Hungary’s landmarks aren’t as popular as you’d think and before even packing to come here you should take a set of things into consideration. First, there are the amazing destinations and attractions that you shouldn’t miss, then there are the people who have some special customs and secrets to share with whomever is willing to pay some attention. After all, knowing the people does take you a step closer to understanding their culture.
Fisrt of all, you should understand the basic things, such as the difference between Buda and Pest (Pescht) – it’s the only way not only not to get lost, but also to plan your trip as efficiently as possible. The general information that you’ll have to remember in order to visit the city properly is that they used to be two separate cities a few hundred years back. Buda’s the Western side of the city, where you’ll find the Castle district and most of the residential places on top of the hill, while Pest is the Eastern area. From the business district to the Jewish Quarter and many affordable places for accommodation, there are lots of amazing things you’ll find here, not to mention the very friendly people. The Jewish Quarter is home to ruin bars, or ‘romkocsma’ as the locals call them, where you can have lots of fun at night like a local.
The thermal baths are a must for anyone who’s new to the city, the locals love them and are proud of their mineral-rich waters; you can spend the most amazing relaxing time here, everything around’s pretty and peaceful, like there are no worries left on earth for this place and the people are as calm and friendly as you’ll be once you get into the water. Whatever your program is, just bring your swimsuit!
Another thing you’d hate yourself for letting slip of all the places you can go is Central Europe’s largest lake – Lake Balaton, also known under the name of ‘Magyar tenger’ (the Hungarian Sea). And the good thing is there’s also a summer festival, Balaton Sound Summer Music Festival which takes place near Zamárdi.
Here, on the southern shore, the things get wild and everyone who’s at least a bit a dancer or a party animal shouldn’t miss the fun for the world. And since we’ve mentioned this, there are two other extra tips: the first one’s that if you’re traveling with your familiy, during the summer, maybe you should go on the northern shore and the second one’s no matter who you’re traveling with, the best times to see Budapest are spring and summer.
The transport shouldn’t be a problem. If you insist on taking a taxi the safest thing is to call it from the hotel (or from a pub or restaurant) since there are lots of small companies not that reliable. But this doesn’t have to be a problem since the public transport is not only efficient, but very cheap as well. The best choice would be buying a Budapest Card. This will make you spare 20 to 50 per cent of your pocket money that you’ll spend on sights, travels, all kinds of events and exhibitions and whatelse you decide interests you.
The only problem is that if you’re on a budget or in a hurry, just passing through this city for a couple of days, it may not be worth paying €25 to €30 for stuff that you’re not going to benefit of. But public transport here is cheap, and you’ll find trams (it’s true, maybe a little too slow and bohemian) that are finely working at 4 a.m. when you’re heading home from the pub crawling. And instead of giving you an extra tip, I’ll just make it clear that unless it’s really necessary you shouldn’t take a taxi! They’ll only charge you two or three times the appropriate amount, so don’t waste your money – save it for beer or another museum.
For the Underground Museum, if possible! Its exterior is fairy-tale like, breathtaking literally even for the most experienced of us who’ve seen quite impressive places in our trips. The Buda Castle is a complex shaped like a labyrinth cave, it’s naturally carved ancient formation. And it’s not only beautifully arranged, the exhibits are impressive, like an entire collection of the human race since prehistoric times. During the Middle Eve it was used as a cellar, then as a bomb shelter during WWII. The Cold War made it a secret military installation and now it’s a wonder to be visited by curious eyes who want to witness different puzzles of history all at once. The great thing if you’ve got a sense of adventure is that you have the possibility to refuse the fully lit trail and opt for the flash light tour, which is billion times more interesting. Besides objectively holding pieces of priceless cultural and historic significance, the museum puts things in perspective because of the mosaic of events and situations that it’s witnessed.
First, off the top of my head, they’re smart! You may not have heard about many Hungarian names, but they’re one of the top countries who win the Nobel prize, invent the Rubik cube or tons of other things among which computer science.
There are two very popular jokes about them: that they’re pretty sure they’ve invented everything there is (or they would have) and that if you’ll let 3 Hungarians in a room locked for a while when you unlock the door they’ll have formed 4 political parties or associations. They’re not only smart, they’ve got strong opinions and since lots of them are fluent in English there will always be room for controversies and debates, especially after a couple of beers.
Speaking of which, you shouldn’t be clinking beer glasses or else the locals will give you the evil eye. Raday utka is the heaven of all pubs and bars in Budapest – you’ll have fun here, where you’ll hear the story of the clinking beer glasses (there’s always a local to enthusiastically tell it to a foreigner).
It’s supposed that when Hungary lost the Revolution and War of Independence in 1848-1849, the Austrians celebrated clinking beer glasses the same day when 13 great Hungarian generals were killed as a sign of victory. The people promised not to clink any glasses of beer for a century and a half and even though the promised time expired in 1999, there still is this national symbol of justice and patriotism that you may as well want to respect.
It’s also going to be the people here who’ll invite you to have a glass of Tokaji, or as Louis XIV called it The wine of king, The king of wines (I still think he would have made a great advertiser) and you’ll see that whenever a French worships wine there’s a good reason behind it. You don’t have to be extremely lucky to meet a local who’ll share a great passion for wine. Or for sports, for that matter – Hungarians love sports! One of the highest rates of Olympic medals (over 480) is what keeps them mad for canalizing their energy towards a big, national goal to represent their love of life and their passion for always being better.
There’s no proper way to reward the locals for being this friendly since their language is quite hard to be learned on a short notice, but there’s a list with a few words that you definitely have to learn before going there and they’ll all be impressed of how much soul you’ve put into your travel. ‘Köszönöm’ means ‘thank you’, and ‘Köszönöm szépen’ is how they say ‘thank you very much’, ‘good morning/afternoon/evening’ would be ‘Jó reggelt/napot/estét’. Since we’ve established that you’ll be drinking either beer or wine (or why not both?), ‘Egészségédre!’ means ‘Cheers!’ ‘Szívesen’ means ‘You’re welcome’ and this should be the whole set to make you survive in Budapest.
And what do people mean if not socializing and getting to know each other’s cultures better? The best festival to bond on all kinds of topics is Sziget Festival, held every August with no exception in Óbuda, one of the islands that used to be part of the three ancient small cities that form the Hungarian capital. It’s known as being the counterpart of Woodstock in Europe and all sorts of performers of different arts are to be found here, where you’ll be able to enjoy from music to movies and theater, or even sports (given the Hungarians’ mad passion for this). The good thing is that whatever your hobbies, preferences or passions are, it’s impossible not to find something here just suitable for your soul. Not to mention the scenic view, one of the most beautiful in Eastern Europe, that you won’t regret joining. All your friends from home are going to be sure that you’ve hired a photographer for your trip when, in fact, it’s just the places. They’re truly amazing!