Two more tap water questions

Is it socially okay to order tap water in Prague, Vienna, and Budapest? Is it generally safe to drink tap water in those three cities? I live on the coast of Georgia (US), so I am assuming their water is probably much better than ours.

Posted by James
Frisco
1796 posts

Odds are you can drink the water in any of the locations you mentioned and not have a problem. But I wouldn't take the risk on a once in a lifetime vacation? I bet the U.S. is one of a very few countries that chlorinates, enforces testing and standards and in fact certifies the tap water as potable. But let's not confuse that with taste. The water in Rome tastes wonderful in many locations around town. Because American's have been drinking too pure a source of water for so long I'm not certain that we are use to what floats around in foreign water supplies. So i practice a little extra caution as a result of what might be my weakness and not a "problem" with their water. I've seen the plumbing in the basement of my 150 year old apartment building in Budapest....I don't drink the tap water; neither do most of my Hungarian neighbors. I do brush my teeth with it. Besides learning which water has gas (yuck) and which is still is half the fun. A hint, if it's pink you can drink (talking about the bottle label. Generally still water has a pink label.)

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

One week in each of Prague and Budapest the last two summers, and no hint of any problem drinking plain old water exclusively (as in we do not buy bottled water anywhere). Not in Vienna but I can't imagine there is any issue. Not only that, but there was never a hassle or charge for getting ordinary water served to us in restaurants there.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
556 posts

In a restaurant, I would order bottled water. As far as safety if you brush your teeth with the water, you are as likely to get sick as if you drink it, more or less. Google CDC Czech Republic etc. to see the official U.S. government recommendation - but my local travel health office said not to worry about it. I am a big worrier about such things, and brushed with tap water in Prague and Budapest, also several smaller towns and cities. We mostly bought bottled water in Budapest, because there was a grocery store nearby; also as much as we could in Prague, but I also filled my bottle with tap water and it was fine. Full disclosure, I have been immunized against Hep A, so that was a factor in my deciding not to worry about it. In Vienna, it's like anywhere else in western Europe no concerns.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

I'd like to put this to the "don't drink the water posters": Have you EVER gotten sick from drinking this, or have you just avoided it?
Our first hand experience over many days is the water is fine. If there were any issue, we would have gotten sick, as would the population. This is not a case such as, for example, St. Petersburg or Moscow, where the warnings are out there regarding giardia and chemicals that are present in the system.

Posted by Celenda
St. Marys, GA, USA
6 posts

Thanks, all of you. I consider all travel to be adventurous, but I try to avoid the point at which it becomes reckless.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17776 posts

Celenda, I haven't been to Budapest yet, but the tap water in Austria and the Czech Republic is just fine. I suspect that regulatory authorities in each country ensure that potable water meets modern standards (although some places in Greece are an exception, where bottled water in necessary). Happy travels!

Posted by Diane
Faribault
5 posts

Hi Celenda,
I have a sensitive stomach, and I am usually quite cautious. However, I have stayed in all of the cities that you mentioned, and did not have any problem with drinking the tap water. I don't stay in high class hotels, either, but in B & B's.

Posted by janet
Philadelphia, PA, USA
433 posts

Hi! Just want to put in a word of correction as to Greece's modernity and hygiene. VIrtually anywhere in Greece the water is "potable," that is to say, as safe as in other European countries ... however because many of the islands are so dry, they must use desalinization to supply tap water. And as we all know, desalinized water is not that tasty, thus the wide use of bottled water there. Santorini is an example. A neighboring island, Naxos, has excellent springs, and besides the very acceptable water in the public system there are spring-fed water taps in several streets of Naxos town where locals fill bottles for home use, as do restaurants. Experienced travellers in Greece are aware of the difference between potable and tasty.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17776 posts

@janet, Some further clarification regarding the drinking water situation in Greece, using specific examples..... > Santorini - the de-salinated water may be "safe" but it tastes BAD! Therefore using bottled water is a good idea. > Naxos - while the water itself may be "safe" I was told in VERY strong terms by the people at the Hotel that I should NOT drink the tap water, except in the small street fountains in various parts of the town, which were marked as "drinking water". It wasn't that the water was unsafe, but rather that the piping was very old and had a high lead content. > Hydra - I was told that much of the water is transported by Tanker (twice daily) and the Guide recommended bottled water. in my experience it had the unmistakeable odour and taste of diesel so again, so I found the Guides advice was spot on. > Monemvasia / Gefyra - again, the water may be "safe" but it tastes dreadful! I've found that outside of larger centres like Athens, using bottled water was usually the best policy. Cheers!

Posted by George
Independence, KS, USA
532 posts

I don't intend to agitate the bottled water crowd, but a number of bottled water brands in a lot of countries, including the US, is just once-filtered tap water at best. We always drink the local tap water from Saigon to Budapest and from Bloemfontein to Istanbul and most places in between. Never had a problem.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

Let's get an actual survey- who has actually gotten sick from drinking the tap water in Budapest?

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

Not me, I've never been there. I didn't get sick from the water in Bucuresti where I was.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

1. The link looks like CDC, cover-your-tail, boiler plate. 2. To particiapte in the survey, do you have to actually have been to Budapest and drunk the water, or what? a - What if somebody brought you Budapest water in a dirty jug and you drank it in Chicago and got sick? b - What if you were in Budapest and drank the water and got sick from bad shrimps? c - I thought Bucuresti was in Romania, how can that count? There's got to be some friggin ground rules for a survey. Plus, people tell fibs on the internet, so they're going to have to swear to the honesty of their answers on their CaptainMidnightPowerRing.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

Why, Ed, you are absolutely correct! So let's go back to what i asked earlier - is there anyone who can actually report that they got sick drinking Budapest water? And on my Green Lantern oath (better power ring), my wife and I had no problem on 1 week of Budapest (and Szentendre) tap water,1 week of Prague's water, and two days of Cesky Krumlov's. Nor their food, prepared in the same water, eaten with utensils washed in the same water.
And for that matter, not from our clothes, cold-water washed in same water supply. BTW, having lived with Philadelphia's water supply for so many years, I can tell you that the Budapest water tastes much better.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

I would have let this die, but I just discovered the following, Rick Steves' own answer to the tap water question, straight from his "The Dirty Thirty - More Cheap Tricks" page here: "Know the local word for tap water. While wine, beer and coffee are wonderful parts of the European experience, drinks cost travelers about $15 a day. Tap water, however, is free and drinkable almost everywhere. Use a refillable water bottle for juice and water." I'd bold or italicize "Tap water, however, is free and drinkable almost everywhere" if I knew how.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
7976 posts

Since Larry brought it back up: I've been to quite a few places in the world and if it comes out of a pipe, I drink it. Pretty much the same for wells. I balk at cisterns. The only exception would be where somebody who lives there says not to. The only exception to the exception was one place where I chickened out and brushed my teeth with beer. I do have one friend who steadfastly claims he got a social disease from the water, but . . . And, for the survey that wasn't: Budapest is fine.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

And if you brush your teeth in beer in Budapest, I understand they have great dental bargains available there to take care of the tooth decay.

Posted by Celenda
St. Marys, GA, USA
6 posts

You all are awesome, knowledgeable, and funny. I love that you all contributed. Thanks so much.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
2608 posts

I drink the tap water all over Europe and never had a problem. The only place I am careful about the water is Mexico or Guatemala.... otherwise I save myself a lot of money, although I probably tend to look like a cheap American when I insist on tap water and refuse the bottled.

Posted by VS
Palo Alto, CA, United States
556 posts

Regarding getting sick -- there are different varieties of water born illness. Intestinal problems are one thing, can be very inconvenient for a couple of days. Hepatitis is a very different matter -- you can be sick like the flu for months, and it can really mess up your liver. I agree that the CDC has an incentive to be overly conservative, which is why one should consult their travel health clinic. That said, even the CDC hepatitis risk map seems to show Hungary as low risk, which conflicts with their recommending the vaccine for high and intermediate risk countries. I think Hungary is fine, and as I said, I am worrier.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

How is it that by insisting on tap water and refusing bottled water it makes one look like a cheap American?
Did I miss the memo that stated that one must drink bottled water in order to show their status, and therefore if one doesn't there is something wrong with them?

Posted by Joseph
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A.
126 posts

Recently I've drunk tap water in Vienna, Salzburg, and Budapest, and was never sickened. In the past, I've drunk water in England, Ireland, Amsterdam, Paris, Portugal, Germany, Italy, including Sicily, and Bulgaria...and was never sickened.

Posted by Barb
Andover, MN, USA
110 posts

I agree with drink tap water everywhere if it tastes good. Almost everywhere. I went to India in Feb. and was told not to even brush your teeth with the water and to keep your mouth closed in the shower - even in a 4 star hotel. My doctor is from India and when she goes back SHE drinks bottled water.

Posted by Kim
Paris
545 posts

another Budapest-water drinker for many years and never sick. . . the idea makes me laugh, frankly! although I do remember being told by our INTURIST guide in Leningrad (!) definitely not to drink the water there, then, and brushing with mineral water . . . a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Posted by Larry
Elkins Park, PA
575 posts

Leningrad does in fact have a serious and known problem of giardia (along with other chemical issues, Moscow does also) in their water supply and boiling or chemical treatment of their tap water is necessary. This problem still exists now in St. Petersburg. I am interested to see how this issue will be handled for my son as he does a semester abroad in St. Petersburg come January, the program places the college kids with host families, and not in dorms.

Posted by Ray
Tigard, OR, USA
145 posts

I have been to the cities in question and not gotten sick from the water. I brush my teeth with it and drink it sparingly (just not a big water drinker) but also had no concerns with ice or washing fruit etc.

Posted by Liz
Watertown, MA, USA
16 posts

First off, if you're going to brush your teeth with the water, you may as well drink it in the restaurant! It only takes microscopic amounts to make you sick. Having said that, you will not get sick from the water in Europe unless there is a highly unusual occurance, just like in the US. I've drank the tap water in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Vienna, Prague, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, etc. I've also drank the tap water in San Jose, Costa Rica and Bogota, Colombia, once I thouroghly reviewed the reports of travellers and recent renovations projects to those cities, as well as CDC reports. I also brought anti-diarrheals and antibiotics with me. A lot of times people will get mild diarrhea because they overeat on vacation, but this is not the same as "travellers' diarrhea" caused by the water.
I ordered "agua del grifo" everywhere in Spain, and was only moderately successful in acquiring it - some places in Europe it's just customary to charge for beverages, and you'll notice most Europeans drink bottled water, too. It doesn't mean it's safer (bottled water is not highly regulated for safety).

Posted by Paul
Sioux Falls, SD, USA
214 posts

We stayed in Budapest for 5 days in 2011. We stayed in a Commie-era high rise, and ate meals in the rooms and out in restaurants. We definitely drank coffee in the rooms (water boiled), tea, and brushed our teeth. We had NO PROBLEMS. AT ALL.

Posted by Sarah
Stuttgart, Germany
2012 posts

I can't believe that some of the more seasoned travelers here buy into tap water fear mongering. Yes, most people in Hungary and almost anywhere in Europe drink bottled water. Because Europeans dig bottled water (and fizzy water at that). That has NOTHING to do with the quality of the tap water. In Germany the water is great but most Germans drink bottled water at home. I have no idea why. (I say with my big bottle of wasser mit gas next to me - OK, I do like the bubbles). I drank the tap water in Romania, Serbia, BiH, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria and I was fine, and I do have a sensitive stomach (and have gotten sick from either water or food in Mexico, where drinking tap water IS a real problem). It's FINE.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

We drank the tap water in Istanbul and didn't get sick. Steves's recommendation not to is erroneous.

Posted by Devika
Olympia, WA
14 posts

Hi all We are scheduled to go to Prague, Budapest, Slovenia and Turkey next summer. We were planning on drinking tap water everywhere. We have rarely bought bottled water on our Europe trips and have not fallen sick yet! But now Rick Steves' Istanbul book tells us to avoid tap water in Istanbul as it can make a person sick. He says to even be careful while brushing teeth and having a shower. Now for the record, I am from India with an almost cast iron stomach. My kids have been to India several times and we have managed with either boiled tap water or filtered tap water. So is it really bad in Istanbul? Has anyone fallen sick in Istanbul from drinking tap water? This is more of a curiosity question. If we need to we will of course buy bottled water. We are planning on going to Selcuk and Bodrum too. As I mentioned earlier we have never encountered any stomach problems during our numerous trips and would not like to start now.
Thanks in advance.

Posted by Devika
Olympia, WA
14 posts

Thanks, Monte. It is good to know that you had no problems. We usually prefer tap water as it is accessible and we do not have to go hunting for bottled water every time. In fact as we travel mostly during summer, due to school vacations, we put the bottles in the freezer (we also prefer to stay in apts.)the night before. That way we have chilled water for most of the day.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
683 posts

Devika - I don't know why the Steves' guide tells you not to drink tap water in Istanbul; but the Rough Guide says the same whilst making it clear that its not a health issue, rather one of taste (i.e. it tastes awful). On the other hand one person has already said they drank it and he didn't comment on the taste, so perhaps it is OK after all - I have always avoided it (and bottled water is sold all over and very cheap).

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9130 posts

"That has NOTHING to do with the quality of the tap water. In Germany the water is great but most Germans drink bottled water at home. I have no idea why." At least in my neck of the woods, it's because the water has a very acrid taste. Perfectly safe for drinking, but not particularly refreshing.