Budapest was one of my favourite European cities to visit – a place imbibed with a vibe unlike most metropolitan cities. Undoubtedly one of the most naturally picturesque places I’ve been to, the contrast between medieval Buda and the bustling, modern city of Pest was the tip of the iceberg of this culturally rich city which has been inhibited since the Stone Age.
Plus, it is still relatively budget-friendly (i.e. cheaper than Prague, which by most standard is relatively inexpensive to begin with!) with most sights being free to visit. Aside from the thermal baths, a legacy of the Turks, which has cemented Budapest’s status as the spa capital of the world, free sights and relatively inexpensive sights, now is the best time to go to Hungary!
Before you pack your bags, and head to the airport, here are a few things you need to know about Budapest, Hungary.
Read More: Postcard From | Budapest
1. The Forint (HUF) is the Official Currency
Before you are tempted to hand over your Euro to pay for that lunch, know that Hungary, even though it is a member state of the European Union, does not have the Euro as its official currency. While you still can pay with your Euro, you’ll likely receive your change in Forints, and your Euro will likely not be given a favourable rate.
2. Know How Much HUF = $1/€1
Following the above point, the Forint has a lot of 0’s, so be sure to know exactly how much your US dollars or Euro’s translate to. Find a good exchange office that posts its rates outside, and know it can be worthwhile to exchange your Euro’s rather than your US dollars or vice versa. I normally carry both currencies, and will do a quick math to see if I’ll get more of the local currency with one or the other. Normally, that wouldn’t matter so much, but when the US dollars is so much stronger, it makes more sense to exchange your US dollars over the Euro (if you have the option)
3. Walk More, Use the Transit Less
I’ve found Budapest to be one of the most walkable places I’ve been to – the large sidewalks and plenty of parks and walking space means that there’s no excuse to not be walking. When I spent an entire weekend in Budapest, I never took the transit once, even going from the train station to one of the thermal baths on my first day!
4. Punch Your Tickets Before Getting On Public Transit
This goes for a lot of European cities, but save yourself the trouble and hassle with the local police by ensuring that you punch in or validate your tickets before boarding. The hassle is not worth ruining your trip!
5. Bottled Water in Shops Have Coloured Caps That mean something
Don’t make the same mistake I did by randomly selecting a bottled water because I thought the blue cap was pretty much Dasani (How North American of me!) The colour of the caps indicate the type of water inside: blue means carbonated, pink indicates still water, and green means it’s softly carbonated.
6. Bargain Your Taxi Fare Before Getting On
Similar to a number of places I’ve been to including Ghana, it’s important that you negotiate your fare before getting into the taxi so you and the driver are in agreement of the cost and avoid any sticker shock at the end of your ride.
7. Tipping & Saying Thank you
Don’t say thank you in a bar or restaurant until you’ve received your change, otherwise you’re basically saying “keep the change”
8. Visit a Ruin Bar/Pubs
What’s a ruin bar? These are basically derelict, Soviet-style buildings which have been vacant and in disuse for a long time until someone had the fantastic idea of opening a bar in here and make it a cool place to have a drink. It’s an experience. And it was pretty cool. You should budget a few days in Budapest – I find anywhere between 4-7 days to be sufficient! Need an itinerary to start your planning? Here is a list of things to do in Budapest for 4 days!
9. While Relatively Safe, Keep an Eye out for your Valuables
I never felt unsafe when I was in Budapest, but I was told to be extra vigilant, especially in crowded places. Although not as extreme as the pick-pocketting problem in most cities, ensure that you always know where your stuff is!
10. Be Wary of English-Only Menu
I’m sure this applies to many cities that are seeing an explosion of tourism but check the price, and do the math before ordering to make sure you’re paying a reasonable amount of money for what you’re ordering. A decent mean should run from $5-10 when I went in 2015.