Planning your Budapest travel? We’ve collected a small list of general information you’ll find useful while preparing for your travels to Budapest, the Pearl of the Danube.
When preparing for your holiday in Budapest there are a few things you should consider reading up on beforehand. In this section we aim to cover most of the basics of what you should prepare for in terms of weather, safety, the local currency, Hungarian National Holidays and much more. Read on and enjoy your stay in Budapest!
What, and where is Budapest?
An ideal holiday destination, Budapest is located in Central-Eastern Europe, and is often referred to as Paris of the East. The city is not only the capital of Hungary, but also the country’s political, cultural, commercial, and industrial center. Its registered population exceeded 1,7 million, with its suburbs 2,5 million people in 2018. With this number, Budapest is Hungary’s largest city and about one-fourth of the nation’s population live in the capital and surrounding settlements.
Budapest was originally a Celtic settlement. Hungarian tribes arrived in the area in the 9th century, founding today’s Hungary in 895. The country converted to Christianity in the year 1000 with the crowning of its first king, St. Stephen. In the 16th century, following centuries of prosperity Buda was occupied by the Ottoman Turks. After 150 years of Turkish occupation the region entered a new era of prosperity, when it became the Hungarian capital of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in the 19th century although that financial golden-age meant severe loss of liberty for the nation. Nevertheless, the city’s most significant landmarks were built during this period. Budapest suffered severe damage during WWII, and was under Soviet, communist rule until the system change in 1989.
Today, the city is a vibrant metropolis and a popular, yet affordable tourist destination with millions of tourists visiting it each year. There are many UNESCO World Heritage sites in Budapest, among them the Buda Castle District, Andrássy Avenue, and Heroes’ Square. The city is also famous for its geothermal springs; in fact, Budapest has the most thermal baths of any capital in the world. The city also has the largest synagogue in Europe, the Great Synagogue and the world’s third largest Parliament Building.
Climate and weather in Budapest
Budapest is quite fortunate in terms of weather. It has a continental climate with four seasons and an average annual temperature of 11.0 ° C/52 ° F. Extreme weather conditions are very rare. Winters are mild with relatively small amounts of snow, while summers are hot and sunny. The city’s hottest months are undoubtedly July and August, when record temperatures can reach as high as 38-40 ° C /100-104 ° F. The coldest month is January when the average temperature stays around -1 ° C / 30 ° F.
Due to the effects of climate change, however, it’s not uncommon to have a bit of snow even in the months of spring, while summers are becoming hotter. Winters on the other hand are much milder with record temperatures of 18 ° C/64 ° F. September in the recent years often surprises with a beautiful Indian summer when the weather of Budapest stays quite warm in spite of the changing of the season. The wettest month of the year is November.
When is the best time to visit Budapest?
Anytime. Come in the summer to explore the city’s music festivals and outdoor venues, or in winter to experience the fairy-tale like winter markets with mulled wine and roasted chestnuts. Come in the spring to visit galleries and museums, see budding flowers in the parks, and experience warm sunny days, or travel to Budapest during autumn when wine festivals are organized and the opera season starts. It is strongly recommended to check weather conditions for the time of your planned trip.
Safety in Budapest
Public safety in Budapest is considered to be good compared to other big cities in the world, but visitors should still use common sense to protect themselves and their valuables. Violent crimes and mugging in Budapest are rare, but pickpocketing and bag snatchings do happen. Tourists should be especially cautious when traveling with Budapest’s public transport or visiting crowded tourist areas, and always watch their wallets and bags.
Visitors should avoid getting involved in gambling or money changing in the street, unless they want to risk losing all their money. Important documents and passports should be kept at a hotel safe, and it’s advisable not to carry around too much cash.
It’s better to order taxis rather than hailing them on the street to make sure you are using a taxi from a proper company. It is important to always use well-known, reputable taxi companies, and avoid unmarked and freelancer cars who might charge outrageous fees, especially when someone is not familiar with the city. Look for the rates and a company name/logo on the side of the car to make sure it is from an official company.
When visiting a bar or a restaurant, you should always ask for the menu with clearly stated prices to avoid overcharging. Places where prices are not clearly listed should be avoided. Also, tourists – especially men – should be careful when taxi drivers or beautiful women lure them into bars or restaurants they recommend, as this where severe overcharging usually happens.
Useful telephone numbers in case of an emergency:
General Emergency: 112
24-hour Tourist Police: 06-1-438-8080
24-hour medical assistance in English (Falck SOS Hungary): 06-1-2400-475
24- hour pharmacy: 6th district, Teréz krt. 41.near Oktogon, phone: 06-1-311-4439
Tourist information offices in Budapest
Budapest’s official tourist information center provide free brochures, program guides and maps. They speak foreign languages and will inform visitors about programs, events, hotels and restaurants, and give useful tips about what to do and see in the city. They also sell tickets and various sightseeing services, as well as the Budapest card which allows tourists to visit selected museums and access public transport free of charge, while using further services at a reduced price.
Tourist information points in Budapest:
Deák Ferenc Square
1052 Budapest, Sütő u. 2.
Opening hours: 8.00 am–8.00 pm
Phone: +36-1-576-1401, +36-1-438-8080
1014 Budapest, Szentháromság tér – on the left side of Matthias Church
Opening hours: Mon–Sun 9.00 am–7.00 pm
Outdoor ice rink building in City Park:
1146 Budapest, Olof Palme sétány 5.
Opening hours: Mon–Sun 9.00 am–7.00 pm
Phone: +36 1 576 1404
Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport Terminal 2A
Opening hours: 8.00 am–10.00 pm
Phone: +36 1 576 1402
Budapest Liszt Ferenc International Airport Terminal 2B
Opening hours: 9.00 am–9.00 pm
Phone: +36 1 576 1403
Tourist information hotline (0-24h)
Phone: +36-30-30-30-600 from outside Hungary, 06-80-630-800 or 06-1-488-8661 from Hungary, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Customs and tipping in Budapest
Tipping dates back to the medieval times when – according to the legend – a German merchant asked one of his customers for a bit of “drink money”. Tip in Hungarian means “money for wine”. Which explains why it used to be common for guests of a restaurant to buy an extra glass of wine for the waiter as well.
Nowadays, just like in most European countries, tipping is a part of Hungarian culture. When the food was tasty and the service satisfactory, it is customary to “give a little extra” to the waiter, which is about 10-15%. If you don’t leave a tip, you won’t be confronted, but it will be assumed that you were unhappy with the food or service. In Hungary, people usually don’t leave the tip on the table. Instead, you’re supposed to tell the waiter how much you’re paying in total – tip included – when paying the bill. Beware that some restaurants add a 10% service fee to the bill, in which case tipping in unnecessary.
It’s also common to tip hair dressers, taxi drivers, tourist guides, and even gas station attendants. In general, the following places will expect a tip: hotels, restaurants, bars, gas stations, and hair salons. You will also find that attendants at thermal baths or even cloakroom attendants will expect a small tip, usually about 100-200 HUF.
In Budapest, public restrooms will usually have an attendant, who will expect a small tip: 100-150 HUF. It’s not really a tip, but more a fee for using the bathroom. Free public restrooms – except for Budapest’s shopping malls – are unfortunately non-existent.
Money and change
Hungary is a member state of the European Union since 2004, but it does not use Euro as its currency. The official Hungary currency is the Hungarian Forint. The short form is Ft in Hungarian, and HUF in English. As the value of the Forint frequently fluctuates, it is advisable to check the current exchange rate on a trustworthy currency exchange website to get an idea of how much the Hungarian currency is worth at the time of your tip.
The Forint has the following denominations:
Coins: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 200 Ft
Banknotes: Ft 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000
Although it’s possible to pay with Euros at many hotels, restaurants, and shops in the touristy areas in Budapest, their exchange rates are usually not as favorable as if you pay in Forints, so it’s best to change your currency first, and only use Euros if absolutely necessary.
Use ATMs of local banks for reasonable conversion rates and safe transactions. It’s best to stay away from the blue Euronet ATMs, however, as they charge irrationally for transactions.
For money exchange, it’s to use official exchange offices (e.g. Exclusive Change is a reputable money exchange chain in the country). There is one at almost every corner in the inner city, and they have similar rates. It’s better to avoid airport currency-exchange booths, however, as almost everything is more expensive at the airport, and money exchange is no exception. Banks are trustworthy places to change money, but their rates are usually higher than that of money exchange offices. Avoid doing business with money-changers on the street, if you don’t want to be ripped off.
Hungarian National Holidays
Hungarians celebrate the same national holidays as other Christian counties, such as Christmas and Easter, but have their own national holidays as well. When planning your visit to Budapest it’s important to note that on public holidays most businesses, such as restaurants, shops and supermarkets, are closed, and only a few selected shops stay open. On national holidays Budapest’s public transport also runs on a less frequent, holiday schedule.
January 1 is New Year’s Day. It’s celebrated with eating lentil soup which is believed to bring wealth in the new year. It’s also customary to stay away from fish on this day, or their good luck will “swim away”.
March 15 is commemorating the Hungarian Revolution and War of Independence of 1848-1849. This day is often chosen by political parties to make public speeches and hold demonstrations.
Easter is a Christian public holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, but many traditions are more about the celebration of spring and new life. Big Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday are all public holidays.
May 1 is international Labour Day.
Whit Monday is the Monday following Whitsun. It’s a Christian holiday in memory of the descent of the Holy Spirit.
August 20 celebrates the foundation of the Hungarian state and its first king, St. Stephan. Festivities are held all over the country, and the day ends with fireworks. The fireworks in Budapest over the Danube is a particularly beautiful and popular event.
October 23 commemorates the revolution of 1956, Hungary’s uprising against the communist regime.
November 1 is All Saints’ Day in Hungary, a day when families gather to visit the graves of their deceased relatives and light candles.
December 25-26 are public holidays of Christmas. The Christmas tree is usually decorated on the 24th of December, and on the same evening, on Holy Night, presents are given to the children. The role of the gift-giver is assigned to the Infant Jesus.
Budapest has a well-developed, efficient and inexpensive public transport system that includes 4 metro lines, trams, buses and even boats. All of the important sights of the city can be reached simply from the center using a few main lines of public transport. Taxis and carsharing makes getting around Budapest that much easier and with the city’s popular bike sharing and e-scooter sharing systems, there are green ways of traversing the city.
Public transport: All of the city’s public transport lines can be used with public transport passes for 1, 3 or 7-days and Budapest Cards that includes extra features such as free museum and bath passes.
The most important lines:
Metro lines: M1: along Andrássy Avenue, M2: between Déli pályaudvar (Southern train station) and Örs Vezér Square, M3: between Újpest-Központ and Kőbánya-Kispest, M4: between Kelenföldi pályaudvar and Keleti pályaudvar (Eastern train station)
Tram lines: Tram nr. 2: along the the Pest Danube bank, tram nr. 4 & 6: along the Grand Boulevard of Budapest; Tram. nr. 47 & 49: between Deák Square and Kelenföld Train Station or Budafok respectively.
Buses: 200E: from the airport to Kőbánya Kispest; 100E: from the airport to Deák Square (city center); 16: to the Buda Castle form Deák Square
Car sharing: two companies offer car sharing: Mol Limo with the largest fleet, GreenGo using a smaller fleet with only electric cars. To use them: register on their website and download the app.
Bike sharing: Mol Bubi is available at most main metro stations and several locations in the center
E-scooter sharing: With the Blinkee City app you can use the company’s electric scooters available around the city center.