(In)Expensive Budapest?

Hi all!! The little sister and I are arranging our affairs to have an extra week in Europe and we thought we would find a random city. Cost is a huge factor, so while doing a search for "inexpensive cities in Europe, we found Budapest. I love the look of the city! But my question is if Budapest is as inexpensive as people claim, or is it just inexpensive compared to say, Paris? That is, with regard to eating out, public transportation, museums, etc... I have found the cost of some things, but they are mentioned in HUFs so I cannot compute if it's inexpensive or not. Do they use euros at all there? Thanks for any info! P.S. - we would be going in July :)

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
671 posts

Today's exchange rate is 223 Hungarian forints per US dollar, so a forint is worth about half a cent. That means the price of anything in forints is a big number. The quick and dirty way to convert forints to dollars is to take off the last two digits and divide by two. So 5,000 forints is about $25. Budapest restaurants, hotels, and other tourist-oriented places will often state their prices in euros as well as forints, but you can't count on it (and besides, converting euros to dollars is no easier). Hungary was scheduled to go to euros last year but must have decided, understandably, to wait till the euro countries stabilize their economy(ies). Like other central Europe cities, Budapest is a lot less expensive than Paris or London or Amsterdam, and a relative bargain for Americans. This is in the eye of the beholder of course. I'd say it's a great choice for an extra week.

Posted by James
Frisco
1801 posts

The cost of living in Budapest is 33% cheaper than Pittsburg and half the cost of Paris; or so one site claims. http://www.expatistan.com/cost-of-living/comparison/pittsburgh/budapest I've looked at a number of cost of living comparisons over the years and the number seems about the average i have seen. Of course this is "cost of living" and not cost of tourism but if you avoid tourist restaurants and you rent an apartment for the stay you will have a better time, more "real" time and a much less expensvie time. The forint has been dropping the last few days but I doubt you will get much more than 95% of what is listed and who knows what it will be in July. July is in the high season by the way which adds a little to the cost. But the weather in Budapest in july is beautiful. Just book well in advance. Let me know if i can assist.

Posted by Monique
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
493 posts

Thanks all - what you posted was really helpful. Our first thought was to visit Paris, which I have always wanted to visit, but seeing as we will have already been in Europe for 2 months at that point, we really need to watch the wallet. Paris in July is just too pricey. I found flats on AirBnB in Budapest for as low as 19 euro a night, which has me optimistic. However, my issue was if all together (food, public transit, museums, etc...) the cost of Hungary would be only minimally less than the cost of Paris, I'd do Paris. So far it seems as if the difference is substantial though, and Budapest is a good budget option.

Posted by CL
Salem, Oregon, USA
914 posts

To answer one of your questions - Euros are probably accepted at some hotels or high tourist areas, but generally you should use HUF for the best exchange rate. Use google to convert HUF to USD (type "convert 1000 HUF to USD" and you've got your answer to "inexpensive"). IMHO, nothing is likely more expensive than a week in Paris (other than maybe a week in any Scandinavian country). As with any other European city, there are plenty of things to do in Budapest to occupy your time that are fairly inexpensive - you just have to research and find things that suit you. Check out http://www.eurocheapo.com/budapest/ for more ideas.

Posted by James
Frisco
1801 posts

Okay, well I don't know about 19 euro apartments. By the way most all apartments rent in Euros and not Forints. The main reason is most of them are owned by foreigners like me. Let's say a nice place to stay will cost you at least 50 euro. We can talk about locations and rental companies if you like the idea of Budapest. Now for food. Vak Varju is sort of what Chili's would be if it were Hungarian. Not a bad standard for comparison. Here is the menu http://pest.vakvarju.com/en/menu Note the prices are in HUF (HUngarian Forints). As mentioned above drop two zeros and divide by two and you will have an approximate cost including the tip. So you can see a decent meal of Chicken Paprika and a beer is about 2,400 HUF or something less than $12.00 with tip. This is a "moderately" priced place. There are cheaper and there are more expensive. Unlimited public transportation will cost you 1383 HUF a day or about $6.00 (4,150 HUF / 3) http://www.bkv.hu/en/types_of_tickets_offered_for_tourists/types_of_tickets_offered_for_tourists So a pretty average stay is $65 (50 euro room) + $29 (three meals at $12 + $10 + $7) + $6 (transportation) = $100 a day. Try that in Paris (but I do love Paris. You know they call Paris the Budapest of the West ... or is it the other way around? I forget.) If you needed to you could probably shave that down quite a bit. Of course everything is relative so my idea of cheap in Budapest is Excellent wine for half the cost in the US and excellent pate for less than half the US cost. Everything else in town is somewhat comparably priced. Let me know and we can get into more detail.

Posted by Monique
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
493 posts

Thanks James! I think for a stay of 4-5 nights with the little sister that not having WIFI, or even laundry won't be an issue. Based on experience, is having an AC really that important?

Posted by Danni
Everywhere
41 posts

I feel that Budapest is a good value for the $$$. The subway is inexpensive, the food is great and not too much $$$, etc. There are plenty of hotels that are priced well also. I can't say anything about Paris b/c I have never been nor really care to go. I guess Budapest is comparable in price to say Warsaw. If you want a little cheaper try Belgrade or Sofia. Plus there is a lot to do in Budapest, good city to stroll around in.

Posted by Monique
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
493 posts

James (from Frisco),
I swear! - 19 euro a night! AirBnB has at least 40 properties less than 30 euro per night, all in the city center - and these are entire apartments, not shared. I'm flabbergasted! And thanks for the budget breakdown! All your advice has been very helpful!

Posted by James
Frisco
1801 posts

. Oh, I believe you about the 19 euro a night and you might find a really good deal too. Let me give you some things to consider. If you are going between May 1st and September 15th you might want to ask if it is air conditioned. Ask which floor it is on and remember in Europe our second floor is their first floor. Then ask if there is an elevator. Check the size. They measure in Square meters. 1 sm is approximately 10 sf. Most Cheap US hotels rooms are going to be 250 to 350sf or 25 to 35 sm Wifi, TV? Laundry washer/dryer? Kitchen? The neighborhood. You really want to be in District 5, 6 or 7 and the closer to the river the better. My advice is generally to draw a line down the center of Andrassy ut from the intersection called the Oktogon and extend the line to the river. Now find a place within a block above the line or three blocks below the line. I would avoid Buda and District 8 all together. Towels, linens, et come with it? I run an apartment for tourists and 19 euro doesn't pay the maid to clean up after you leave. But that doesn't mean that some enterprising local isn't renting a real nice room and doing the hard work themselves. If you stay at one that cheap let me know when you get back because if it works out well I would love to have a real inexpensive place to recommend.

Posted by James
Frisco
1801 posts

Free wifi is easy to find in town so that isnt a deal breaker. Heck I can give you my passsword and you can sit outside my place if you want. But AC is a big deal. July in Budapest is the hottest month and you can count on higs in the low 80's and lows in the mid to low 60's. If you rent a place that is already small and somewhat confined and if it only has windows on one side its going to get a little stuffy and by Pittsburg standards, hot; especially in July. Also remember that not many of the places you visit will be air conditioned as well. Its sort of nice to go back to an air conditioned room, but not essential.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2700 posts

Hi, "Do they use euros at all there?" Those establishments, such as restaurants, etc. with "welcome" signs in German and English you can safely bet will accept Euro.

Posted by James
Frisco
1801 posts

The only thing you can safely bet is that if they do accept euros they will give you a rotten exchange rate; after all changing money isn't their business. You are better off going to a bank or exchange house or drawing cash at an ATM; even a credit card is a better idea. Always ask first about euros or dollars or credit cards if you think you might come up short on cash. Odds are Fred will be correct in the tourist traps of Buda and Vaci utca but Budapest has too much to offer outside of those zones. Besides its fun to shell out 1,500 for lunch! (forints that is)

Posted by Monique
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
493 posts

I figure I would still have some euros left over since I will be coming over from Spain, and I would use them at the places that accept euros, and then withdraw HUFs from an ATM... yes? ...no? ...maybe? ...any thoughts? I really don't like exchanging money. I'm all about using the ATM, but I read something (I think Wikitravel) that this might be an exception as there are some exchage places that offer better exchange rates than the ATM. Is that even possible? Wouldn't they (the money changers) lose money? Also, James from Frisco, I already decided I want to stay on the Pest side of the river, but why would you avoid District 8? Safety issues? Thanks again all! :)

Posted by Monique
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
493 posts

One more thing! - is it not possible to do a Google "street view" in Budapest?

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

Using a network (e.g. Cirrus, Plus) ATM the exchange rate will be the .8% (that's eight-tenths of one percent) or so above the interbank rate that is taken for operating costs, and hopefully your card is from one of the banks bank that do not charge home bank fees. An exchanger will never come near that. If you are concerned about leftover euros, plan and manage your withdrawals so that you have little left. But the euro is so useful that you can always keep your leftover for your next trip. If you have, for example, 1500 leftover HUF and need to exchange that on the way out of the country, at least the loss is under one dollar.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2700 posts

Monique, Since you say you'll still have left over Euro before arriving in Budapest and really don't want change money, the same applies to other European tourists in Budapest. Lots of Germans and Austrians do the tourist thing in Hungary... Budapest, Pecs (Fünfkirchen), Lake Balaton (Plattensee). It's an inexpensive place to spend vacation and for cultural and historical reasons. Those establishments in Budapest have the "welcome" sign along with menus all in German to cater to them and attract their Euro.

Posted by James
Frisco
1801 posts

When I travel convenience is usually at the top of my list of priorities. If it's convenient to use leftover euros then do it and don't worry. You will lose some value in the process, maybe as much as 10% but if we are only talking about 100 euro then it isn't the end of the world. Changing less than 50 euro is a loss as well so might as well spend them. Dump them fast at a tourist location or for tickets for a boat ride or some other well established tourist venue. You might also want to hang on to them for the next trip. Everyone always ends up returning home with some foreign money in their pocket and Hanging onto Forints doesn't make as much sense unless you fall in love with Hungary and know you will be returning. Up to you. There is no wrong. I have a box full of currency from a dozen countries as a way of encouraging me to return. District 8. Except for a hotel you will have a tough time spending euro there. This is real Budapest at its best. Safety in Budapest isn't really a concern. I guess I might be a little nervous late at night alone in the far extremes of District 8 but in general this District like the rest of the city is safer than most places in the US. I don't recommend it because it is far from the center of what is most interesting to tourists and remember I said that it's about convenience for me. I want to walk out my door, turn the corner and begin my day. I mentioned it because there is some really cheap accommodations in District VIII and a lot of tourists end there as a result. Still, you can do just as good in District V, VI or VII.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
2852 posts

If you're worried about "extra" euros (in my personal order of preference): 1. You can save them for a future trip. 2. You can sell them to someone else going to Europe; this is a win-win, since you can agree on a fair exchange rate with no extra fees. You get more for your euros than you would at a bank or exchange booth, and the buyer pays less for euros than they would at these other places. 3. You can use them to pay part of your last hotel (even if you usually put it on a credit card). 4. You can exchange them in Budapest. I found some exchange booths with not-bad rates (sorry, I don't remember where they were).
5. You can spend them at a place in Budapest that will take them. If you're doing this, you get whatever rate they give you, but it's certainly convenient. Remember that while bills are easy to exchange in other countries, coins are not. If you want to do #4 or #5 on my list above, be sure to get rid of coins before leaving the Eurozone (if you have enough, you can exchange them for paper notes).

Posted by Carol
Liverpool, Texas, USA
19 posts

Get a place with air conditioning. Go, you'll love it.

Posted by Monique
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
493 posts

Thanks everyone! I still need to confirm things with my sister so I haven't made arrangements yet. In the meantime, I have found a flat on AirBnB that I think I might go for. It's would only be 140 euro for the entire week. Also, I did some more research about the cost of living in Budapest (sites like numbeo.com), and it's definately a bargain. I mean, not dirt cheap, but compared to other European cities, it offers all the charm without the higher expense. Does anyone know if/when Hungary will convert completely to the EURO, or do they plan to keep the HUF forever?

Posted by Emily
Chicago
256 posts

I don't think there are plans any time soon to convert to the Euro. I'm sure Hungary would like to avoid the fate of other agro/tourism based economies and not be beholden to Germany for the 2nd time in less than 100 years. I'm a bargain shopper, so if you'd like any tips about where to find some great clothes or home furnishings, feel free to PM me. Budapest is one of my favorite cities!

Posted by Danni
Everywhere
41 posts

Lets hope they keep the forint, I find the euro boring and ugly.

Posted by James
Frisco
1801 posts

It's not really up to the Hungarians. They haven't met the minimum requirements to join the Euro. When they do meet the requirements, everything else being the same as now, I think they will choose to do so. The forint isn't particularly stable. And don't get me started on the German issue.