Planning your trip to Budapest? I’m sure you’ve already read about the things to do in Budapest, what to eat and where to stay, but you should also know what not to do! Here are 12 mistakes to avoid when visiting Budapest. Not all of these are typical tourist mistakes, locals also commit errors. It can be a simple misunderstanding, inattention to details or lack of curiosity and adventure. Some of these are innocent and won’t cause you any harm. However, some of the following mistakes can affect your trip negatively and can even be costly. I’ll help you to remember these most common tourist mistakes.
1. Thinking that everything is pricey
Budapest is beautiful and amazing and just walking on the edge of the Danube can be a wonderful experience and it won’t cost you extra money, you have to pay only to go in, down or up. I’ll share my favourite free and low-cost spots with you. For more ideas read my travel guide to Budapest and the 40 reasons to fall in love with Budapest.
Climb up Gellért Hill
Approach Gellért Hill (Gellért hegy) from either Liberty bridge (Szabadság híd) or Erzsébet bridge and follow the green triangle sign to the top, which stands at 130 meters above the Danube. From this height, you can see the contrast between Buda and Pest. Buda is characterised by hills and the Castle District in the foreground dominates the view. However, Pest is flat and only a few landmarks emerge from the skyline like the Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica and Budapest eye.
I wrote more about Gellért Hill in my Top 5 viewpoints in Budapest post.
Wander around Buda Castle
The large area of Castle District offers many attractions like the Royal Palace, Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church. The view from the panorama terraces is breathtaking and there’s a lot to see… Margaret island, Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica, the bridges and Danube, Gellért Hill and the Castle District itself.
Admire the Neo-Gothic facade of the 78 meters high Matthias Church with the colourful Zsolnay tiles from outside. Want to see more? After paying an admission fee, you can explore the interior of the church (1500 HUF) or climb 197 steps in the tower for the best panorama (1500 HUF including a guided tour).
Go into St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István bazilika) is the tallest church in Budapest with its dome reaching the height of 96 meters. The dome’s inner height is 65 meters and the interior is covered with 50 types of marble and precious stone, decorated with mosaics instead of frescoes. I’d also recommend visiting the Panorama Lookout Tower because for 2 euros (600 HUF) you’ll get a 360 degrees view of Budapest! Find out more information about the basilica and the Panorama Lookout Tower.
Discover the Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok) is visited by locals and tourist alike thanks to its fresh products and remarkable architecture. The roof of the building is decorated with ornamental tiles produced by the famous Hungarian Zsolnay manufacture. The ground floor offers fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses as well as pastries. You can buy a nice package of dried or powdered paprika and sausage as a souvenir. The upper floor awaits with even more souvenirs (handicrafts, embroideries and Budapest themed products) and the food stalls serve Hungarian dishes, be aware that it can be quite busy during lunch time. The basement displays the unique Hungarian products also known as Hungaricums.
2. Relying on tourist buses
Hop-on hop-off and other tourist buses can provide you with a pleasant sightseeing tour by showing you the touristy landmarks and whispering the Hungarian history into your headphones. But these trips aren’t cheap and the schedule doesn’t allow you enough flexibility! Don’t worry, I have another solution for you 😉
Discover Budapest on foot and use public transportation
Walk! It’s still the best way to explore a city thoroughly. Stop whenever you want, drink in local coffee shops, admire the street art and discover the hidden gems. There’s a lot to see in Budapest and the attractions don’t stand next to each other, but the public transport system will ease your trip and take you wherever you want.
Tram 2 on the Pest side is considered a tourist sightseeing tram and only costs a single ticket! The vintage yellow cars run along the Danube between Jászai Mari square and Rákóczi bridge. You can take off at the Parliament, Chain bridge, Vigadó, Great Market Hall, Bálna and Palace of Arts.
Why pay for expensive river cruises, when with a single ticket and the public transport boat service you can discover the city from a different angle. The boats stop at the main attractions but operate only from May to October, so check the timetables on the homepage of the BKK before planning.
3. Not validating your public transport ticket
Serious mistake, which can cost you 16 000 HUF (~ 50 euros).
Public transport ticket inspectors are dressed in everyday clothes and can pop up anywhere and ask for your ticket or pass. At the metro stations the controllers stand next to the validating machines, so make sure to show them your pass or the validated ticket.
Buy and validate your public transport ticket
On main stations, you can find BKK ticket vending machines to buy any kind of ticket, which is valid on every vehicle. Choose a single ticket (350 HUF) or a 24-hour ticket (1650 HUF) or a block of 10 tickets (3000 HUF) depending on the duration of your stay. Learn more about the ticket types and prices on the website of BKK (Centre for Budapest Transport).
In Budapest the ticket usage is different than in other European cities. Here a single ticket is valid only for a single trip and doesn’t include transfers outside of the metro. If you change vehicles on your way, make sure to use another single ticket.
And don’t forget to validate it! A non-validated ticket in your pocket won’t save you from a fine. So validate it!
4. Missing out on ruin bars
Most of the tourists enjoy Budapest because of its outstanding nightlife, legendary ruin bars and affordable prices. Of course, if you go to a fancy cocktail bar, it won’t be cheap, but still not as expensive as other European capitals.
Having fun in ruin bars
The 7th district is the best area to find ruin bars, where the abandoned houses have been filled with life, vintage furniture and a little hipster vibe.
The most famous is Szimpla Kert and it can be very crowded on Friday and Saturday evening, you have to wait in the queue to get in. So I’d recommend visiting it during the day or on Sundays, when it turns into Szimpla Farmers’ Market. Another popular ruin bar is Instant-Fogas (used to be Fogasház), which is a good party place, but also busy during the weekend.
5. Not drinking Hungarian pálinka
If you’re in Hungary, drink pálinka!
Pálinka is a traditional Hungarian spirit. It is made of ripe fruits, the most commons are apricot (one of my favourites), pear, plum and cherry. Be aware, it’s very strong. Its alcohol content can be from 40 to 70 %.
Sometimes we drink it before the meal as an appetizer, sometimes after the meal to finish the dinner properly and sometimes just for fun 😉 The suggested method to drink it: inhale deeply, drink (for one sip or more) and enjoy the fruity flavour during exhaling. Cheers! Or should I say Egészségedre!
6. Not eating traditional Hungarian food
Hungarian food is very delicious, but not everything is about paprika and goulash. True, goulash soup is unique and tasty, but Hungary has a lot more to offer. We also have delicious street foods like lángos and chimney cake. In my Budapest food guide to traditional Hungarian dishes I wrote about the best ones and also included a description about the mysterious egg noodle (nokedli) and the other side dishes.
Eat like a local, try out a few traditional Hungarian dishes
I’m not asking you to eat every day in a Hungarian restaurant, but do try it out. You can eat a goulash soup (gulyásleves) or a Fisherman’s soup (halászlé) as a starter, a meat stew or stuffed cabbage as a main dish and don’t forget about desserts and Hungarian wines. Read my Budapest food guide to know what to order in a Hungarian restaurant.
7. Not checking the bill before paying
Choosing the right restaurants and bars is very important. When we are hungry and thirsty, we care about nothing but filling our belly. Usually, it’s better to look around because some restaurants and bars aren’t flawless, especially around the touristy areas. Make sure that the menu displays the prices, so you know what you are paying for. World Nomads wrote a scary article about Budapest Bar Scam. I’m disappointed that things like this can happen in my lovely city. Read it and don’t be a victim.
Of course, most of the restaurant are correct, however, innocent mistakes can happen. Sometimes the restaurant is busy and mixes up the orders and you get the wrong bill.
Always check the prices on the bill before paying and tipping!
The final price on your bill can cost more than your order. Go through the items and the prices. The service can be included in some places. If not and if you’re satisfied with the service, you can give around 10% tip.
8. Forgetting to learn a few Hungarian expressions
The Hungarian language is unique with its complicated letters and its pronunciation. But it’s always nice to hear a tourist trying to speak Hungarian. Among tourists, the most popular word remains Egészségedre! It means Cheers! Kind of hard to pronounce it, but you’ll be satisfied when you’ll pronounce it correctly and we are happy to help you because we like to drink and say Egészségedre!
Learn a few of these Hungarian words
Hi = Szia [see-ya]
How are you? = Hogy vagy? [Hodge vadge]
How are you, my friend? = Hogy vagy, barátom? [Hodge vadge barat-om]
Thank you = Köszönöm [Koh-sur-nom]
Sorry = Bocsánat [Bots-ana-t]
Cheers = Egészségedre [Egg-esh-ay-ged-reh]
Beer = Sör [Sure]
Wine = Bor [Boar]
You’re beautiful = Szép vagy [Say-p vadge]
Yes = Igen [Ea-gen]
No = Nem [Nem]
9. Presuming that everyone speaks English
Don’t know which way to go? Can’t find the Hungarian restaurant, what I recommended? Just ask it and let’s hope that the first person passes by speaks English.
Find the right people to help you
In the city centre you’ll have better chances to find an English speaker local and you might have bigger luck with younger people because older Hungarian people usually don’t speak English. Tourists sometimes complain about Hungarian people not speaking English. Not totally true. Some of us learnt English, you just have to find us 😉
10. Travelling by taxi and not checking the meter
It’s easy to catch a taxi. Wave them, call them or order your taxi via app. Taxify, City Taxi and Főtaxi have their own apps with an English option. The base fee is 700 HUF and every minute costs 75 HUF and above 15 km the km charge is 300 HUF.
If you want to pay by card, first ask the driver about it. If it’s not possible and the driver offers to take you to an ATM, just walk away as you might get robbed.
Always check the taximeter! Always!
They’ve never scammed me, but the internet is full of stories about how taxi drivers deceived the tourists. The drivers suppose the tourists aren’t aware of the rates, have loads of money and they can overcharge them. But you are smart and you’ll look at the taximeter 🙂
11. Exchanging money at the airport and at Western Union
Hungary is part of the European Union since 2004, but we still have our currency called forint (HUF). 1 euro is around 320 forints.
Paying by card is very common, yet, a few places still don’t accept cards, so be prepared with some cash. There are many ATMs and money exchange options in the city. Though try to avoid Western Union, as they offer high rates. Make sure to compare the “buy” and “sell” rates and if the difference is more than a few forints, find another place.
If you arrive by plane, don’t stop desperately at the Interchange at the airport. In most taxis, you can pay with cards and the public transport vendor machines also accept cards.
Buy Hungarian forint at smaller exchange places in the city
In the city centre, around Deák Ferenc square you can find smaller and friendlier exchange places. Buy some forints at Ibla Change at the corner of Anker alley or at Tünde Change on your way to Váci street.
12. Not paying attention to your belongings
In crowded areas and events, always look after your belongings and don’t tempt robbers and pickpockets.
Don’t leave your bag and valuables on the table without supervision. Ask your friend to take a look at it or bring it with you.
I don’t want to frighten you or sound like your parents. I just want you to prevent trouble and to leave Budapest with good memories.
These were 12 mistakes to avoid when visiting Budapest. I hope I listed the main mistakes. If I missed something, please leave a comment below and let me know about it. Enjoy your trip!
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