I won’t lie – aside from Laszlo Biro, Ferenc Puskas, and the football team clinching qualification for Euro 2016, I didn’t know a great deal about Hungary before I went to Budapest. Fortunately, a few days spent in the city has opened my eyes to a place that I’m keen to discover more about.
In the interests of keeping your attention, dear reader, I won’t go on an and-then monologue of my time in the Hungarian capital. Instead, I’ll distil it down into a random assortment of hints, tips and observations that may prove handy if you ever decide to rock up there.
– One good reason for heading there are the prices – it’s so damned cheap. Return flights only cost me £60 (it was easyJet, but it does the job), you can get five-star accommodation affordably and everyday prices are so low, you’ll think you’ve gone back in time a decade or two.
– That said, don’t think you can go with a half empty case and fill it up with cut price designer clobber – big brand stuff was more or less the same price as in the UK.
– Hungary’s in the EU, but not in the eurozone, so they still have the forint and you get over 400 of them to the pound. I got mine via Moneycorp, as their online rates were easily the best and I was able to collect the notes from Gatwick.
– The only languages Hungarian is related to are Finnish and Estonian, for some reason, which is alright if you know your Uralic tongues. Fortunately, pretty much everyone I encountered spoke at least a modicum of English; most were absolutely fluent. Try to learn a few phrases like yes, no, please and thank you though – don’t be a stereotypical Brit abroad.
– Tipping is more of a thing in Hungary than it is here, but not to the extent of the US. Some restaurants will add 10-15% on your bill – look for szervizdij – but if not, add it yourself. For other services or in small shops, rounding up to the nearest thousand is usually alright, while if you have a bellboy at your hotel, about 500 forints should do.
– While we’re talking restaurants, Menza on Liszt Ferenc ter is an absolute must. There are plenty of good eateries on that road too, so it’s well worth finding.
– Only cross roads when the green man tells you – I noticed most locals doing it, so I checked the rules and apparently you can get fined up to about €100 for jaywalking.
– Stop me if I begin to sound like David Prowse, but on the subject of crossing the road, the crossings work automatically, so there are no buttons to press, and when it’s on green, you DO have right of way… although some vehicles turning onto the road you’re crossing may get pretty close to where you’re walking before stopping.
– It’s a bit dusty in Budapest, so be careful when it’s windy so you don’t get an eyeful. While I was there, I saw street cleaners hosing down the pavements, in what seemed to be an attempt to quell the muck from being blown about.
– It’s likely the dust is from the city’s older buildings – while there are a lot of beautiful and well-maintained places, head off the main thoroughfares and you will find quite a few places that have seen better days – although considering the city’s past, it’s not that surprising.
– Most of my time was spent being a tourist though, so you need to glimpse a few of Budapest’s special sights: the parliament building, St Stephen’s Basilica, Heroes’ Square, the Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda Castle.
– The latter two places are on the Buda side of the city, and it’s a bit hilly, so make use of the funicular railway just across the Szechenyi Chain Bridge unless you want to climb a lot of stairs. I didn’t follow this advice and regretted it slightly.
– Other than the funicular, Budapest is pretty walkable – from the Oktogon junction, it’s only about a 20-minute walk up to Heroes’ Square and City Park, while it’ll take you a similar length of time to get to St Stephen’s Basilica and the Danube.
– That said, if you’re there for a good time, not a long time, getting a cheap-as-chips travel card (or Budapest card) isn’t a bad alternative, although you will miss potential unexpected delights if you head to the underground.
– Finally, make sure you head to a spa. Budapest is famous for its waters and unseasonal mildness meant that I could use the outdoor bit at Szechenyi baths. It’s a great way to unwind and you can convince yourself you’re doing something healthy with your holiday.
I’ll leave it there, but there’s a heck of a lot more I could write about, such as the eerie House of Terror on Andrassy utca and the many delicious pastry shops that are dotted all over the city – Greggs will never be the same again.
Got any pointers of your own or queries about Budapest? Whack them in the comments.