Hungary Tourist Information and Tips
The unit of Hungarian currency is known as the Forint (HUF) . The Hungarian "cent" ( Filler ) is long since obsolete. Bills come in 20000, 10000, 5000, 2000, 1000, 500, 200(until November 2009) HUF denominations, coins are 200 (two colored, similar to ˆ1), 100 (two colored, similar to ˆ2), 50, 20, 10, 5 HUF. As of March 1, 2008, the 2 and 1 HUF coins have been withdrawn, too.
Euro is now accepted at most hotels and some of the restaurants and shops. Make sure you check the exchange rate though, sometimes even well known places (like McDonald's) will exchange at unrealistic rates. Forint is scheduled to disappear around 2012-2013, but no date is fixed yet.
You can use major credit cards (EuroCard, Visa) in major shops and larger restaurants, but never expect that without checking first. Small places cannot afford to handle cards. ATMs are available even in small cities, the coverage is good.
While completing any monetary transactions, it is best to pay in HUF when you can. Some restaurants and hotels charge a steep rate for Euro exchange and often due to the fluctuation in HUF , cost and services stated may vary drastically.
When leaving Hungary after a vacation, it is best to exchange bills and use all Hungary Forint coins before leaving the country. Outside of Hungary, it is very difficult to find a money exchange which will exchange the Forint.
There are 192 forints to the USD and 274 forints to the EUR (04 Sept 2009).
Exchange rates for EUR and USD are roughly the same within downtown. Rates will likely be much worse in airports and large train stations - so change exactly what you need to reach downtown. A good habit is to compare the buy and sell rates: if they are drastically different, you're best going somewhere else. Official exchange offices always give a receipt and normally have a large glass between client and a cashier making all steps transparent for client.
Travellers report that unofficial money changers operating nearby an official money changing booth offer unfavourable rates--and recommend to use official exchange offices. It's worth noting that such exchanges are illegal.
If you arrive to Budapest at late nights it is quite likely you won't be able to find any working bank or exchange office. In this case you may attempt to exchange your money with any random taxi driver. They will rip you off by 100-200 forints (around 1 EUR), but it's better than nothing. There is an ATM in the arrival hall at Budapest Ferihegy, and the rates for using ATMs with a card are often better than the bureau de change. There are many banks machines in Budapest which will except European and North American debit/credit cards, if it becomes necessary, it maybe in your best interest to draw a sufficient amount for your stay and it will often give a more much favorable rate.
Adventurous locals in Budapest report they change EUR unofficially with Arabs on a train station, but they don't recommend it to unaccompanied travellers.
What to buy?
Apart from classical tourist souvenirs like postcards and trinkets, here are some things unique to Hungary or just hard to find elsewhere.
- Cold-smoked sausages
- Gundel set of cheese : aged in Gundel wines or with walnut pieces or seasonings. Most easily found in 350gr sets of three kinds in duty-free of Ferihegy Airport in Budapest (at least in Terminal 2), but is likely available in Gundel 1894 Food & Wine Cellar (see Pest#Eat). Keep in mind that shelf life for this cheese is only 2 months.
- Wines: Tokaji, Egri Bikaver (see Liquor), red wine from Villany area etc. Palinka (strong brandy made from fruits) is also a good choice.
- Spices: Paprika and Hungarian Safran
- Unicum: a herbal digestif liqueur
Main courses in menu are normally 2500..3000HUF in touristy places in Budapest, 1500..1800HUF outside it, or in towns like Eger and Szentendre (March 2009).
A lunch in Budapest is from 900 to 8000 HUF per person, and half or third of that outside Budapest (Chinese fast food menu is around 500 HUF).
In restaurants, a service charge is frequently included into bill, 10% or even 12%, but this has to be clearly pointed out on the menu. If it's not mentioned, the place has no right to include a service charge in the bill.
Even if there's no service charge, unless the service was preposterous most Hungarians tend to leave a generous tip (10% minimum). Unlike in most western countries, tip is usually not left on the table, but rather the amount is specified to the waiting staff when you pay.
There were some places (mainly in downtown Pest) that tried to rip off drunk tourists at night by charging ridiculously high prices for drinks. Most of these places are closed now, but it's still a good idea to always check the prices on the menu before ordering.
In major cities and next to the highways you can find restaurants of the major international chains such as KFC, McDonald's, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway and TGI Friday's.
Hungarians are quite proud of their cuisine ( Magyar konyha ), and most of the time not without a reason. Food are usually spicy (but not hot by general standards), and it's tasty rather than healthy — many dishes are prepared with lard or deep-fried. The national spice is paprika , made from ground sweet bell peppers and which actually has some flavor when fresh. The national dish is, of course, goulash , but Hungarians call the thick paprika-laden stew known as goulash elsewhere by the term porkolt and reserve the term gulyas for a lighter paprika-flavored soup.
Less well known in the rest of the world are paprikas csirke , chicken in paprika sauce, and halaszle , paprika fish soup often made from carp.
Goose is also quite popular in Hungary. While tourists gorge on goose liver ( libamaj ), still cheap by Western standards, probably the most common dish is sult libacomb , roast goose leg . Stuffed ( toltott ) vegetables of all kinds are also popular, and Hungarian pancakes ( palacsinta ), both savoury and sweet, are a treat. Common snacks include kolbasz , a Hungarianized version of the Polish kielbasa sausage, and langos , deep-fried dough with a variety of toppings (mostly sour cream, cheese and/or garlic).
Vegetarians and Vegans will have about as much ease eating out as in any other western country. Budapest is not a problem, as there is a wide variety of restaurants to choose from, but in an ordinary Hungarian restaurant the non-meat mains on the menu are pretty much limited to rantott sajt (fried cheese) and gombafejek rantva (fried mushrooms).
However, in recent years, Italian food has become a lot more popular, so as long as you don't mind a pasta heavy diet as a vegetarian you will find a wider choice.
If one self-caters from supermarkets or local shops and markets, however, the selection of fruits and vegetables is quite good, especially in summer.
There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, and a lot's of healthfood stores that offer all sorts of vegetarian/vegan products (including cosmetics). Regular stores like Groby among other brands sell everything from vegan sausages to mayonaise. A good place to start is looking at Budaveg and Happy Cow for specific information.
- Egri Bikaver (Bull's Blood of Eger) (HUF 1000 for a good one) is a strong red Hungarian wine which supposedly saved a clever Hungarian girl from her fate with a Turkish sultan. During the time of the Turkish occupation, it is said a young girl was summoned to become a member of the local sultan's harem. Not wanting this fate for his daughter, her father gave her a bottle of Egri Bikaver to take to the sultan. He told her to tell the ruler it was bull's blood, and would make him invincible. The sultan, being Muslim, was unaccustomed to alcohol, and proceeded to pass out, leaving the daughter unharmed. There is another story connected to why Bull's Blood is called so, and it also comes from the Turkish era. According to that one, the defenders of the different castles used to drink this red wine. When they saw the color on the mouths of the Hungarians, they thought that it must have been from a bull, thus the name.
- Tokaj is known for its sweet dessert wines ( Tokaji aszu ), (HUF 2000 < x < 6000) which acquire their distinctive taste from grapes infected by the "noble rot" Botrytis cinerea . The favorite tipple of aristocracy, past fans of Tokaji include Louis XIV (who called Tokaj as " The king of the wines, the wine of the kings "), Beethoven, Napoleon III and Peter the Great — which is still reflected in the steep pricing of the best varieties. Almost uniquely among white wines, Tokaj keeps very well for long time.
In Hungarian, palinka denotes strong brandy-like liquor distilled from fruit. Palinka is a very social drink: just as the English drink tea, the Hungarians, especially in rural areas, will offer palinka to guests upon arrival. The best-known varieties are barackpalinka , made from apricots, kortepalinka from pears, and szilvapalinka made from plums. Factory-made palinka is widely available, but keep an eye out for homemade hazipalinka . Palinkas usually contain around or above 40% of alcohol, often more for the homemade ones. Palinka bottles marked mezes will be heavily sweetened with honey. (HUF 3000 for something good)
Unicum is a strong digestif made from a secret mix of over 40 herbs. It comes in striking black bottles emblazoned with a red and white cross, and has a very strong and unusual taste. Unicum Next has a lighter, citrusy flavor, and is rather more palatable. Definitely worth trying, the bottle itself may also be used for decoration, and keeps very well for a long time.
Hungarian beer is quite average compared to other Central European countries like Germany and the Czech Republic as it has long been a wine culture. The most common beers are Dreher, Szalon, Borsodi, Soproni and Arany Aszok, available in the styles vilagos (lager) and barna (brown). They cost about 200-300 Forints at a store and 400-600 at a bar. Some expensive club can charge up to 900 in Budapest.
Imported beers like Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budweiser-Budvar (the Czech variety) are widely available in bars and markets for not much more than the ubiquitous Hungarian brands. If you have to try only one Hungarian beer, your choice should go for a brown Dreher, the best Hungarian beer for many.
When offering a toast with beer, be warned that most Hungarians will politely refuse. This is due to an old tradition due to remembering soldiers killed in the 1848 revolution, whereby it was decreed no Hungarian would toast with beer for 150 years. It's been so long, however, that most Hungarians no longer know the origins of this tradition or that they've been free to make toasts over beer for the past ten years.
Cafe culture is alive and well in Hungary, although it may never recover the romance of its turn-of-the-century intellectual heyday. Unless asked, it's a good idea to specify what kind of coffee you prefer. The word kave means the strong, espresso like coffee to most Hungarians, although American-style coffee (known as hosszu kave in Hungarian, usually translated as "long coffee") is now also available at most places.
Tea houses are now getting popular in cities, especially among the young. There is a growing number of tea houses, mainly in Budapest and some bigger cities where people can buy several types of loose tea. As it is quite fashionable to spend time in a tea house, more and more people will be able to serve good tea even at home. The best teas to go for are the herbal and fruit varieties. In restaurants and cafes, lemon juice is frequently served in a small bottle. In traditional restaurants or cafes however, good teas are hard to find, as coffee and beverages are preferred.
- Theodora Kekkuti : distinctive mineral taste; available both still and sparkling
- Paradi , sparkling only: neutral taste, strong smell.
It should be noted though that as it is the case of most European countries, in Hungary, it is safe to drink tap water anywhere, even 'remote' settings.
Prices vary greatly. For the cheapest room in a youth hostel in Budapest expect to pay between ˆ10 and ˆ12, but the normal rate in a hostel is ˆ20-22 per person.
Village Tourism is popular and very well developed in Hungary, and can be a remarkable experience. Start your research with 1Hungary , National Federation of Rural and Agrotourism and Centre of Rural Tourism . Near Budapest it is also possible to find rural houses to rent, for instance the Wild Grape Guesthouse , what makes a good combination to explore the capital and a National Park while staying at the same accommodation.
Hungarian universities are open to all foreign students. Many European exchange students come through the EU's Erasmus program. There are quite a lot students from Asia and the Middle East as well, particularly because despite the high standard of education, fees are still considerably lower than in the more developed Western European countries. Interested should visit Study in Hungary or University of Debrecen websites.
It could be very difficult for an individual to seek (legal) employment in Hungary because of the complexity, cost and time involved. Most foreign workers in Hungary have received their visas and other necessary documents through the company they are employed by. It is hoped, however, that since the joining of Hungary to the EU a reduction will follow in the amount of red tape involved.
Many students (usually on a gap year) work as second language teachers at one of Budapest's many language schools. Be advised that a qualification is required (ESL/TEFL/TESOL) and that experience is preferred.
An excellent option is to teach through the Central European Teaching Program . For a reasonable placement fee they will take care of all your paperwork and set you up in a school in Hungary teaching English. Contracts are for one semester or a whole school year.
Watch your baggage and pockets on public transports. There is a danger of pickpockets. There are some reported cases when people got their baggage stolen while sleeping on the train, watch out for that. Generally, Hungary is rather quiet during the night compared to other European countries, and crime to tourists restricts to pickpocketing, and eventual cheating on prices and bills and taxi fares, see that section. Chances are slim, but Indian, South-American travellers might encounter hostility because of being misrecognized as the local gipsy minority, generally discriminated against in Hungary.
Private health care providers are good quality but limited in scope. Dentistry is cheaper here than in Western Europe (8-10000 HUF for an appointment and x-ray), and physiotherapy also (3000HUF for a half hour treatment), but check the price with the provider before you confirm the appointment. Outside Budapest you will need to speak Hungarian to communicate your needs clearly as fewer doctors will have good English or German.
Public health care is free for qualifying (insured) people, but varies in quality.
The country has joined the EU, so basic coverage is present for EU citizens, but check before entering the country how far are you insured and what you have to pay for. Do not expect at this time that the local doctor will know the EU rules, prepare to provide info.
The European Health Insurance Card is required from EU citizens applying for free treatment under this regulation; European health card for 1 June 2004.
Pharmacies are everywhere, you may expect high prices, but very good pharmaceutical coverage. The only problem might be communicating with the pharmacist as most of them speak only Hungarian outside Budapest. Even some rusty Latin might come handy quite unexpectedly. For travellers from Eastern Europe, note that due to limited or abandoned trade of Hungary with Romania (as of Dec 2006), some of familiar medications are unavailable--so be prepared to find a substitute in advance.
- The 1956 Revolution continues to be a sensitive subject with the right wing community and many of the elderly. You should also refrain from discussing the Treaty of Trianon (1920) with nationalists.
- Open display of the Communist red star and hammer and sickle symbol, and --especially-- the Nazi swastika and SS symbols, and the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross, is prohibited by law. Make sure your clothing does not have these symbols on it, even if it's just a joke. You can be fined for it. One possible exception is displaying shirts and symbols with Josip Tito's, Yugoslavia's best-known leader, known in Hungary for straying from Stalin's path.