Hungary in detail

Getting Around

Hungary’s domestic transport system is efficient, comprehensive and inexpensive. Towns are covered by a system of frequent buses, trams, trolleybuses and, in Budapest, four metro lines. EU citizens over the age of 65 travel for free on all public transport. Menetred (www.menetrendek.hu) has links to timetables.

Train Reasonably priced, with extensive coverage of the country.

Bus Cheaper and often faster than trains. Useful for more remote destinations not served by trains.

Car Handy for exploring the wilder corners of Hungary.

Walk The majority of towns and cities are easily negotiated on foot.

Air

There are no scheduled flights within Hungary. Hungary is small enough to get everywhere by train or bus within the span of a day.

Bicycle

  • Hungary offers endless opportunities for cyclists: challenging slopes in the north, much gentler terrain in Transdanubia, and flat though windy and hot (in summer) cycling on the Great Plain.
  • In Hungary's cities, the cycle-lane network is being extended all the time; Budapest in particular has a proliferation of designated cycle lanes.
  • Bicycle hire is readily available. Outside tourist hot spots, your best bets are camping grounds, resort hotels and – very occasionally – bicycle-repair shops.
  • Bicycles are banned from all motorways and national highways with a single digit, and bikes must be equipped with lights and reflectors.
  • Bicycles can be taken on many trains (look for the bicycle symbol on timetables) at 25% additional cost, and also on boats. Bikes cannot be taken on buses unless they fold.

Boat

From April to late October Budapest-based Mahart PassNave runs excursion boats on the Danube from Budapest to Szentendre, Visegrád and Esztergom, and, between May and September, hydrofoils from Budapest to Vác, Visegrád and Esztergom.

From spring to autumn, some 20 ports around Lake Balaton are well served by Balaton Shipping Company passenger ferries.

Bus

Hungary’s Volánbusz network comprehensively covers the whole country. In Dél-Dunántúl (Southern Transdanubia) and many parts of the Great Plain, buses are far quicker and more direct than trains, as is the case for short trips around the Danube Bend or Lake Balaton.

Budapest usually has separate long-distance bus stations (távolságiautóbusz pályaudvar) and local stations (helyiautóbusz pályaudvar). Outside the capital the stations are often found side by side or in the same building. Arrive early to confirm the correct departure bay or kocsiállás (stand), and check the individual schedule posted at the stop itself; the times shown can be different from those shown on the tábla (main board).

Some larger bus stations have luggage lockers or left-luggage rooms that generally close early (around 6pm). The left-luggage offices at nearby train stations keep much longer hours.

Tickets can be purchased directly from the driver. There are sometimes queues for intercity buses, so arrive around 30 minutes before departure time. Buses are reasonably comfortable and have adequate leg room. On long journeys there are rest stops every couple of hours.

Costs

Bus tickets are calculated according to distance:

FareDistance
250Ftup to 10km
370Ft15-20km
1300Ft60-70km
2200Ft100-120km
3690Ft200-220km
4660Ft280-300km

Bus Timetables

Posted bus timetables can be horribly confusing for non-Hungarians. Here's a guide to some essential words and symbols:

  • Indulás – departures
  • Érkezés – arrivals
  • Numbers one to seven in a circle refer to the days of the week, beginning with Monday
  • D naponta – daily except Saturday
  • M munkanapokon – working days (Monday to Saturday)
  • O szabadnapokon – Saturday
  • + munkaszüneti napokon – Sunday and holidays
  • I iskolai napján – school days
  • hétköznap – weekdays
  • szabad és munkaszünetes napokon – Saturday, Sunday and holidays
  • szabadnap kivételével naponta – daily except Saturday
  • munkaszünetes nap kivételével naponta – daily except holidays

Car & Motorcycle

Driving in Hungary is useful for exploring the remotest rural corners of the country; trains and buses take care of the rest.

Automobile Associations

In the event of a breakdown, the so-called Yellow Angels (Sárga Angyal) of the Hungarian Automobile Club are the people to call (dial 188, 24 hours a day); they do basic car repairs free of charge if you belong to an affiliated organisation such as AAA in the USA, or AA in the UK.

Hire

  • You must be at least 21 years old and have had your licence for a year to hire a car.
  • Drivers under 25 sometimes have to pay a surcharge.
  • All the big international firms, such as Avis and Europcar, have offices in Budapest, and there are scores of local companies throughout the country.

Insurance

  • Third-party liability insurance is compulsory in Hungary. If your car is registered in the EU, it is assumed you have it. Other motorists must show a Green Card or buy insurance at the border.
  • All accidents should be reported to the police immediately.
  • Any claim on insurance policies bought in Hungary can be made to Allianz Hungária (1-421 1421; www.allianz.hu) in Budapest. It is one of the largest insurance companies in Hungary and deals with foreigners all the time.

Road Conditions

Roads in Hungary are generally good – in some cases excellent.

There are 13 motorways and and as many express roads, preceded by an ‘M’. National highways (dual carriageways) are designated by a single digit without a prefix and fan out mostly from Budapest. Secondary/tertiary roads have two/three digits.

Driving in Hungary – particularly in Budapest – can be quite trying. Overtaking on blind curves, tailgating, making turns from the outside lane, running stop signs and lights, and jumping lanes in roundabouts are everyday occurrences.

For 24-hour information on traffic and public road conditions around Hungary, contact Útinform (1-336 2400; www.utinform.hu). For information on traffic and road conditions in the capital, check the BKK road information website (https://kozut.bkkinfo.hu).

Many cities and towns have a confusing system of one-way streets, pedestrian zones and bicycle lanes. Parking is an issue in Budapest. You are required to ‘pay and display’ when parking your vehicle – parking discs, coupons and stickers are available at newsstands, petrol stations and, increasingly, automated ticket machines. In smaller towns and cities a warden collects 200Ft or so for each hour you plan to park. In Budapest, parking on the street costs between around 175Ft and 440Ft per hour, depending on the neighbourhood. Parking garages charge 240Ft to 750Ft per hour.

Road Rules

  • You must drive on the right-hand side of the road.
  • Speed limits for cars and motorbikes are consistent throughout the country and strictly enforced: 50km/h in built-up areas; 90km/h on secondary and tertiary roads; 110km/h on most highways and dual carriageways; and 130km/h on motorways. Exceeding the limit will earn you an on-the-spot fine.
  • Seat belts are compulsory for the driver and all passengers.
  • Use of a hand-held mobile phone while driving is prohibited.
  • Headlights must be on at all times outside built-up areas. Motorcyclists must illuminate headlights at all times and in all areas. Helmets are compulsory for cyclists.
  • There is a 100% ban on alcohol when you are driving, and this rule is strictly enforced.
  • Hungary's motorways may only be accessed with a motorway pass or matrica (vignette), to be purchased beforehand from petrol stations and post offices. The cost of passes depends on the class of vehicle (see www.autopalya.hu for more details); prices start from 3500Ft for 10 days and 4780Ft for a month.

Hitch-Hiking

Hitching is never entirely safe in any country, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who decide to hitch are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Hitching is legal everywhere in Hungary except on motorways. Though it isn’t as popular as it once was (and can be very difficult), the road to Lake Balaton sees hitching in the holiday season.

Local Transport

  • Public transport is well developed in Hungary, with efficient bus (and, in many cities and towns, trolleybus) services. Transport usually runs from about 5.30am to 9pm in the provinces and from 4.30am to just before midnight in the capital.
  • You’ll probably make extensive use of public transport in Budapest, but little (if any) in provincial towns and cities. Most places are manageable on foot, and bus services are not all that frequent. Generally, city buses meet incoming long-distance trains; hop on to anything waiting outside the train station when you arrive, and you’ll get close to the city centre.
  • You must purchase transport tickets (around 300Ft to 350Ft) at newsstands or ticket windows or machines beforehand and validate them once aboard; in the few exceptions where you can buy them on board from the driver (eg night buses), they usually cost an additional 100Ft. Travelling without a ticket (or ‘riding black’) is an offence; you’ll be put off and fined on the spot.

Boat

Both Budapest and Lake Balaton have ferry systems.

Bus

Buses are the mainstay of public transport in most towns and cities in Hungary. They are a cheap and efficient way of getting to further-flung places.

Metro

Budapest is the only city in Hungary with a metro; it is convenient and extensive and now has four lines.

Taxi

Taxis are plentiful on the streets of most Hungarian cities.

Unscrupulous drivers are not uncommon, particularly in the capital, so it's best to call a reputable taxi company rather than hail a taxi in the street. If you do hail a taxi, make sure it has the company name on the side and that the meter is switched on. Make sure you know exactly how much cash you're handing over, as switching large denomination notes for small ones and then demanding extra payment is an occasional scam.

Flag fall varies, but a fare between 6am and 10pm costs from about 450Ft (in Budapest from 700Ft), with a 300Ft charge per kilometre Budapest and somewhat less elsewhere.

Tram

Hungary’s larger cities – Budapest, Szeged, Miskolc and Debrecen – have the added advantage of a tram system. The capital also has a suburban railway known as the HÉV, with five lines.

Train

MÁV operates clean, punctual and relatively comfortable (if not ultramodern) train services with free wi-fi. Budapest is the hub for main railway lines, though many secondary lines link provincial cities and towns. There are three mainline stations in Budapest, each serving largely (but not exclusively) destinations from the following regions:

Keleti (Eastern Railway) station Northern Uplands and the Northeast

Nyugati (Western Railway) station Great Plain and Danube Bend

Déli (Southern Railway) station Transdanubia and Lake Balaton

All train stations have left-luggage offices, some of which stay open 24 hours. You sometimes have to pay the fee (around 400/600Ft per small/large locker per day) at another office or window nearby, which is usually marked pénztár (cashier).

Some trains have a carriage especially for bicycles; otherwise bicycles must be placed in the first or last cars. You are able to freight a bicycle for 25% of a full 2nd-class fare.

Departures and arrivals are always shown on a printed timetable: yellow is for indul (departures) and white for érkezik (arrivals); fast trains are marked in red and local trains in black. The number (or sometimes letter) next to the word vágány indicates the platform from which the train departs or arrives.

Classes & Train Types

  • InterCity (IC): the fastest and most comfortable trains in Hungary. Only stop in major towns/cities. Reservations mandatory.
  • Gyorsvonat and sebesvonat: 'fast trains', indicated on the timetable by boldface type, a thicker route line and/or an ‘S’. Stop more frequently. Cheaper than IC trains by around 10%.
  • Személyvonat: passenger trains or 'snail trains'. Stop at every city, town, village and hamlet along the way. Use for short hops.

Most domestic links between smaller towns normally offer 2nd-class services only.

Reservations

On Hungarian domestic trains, seat reservations are either compulsory on intercity express services (indicated by an ‘R’ in a circle or square on the timetable), or simply available but not obligatory (just a plain ‘R’).

IC trains normally levy a supplement that depends on distance travelled.

It's easy to purchase train tickets online (with express train supplements included): set up an account on the main train website (http://elvira.mav-start.hu), purchase the ticket online and then collect it at the train station from a ticket machine using the reference number you receive upon purchase.

You can also buy tickets directly from ticket machines. Passengers holding a ticket of insufficient value must pay a fine. If there is no ticket counter or ticket machine at the departure station, the express train supplement can be purchased on board the train for the whole journey without penalty.

Special Trains

Some 23 keskenynyomközű vonat (narrow-gauge trains; http://kisvasut.hu) pass through many wooded and hilly areas of the country. They are usually taken as a return excursion by holidaymakers, but in some cases can be useful for getting from A to B (eg Miskolc to Lillafüred and the Bükk Hills).

An independent branch of MÁV runs nosztalgiavonat (vintage steam trains) in summer, generally along the northern shore of Lake Balaton (eg from Keszthely to Tapolca via Badacsonytomaj) and along the Danube Bend from Budapest to Szob or Esztergom. For information, contact MÁV Nostalgia (1-269-5242; www.mavnosztalgia.hu) next to platform 10 at Keleti train station.

Train Passes

The One Country pass from Eurail (www.eurail.com), available to non-European residents only, costs US$180/254 for five/eight days of 1st-class travel in a month and US$119/167 for youths in 2nd class. Children from four to 11 years pay half-price.

The Interrail (www.interrail.eu) One Country Pass offers 1st- and 2nd-class travel available for three, four, six or eight days within a month to non-Hungarian European residents. Sample costs for an adult/under 28 years travelling 2nd class:

  • three days within a month: €92/80
  • six days within a month: €154/133
  • eight days within a month: €190/164

MÁV has a START Klub Card that gives you 50% off all tickets for 2nd-class travel (except prebooked tickets); it costs 14,900/24,900Ft for those under 26 years for six/12 months and 19,900/34,900Ft for those over 26 years.