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New to Hungary

Hello All,

I am considering a Prague-Vienna trip this fall, and may add Budapest into the mix since that seems to be a popular combo. I was wondering if I could ask a few quick questions:

1) Language: I've only known two people who have gone to Budapest, and one said that it was difficult to navigate (compared to the many many other countries she has visited) due to the language barrier. Whereas places like Rome and Paris generally have a lot of English speakers, she said that this was not the case in Budapest and that she and her group had to communicate purely through gestures, which made it a more stressful experience than other major cities. Have others found this to be a difficulty?

2) On this forum, it looks like there was some issue of Austria shutting the border with Hungary and people not being able to finish out their vacations due to this. It sounds like this has resolved, but is anybody aware of any other red flags concerning border patrol/the migrant situation?

3) This might be more of a nebulous question, but roughly how easy or difficult is it to plan a few days in Budapest? I know that some cities, like Rome, take a lot of coordinating and effort to figure out, whereas a smaller city like Florence doesn't necessarily require as much time and effort to plan because it is smaller and there are fewer things to see. I will be planning this trip fairly last minute, so just want to make sure I'm not biting off more than I can chew!

Posted by
14003 posts

Prague-Vienna-Budapest is a classic itinerary. I didn't find it stressful in either Prague or Budapest without knowing the language. At tourist sights, the staff speak good English, at supermarkets and small shops, you don't need language, just cash ☺. The migrant issue was for travel from Hungary to Austria. If you are going in the opposite direction, there shouldn't be a problem.

Buda is on the hill on one side of the Danube, Pest is on the flat other side. Stay in Pest, allow one day for Buda, most of the sights are in Pest. There are a number of things to choose from, depending on your interests, but not an overwhelming amount, like Rome or Paris. Do allow 3-4 full days. Many people like to spend at least one half-day at a bath.

How long is your trip? 4 nights in Prague (first day jetlagged), 3 in Vienna and 4 in Budapest would be my recommended minimum to see all 3.

Posted by
195 posts

Thanks so much for your speedy reply. Those are great tips! Trip length hasn't been 100% determined yet...it initially started as a thought that we could sneak in a short trip this year before taking a longer trip to France and Italy next year, but with so much to see it is hard to not end up with two long trips. Probably debating somewhere in the 9-12 day range, including travel, with Budapest likely being the expendable option if that is too much to fit in a shorter trip. Always trying to weigh quality time in each city with getting out and seeing the many many cool cities of Europe while we are there! I have more places that I'd like to see than will likely be realistic in this lifetime, so that's how Budapest ended up sneaking into the Prague-Vienna itinerary :) In any case, thanks for your suggestions for how to weigh our time!

Posted by
329 posts

I did not find Budapest to be all that difficult. Most people who worked in restaurants, on transit, etc. spoke a little English. I've travelled other places where less English was spoken (e.g. Macau, Madrid). I always try to learn a few words (at least hello, please, and thank you) in the language of places I'm visiting, though, because I think it's polite.

I also had James E's wonderful advice to go by. Search out some of his posts in the Hungary forum.

I really liked Budapest, and of the three (Prague, Vienna, and Budapest), it is the one I'd probably go back to, given the opportunity. I think there is a lot to see, and it is a little more spread out than Prague, but it is easy to navigate. I found I could walk to many places I wanted to go (from our accommodation near the Opera and Andrassy Avenue), and it was simple to take transit to those that weren't an easy walk. The only place we had a bit of difficulty finding was one of the baths (Veli Bej).

We had 6 nights in Budapest and saw most of what we wanted to see. In those 5+ days, we also visited 3 baths (a bath every 2nd day, for 3 hours at each), so it wasn't all go, go, go, either.

Of the sites we saw, I'd recommend the Chain Bridge, Buda Castle, the Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion, as well as the castle area--all in the same vicinity, accessible by bus. The Opera, St. Stephen's, Hero's Square (and museums surrounding it), and the Museum of Terror are easy to get to via metro. Parliament (and folklore museum across the street) can be accessed by tram (or walking, depending on where you stay). The Great Synagogue is not too far from the Opera. The Cave Church, Gellert Baths, and Great Market Hall can easily be visited in sequence (along with Vaci Utca, a touristy pedestrian street---which I didn't like, but you may). The City Baths, Szechyeni, are also easily accessed by metro. It would be possible to see all of these things, choosing only one bath (I'd recommend Szechyeni if you have time for only one) in 4 busy days.

My trip report on Budapest is here, in case you might find it helpful in making your decision and planning: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/3-weeks-in-east-central-europe-part-1-budapest

Posted by
195 posts

Wow, thanks for taking the time to write so many great tips BB! I will definitely read through your trip report soon.- thanks for sharing it!

Posted by
14003 posts

I just saw another of your posts where you said you've been to big cities like Paris. So now, I'd Budapest and Prague with a short time in Vienna (1-2 nights), or even skip it and consider a flight between the two. Budapest and Prague have a definite Eastern European flavor, while Vienna is very much a Western European city.

My trip was was Budapest-Vienna-Prague and I had mostly grey skies and a couple rainy days in Budapest, in Vienna 1/2 day that was sunny, and terrific weather in Prague. At the time, I liked Prague slightly more than Budapest and thought it was probably just because of the weather. Looking back after several years, I very much want to return to Budapest but not Prague, though I'm sure if I did go back, I'd enjoy it too.

If it helps any, Prague is great for beer drinkers, Hungary has some of the best wines in Europe, at reasonable to cheap prices.

Posted by
158 posts

We found Budapest very easy to navigate and the language barrier didn't seem to be a problem for us. I can't think of an instance where the language created a problem for us.

It was pretty for us to plan a few days in Budapest. We had a RS guidebook and went in with a loose plan, since we don't usually travel with a set in stone itinerary of what to see in a city. The hotel we stayed at helped with some recommendations of what to see. We really enjoyed the Parliament tour, the Szechenyi baths, the Great Market Hall, seeing the Fisherman's Bastion at night, and just walking around the beautiful city. We also really enjoyed the ruin pubs. We went to Szimpla and I wish we had gone out more than once in the three nights we were there! I wish we had spent more time in Budapest. Of the three cities you mentioned, Budapest is hands down the city I would want to return to. I know everyone has their own preferences and interests, but we just really enjoyed the city. Everyone was very friendly and it was much less crowded than Prague. Have a great trip!

Posted by
2096 posts

Here's my Trip Report for my second trip to Budapest from about 2 weeks ago. https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/trip-reports/a-much-anticipated-return-to-budapest There's plenty of cities I want to visit and yet I've already made a return to Budapest after first visiting in August 2014--why? Not just because Hungary is a heritage country for me but because it's so very easy to enjoy yourself in Budapest; the people are wonderfully kind, the food is superb, the city is astonishingly beautiful and very easy to navigate and our dollar goes a long way there.

I did make a point to learn (and am continuing to learn because I'll be going back and will venture to other cities) some of the language, again, because it's about my heritage and also because it's such a difficult language that when I did use it the people were just delighted. But it's not at all necessary, because I never encountered anyone that didn't know enough English to help me or understand what I was asking.

I haven't heard of anyone having difficulties with the border for quite a while now.

I planned my first trip of 4 days very easily with the help of Rick's guidebook and used it again for this recent one. Get a metro pass and you'll be set--covers metro, buses and trams, and Budapest is a wonderfully walkable city. There's a lot to see but once you decide what's important you can fit them together easily--plenty of people on this forum will be happy to help with that.

Posted by
16781 posts

The sightseeing in Budapest is not as compact and walkable as Florence but also not as crowded nor necessary to book sights ahead as in Florence or Rome. You might book a bit ahead for the Budapest Parliament tour in English. If you travel in October, remember to plan around Jewish holidays so you don't miss the Great Synagogue.

Posted by
10983 posts

I am considering a Prague-Vienna trip this fall, and may add Budapest into the mix since that seems to be a popular combo. I was wondering if I could ask a few quick questions:
1) Language: Almost everyone under the age of 30 has some rudimentary knowledge of English. When language is an issue these are extremely warm and caring people. Keep a smile and work your way through it. If it happens once in 4 days I will be surprised. If it does happen know that you will get a more intimate look at the quality of the people; and consider yourself fortunate for that gift.

2) On this forum, it looks like there was some issue of Austria shutting the border with Hungary:
The only issue that I believe is still ongoing is crossing the border from Austria into Germany. A way to help minimize any impact if things do change is to plan your trip from North to South so that you are working against the flow of the migrants.

3)This might be more of a nebulous question, but roughly how easy or difficult is it to plan a few days in Budapest? : I can give you some day to day itineraries. But it’s easy. No real planning required. Just a few tips on how to maximize your enjoyment.

4) 9 to 12 day trip
1 depart US
2 arrive Prague
3 Prague
4 Prague
5 Prague to Vienna by train
6 Vienna
7 Vienna
8 Budapest
9 Budapest
10 Budapest
11 Return home

Do you still have another day? Spend another day in Budapest. You will be glad you did I think. OR …. between Prague and Vienna spend a night in Cesky Krumlov. Take Bean Shuttle from Prague to Cesky Krumlov and then on the Vienna the next day.

Only have 9 days? Skip Vienna and fly Prague to Budapest as suggested above. Vienna never spoke to me for some reason. I always include it in recommendations because to be so close and not see it for your self is unfortunate. But it’s the one I would skip.

The “Great” Synagogue (and I would suspect the others) is closed every Saturday and October: 2, 3, 4, 11, 12, 16: open until 2 p.m., 17, 18, 23, 24, 25.

Further, October 23 is a national holiday (but that can be good if you want to experience the culture). Otherwise there is a whole list of things going on in the fall. One of my favorite that you will see in this list is the National Gallop. http://visitbudapest.travel/budapest-events/

Prague and Vienna or Prague and Budapest?? Sure I am biased, but look through the forums and see how many other cities you find these remarks about; and so rapidly after the OP.

I really liked Budapest, and of the three (Prague, Vienna, and
Budapest), it is the one I'd probably go back to, given the
opportunity

Looking back after several years, I very much want to return to
Budapest but not Prague

Of the three cities you mentioned, Budapest is hands down the city I
would want to return to

There are plenty of cities I want to visit and yet I've already made a
return to Budapest after first visiting in August 2014--why? Not just
because Hungary is a heritage country for me but because it's so very
easy to enjoy yourself in Budapest; the people are wonderfully kind,
the food is superb, the city is astonishingly beautiful and very easy
to navigate and our dollar goes a long way there.

Prague's sites and history are less familiar than, say, those of
Paris, where around every corner was an "I can't believe I'm seeing
this" moment. (I found the same with Budapest--even more so.)

Posted by
29 posts

I had no trouble at all in Budapest when I visited. It is quite compact, so I also found it easy to plan a stay. I stayed in a very nice hotel that was centrally located (it is very cheap there!), and the only side trip I did outside the city was to a winery.

I do love Vienna, but it is ridiculously expensive, so I would probably just spend a couple of days there to see what you want. My friends who were in the area recently have reported some issues due to the refugee situation, but nothing major other than delays, tighter security and the transportation hubs being overrun with people.

Posted by
10983 posts

Mende

To be fair, Budapest’s sights are pretty spread out. Actually a big part of what is enjoyable about Budapest is that the “city” is the attraction and not so much point A and point B, and etc. Sort of like Paris in that regard. Maybe having all that around you no matter where you were made it feel compact. I know everything always seems close to me too, then I remember how packed in Prague is.

That traveling chef guy Anthony Bourdain called the buildings in Budapest “Architectural Porn” which from his somewhat warped perspective on life is pretty accurate. Not that it’s the best, but there is just so much of it, so varied and so unending & so much still a fabric of the day to day life of the local population. This isn’t a tourist city, this is a city where tourist go.

The spoke wheel streets of Pest, the almost tour bus like nature of the tram system make getting around a breeze and part of the enjoyment of visiting. You don’t walk through this place, you wear it.

Okay, I am biased……..

Posted by
195 posts

BB (or anyone else with knowledge),

I read your trip report and it sounds wonderful. I'm headed to Budapest in about 2 weeks.

I would like to go to at least one of the baths, but is it pleasant to be in such hot water/steam, when it's warm outside?

Thanks,

Todd

Posted by
10983 posts

Todd, to be honest, in a dozen years of traveling to Budapest I have only been to the Széchenyi Baths (i do have an excuse, but you don't want to hear it) but they are good day and night (especially night) all times of the year. But, you might want to go to one of the inside baths like Rudas or Kiraly during the day to escape the heat.

If you do go to Széchenyi Baths and you are the least bit shy, or might feel uncomfortable in a subterranean locker room full of wall to wall naked bodies crammed in only slightly looser than sardines in a can; then you might consider renting a "cabana" which is Hungarian for "changing closet". Then again you came to experience the culture so .......

Posted by
329 posts

Not all the pools are hot. At Szechyeni, the outdoor pool that is cooler is for lap swimming, though, and a bathing cap is required. The pool that has the bubbles that come on periodically and the whirly-pool is not quite as hot as the one with the chessboards.

It was a very hot day the day we were at Gellert. The larger outdoor pool there is coolish, though, but we did burn our feet on the pavement walking to it, since we didn't have flip flops with us (one of the drawbacks of trying to travel light). There is an indoor swimming pool there (cap required), also, in addition to the indoor hot pools.

At Veli Bej, which is completely indoors, the main, octagonal pool is surrounding by 4 plunge pools which vary in temperature from cool to very hot. As well, in the modern section, there is a swimming pool and a jacuzzi that is cool. Also, in the old, Turkish part, the lighting is dim, which is nice on a hot day.

However, we even enjoyed the hot pools on hot days. It was nice to soak our aching legs and feet from all the sightseeing we were doing.

Posted by
14003 posts

Thanks, Laura, for mentioning the Jewish holidays, which are all in October this year (they move around). The Great Synagogue in Budapest will be closed, as James noted, but also the Jewish quarter in Prague. While you can walk around the streets, all the synagogues and the cemetery will only be open for a few hours in the morning before the holiday and closed on all the holidays. Also, visits to synagogues may be limited during the week between the New Year and the Day of Atonement if they are used for religious services, because of the special arrangements they make for those days.

New Year (Rosh Hashana)- October 3-4
Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) - October 12
Festival of Booths (Succot) - October 17-18 and October 24-25 (the "intermediate days" are not technically holidays, so things should be open)

The Jewish quarter in Prague is a popular tourist attraction, so the day or two after a closure are often much more crowded, due to the "back-up."

Posted by
10983 posts

Chani, for me Prague was worth the visit just for the Jewish quarter; its one of those places and one of those days that stays with me always.

As for the bath houses: http://www.spasbudapest.com/
The bathing cap is required, but poorly enforced. Still as a guest in someone else's home you should follow the rules.

Posted by
195 posts

Thank you so much everyone for confirming about the language (I agree that the language can be part of the adventure, just wanted to make sure getting around wouldn't be as dire as my friend made it sound!), and for your specific tips about navigating the city.

James E, I will gladly take you up on your offer for day-to-day itineraries if that isn't too much trouble!

Posted by
6 posts

In country right now. Short answer: do it! Language is not a major issue (in some ways easier) and Budapest is no more difficult than any other major European city if you've planned your own Europe trip before.

Although I've watched hours of Rick Steves' PBS programming, it's my first time with his guide book. I had a month to plan this trip, including binge-watching his "Travel Talks" YouTube series, and I would recommend both. Downloading his audio interviews in the mobile app was also nice to listen to and refresh my memory during the trip.

Having also scoured websites like TripAdvisor, if I could use only one resource, I would choose a guide book because it's been "curated" (Steves' word for it) and collated. I got more out of his book than I did every other random website.

I just finished my first full day in Budapest and it went really well even though I didn't settle on the day's itinerary until the night before: bagged Parliament (no tour), Fishermans Bastion & St Matthias church (same location/stop) and Grand Market Hall (incl. lunch) in a little over six hours via walking and mostly subway with some bus.

Public transportation is great: we loved the 24-hr group pass for up to five people for 3300 Ft (local currency). The pass is also good for the (new-ish) river taxi program overseen by the government public transportation bureau - I think it's a steal and wonder when they'll realize it and jack the price. Note the actual boats appear to be contracted because they all look different but they are marked and stop only at designated docks. See bkk.hu

Yes Hungarian is a 'less accessible' (difficult) language for Westerners but the people under 40 speak English well, in some cases excellent. I did make a point of trying to learn the basic top 5 words, and occasionally get a smile for the effort. Biggest challenges have been:
(1) deciphering restaurant bills because they don't do that in dual language so it's hard to remember the name of what you ordered at the end of the meal;
(2) navigating ground transport and reading signs because the words are so unfamiliar, but I've been generally successful with the three-and-one letter rule: match the first three letters of the first word and the the first letter of each word (omitting utca or ter). It's not perfect but it got me thru most subway transfers in a pinch when doing it on the fly.

If you're not traveling with an organized tour, then you do need to be comfortable (if not proficient) with map & route-finding skills, but this is true of any foot travel. Or bring a mobile device and data plan - GPS navigation makes it almost mindless - but be aware you may not always have clear GPS signal and it's quite battery-draining.

Kind of a newbie comment, but booking.com seems to be the most popular for lodging in Europe. Websites I've referenced are not paid mentions, just shared in the interests of making travel better and of course do your own due dilligence. Happy & safe traveling!

Posted by
10983 posts

2) navigating ground transport and reading signs because the words are
so unfamiliar, but I've been generally successful with the
three-and-one letter rule: match the first three letters of the first
word and the the first letter of each word (omitting utca or ter).
It's not perfect but it got me thru most subway transfers in a pinch
when doing it on the fly.

ter = square
utca = street
u. = abbreviation for street
ut. = major street or boulevard or similar

More interesting; there is a Vörösmarty tér and a Vörösmarty utca stop on the same M1 metro line. Both interesting for different reasons and quite far apart.

Then there is Váci utca and a Váci ut. Váci utca is the main tourist shopping street while Váci ut isn't really a place you want to visit; but I have seen at least one hotel try to imply they were on the Váci that they were not really on.

Then there is a Vasvári Pál utca in the heart of the Theater District in District VI which is a marvelous location (I have very personal bias for) not to be confused with the Vasvári Pál utca's in District IV, XV and XVIII which are not all that inviting locations.

Posted by
10983 posts

I bet it was great to be in Budapest yesterday (their time). 3 - 3 with Portugal.

Posted by
12117 posts

Hi,

What red flags? Crossing the border by train between Salzburg and Munich , this corridor, is totally normal, no issues at all. I did it twice on this trip, 28 May Munich to Linz, and June 8, Salzburg to Munich to catch the night train in Munich. Had there been, I had made contingency plans by rerouting going through Innsbruck. All you see different is more two man police patrols and patrols by DB Sicherheit wearing the yellow vests in both stations. I found Budapest easier to navigate linguistically in/out of Keleti than Brno and going to the small towns. Menus in BP do appear in more than one language, as do train signs in Brno and Prague I don't find it accurate that everyone, even those under 30, speaks some English, at least this was not the case in Brno and the village. But, it depends on the people you happen to run across.

Posted by
10983 posts

I found a fairly significant typo in my post above and fixed it in BOLD