Most of Budapest's backstreets and historic quarters are eminently suited to walking - and this is much the best way to appreciate their character. Traffic is restricted in downtown Pest and around the Várhegy in Buda, and fairly light in the residential backstreets off the main boulevards, which are the nicest areas to wander around.
However, if you do need to make use of public transport , Budapest has an excellent system, which ensures that few parts of the city are more than thirty minutes' journey from the centre; many places can be reached in half that time. It doesn't take long to pick up the basics and it's also much better value than taxis , which sometimes overcharge tourists, and preferable to driving or cycling amidst the traffic jams and exhaust fumes that afflict the main thoroughfares. Budapest's outer suburbs are well served by the overground HÉV train network, while Danube ferries and the Children's Railway in the Buda Hills offer fun excursions. See the website of the Budapest Transport Company (BKV) for more information: www.bkv.hu .
The metro, buses, trams and trolley buses
Running at two- to twelve-minute intervals between 4.30am and 11.10pm, Budapest's metro reaches most areas of interest to tourists, its three lines intersecting at Deák tér in downtown Pest. From nearby Vörösmarty tér, the yellow line (line 1) runs out beneath Andrássy út toMexikoi út, beyond the Városliget. The red line (line 2) connects Déli Station in Buda with Keleti Station and Örs vezér tere in Pest; and the blue line (line 3) describes an arc from Kobánya-Kispest to Újpest-Központ, via Ferenciek tere and Nyugati Station. There's little risk of going astray once you've learned to recognize the signs bejárat (entrance), kijárat (exit), vonal (line) and felé (towards). Drivers announce the next stop between stations and the train's direction is indicated by the name of the station at the end of the line.
A word of warning: there's an active pickpocket battalion on both the metro (especially the yellow line) and the city buses. Gangs distract their victims by pushing them or blocking their way, and empty their pockets or bags at the same time.
Buses ( autóbusz ) are useful for journeys that can't be made by metro - especially around Buda, where Moszkva tér (on the red line) and Móricz Zsigmond körtér (southwest of Gellért-hegy) are the main bus terminals. Bus stops are marked by a blue sign with the label "autóbusz" or with a picture of a bus in the centre, and have timetables underneath; most buses run every ten to twenty minutes from 5am to 11pm ( Utolsó kocsi indul ? means "the last one leaves ?"). Regular services are numbered in black, buses with red numbers make fewer stops en route, and those with a red "E" suffix run non-stop between terminals. You should punch your own ticket on board; to get the bus to stop, push the button above the door or on the handrail beside the door. Busy routes are also served by night buses (up to four every hour), with black numbers and an "É" suffix.
Yellow trams ( villamos ) are chiefly good for travelling around the Great Boulevard or along the embankments. Services run from early in the morning to 11pm. Trolley buses ( trolibusz ) mostly operate northeast of the centre near the Városliget. The reason route numbers start at 70 is that the first trolley bus line was inaugurated on Stalin's seventieth birthday in 1949. Trolley bus #83 was started in 1961, when Stalin would have been 83.
Budapest's taxis have gained themselves a reputation for ripping off foreigners - the best advice is to use one of the following established companies: Fo taxi (tel 1/222-2222) or Citytaxi (tel 1/211-1111), the most reliable; Tele-5-taxi (tel 1/355-5555); and Volántaxi (tel 1/466-6666). Avoid unmarked private cars and those hanging around the stations and airport - the latter often charge a far higher rate than the official taxi from the airport into town. There are also fake Fo and City taxis, sporting copies of the red-and-white chequerboard or yellow shield logos, which will charge you a vastly inflated price.
Taxis can be flagged down on the street or, for a cheaper rate, ordered by phone. There are ranks throughout the city and you can hop into whichever cab you choose - don't feel you have to opt for the one at the front of the line if it looks at all dodgy. Be sure your taxi has a meter that is visible, and that it is switched on when you get in; rates should also be clearly displayed. Fares begin at 200Ft, and the price per kilometre is around 250Ft.
Driving and cycling
All things considered, driving in Budapest can't be recommended. Road manners are nonexistent, parking space is scarce and traffic jams are frequent. The Pest side of the Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) and the roundabout before the tunnel under Várhegy are notorious for collisions. Careering trams, bumpy cobbles and unexpected one-way systems make things worse. If you do have a car, you might be better off parking it somewhere outside the centre and using public transport to get in and out. It's best not to leave it unattended for too long, though.
If you want to rent a car , choose one of the Western models offered by most companies (in the region of $70 a day, with special weekly rates) - old Russian Ladas, though cheaper, should be avoided. It's worth checking whether mileage and insurance are included in the price, and if there's a surcharge. Most places accept a credit card as a deposit; if you don't have one, you can expect to pay upwards of $1000.
Cyclists must contend with the same hazards as drivers, as well as sunken tram-lines, and they are also banned from most major thoroughfares. However, cycle routes are now appearing, for example, up Andrássy út and along the Buda bank of the Danube to Szentendre and beyond, and the numbers of cyclists has shot up. Tourinform has free cycling maps of Budapest, or you can buy them in map shops. Budapest is the best place in Hungary for repairs or to buy a bike for use elsewhere; we've listed details of bike shops and rental outlets. Bicycles can be carried on HÉV trains and the Cogwheel Railway for the price of a single ticket, but not on buses or trams.
Overground HÉV trains provide easy access to Budapest's suburbs, running at least four times an hour between 6.30am and 11pm. As far as tourists are concerned, the most useful line is the one from Batthyány tér (on the red metro line) out to Szentendre , north of Budapest, which passes through Óbuda, Aquincum and Római-Fürdo. The other lines originate in Pest, with one running northeast from Örs vezér tere (also on the red metro line) to Gödöllo via the Formula One racing track at Mogyoród; the other southwards from Soroksári út (bus #23 or #54 from Boráros tér) to Ráckeve , on Csepel sziget. On all these routes, a normal city transport ticket will take you to the city limits, beyond which you must punch additional tickets according to the distance travelled. Alternatively, you can purchase a ticket that covers the whole journey at the ticket office in the station or from the conductor on board.
Ferries and other rides
Although ferries play little useful part in the transport system, they do offer an enjoyable ride. From May to September there are boats between Boráros tér (by Petofi híd) and Batthyány tér up to Jászai Mari tér and Rómaifürdo - running every fifteen to thirty minutes between 7am and 7pm and costing 200-450Ft. From May to August there is also a boat from the Jászai Mari tér dock to Pünkösdfürdo in northern Buda (1hr; check times on the board at the main dock), though you might prefer to disembark at Margit sziget, before the boat reaches dismal Békásmegyer. Ferry tickets can be obtained from kiosks (where timetables are posted) or machines at the docks.
Other pleasure rides can be found in the Buda Hills, on the Cogwheel Railway ( Fogaskereku vasút ), the Children's Railway ( Gyermekvasút ) - largely staffed by kids - and the chairlift ( libego ) between Zugliget and János-hegy. Details for all of these are given in the "Buda Hills" section.
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