Getting around Budapest, from practical to frivolous

hello hungary sign
 Getting around Budapest crossing bridges
Jetlag and hubris can conspire to make you a victim. It can happen to anyone, but over-confidence and fatigue led me into trouble while I was getting around Budapest. After a quick airport rendezvous with my jet lagged partner, we stepped out into the midnight air and joined a small crowd, all of us jostling for transportation. I’d arrived the day before and my Airbnb host had arranged a ride to the airport with a Yellow Cab driver, so I felt confident about how much the trip should cost. At that late hour taking another cab seemed like the best and swiftest choice.
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A man stepped up and asked if we needed a taxi. In moments, he handed us to off to a Yellow Cab driver and we sped off into the night.
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On the way into town, Dave and I quietly discussed how much the trip should cost and he started counting out bills. He’d been in the air for over 11 hours and it was his first time with Budapest currency. Once we arrived, the driver grabbed the bills, swept them into his wallet, and then kept asking for more!
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Our 25 Euro ride ended up costing almost four times as much! He left us blinking on the sidewalk as he sped away. Smooth operator! It was a sour beginning to our vacation but luckily, after letting it go as a lesson, we discovered that getting around Budapest can be easy and much less expensive.
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A few Taxi tips: (These apply most anywhere)
  • Ask how much first – We didn’t ask how much or agree on the cost of the trip.
  • Take a second to see if there’s a meter – We got in before realizing there was none.
  • Hold on! Our driver was reckless, tail-gated, drove way faster than anyone else, and started texting from the fast lane.
  • Get their license number or snap a picture of them and the car. Report any problems to the authorities! We thought of that long after he’d sped away.
Biking in Budapest
Getting around Budapest
Budapest is beautiful year round but in springtime it positively glows. In May the weather was pleasantly warm, in the 60’s and high 70’s. It can get much hotter in the summer. I was there in the Shoulder Season, as they call the months before the most popular and crowded times of the year – the summer and winter breaks. Hotels and accommodations were less expensive and easier to find than peak times for tourism.
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The transportation infrastructure of Budapest is impressive. There are subway trains, trolleys, buses, and taxis, but no Uber, unfortunately. With a little research, getting around Budapest can be easy. There are four central Metro lines and many tram lines. The M1 line is the European Continent’s first underground rail line and improvements keep coming.
Getting to and from the airport

I’d chosen a taxi on a local’s advice and because of the late night/early morning arrival. There are other much less expensive options. Whichever terminal you arrive at in Budapest, after customs there are BKK Information and Ticket booths (also closed at midnight.) There are maps, you can purchase any number of train tickets or the Budapest Card. The cards work in 24 / 48 / 72 hour increments from first usage, so if you’re not planning to go use them for the first day after arriving, purchase just enough tickets to get into town (usually two per person.)

I highly recommend checking out the Budapest By Locals page about your transportation options and the official Budapest Info Page for details relating to your dates and the seasonal discounts and free offers that come with using the card (Free thermal baths!)

 Flix bus can help with getting around Budapest
Budapest Central Bus Station – Nepliget

International and domestic buses arrive and depart from the station. The buses are central to life in the region and much nicer than the public buses and Greyhound buses I’ve taken in the US. There’s free WiFi and some have bathrooms (or they pull over for coffee/bathroom breaks.)

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In the station, there’s WiFi to piggy-back onto from the buses but otherwise it isn’t available inside the station. The underground and surface rail lines both have stations here. Nepliget is a central hub for visitors and about a 15 – 20-minute ride into central Budapest. There is an information desk (take a number) and public restrooms (cost.) We were able to check baggage into lockers during a layover between buses and visit downtown easily during a 3.5 hour break.

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Buda or Pest?
Our rental was on the Buda side of Budapest, the cliff and hillside area on the west side of the Danube, the area where the castle is. We were able to catch trams into town and walk across the many historic bridges. It’s easy enough to get around from Buda but if you’re into the club and bar scene, the Jewish Quarter and the Pest side is easier.
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Aside from Taxis and Public Transportation, there are lots of ways for getting around Budapest. As it’s a central tourist destination there are many bus tours available. Check online or in your hotel to arrange a tour.
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The Pest side of Budapest was built on a low-lying plain, which makes it fairly easy to navigate. There are bike lanes everywhere. In the central town, close to both sides of the river, there are many pedestrian and bike-only streets. Bike shops abound but be prepared to rent the day before – it’s a popular past time. We tried renting the green bikes that are available from racks but they only work for Hungarian citizens or other locals (you need local ID.)
Electric Scooter for getting around Budapest
Getting around Budapest on an electric scooter or Segway appealed to my independent spirit. There are tours using both available as well. Around the corner from our apartment, we rented electric scooters for three hours. With a little practice, I got comfortable with the brakes and throttle, turning and balancing.
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The scooters made it easy to get to the top of the Citadel, across bridges, to visit the Parliament and main Cathedral. We even got to Margaret Island briefly before my scooter’s battery gave out. With a short call, our host showed up with a fresh battery and we were off again. The afternoon ride lasted about three hours and was a lot of fun.
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Enjoy Budapest. It’s a wonderful city to walk but taking public transportation or renting wheels offers a chance to explore swiftly and independently.
Travel Notes & Beyond  

41 comments

  • Awesome and practical tips, Elaine! What would you recommend taking, electric scooter or bikes?

  • Great tips. Figuring out how to get around a new city is always a challenge. (I think that’s why so many people prefer packaged tours.) I like the spirit of exploration and independence you get from doing things on my own. I’ll have to refer back to this when I finally make it to Budapest.

  • Some timely reminders for all travellers when trying to get around within a new destination.

  • I love Budapest! It’s definitely a great destination for anyone that’s doing a trip around Europe. I love the history it holds but also the people there are sooo nice and welcoming. I also found it to be way cheaper than most other European cities

  • Thanks for the helpful tips! Budapest isn’t on my immediate radar, but I always like to read handy tips on destinations I might someday visit. I definitely don’t want to waste money on stuff I don’t need.

  • I’m sorry to hear about your taxi experience – thanks for sharing! It is an excellent reminder to be vigilant. I use Uber a lot when I travel. I like that the payment process is straight forward and you have a cost estimate before you get into the car.
    We stayed right by the Chain Bridge in Budapest and walked many places in the city. Scooters sound like a great way to explore more of the city.

  • I would love to explore Budapest on segway! You are right you need to be careful with your transportation options or you end up throwing away money. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • Oh dear not a great start with the taxi! I learnt when I was living in Fiji to always check for a meter first! Even though we were living there, my husband and I were always seen as tourists and constant offers of taxis were made – and by taxi, I mean that in the loosest sense of the word! But other than those sorts of travel lessons, Budapest looks amazing. The Shoulder Season is a great time to travel if you can, because of the great deals.

    • So cool that you lived in Fiji! The diver in me is jealous. I know that being an expat can target you for locals. Sounds like you kept an even head about it. Once I got over being mad about the taxi incident we didn’t think about it again and enjoyed the rest of our trip.

  • Great tips! We haven’t been to Budapest, but will definitely keep this in mind for when we get there. The tips about the taxis are super helpful

  • Sorry to hear that your trip started on a bad note. Now we know what to look for when taking a taxi in Budapest. Thanks for sharing other cheaper means of transportation. Segway looks like a fun way to explore the city!

  • I love Budapest! Great food, locals are so friendly and helpful, and of course, they know how to party. After all the busy activities in the city, it’s lovely to relax in their famous Turkish baths.

  • Oh no! Sorry to learn that you got scammed by the taxi driver right on your arrival! I’ve been to Budapest before and totally fell in love with the city. Like you said, it’s a wonderful city to walk – which was what I did in both Buda and Pest – but I wish I had rented a bicycle so that I could have covered more places during the time I was there.

  • I really miss Budapest. We always use the Mini Bus to and from the airport. It’s very inexpensive and it doesn’t take much longer than the taxi (maybe just 10 minutes). I agree with you on the cabs in Budapest. In fact, Budapest cabs had such a bad reputation until very recently, that the government took some drastic measures against these smaller companies who were cheating their clients. Last time we were there we use the cabs a few times and were surprised to see how correct they were in taking the right route and metering it. Well, it might have made a difference that my husband speaks Hungarian, who knows.

  • This is a really useful post, I think Taxi’s is most cities try and rip you off, makes us mad! Good tips to check price before getting in, and checking for meter. Budapest looks a great city to explore and the Segway a fun way to do it! Have pinned for future reference. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • I’ve taken taxis in other cities and haven’t encountered this problem before. There are always a few bad eggs and I’ve heard that Budapest has been cracking down on the bad players. The rest of the trip was wonderful. I hope you get to visit beautiful Budapest.

  • Wow I agree that taxi scams and your tips apply to anyone anywhere. Sometimes it could be just hectic traveling to place as its always too many things, but too little time. Glad that you still managed to enjoy the azing Budapest in the end!

  • Oh those scooters do look like a lot of fun! As does the rest of Budapest. Even with jetlag it looks like you had a great adventure.

  • Those are some really helpful tips for getting around budapest for a first timer. I personally prefer bus trips specially when the buses are well maintained and punctual on time too.It saves on a lot too.

  • Anna @ shenANNAgans

    Electric scooter totally looks like the BEST way to do the city, fun and great for your photos too. PS: I’m always so cautious of cabs, have had some pretty scary and expensive experiences in my time. Glad you guys were okay.

    • Sorry to hear you’ve had some taxi scares, Anna. Luckily we weren’t in danger just threw the budget off and that’s a first world problem easily overcome. We were in a lovely Airbnb with a kitchen and had dinner in a few nights.

  • Great tips for I haven’t been to Budapest yet – hopefully one day. You’re right about taxis – always ask how much and check that they have a meter (and mention to them about turning the meter on) before going in. I know sometimes we are tired from a long flight especially late in the night but thankfully, nothing more worse happened to you guys except paying for an expensive taxi ride. Thanks for sharing this post, good reference for me in the future 🙂 #TheWeeklyPostcard

  • Such great and detailed tips! I liked the tip about checking the taxi meter first – something we need to lookout for in many cities around the world. I would also prefer the segway as you did – I think it’s always fun to explore a place on a segway!

  • I’m a little paranoid when it comes to getting airport taxis on arrival at new destinations for the very reason you have experienced. Sorry your arrival wasn’t the most pleasant start to your stay. My hubby really wants to go to Budapest & Eastern Europe but unfortunately we couldn’t fit in on our last trip to Europe. The links you have given for public transport options will come in handy when we go. The electric scooter looks like a fun way to get around.

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