Tips For Getting Around in Budapest
Budapest is a city of differences and contrasts. East and West clash more stridently here than they do in the other perennially popular culture-border town of Prague.
And that's not the only dichotomy that Hungary's capital displays. Its entire social make up is divided into two. On one side cosmopolitan and posh Buda, looking down from the lofty heights of its hills; on the other schizophrenic and scruffy Pest, blithely enjoying itself, oblivious to the twitching curtains of the neighbours across the way. And running between the two is the magnificent Danube. Europe's greatest river and immortalised in the music of Johan Strauss. This truly is a city with character.
The Budapest Tourist Card gives free travel on the public transport network as well as reduced admission to many attractions around the city. It's available for either 48hrs or 72hrs from metro stations and other transport terminuses. Each card is valid for one adult and accompanying child under 14.
Trams, Buses and Trolleybuses:
Budapest has an extensive network of buses, trams and ageing but pleasant streetcars. They combine to get you pretty much anywhere you want to go. Trams and trolleybuses have conductors who will gather fares and check tickets, but it's advisable if planning to use a lot of transport that you purchase a travel card to cover all possible journeys rather than finding the change to buy a single for every journey. The bus network is the most extensive and covers the entire city - while trams tend to be more useful in Pest and limited in Buda. However, the bus network is also somewhat more complicated. If you're using public transport late at night trams become a lot more limited while the night bus network is quite good.
The Budapest metro is one of the oldest in the world but it has been renovated and is easy to use with regular trains serving nearly all the main areas of interest. There are three lines, which all intersect at Deák tér and effectively cover the majority of the city centre. Pick up a public transport map at any station on arrival.
For those planning on visiting more of Hungary than just Budapest, car hire is a sensible option. Hungary's road network is extensive and well maintained, and due to the relatively small size of the country, driving is a good way of getting around. However, car rental is expensive, and more so if taking the car beyond the border eastwards so you should weigh up the relative value of having a car during your stay. If you're staying within the city limits you'll find the public transport network more than sufficient for getting around. If you are staying in Pest then having a car can be a real liability, this side of the city is a lot more congested than Buda and parking is at a premium. Check with your hotel for parking nearby before deciding whether to bring a vehicle or not. In Buda a car isn't so much of a problem and is excellent for tourers planning excursions from the city.
With such an efficient public transport system and most sights lying within easy walking distance you may find that you don't need to use taxis. However, if you do, it's best to telephone from your hotel and get an idea of the approximate fare before you get in. Licensed taxis should display a yellow traffic plate. When you get into a taxi insist that either the meter is switched on, or agree a price for the entire journey beforehand.