Budapest is a loud and abrasive city, and yet the roughness is made smooth by the Hungarians’ dispositions and the city’s architectural grandeur. It has the sounds of a major metropolis, like that of New York City, only accompanied by Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody rather than Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
The Hungarians are extremely friendly people and were nothing but pleasant towards me during my stay in Budapest. There were many bums walking around, easy to spot carrying their Spar bags with their worldly possessions stuffed inside. But what’s different about the bums in Budapest is that not every one of them are begging continuously. In fact most of them just blend into the crowd of people, only they appear more rugged and less clean than the people surrounding them. Walking on the Buda side of the city I even walked past a bum reading on the sidewalk, enraptured by the pages and words leaping out at him with more importance than Hungarian Forints. It could be that I just happened to observe the bums on their break from begging (surely even the jobless need a break), but I do believe that the bums in Budapest have a lot more integrity than bums elsewhere.
Some things to be aware of while in Budapest:
1. The currency: some places will accept Euros, but 9 times out of 10 it’s some touristy place with gaudy decorations and advertisements to lure victims in as do the women on Vaci Utca. Trade in those Euros or U.S. Dollars for some Hungarian Forints. The conversion rate is something like 1 dollar for every 223 forints, which will take some getting used to, but you should be able to exchange your cash at a currency exchange office. There are plenty within Budapest and the rates are predominantly favorable (but remember, check the exchange counter rates posted either outside of the exchange office or inside in front of the counter. After all, you don’t want to get ripped out). If this doesn’t work you may also exchange your money at a bank, which usually gives you the best available rate.
2. Speaking of Vaci Utca, there are so many stories of guys being lured into clubs or bars by beautiful women and then having to pay an expensive bill ($300+). Just use common sense, and be on your guard if you’re on Vaci Utca or any major tourist street. I know you see a pretty Hungarian lady approaching you and all you can think is, “can this be my lucky day?” Rethink for a second! Unless it’s normal for strange women to approach you on the streets then just walk on.
3. Is 10 o’clock in the morning a little late for a museum to open? I thought the standard was 9 o’clock? When I visited Budapest I went to the House of Terror and the Hungarian National Museum, and both of these museums opened at 10 o’clock. Not only this but I couldn’t use my student ID card, so I had to pay the adult admission price instead of the student admission price. If you’re an American you need an international student ID card, otherwise be prepared to pay full price for an admission ticket to museums (I’m assuming the same goes for the other museums in Budapest, but this is merely an assumption).
4. Goulash? It’s a must in Budapest! Go to the Central Market Hall right by the Danube River and buy a bowl of goulash at one of the restaurants on the second floor (or first floor in Europe). I bought mine from Fakanal Bisztro and it was amazing. There is limited seating upstairs though, so make sure you grab an available seat before somebody else takes it.
5. The best view of Budapest is from the top of this hill where the Liberty Statue is located. Trust me, the walk to the top of this hill looks more frightening than it really is. And even if it is a harrowing walk to the top, it’s worth it once you see the city from such a vantage point.
6. I’m convinced that all sounds in Budapest are magnified.
7. Budapest is for the most part English-friendly, but don’t depend on this little fact. Like any other city with a different national language from English (except Amsterdam because the Dutch are linguistic extraordinaires), expect to use, at some point, many hand gestures, dumb-downed English, and perhaps a few words in Hungarian (if you decide to learn a little bit of the language before visiting).
8. Do yourself a favor; go to the Buda side of Budapest (Budapest is made up of two cities, Buda and Pest) and check out the view of the Parliament building. You can’t miss it, it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in all of Budapest. This one Hungarian girl told me that there are many different faces to this building, depending on the time of day, season, and weather (much like a Monet painting).
9. Do yourself another favor; avoid Hungarian beer. Unless you like extremely light beer, with a taste close to that of Budweiser (the American Budweiser), then just go for another kind of beer (Czech perhaps?).
10. Get lost in the streets! With any city taking the tram or subway may be practical for specific destinations far from the location of your hotel/hostel/temporary residence, but if there is time to be had, with an abstract idea of where you want to go, walk. There are so many gems in Budapest. To miss out on them because there’s a schedule to follow would be terrible. There’s an energy on the streets; go out and experience it all.
Of course there are more things to be aware of about Budapest, more things to know beforehand, but this is a small list of items that I think will help you if you so choose to visit this most beautiful city.