Local Transportation in Hungary
Hungary has a surprisingly efficient transportation system, including international, domestic, and commuter trains, buses, trams, and the metro.
Regardless of the mode of transport, fares are remarkably affordable, if not downright cheap.
For frequent commuters, monthly passes that cover all modes of public transportation are available at all major metro ticket booths and other main transit stations. If you are a student or younger than twenty-six, be sure to ask for the discounted student pass or youth fare. A cheaper tram-and-metro-only pass is offered for those who don’t need to rely on the bus system. The Hungarian Flexipass allows travel throughout Hungary for 10 days in a month for US$69.
Budapest is the only city in Hungary with an extensive public transportation system that includes a combination of metro, tram, and commuter bus lines.
Budapest’s metro is both efficient and inexpensive. It’s composed of three color-coded lines that intersect in the center of town and radiate outward. Each station is marked with an “M” enclosed in a circle. The Pest side of town is far better served by metro lines than the older Buda half of the city. Unless you live near the one metro line that crosses under the Danube into Buda, you will need to become familiar with both the tram and bus lines.
Though the Budapest metro is easy to figure out, you can buy a metro map at any of the stations from the same window that sells tickets.
Tickets also are available from coin-operated dispensers that demand exact change and from some tobacco shops. Before you enter the main part of the metro platform, you must validate your ticket in one of the little orange machines standing in the passageway to each platform. If you’re caught riding the metro without a valid ticket, you will likely be scolded and issued a small fine. (It’s not worth the embarrassment just to save a few forints.) Also, remember to validate a new ticket every time you switch lines. The metro only runs from 4:30 am to 11pm, so you will need to catch a taxi, a bus, or a night tram if you stay out too late.
Tram lines snake through many of the main streets in Budapest, but they aren’t as extensive as the bus routes. In the heart of the city, the trams are often jam-packed, but they are quick. Remember to punch your ticket in one of the validators located near the doors, if you can muscle through the crowd.
Buses are the best bet for reaching the more out-of-the-way places in Budapest. Though they run frequently, they often are crowded.
If you travel outside of Budapest, domestic bus fares in Hungary are comparable to train fares, though the trains are generally more comfortable. Because buses travel to some of the more out-of-the-way places where trains don’t venture, you will need to familiarize yourself with bus routes and schedules if you settle in a remote small town.
Though it’s usually possible to buy your ticket when you board, we recommend getting a reservation in advance. You never know when the bus will be crowded.
Taxi cabs are great if you want to get where you’re going fast. Taxi drivers, on the other hand, can cause you a lot of grief if you’re not careful. No matter where you are in Eastern Europe, taxi drivers are notorious for overcharging foreigners, especially those who obviously are fresh over the border. Try to avoid expensive-looking taxis such as Mercedes or other fancy makes, and make sure the meter works. Fares should be posted on the dashboard. If the driver tries to put one over on you by taking a circuitous route or by not using his meter, make him aware (politely) that you know his game.
Most train lines in Hungary employ Budapest as their hub and radiate outward from there. Though the train network does have lines that connect cities and towns in the outlying areas, sometimes it is faster to go back through Budapest to reach your final destination.
Local trains are very slow when compared to express trains, so it’s wise to differentiate between them if your final destination lies on an express train line. You will find yourself pondering many a pasture or field if you make the mistake of riding a local train when an express is available.
All train reservations must be made in person at one of the main stations in Budapest, at Ibusz (the national travel agency), or at the central office of either MAV (Hungarian rail agency) or Malev (Air Hungary).