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The Budapest Opera

When I was planning a trip to Europe with my mom, we wanted to go from Romania to Germany and hit up some of the cities/countries in between. I knew of Budapest’s history with the Ottoman Empire and under the communist influence of the Soviet Union, but I didn’t really know that much about what I’d find there. I also didn’t realize that Budapest would soon become my favorite city in the world. A lot of the time, it’s the things that take you by surprise that end up being the best parts of your trip.

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The Hungarian Forint

I can tell you one thing right now, If you haven’t been to Hungary, it should be at the top of your list. The people are very inviting, the history is vast, and here is something that I experienced, and I’ve found to be very rare. I felt a taste of what it’s like to truly be a local. There is something about Hungary that takes you along for the ride. Like experiences aren’t just happening around you but with you. Maybe it’s the water? And by that I mean the mineral soaking pools that the country is famous for!

If nothing else will motive you to go (please don’t make me leave the pub to drag you over there) there is this, it’s a great value destination, some might even call it cheap. When I say cheap, I mean the standards of living are great, and everything is of great quality, yet the wages unfortunately (fortunately for tourists) haven’t quite caught up with the rest of the countries to the west. You can have a delicious sit down meal and a tasty beer for the equivalent of $5 USD. That’s what I call value. By the time you leave Hungary, you’ll have a lot more that money still in your wallet, you’ll have witnessed a destination that’s unique, dare I say perfect?

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ESSENTIAL INFORMATION

  • The currency in Hungary is the Forint (HUF) and it’s confusing to most of us. The notes are of a much higher number than those of us using the US dollar, Pound or Euro are standard to. I had some 20,000 bills while I was there, and though it was pretty cool. In fact, It’s much easier to be a millionaire over there, though I don’t think you’ll be able to buy as much. Hungary is one of those countries where you’re actually going to have to do some math to figure out how much you’re spending on a daily basis. Be especially mindful of the amounts if you decide to take a cab. If you get the wrong driver, they know tourists, especially tourists they pick up from the train station or airport having freshly arrived, have no idea on the currency and could potentially exploit that.
  • I felt pretty safe in Hungary. As with most of the former Eastern Block countries, crime was severely punished under the Soviet Union and the legacy that it’s engraved into the culture seems to have stuck. That said, be especially mindful of people on public transit. Also, areas around the famous ruin pubs in Budapest attract people looking for tourists. My mom and I were followed for a bit (or so it seemed) by someone, as I tired to lead her back to a ruin pub I’d found the previous night. Not that they had any intentions, perhaps they were just hoping I’d lead them to the pub. Can’t say I wouldn’t understand that one.
  • Hungarian is a really difficult language to learn. Thankfully, for those of us that don’t speak Hungarian, most young Hungarians in the cities know a decent amount of English. Other locals might also know three or four languages so perhaps you can find some common ground. But! As I always recommend, try to learn hello/goodbye/do you speak English?/excuse me as essentials for traveling.
  • Hungarian people are intelligent! I mean how else would they master such a complex language? Joking aside, these guys and gals really know how to get things done. If you’re looking for great conversation, try a ruin pub. Try the local baths. Try anywhere in Hungary! Though, one area I wouldn’t wander into is politics. People always find somewhere to disagree.
  • Laws on drinking in public are not very transparent. There doesn’t seem to be anything to straight forward along the lines of alcohol not being allowed in parks, on streets, ect, however I would say that I didn’t see people walking with beer late at night. Drinks seemed to mostly stay at the pub/bar but then again, most places were the kind of places you;d want to stay all night so there really wasn’t much of a need to hop.
  • If one thing is to be said about drinking in Hungary, it’s that you don’t clink glasses. You raise the classes, make eye contact, “Egészségünkre!”, drink, then eye contact again, then set the glass down.

 


COSTS / SAVING MONEY

  • Hungary is mostly a cash based. I’d use credit cards for some of the main tourist attractions, or buying tickets to the opera. Most smaller restaurants won’t take your plastic. Also, make sure to have a chip based card here, as it’s a standard like most of Europe.
  • The local food is the cheapest. Sure there are your typical kabab stands that will offer comparable prices, and pizza by the slice can be cheap too, but if you have the opportunity to eat Hungarian, do so. A meal here isn’t going to cost you much.
  • Hotels and Hostels are a great price here! If you’re on a long backpacker trip and looking for a place to splurge a bit and get a hotel, this would be the place (although I can recommend a great hostel – see my Budapest Guide). Budapest also makes sense place to fit in a few hours of laundry as you’ll undoubtedly be needing rest at some point and a hotel laundry room or service will make things easier and less crowded.
  • Take pubic transportation. It may seem a little “old school” but the Budapest subway is actually pretty efficient and clean. Also, the taxis here are notorious for ripping people off so be warned. Unfortunately, Uber was banned.