Monday, February 28, 2011

Getting Around Budapest

Public Transportation

Budapest has an excellent public transportation system: trams, trolley buses, metros, suburban trains and buses.

Budapest Metro

Metro (Subway)
M1 (Millennium Underground, Yellow line) - Runs under Andrássy Avenue, between Vörösmarty tér and Mexikói út
M2 (Red line) - Runs east west, between Déli pályaudvar and Örs vezér tere
M3 (Blue line) - Runs north south, between Újpest-Központ and Kőbánya-Kispest

Budapest has three subway lines and the fourth one is currently under construction. The main junction is at Deák Ferenc tér where all three lines meet.

Yellow Trams

Yellow Trams - the most important routes
2 - Runs along the Pest riverfront connecting Margit hid and Petőfi hid
4 - Runs on the Grand Boulevard connecting Moszkva tér and Október 23. utca
6 - Runs also on the Grand Boulevard connecting Moszkva tér and Móricz Zsigmond körtér in Buda
19 - Runs along the Buda riverfront connecting Batthyány tér and Gellért tér and continues on to Kelenföld

If you ride streetcars 4 or 6 from the first to the last stop in either direction, you will have taken the world's longest tram ride.

Trolley Bus

Trolley buses
Trolley bus service is available on 13 routes in Pest only. Trolley buses are numbered starting from 70 because the first route began operations on Stalin's 70th birthday in 1949.

There are over 200 routes.

The most important line for tourists:
200E From Ferihegy Airport terminal 2 and 1 to Köbánya-Kispest metro station

Public transportation in Budapest virtually ends after 11pm, when the metro, trams and trolley buses stop operating. There are some night buses running, but not as frequently.

HÉV (suburban railway) – serving the outer districts of Budapest and nearby towns, like Szentendre and Gödöllő
Fogaskerekű (Cogwheel Railway) – service in the Buda hills

Budapest Airport Transfer

As in all major cities, use caution and avoid taking a ride with strangers offering transfers to the city. Use either the shared shuttle (Airport Minibus) or the officially appointed cab company to service the airport (Főtaxi). There are also many private companies offering pre-booked limousines.

Airport Minibus
Airport Minibus offers a shared ride to any address in the city for a flat fee. Discounted roundtrip tickets are also available. Advance booking is available online or over the phone; however it's not necessary, as they have a booth inside each terminal on the arrivals level. After purchasing a ticket, your name will be called when the driver arrives. Booking a transfer to the airport generally requires a 24-hour advance notice. We at have been using this service for many years and they have always been reliable.

Phone: (+36-1) 296-8555, or (+36-1) 999-8555

Airport Express Bus
The Airport Express Bus, operated by Weekendbus, connects Budapest Airport with the city center. Buses run every half hour, starting from 5 am in the morning to midnight. A single ticket is HUF 1,400 or EUR 5. Buses make the following stops: Ferihegy 2 - Ferihegy 1 - Népliget - Stadionok - Keleti Railway Station - Blaha Lujza Square - Erzsébet Square - Roosevelt Square. The ride takes about 45 minutes.

Phone: (+36-1) 262-6262

Főtaxi is the officially appointed taxi company to service the airport. They offer competitive zone-based rates.

Zone 1 (the area surrounding the airport): HUF 3,300 / EUR 13
Zone 2 (most of downtown Pest): HUF 5,100 / EUR 21
Zone 3 (Buda and the rest of Pest): HUF 5,300 / EUR 22
Zone 4 (the Buda Hills): HUF 5,700 / EUR 24
Transfer between terminals Ferihegy 1 and Ferihegy 2: HUF 1,700 / EUR 7

Phone: (+36-1) 222-2222

Terminal 1 is also connected with the city center via rail. Hungarian State Railway (MÁV) operates trains between Terminal 1 and Western Railway Station. The trip takes about 30 minutes.

Both terminals are accessible via public transport. Buses run between Kőbánya-Kispest metro station and the airport. The ride from the metro station to Terminal 2 takes about 30 minutes. The bus to take is 200E.

Tickets are valid for the metro, buses, streetcars, trolley buses, the Cogwheel Railway and the suburban HÉV lines (only within the city limits), and are available at any subway station. To avoid lines, buy tickets from street stands and newsstands. It is also possible to buy tickets from a ticket vending machine. The basic ticket is good for one trip; if you transfer, you will need to validate a new ticket or use a transfer ticket. Be sure to validate your ticket using the orange or red ticket-punching machines as undercover controllers may ask to see your ticket, and will fine you for having an invalid one. Many ticket-punching machines on buses and streetcars are manual. Be sure to insert your ticket into the top slot and pull the punching mechanism toward you.

You can buy single tickets, transfer tickets or get a discount with a 10-trip coupon book, which contains 10 single tickets. Day and tourist passes offer a good deal for visitors, as they allow unlimited use of the public transportation system and are often packaged with free admission to many museums and attractions. The "Budapest Card" is one such option. Cards can be purchased with a 48-hour (HUF 6,300) or 72-hour (HUF 7,500) validity. Both cards include unlimited travel on public transportation and discounts at participating museums, restaurants and spas. The value offered by the card depends on what you plan to do in Budapest. For instance, if you intend to use public transportation and visit quite a few attractions and museums within a given two or three-day period, it may be worth the price. Otherwise, you may be better off with the regular ticket options.

Ticket vendors rarely speak any languages aside from Magyar, so a little provisional sign language may help. However, detailed information about tickets and transportation is usually available next to their booths in English, French and German, along with route maps.

Ticket prices
Single ticket (vonaljegy) - HUF 320
Transfer ticket (átszállójegy) - HUF 490 (valid for a single journey with one transfer)
One-day travel card (napijegy) - HUF 1,550
Three-day travel card - HUF 3,850
Seven-day travel card - HUF 4,600
Ten-trip coupon book (gyűjtőjegy) - HUF 2,700
Family ticket (családi jegy) - HUF 2,200 (valid for 48 hours)

There are passes available for longer periods (14 days - HUF 6,500, monthly - HUF 9,800, etc) but they do require photo ID. ID's, valid for one year, are issued at metro stations. You will need one passport size photo, available at photo booths located next to the ticket vendors. A set of 4 prints cost HUF 1,000, but you get to keep 3. More information is available at

Having a ticket doesn't entitle you to ride public transportation. You must validate your ticket at a ticket-punching machine when starting your trip. Transfer tickets must be validated twice. First, when entering the system and also at the point of transfer, using either ends of the ticket. Hungarians may understand the way the ticket system works; however, it's still the source of the majority of complaints received from tourists. They buy their tickets in good faith but forget to validate them and have to pay a substantial fine when caught. It's an awful system by design, as you are able to enter/use all public transport without validating your ticket, until an undercover controller stops you. All forms of public transportation are frequented by controllers, so you are bound to run into one sooner or later, and they are not very pleasant to deal with.

Budapest Taxis

Taxis can be fast and cheap in the city, especially late at night when there is limited public transportation. Taxis can be hailed on the street, but it is cheaper to call ahead of time. Residents in Budapest rarely flag down taxis in the street and our advice is to always call one of the recommended companies.

The following are the phone numbers of reliable taxi firms charging fair rates, not 'tourist tariffs' (operators are English-speaking).

Citytaxi: (+36-1) 211-1111
Főtaxi: (+36-1) 222-2222
Budataxi: (+36-1) 233-3333
Tele5 taxi: (+36-1) 355-5555
Rádiótaxi: (+36-1) 377-7777

Taxis have yellow license plates. Avoid getting in taxis with no name or logo, or ones queuing at hotels and railway stations. Always insist on the meter being turned on and paying in Hungarian Forints. When ordering a taxi at a hotel, always ask the concierge to use one of the recommended services.
Driving in Hungary

Driving in Hungary is on the same side of the road as in North America. Traffic jams are frequent and parking can be challenging, as it is often hard to find a spot. If you do succeed and find space, parking must be paid for between the hours of 8am - 6pm Monday to Friday, and 8am - noon on Saturday. (Parking is free on Sundays.) Tickets must be purchased from the nearest parking meter.

Hungary recognizes international driver's permits (IDP) issued by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance when presented in conjunction with a state driver's license. American driver's licenses will be accepted in Hungary for one year after arrival provided that a certified Hungarian translation has been attached to the license. Those with IDPs do not need to have the license translated, but must present both IDP and state driver's license together.

When driving in Hungary the following rules are enforced:
Hungary has a zero tolerance policy for driving under the influence. Police often conduct routine roadside checks where breathalyzer tests may be administered and often are.
It is against the law to use a hand-held cell phone while driving anywhere in Hungary and seat belts are mandatory for everyone in the car.

Speed limits:
The speed limit for cars and motorcycles on the motorway is 130 km per hour (approximately 80 mph); on highways, the limit is 110 km per hour (approximately 65 mph); and in town and village areas the speed limit is 50 km per hour (approximately 30 mph).

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