See what Eastern Europe has to offer with Emer Sugrue’s guide to Budapest
There is a great train that stretches all the way from Hamburg to Budapest and is used by all backpackers. You can hop on and off at any stage with an InterRail pass, or buy a ticket for any part of the journey. Seats are not allocated – as many as possible are sold and if you don’t manage to cram yourself on then you have to wait for the next one. Normally this isn’t a problem, but last August thanks to the Sziget festival, the train was packed. Sziget is one of the largest music festivals in Europe, with nearly 400,000 people attending annually and over a thousand acts performing. It is held in the centre of Budapest on one of the many islands on the river Danube and makes Budapest the city to be in over August, so be sure to get your ticket early to avoid feeling left out.
Apart from the train, Budapest is breathtakingly beautiful. The city is dominated by the Danube, with important buildings to be found on either side of its banks. From the huge central Széchenyi Chain Bridge you can see the baroque Buda Castle, rebuilt in the sixteenth century after the destruction of the original medieval castle, and the neo-gothic Parliament House – the biggest building in Hungary. Everything along the river is lit up at night, making for spectacular scenery. Most of the museums are around this area, and though you have to pay for entry, they offer student deals and discounts for visiting more than one. Even without these the fee amounts to no more than a few Euros. There are also free walking tours several times a day, each showing different aspects of the city.
Budapest is very easy to get around, either by foot or metro. The cost of the metro is reasonable, which is fortunate, because unlike most of the surrounding countries, it is impossible to get on without a valid ticket. There are staff at every entrance and exit checking and stamping tickets and they come down hard on anyone trying to cheat, so be warned. Taxis are expensive because they know only tourists will take them, but your hostel might be able to help you out, both to assist you with the language barrier and to make sure you don’t get ripped off too badly. There are day trips you can do outside the city but if you are only staying a short time then the centre has plenty to offer in a small space, making even the metro unnecessary if your hostel has a central location. Ultimately, Budapest demands a comfortable shoe.
One thing you should not scrimp on is your accommodation. While there are plenty of cheap hostels, many of them are outside the city centre, and the metro does not extend very far. The average quality is not as good as other cities, and at busy times you could easily end up paying over the odds for a dirty, noisy dorm. Along with the beautiful sites there are scary back streets full of boarded-up strip joints so pay attention to the ratings on the booking site.
The food is similar to other Eastern European cities; lots of meat, potato, stews and dumplings, and all delicious. Because it’s such a tourist-reliant city, it’s not as easy to get a cheap meal as other places. Depending on your budget you may have to take a walk away from the castles and museums, but even nice places aren’t outlandish. Two things make it feel more expensive than it is; first, if you have been travelling around a lot and come from somewhere like Slovakia, everything over a Euro seems horrifying. It’s amazing how quickly your expectations can adjust. The second is the currency. Hungary uses the Forint, worth approximately 320 to the euro. Paying over a thousand of anything will give you pause, even if it’s actually a fantastic deal. Even the cafés aimed at tourists are much cheaper than anywhere in Dublin.
Although maybe not as budget-friendly as the rest of Eastern Europe, Budapest has plenty to offer anyone with a love of travel, food or history, and an adventurous spirit.