Budapest’s 4 metro trains, buses and trams reach most areas of interest to tourists, while the outer suburbs are well served by the overground HÉV rail network. See more here about public transportation in Budapest.
Budapest has an extensive, efficient, and inexpensive public transportation system, but locals without global experiences, disagree with this. If you have some patience and minimal skills with reading maps, you can easily learn the system.
They are efficient enough to provide buses to replace any tram or metro that has been disrupted by construction, but it can be confusing.
The biggest disadvantage, however, is that metros and tram routes shut down for the night at around 11:10pm-11:30pm depending on the line (see “Night Service,” below). Some areas of the city, most notably the Buda Hills, are beyond the reach of some night bus services making taxi drivers happy to provide those late-night journeys. Increased night bus services to overcome some of these problems have been dramatic, but it is still not perfect with some long waits at dark and lonely bus stops. During rush hours, all forms of transport are crowded making it best to plan your travel around these times. A disadvantage, mostly pertinent to travelers, is that Castle Hill can be reached in only three ways by public transportation and all of these modes of transportation are quite crowded in the high seasons. Most importantly, crowded public transport is the place where you are most likely to be targeted by Budapest’s professional pickpockets. Just keep your hand on your wallet and purse.
Transport passes provide unlimited transportation on all forms of public transportation (metro, bus, tram, trolleybus (an electric bus evident by the connection to wires above), some portions of the HÉV railway lines, and cogwheel railway) within Budapest city limits.
If you are using individual tickets (vonaljegy), which cost 350 Ft a piece (children 5 and under or E.U. citizens 65 and over travel for free), you are required to validate the tickets as soon as you get on the transport. Each time you change lines, you have to validate a new ticket. You can buy single tickets at metro ticket windows, newspaper kiosks, and the occasional tobacco shop. There are also automated machines in most stations and at major transportation hubs, most of which have been recently modernized or installed and provide a somewhat reliable service. You can also buy a 10-ticket pack (tízes csomag) for 3.000 Ft.
We strongly recommend that you buy a transport pass, which does not require validation. They are available for 1 day (napijegy) for 1,650 Ft and are good for 24 hours from the day and time marked. The other pass options are 3 days (turistajegy) for 4.150 Ft, 7 days for 4.950 Ft or for longer stays, 15 days (kéthétibérlet) for 6.300 Ft. The 7-day and 14-day passes need to be signed. If your plans are even longer, there is a 30-consecutive day pass (30 napos bérlet) at 9,500 Ft, which requires a photo. If you are going to Budapest for 4 to 5 days, the 7-day (hetijegy) pass is still a saving over individual tickets. Passes are so much more convenient than having a handful of tickets that you have to worry about remembering to validate each time or replenishing your stock at odd hours. Honestly, these will save you money in the long run.
While this standard ticket is valid on the metro, there are other types of optional single-ride metro tickets introduced years ago, making ticket buying a bit more complicated for those who want the exactly appropriate ticket for their journey. We don’t think any traveler should waste time caring about this, but we have met some who do.
Transportation inspectors are those dreaded people who, like the secret police of yesteryear, whip out a hidden blue or red (the old color, but still sometimes used) armband when approaching you or stand guard at the top or bottom of an escalator at the metro stops, or hop on the tram or buses after the door has closed. Some are uniformed, so you know you are heading into the lions den. However, many have become trickier and more covert over the years and are often in plainclothes. It is not until they materialize the dreaded armband and greet you, that you realize you have had a false sense of security about having a peaceful ride. There were horror stories for years about how they treated people, screaming and yelling and causing a scene of hysterics when they caught someone without a ticket or an invalid one. Due to the hundreds of letters of complaints filling volumes, the BKK instituted mandatory customer service training meant to file down the teeth of these overly aggressive warriors of transportation justice. For some it has taken hold.
It’s worth bearing in mind that ticket regulations on Budapest’s public transport are subject to regular changes, and the myriad rules make it easy to catch foreigners out – many tourists have complained about the treatment meted out by inspectors (who wear blue armbands saying "jegyellenőr"), who can be unpleasant and tend to be strict in levying 8000Ft fines for travelling without a valid ticket. The easiest way to get fined is to fail to validate your ticket at metro entrances or when changing lines. If you have a season ticket but are not carrying it when stopped, the fine is higher, though most of it is refunded upon presentation of the season ticket within three days at the BKV office at VII, Akácfa utca 22 (but only if your pass is valid for the day before and the day after the day you were fined).
The fines for not having a validated ticket or pass are 8.000 Ft if paid on the spot or 16.000 Ft if paid later; this does not include the embarrassment of getting caught. An inspector has the right to ask for your passport (legally, you are required to carry it at all times) or ID and to call a police officer if the need arises. They do not have the authority to harm you or arrest you.
The Budapest Card, which is available for 1 or 3 days, does include transportation, but you should look over the other offerings to see if you will maximize your savings by purchasing it. Few museums are free with the card, while others are simply discounted. Realistically, how many museums or discounts included with the card are you really interested in?
We list exact prices in the local currency. On this website, hotels are the exception, because almost all of them quote prices in euros. Rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
The basic unit of currency in Hungary is the forint (Ft or Huf). Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 Ft. Banknotes come in denominations of 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, and 20,000 Ft.
Telling coins apart can be confusing. The small gold-colored ones are 5 Ft. Ten and 50 Ft coins are both round and silver, but the 50 is larger in circumference. Both the 100 and 200 are dual-colored silver on the inside with a gold-colored band around the outside. The 100 Ft is the smaller of the two.
Paper money with all of the zeros really confuses travelers. The 500 Ft is reddish-brown, 1,000 Ft is blue, but the 2.000 Ft bill is also a brown color, while the 5.000 Ft is a greenish-blue. If you have a purplish-blue bill, it is 10,000 Ft, but the 20.000 Ft note looks like pink was smeared on it. Most importantly from 1,000 Ft and higher, they should all have a silver band on the left face side to be legal.
Never exchange currency on the street unless it is at an authorized change kiosk. If you are approached on the street to change money, just walk away; it is illegal.
We definitely advocate printing out an exchange rate cheat sheet from www.oanda.com/convert/cheatsheet before leaving home and carrying it in your wallet. When people get to an ATM, they lose all sense of how much money to withdraw because the zeros throw them off.
In Budapest, in the city center, you will find ATM machines from different banks within the same block, but elsewhere in the city there is one within a few blocks. We have no shortage of ATMs in the capital. In other cities and towns, there are fewer, but there are still an ample number.
Some common expenses
- Cup of coffee 350 Ft
- Taxi from the airport 6.500 Ft
- Transport ticket (single ride) 350 Ft
- Moderate 3-course dinner without alcohol 4.500 Ft
- A night in a moderate hotel 25.000
All banks are not equal with their fees, so you should consult with your home bank to find out if they have a cooperative agreement with any banks in Hungary.
All ATM machines accept a four-digit pin code. OTP bank ATMs will accept up to an eight-digit pin code.
Some travelers have reported having problems using their debit cards as opposed to a credit card. In Hungary, which cards an establishment can accept is dependent on which bank they deal with. Not all banks will accept American Express or debit cards, but there is no rule of thumb as to whether to use a debit or credit card. One thing that you should know is that whether or not you use a debit or credit card, the cashier may give you a machine. If it is a debit card, enter your pin code. If it is a credit card, just press the green button, which authorizes the sale.
It is not a rare occurrence when paying the bill in a restaurant to find that suddenly the machine is not working. Sometimes this is due to their Internet connection to the bank, but other times, it means business has not been too good, so that cash influx is necessary. Insisting you have no cash can sometimes miraculously fix the machine.
At other times, someone gets left there, while someone else goes to an ATM.
If you were to leave one credit card at home, contrary to the commercials, it should be your American Express. This is the least widely accepted card here. If you have a Diners Club/MasterCard, you will be fine, but if you have a dedicated Diners Club card without the MasterCard tie-in, your chances of using it are close to null.
For those with the new chip-embedded credit cards, you should make sure it is able to be swiped, as the chip technology has not hit Hungary as of yet.
Budapest has become increasing costly for residents as well as visitors. VAT has recently risen to 27% for goods and 18% for hotel rooms. Still a bargain when compared to other major cities like NY, London, and Tokyo, but it really depends on the currency conversion.
Traveler’s checks are next to impossible to cash and only a few banks will take them, and not all branches of the banks do. American Express closed their office years ago, but are in conjunction with Western Union, where you will get the worst possible rates of exchange.
Public transportation in Budapest.