***I wandered into Budapest in June of 2019. This blog post, minus the currency information and the updated COVID information, reflects that adventure. Please check with your embassy regarding the current travel situation.
Budapest, Hungary is a city where the beer is cold, the tourist sites are amazing, and the people are friendly. Two cities, melded into one, with layers of history, make for a rewarding travel experience. I greatly enjoyed my time in Budapest.
General Notes.Weather. I visited Hungary in June, and the weather was fantastic! Hot sunny days, and warm mild nights. It is my understanding that Hungary follows the same basic weather patterns as the center of the European continent. I definitely didn’t need a jacket, and it was beautiful weather for my whole stay. Depending on your time of year, you’ll want to check the local weather to make sure.
The Danube. The Danube River cuts the city nicely to into two distinct halves. Originally, it separated two different cities. Initially the city of Buda sat on one side of the river, and the city of Pest sat on the other. Trade went back and forth via barge and boat. With construction of the Chain Bridge in 1849, the two cities merged in Budapest. The Danube River still holds command over the city, being the transit for river cruises and local sightseeing tours.
Money. Everybody wants to know about money. Though a member of the E.U., Hungary does not utilize the Euro for its currency. The national currency of Hungary is the Hungarian Forint. The exchange rate with the U.S. dollar (as of 9-17-2020) was 305.977 Forints per 1 dollar.
Don’t worry too much about the currency exchange. Use ATMs to get cash, as they provide recognized exchange rates. Credit card purchases do as well. Just understand that Budapest is a tourist city, and is priced accordingly, and you’ll be fine. I found the prices not out of line with other countries.
Hotels, taxis and such are starting to post prices in Euros, as Hungary is going to go that way, sooner or later. If you work better in Euros (I’m personally fine dealing in Euros) this May be helpful for your budgeting.
Passports. You’ll need a passport with at least 6 months of remaining validity, and three month’s validity from your departure date out of the Schengen zone. Travels from the United States do not require a visa to visit Hungary for stays under 90 days, but the Schengen zone total travel of 90 days in the zone also does apply. So, you’ll need to consider any other destinations when making your plans.
There are no required immunizations to get before traveling. My only stop in the country was Budapest, and I found it to be quite safe and welcoming of tourists who don’t speak the language. That being said, one should always use sound judgement when out in public.
Language. I found not speaking any Hungarian to not be a problem. Most all people I encountered spoke enough English to have passable conversation. They all also seemed genuinely unbothered speaking English, as opposed to other countries I’ve visited who tend to get putout. I wouldn’t worry if you don’t speak the local.
COVID-19. The situation with the pandemic (as of 9-17-2020) is Hungary is a stage 3 country. The US State Department advises to reconsider travel at this time.
That being said, airports, cultural institutions, hotel, cafes, and bars are all open. Social distancing of 0.5 meters and wearing of a mask or face covering is expected in public settings.
***Foreigners without a residence permit will be banned from entering Hungary, effective September 1. Travel for business purposes and military convoys are possible, and there will be a humanitarian corridor. (US Embassy in Hungary website.)
Getting in and out.There are numerous ways to get in and out of the Hungarian capital. All the major airlines have a route that goes through the city, so flying is an easy option. There is a good rail system in the country which makes traveling by train a definite option. And with its prominent location on the Danube River, there are also river cruise ideas to explore. I traveled into and out of Budapest by train. I found the rail system easy to navigate with a EURail pass, and most of the train choices I picked didn’t require a seat reservation. I also didn’t have any hassles at either of the railway border crossing.
Navigating the City.The city of Budapest is mostly navigable on foot. I found meandering in one direction an then returning by metro or tram to be quite effective as well.
Generally speaking, the citadel hill, Fisherman’s Bastion, and great church are on the Buda side. The walking shopping areas, majority of outdoor cafes, churches and galleries are all on the Pest side. The major parks, the famous baths, and a large number of museums and monuments are also on the Pest side of the river. Hotels seemed to be scattered about on both sides.
I suggest walking around to get the lay of the land. Though the city is good sized, the main tourist sections are collected together nicely.
Some City Highlights.A city that is as historical as Budapest should have loads of major attractions to draw in tourists, and it does. Here I picked some of the one I particularly enjoyed.
Buda Castle is a site that you can’t miss. I literally mean you can’t miss it, as it takes up a good chunk of prominent ground on the Buda side of the city. All you need do is make your way across the chain bridge and ascend the hill. If you’re not a hiker, there are several options for getting up the hill, from a funicular to motorized tour couches. Personally, I didn’t find the walk terribly taxing.
The castle hill and ramparts offer great views of both the Danube and the Pest section of the city. Check in advance about open sections and times of day. Most all of the castle was closed when I was there.
The Great Market Hall is the oldest indoor market in Budapest. Holding a prominent location at major metro and tram stops, the market anchors one end of a large walking/shopping area on the eastern side of the Danube.
The lower floor of the market is mostly vegetable and meat stalls. The upper floor is general tourist stuff stalls and a host of food stalls. The food stalls get heavy traffic during the main hours, so go early to eat at one or just wander through. Either way, it’s a definite must-stop.
The chain Bridge, a little walk along from the indoor market, is the first bridge to span the river between Buda and Pest. A walk across the bridge is easy and provides great views of some major attractions.
The chain bridge is a definite tourist item. It does draw crowds to it, and generates a lot of walking traffic. Most people are crossing either to or from the citadel on the Buda side of the Danube.
The Matthias Church sits directly in front of the world-famous Fisherman’s Bastion, on the citadel hill section of Buda. They even use the same ticket sales location.
The church is a beautiful piece of Romanesque architecture, and is very well preserved. In a section of the upper floor, there is a small museum with pieces important to the church and surrounding city.
In a small private chapel to the rear of the church you will find one of its prize jewels, the Black Madonna. The statue is credited with helping Christian forces recaptured the city of Buda from the Turks in the 17th century. It is a nice piece, and the small chapel gives it a full and inviting presence.
ST. Michael’s Church is located along the pedestrian Váci Utca. This church is kind of indicative of other lesser churches in the city. The real beauty of this church is that it hosts live music in the evenings (along with some other churches). You can just walk up to the church during the day and buy tickets for later that evening. The evenings are comprised of classic works by various composers, and the tickets were quite reasonably priced. A great setting for a live music opportunity like this should be investigated.
Thoughts.With Budapest offering me a completely different view of Eastern Europe from that of Bucharest, I embraced the city quickly. It’s easy to navigate, and the people are quite friendly to travelers. Where I didn’t cover it here, make sure you spend some time in the parks. Budapest’s parks are lovely and well maintained. Get an ice cream and sit on a shady park bench. You’ll find the experience well worth your time.
Now, wait till COVID is over and then get out there! You have exploring to do.