museums and other sights. If you’re aged under 26 but not a student, you can apply for ISIC’s International Youth Travel Card (IYTC; 2050Ft) or the Euro<26 card (2500Ft) issued by the European Youth Card Association (EYCA; www.eyca.org), both of which offer the same discounts as the student card.
Embassies & Consulates
Selected countries with representation in Budapest (where the area code is 1) 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.
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Hungary country code||36|
|Europe-wide emergency number (for English-, German- and French-speakers)||112|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Hungary maintains 65 or so border road crossings with its neighbours. Border formalities with Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia are virtually nonexistent. However, you may only enter or leave Hungary via designated border crossing points during opening hours when travelling to/from the non-Schengen nations of Croatia, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia. In the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis, a controversial border wall now stretches along Hungary's border with Serbia and Croatia. For the latest on border formalities, check www.police.hu.
The following allowances apply to duty-free goods purchased outside the EU:
- 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250g of loose tobacco
- 2L of wine and 1L of spirits
- 50mL of perfume
- 250mL of eau de toilette
You must declare the import/export of any currency exceeding the sum of €10,000.
When leaving the country, you are not supposed to take out valuable antiques without a ‘museum certificate’, which should be available from the place of purchase.
To enter Hungary, you must have a valid passport or, for many citizens of the EU, a national identification card.
Citizens of all European countries as well as Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and the USA do not require visas for visits of up to 90 days. Check current visa requirements on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (http://konzuliszolgalat.kormany.hu).
Citizens of other countries must consider either a short-stay visa (entry, with stays of up to 90 days) or transit visas (five days). Since Hungary is a member of the Schengen Agreement, if you have a visa valid for entry to any of the other Schengen members, it's also valid in Hungary.
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.
There have been a couple of violent far-right demonstrations recently in response to Budapest's Gay Pride parades, and Hungarian society maintains largely conservative views, but attitudes are slowly changing. Budapest offers a reasonable gay scene for its size but there's not much going on publicly elsewhere in Hungary.
Háttér Society Operates an information and counselling hotline from 6pm to 11pm.
Labrisz Lesbian Association Has info on Hungary’s lesbian scene.
- 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 anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
- Many libraries in Hungary have free (or almost free) terminals.
- Wireless (wi-fi) access is available at all hostels and hotels; 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 for free or for a nominal sum.
- Internet cafes are rapidly dwindling, due to the proliferation of smartphones and wi-fi hot spots, though occasionally you'll stumble on one in the provinces.
Those violating Hungarian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested and/or imprisoned. 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 is a 100% ban on alcohol when driving and it is taken very seriously. Police conduct routine roadside checks with breathalysers and if you are found to have even 0.005% of alcohol in your blood, you could be fined up to 300,000Ft on the spot; police have been known to fine for less than that level of alcohol, so it's best not to drink at all. In the event of an accident, the drinking party is automatically regarded as guilty.
Hungary’s largest map-making company, Cartographia, publishes a useful 1:450,000-scale sheet map of the country, as well as maps of all the main cities and towns, widely available in kiosks. Its 1:250,000 Magyarország autó-atlasza (Road Atlas of Hungary) is indispensable if you plan to do a lot of travelling in the countryside by car. Bookshops in Hungary generally stock a wide variety of maps, or you can go directly to the Cartographia outlet in Budapest.
Cartographia also produces national, regional and hiking maps (average scales 1:40,000 and 1:60,000), as well as city plans (1:11,000 to 1:20,000). Smaller companies such as Topográf (www.topograf.hu) and Magyar Térképház (www.terkephaz.hu) also publish excellent city and specialised maps.
- Newspapers Budapest has two English-language newspapers: the Budapest Times (online only) with good reviews and opinion pieces, and the biweekly Budapest Business Journal.
- Radio Magyar Radio has three main stations: MR1-Kossuth (107.8FM; jazz, talkback and news); MR2-Petőfi (94.8FM; popular music); and MR3-Bartók (105.3FM; classical music). Sláger FM (103.9FM) is a good mix of local and international pop music, and Rádió C (88.8FM) addresses issues concerning the Roma people.
- TV & DVD Like Australia and most of Europe, Hungary uses PAL, which is incompatible with the North American and Japanese NTCS system.
ATMs are widely available. Credit and debit cards are accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
- All major banks have ATMs, and most ATMs accept cards issued outside Hungary. ATMs are plentiful, particularly in Budapest and larger towns.
- Some ATMs at branches of Országos Takarékpenztár (OTP), the national savings bank, give out 20,000Ft notes, which can be difficult to break in the countryside.
- A proliferation of Euronet ATMs dispense both forint and euros, particularly in tourist hot spots. They offer comparatively poor exchange rates; visitors are better off using ATMs of major banks instead.
- The Hungarian currency is the forint (Ft). Coins come in 5Ft, 10Ft, 20Ft, 50Ft, 100Ft and 200Ft. Notes come in seven denominations: 500Ft, 1000Ft, 2000Ft, 5000Ft, 10,000Ft and 20,000Ft.
- Prices in shops and restaurants are uniformly quoted in forint. Many hotels and guesthouses give their rates in euros. In such cases you can usually pay in either euros or forint.
- It’s always prudent to carry a little foreign cash – preferably euros or US dollars – in case you can’t find an ATM nearby.
- Credit cards, especially Visa, MasterCard and American Express, are widely accepted in Hungary, and you’ll be able to use them at many restaurants, shops, hotels, car-rental firms, travel agencies and petrol stations.
- At train and bus stations it's possible to use credit cards if you purchase tickets from ticket machines rather than ticket counters.
- Many banks give cash advances on major credit cards but charge both a fee 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 now widespread in Hungary. The limit is set at 5000Ft.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
For the best rates, change money at banks rather than with money changers. Arrive about an hour before closing time at the latest to ensure the bureau de change desk is still open.
Gratuities in Hungary are commonplace.
- Bars 10% of total for drinks brought to your table.
- Hairdressers 10% of haircut price is appropriate.
- 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%, and up to 15% in more upmarket places; note that 12.5% service is often included in the bill.
- Taxis Round up the fare.
In Budapest and other cities and towns frequented by tourists, many restaurants now automatically add a gratuity of about 10% to 12.5% to the bill. Ask if you're not sure whether service is included. When tipping, never leave the money on the table – that is considered rude – but instead tell the waiter how much you're paying in total. If the bill is 3600Ft, you're paying with a 5000Ft note and you think the waiter deserves a gratuity of about 10%, tell the waiter you're paying 4000Ft or that you want 1000Ft back.
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 alternative 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.
With rare exceptions, opening hours (nyitvatartás) are posted on the front door of businesses; nyitva means ‘open’ and zárva ‘closed’.
- Banks 7.45am or 8am–5pm Monday to Thursday, to 2pm or 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 only open on weekends
- Grocery stores and supermarkets 7am–7pm Monday to Friday, to 3pm Saturday; some also 7am–noon Sunday
- Restaurants 11am–11pm; breakfast venues open by 8am
- Shops 10am–6pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday
The Hungarian Postal Service (Magyar Posta; www.posta.hu) is reasonably reliable, but at the post offices service can be slow, so buy your bélyeg (stamps) at newsagents to beat the crowds.
Postcards or letters sent within Hungary cost 135/115Ft, while postcards or letters within/outside Europe cost 305Ft/355Ft. At post offices, look for the window marked with the symbol of an envelope.
To send a parcel, look for the sign ‘Csomagfeladás’ or ‘Csomagfelvétel’ at post offices, but it's best not to send anything of value by regular post. If absolutely necessary, opt for registered post and ask for an ajánlott levél form to fill in; you get to keep the stamped form while the package is marked with an ID number.
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 postal code consists of four digits. The first one indicates the city, town or region (eg ‘1’ is Budapest, ‘6’ is Szeged), the second and third are the district, and the last is the neighbourhood.
Hungary celebrates 10 ünnep (public holidays) each year.
New Year’s Day 1 January
1848 Revolution/National Day 15 March
Easter Monday March/April
International Labour Day 1 May
Whit Monday May/June
St Stephen’s/Constitution Day 20 August
1956 Remembrance Day/Republic Day 23 October
All Saints’ Day 1 November
Christmas holidays 25 and 26 December
It is illegal to smoke indoors in public places as well as at bus stops and railway stations. It is also prohibited in all restaurants and bars. Smoking outdoors in public places is still common.
Taxes & Refunds
ÁFA, a value-added tax of up to 27%, is levied on all new goods in Hungary. It’s usually included in the price but not always. Visitors are not exempt, but non-EU residents can claim refunds for total purchases of at least 52,001Ft on one receipt, as long as they take the goods out of the country (and the EU) within 90 days.
Claiming a Refund
The ÁFA receipts (available from where you made the purchases) should be stamped by customs at the border, and the claim has to be made within 183 days of exporting the goods. You can then collect your refund – minus commission – from the VAT desk in the departure halls of Terminals 2A and 2B at Ferenc Liszt International Airport in Budapest, and at branches of the IBUSZ chain of travel agencies at the land border crossings.
Hungary has extensive mobile (cell) phone network coverage. You can make domestic and international calls from public telephones, though these are all but obsolete with the advent of cheap mobile phone calls and WhatsApp, Skype and other VOIP services.
Local & International Calls
- All localities in Hungary have a two-digit telephone area code, except for Budapest, for which the code is ‘1’.
- To make a local call, dial the phone number (seven digits in Budapest, six elsewhere).
- For an intercity landline call within Hungary and whenever ringing a mobile telephone, dial 06, followed by the area code and phone number.
- 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.
- EU providers are no longer allowed to apply roaming charges for mobile (cell) phones used in other EU countries.
- Local SIM cards can be used in European and Australian phones, as well as most North American phones. Other phones must be set to roaming, which can be pricey (check with your service provider).
- Hungary's three main mobile-phone providers are: Telenor, T-Mobile and Vodafone.
- Call and SMS rates are standardised across the board and an increasing number of service providers include the use of other countries' networks in home tariffs.
You can purchase a rechargeable or prepaid SIM card from any of the three providers – Telenor, T-Mobile and Vodafone – but check first with your service provider if outside the EU, as it may be possible to get an even cheaper rate with your own home network.
Hungary lies in the Central European time zone and is one hour ahead of GMT. Clocks are advanced by one hour on the last Sunday in March and set back on the last Sunday in October. The 24-hour clock is used.
The following times do not take daylight-saving times into account.
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Telling the Time, Hungarian Style
Hungarians tell the time by making reference to the next hour – not the previous one. Thus 7.30 is fél nyolc óra (‘half eight’; sometimes written as f8).
The 24-hour system is often used for the times of movies, concerts and so on. So a film showing at 7.30pm could appear on a listing as ‘f8’, ‘f20’, ‘½8’ or ‘½20’. A quarter to the hour has a ¾ symbol in front (thus ‘¾8’ means 7.45), while a quarter past is ¼ of the next hour (eg ‘¼9’ means 8.15).
- Public toilets are relatively common but often in poor condition.
- A fee of 200Ft to 300Ft is typically payable.
- A better bet is to use the toilets in restaurants and shopping malls.
Hungarian National Tourist Office Has a chain of some 120 tourist information bureaus called Tourinform across the country. They are usually the best places to ask general questions and pick up brochures. They can sometimes provide more comprehensive assistance as well.
Budapest Info (www.budapestinfo.hu) Produces plenty of handy information about the capital and its attractions.
Travel with Children
Hungary is a good destination for travellers with children. The little ‘uns receive discounts on public transport and entry to museums and attractions, with some museums specifically geared towards kids. Many thermal parks across the country have slides, wave pools and designated kiddie pools, and some restaurants offer children's menus.
Best Regions for Kids
Children's attractions galore, from museums to thermal parks, but the costs can add up.
- Danube Bend & Western Transdanubia
Boat cruises up the Danube are reliable family-pleasers.
- Great Plain
Colourful traditional costumes and the chance to meet farm animals are popular with small children.
- Lake Balaton & Southern Transdanubia
The shallow waters of Lake Balaton and plentiful cycle lanes are great for active families.
- Northern Hungary
Hiking in the Bükk Hills and splashing in water parks is fun for outdoorsy kids.
Hungary For Kids
Some restaurants – particularly in Budapest – offer children's menus. Those that don't are usually happy to provide half-portions of adult dishes for kids.
Budapest has the lion's share of children's entertainment. This ranges from puppet theatres that transcend language barriers to folk music and dance evenings in which kids can participate if they want to.
Parks & Playgrounds
There is no shortage of green spaces in Hungary, and playgrounds are common in Hungarian towns. Budapest reigns supreme on this front, with City Park due to feature a brand-new amusement park by 2019, excellent playgrounds on Margaret Island, on Óbuda (Hajógyári) Island and in Szent István Park, and smaller playgrounds dotted about the city.
Hungary's attractions for kids are many and varied. These range from the cerebral (museums, hands-on learning) to outdoorsy (thermal baths and water parks, unusual forms of transport, parks). Then there are historic ruins, caves, cellars and centuries-old castles to explore, and animal farms where kids can get up close and personal with Hungary's celebrated livestock.
Thermal Baths & Pools
- Aquaworld, Budapest One of Europe's largest water parks, with a dozen slides and a wave pool.
- Atlantika Waterpark, Vásárosnamény Popular water park with 10 pools and 10 waterslides.
- Gellért Baths, Budapest Gorgeous indoor pools and a wave machine in the outdoor pool.
- Adventure Spa & Waterslide Park, Kecskemét Huge water park with pools and slides.
- Széchenyi Baths, Budapest There's a fun whirlpool in one of several outdoor pools.
- Napfényfürdő Aquapolis, Szeged Enormous water park with plenty of indoor and outdoor pools.
Meet the Animals
- Lipizzaner Stud Farm, Szilvásvárad Horse rides for older kids, coach rides for little ones and horse parades for everyone.
- Máta Stud Farm, Hortobágy Riding a horse-drawn wagon across the prairie, spotting sheep and grey cattle on the way.
- Budapest Zoo Hungary's most exotic collection of the furred and feathered kind.
- Hortobágy Wild Animal Park 'Safari bus' rides to see wolves, wild horses, jackals and other wild beasts.
- Puszta Animal Park, Hortobágy The place to meet the animals of the puszta: grey cattle, the curly-haired mangalica pig and the racka sheep.
- Cowboy Show, Kiskunság National Park Watch csikósok (cowboys) race each other bareback, while their horses perform all sorts of tricks.
Museums & Art Galleries
- Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest Children's programme that lets them create their own works of art.
- Hungarian Natural History Museum, Budapest A Dinosaur Garden, lots of hands-on activities and interactive exhibits on Hungary's natural world.
- Aquincum Museum, Budapest Interactive exhibits in the basement, including virtual gladiator fights.
- Victor Vasarely Museum, Pécs Eye-bending masterpieces from Hungary's premier purveyer of op art.
- Model Railway Museum, Keszthely Stunning model railway sets, with Austrian mountains, tunnels, snowy forests and minute train stations.
- Palóc Doll Museum, Hollókő Dozens of porcelain dolls in traditional costumes from all over the country.
- Toy Museum, Keszthely An incredible collection of dolls, trains, toy cars, teddy bears and play sets through the ages.
- Toy Museum & Workshop, Kecskemét Spooky 19th- and 20th-century dolls, board games and wooden trains.
Rainy Day Fun
Magic Tower, Eger Eighteenth-century astronomical equipment, a camera obscura and a planetarium for young star-gazers.
Tropicarium, Budapest Vast aquarium with Hungarian fish species and a non-Hungarian shark tunnel.
Palóc Play House, Hollókő Traditional crafts and games in an old farmhouse with attached playground.
Palace of Wonders, Budapest 'Smart' toys, puzzles, and lots of interactive elements, such as the 'wind tunnel'.
- Narrow-gauge Train, Hortobágy Take the train across pond bridges in the national park.
- Children's Railway, Budapest Ride the rails through the Buda Hills on a train operated by children.
- Boat Cruise, Szeged See the old town of Szeged from the river.
- Sail & Surf, Tihany Have a go at standup paddleboarding on the calm waters of Lake Balaton.
- River Ride, Budapest Explore Budapest by road and river on this amphibious bus.
- Eco Bike, Balatonfüred Trekking and electric bikes make for easy and fun exploration of the Tihany peninsula.
- River Boat Tours, Tokaj Go for an hour-long spin on the Tisza and Bodrog.
- Mahart PassNave, Budapest Boat tours to towns along the Danube.
Castles & Caves
- City under the City, Eger An entertaining guided tour of the former bishop's cellars.
- Buda Castle Labyrinth, Budapest Get lost in the dry ice fog of this creepy underground world.
- Minaret, Eger Winding steps followed by great views of the city.
- Eger Castle Check out the armour, uniforms and models in this 13th-century castle.
- Hollókő Castle Weaponry, a medieval banquet and great views await at this pentagonal keep.
- Pálvölgy Cave, Budapest Spectacular stalactites and stalagmites await brave cave explorers.
- Babysitting An ever-growing number of hotels in Budapest offer babysitting services, but try to book at least six hours beforehand.
- Car hire Most car-hire firms have children’s safety seats for hire at a nominal cost; 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.
- Travel seasons In July and August, many Hungarian families 'staycation', particularly around Lake Balaton. This is the liveliest (and most expensive) time to visit, so book well ahead. Late spring, early summer and September are perhaps the nicest times of year to visit, weather-wise, with the added bonus of no crowds.
Hungary has made great strides in recent years in making public areas and facilities more accessible to the disabled. Wheelchair ramps, toilets fitted for the disabled and inward opening doors, though not as common as they are in Western Europe, do exist, and audible traffic signals for the blind are becoming commonplace in the cities.
For more information, contact the Hungarian Federation of Disabled Persons’ Associations.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
- AIESEC (www.aiesec.org) run volunteer programmes in Hungary of varying lengths in the education, literacy and sustainable living fields.
- United Way Hungary (www.unitedway.hu) take on volunteers looking to work with children for three months or longer.
- Alternatively, backpackers from European countries looking to linger in Budapest are often able to do volunteer work in hostels in exchange for accommodation.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Hungary uses the metric system.
Women should not encounter any particular problems while travelling in Hungary besides some mild local machismo. If you do need assistance and/or information, ring the Women’s Line.
There's a high demand in Hungary for foreign employees in the IT and telecommunications fields, as well as English teachers. It is relatively straightforward to apply for a job in these fields if you're an EU citizen; citizens of other nationalities, however, can only be employed if the company they wish to work for can prove that they can't find a Hungarian to do the job. www.jobsinbudapest.eu and www.budapestjobs.net are useful sites if you're after a professional posting in the capital.