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City Guide: Budapest, Hungary

The story behind the name is not an unfamiliar one but worth a quick recap … once two distinct settlements divided by the River Danube, Buda and Pest were united as the Hungarian capital in 1873.

Built on a series of hills, with its grand Royal Palace and imperial Buda literally looks down on the level landscape of Pest. It’s the latter though, that buzzes with 24-hour action and conviviality.

It’s a city to indulge in traditional Hungarian comfort foods, take in striking UNESCO-heritage architecture and poignant historical landmarks, revel in a rich culture of art, design and music, explore its legendary ruin bars, and submerge your body in its natural thermal baths.

City Guide – Budapest

Getting there 

SAA codeshare partner and Star Alliance member Lufthansa flies direct to Budapest from Johannesburg.

 

When to go 

Spring is glorious in Budapest. Summer is festival season. Autumn is beautiful, particularly in the Buda Hills. In winter, some attractions curtail their hours or shut entirely till mid-March or even later so avoid these months.

 

Language

Hungarian is the only official language of the country and it is the first language of approximately 98.9% of the population. English is widely spoken in the capital city of Budapest, especially in restaurants, bars, and cafes.

 

Currency & Costs

The currency is the Forint (Ft)

ATMs are everywhere, including at the airport and train and bus stations.

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.

Credit cards are widely accepted. Visa, MasterCard and American Express widely accepted in many hotels and restaurants. 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.

 

Safety tips

Read this comprehensive list of Budapest travel tips by locals

 

Getting around 

Budapest’s main attractions are easy to navigate on foot, but you can also hop on a…

Buy an official Budapest Card that allows you unlimited use of public transport and entrance to 30 of Budapest’s top attractions and tours. You can get it online or at the airport and take a bus into the city centre. budapestcard.org

Hire taxis but agree a fee upfront.

Another handy of getting across the city, the Budapest Metro is the second-oldest in the world.

 

Internet access

  • 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.

 

What to eat 

Hungarians love big, hearty food and goulash tastes as meaty and nourishing as it sounds. Also try the creamy chicken paprikas with dumplings, lángos – fried flat bread with sour cream and grated cheese – and for dessert, the tall “chimney cake” pastry.

 

Where to eat 

STREET-FOOD MARKETS

Karavánis a little food sector in the hip Jewish Quarter; nearby Bors GasztroBárserves gourmet soup and sandwiches; and Vegan Gardenis in Rácskert garden pretty much speak for itself.

FINE DINING

Try Városliget Caféin City Park; Borbíróságoffers around 100 Hungarian wines; Fisherman’s Bastionfor traditional dishes and panoramic views.

 

Where to shop

GREAT MARKET HALL

The market where the city’s inhabitants buy their fresh fruit and veg, paprikas and meat. It’s also good for souvenir hunters can who can choose from an array of traditional embroidery, lace, leather goods and porcelain. If you’re hungry, the food hall upstairs serves traditional Hungarian dishes. budapestmarkethall.com

 

Where to stay 

BRODY HOUSE

All Bohemian chic charm and gracious hospitality, this was once the home of a famous Hungarian doctor and is now owned by British partners who are passionate about their adopted city. This 19th century mansion-turned-boutique hotel has its 11 spacious rooms is overlooking an ivy-clad courtyard, and each room is decorated and named after a local artist who once used it as an art studio. www.brody.land/brody-house

CORINTHIA HOTEL

Situated on the Grand Boulevard, with a magnificent spa among its facilities, this is the place to stay for five-star elegance. www.corinthia.com

 

Where to go 

RIVER CRUISE

A wonderful vantage point to take in the splendour and scale of Buda and Pest, the cruise boats pass by the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building on the river bank.

BUDA CASTLE

Wind your way up Castle Hill on foot, by bus or ride the sikló – a funicular operating since 1870. Explore Buda Castle, comprising the Budapest History Museum and Hungarian National Gallery, then sample Hungarian wines in the Faust Wine Cellar beneath. Wander around Matthias Church and catch the Changing of the Guard at Sándor Palace.

DANUBE BANK

Stroll over the striking Chain Bridge to the Shoes on the Danube Bank, a moving holocaust memorial. Visit St Stephen’s Basilica, Hero’s Square and the State Opera House.

SZECHENYI THERMAL BATHS

Spend a few relaxing hours floating in these steaming outdoor pools. szechenyispabaths.com

THE RUIN BARS

Built in the ruins of buildings in Budapest’s old District VII (the old Jewish quarter) that were abandoned after World War II, Pest’s vibey and affordable bars are definitely worth a visit. Try Szimpla, Instant and the Corvinteto rooftop bar szimpla.hu, instant.co.hu

 

 

WORDS Lori Booth

 

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