It’s a bit of a bonus to be in one beautiful capital city and close enough to reach another with a short train ride. In Europe, there is no other capital city as close to two others as Vienna: Slovakia and Budapest are both a short hop over their respective borders. This post is about how to organise a trip from Vienna to Budapest, and some suggestions on what to do when you’re there.
Getting from Vienna to Budapest
You can take the train or the bus.
The journey takes around 2.5 hours for a direct train. I left from Vienna Hauptbahnhof (main station). The main train station in Budapest is Keleti.
Tickets can be booked in advance on OEBB. A Sparscheine (advance, no refund) ticket costs from 19€ euros each way. A standard second class single ticket costs 37€ and can be booked right up until departure. It’s not possible to print out this international ticket in advance: you will need to collect both the outward and the return from a ticket office or a ticket machine in Austria.
Reserved seats – A reserved seat costs a few euros extra (3€ at the time of writing, but this is very worthwhile. The trains can be really busy, especially if it’s a Friday or a Sunday. There were no spare seats on the train I got last Sunday. It’s also worthwhile making your reservation well in advance – there are always queues of people waiting at the ticket counter at Budapest Kelati main station. You could easily be an hour or more in the queue.)
There are a few bus companies, here are a couple:
Orangeways – with fares from as little as 11€ – the journey time is around 3 hours.
Eurolines – from 22€.
I’ve never caught the bus before. If you know what it’s like, let me know.
I’d highly recommend taking a tiny bag and leaving any other luggage in the lockers at Vienna Hauptbahnhof. It cost 2,40€ for 24 hours and this is well worth it to avoid lugging a big bag or case on the superfast underground escalators in Budapest or on buses and trams. I’m a careful traveller but still had my bag slashed on one visit: when the bottom of your bag is slit open and your purse fished out whilst you are being distracted, or just when you are on a busy tram. I was told the red line was notorious for tourist pickpocketting and bag slashes, but be careful anywhere.
For an overnight you don’t need much more than your passport, money, a camera, a pair of pants and a few basic toiletries. Possibly a swimming cozzy if you want to visit the famous Budapest spas. It’s lovely travelling light.
Money and Public Transport
I try and arrive with at least a few £s worth of Hungarian Forint (HUF) in change for the first underground or tram ticket. If not, you can pay by credit card in one of the local transport machines (at the entrance to the underground, part of the main train station). You can buy a book of 10 tickets, a single ticket or a 24 hour pass. Be aware that the ticketing system is not like Vienna – you can’t get an onward tram or bus on the same ticket – you can either use two tickets, or if you know the journey involves two legs, you can buy a transfer ticket (two tickets but at a reduced fare).
There are plenty of auto tellers around the city where you can withdraw Forint, but I avoid the ones around the main station.
The best way to get around the centre is on foot. But there’s also a metro system (the main crossover point for the lines is at Déak Ferenc tér, and from here you can walk to the main sights). There are trams and buses too – the main one you might want to get is from the Pest side, across the river, to the top of the hill in Buda. It’s quite a hike up the hill if it’s hot.
Relatively, Budapest is not an expensive city to stay over in. Hotels and hostels can easily be booked online – Expedia.com, booking.com, last minute.com, hostels.com – and range from 10/12€ upwards for one night in a hostel. Below is where I booked last time, which was £41. It had reviews ranging from 1-5 so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It’s a grand old building which is being done up – I suspect the low ratings are from people who were in the old rooms. Mine was new and I’d give it a 5 – ideally located, pretty fancy and rooftop restaurant/bar (which used to be the helipad) with views to die for.
I’ve stayed in hostels too around Astoria – really central, and always a friendly bunch of travellers to chat to in the communal area – these range from 10/12€ per night.
I’ve already posted about a few favourite places to eat. I can’t recommend the Fishermans’ Bastion restaurant at the top of the Buda hill highly enough for the views, and the food’s lovely too.
Budapest is famous for its spas. I’ve never been to one yet. This time I was in Budapest for a teachers’ conference and, although I had hopefully chucked a cozzy into my bag, I didn’t have time again.
24 hours in Budapest?
There’s a train which leaves Vienna at 7.15am and arrives in Budapest at 9.49am. If I had the rest of the day till the following afternoon, here’s what I’d do:
If you only take a tiny bag, there’s no need to waste time checking in at your accommodation when you arrive. I’d start in the Jewish quarter on the Pest side, and follow one of the many self-walking trails (you can google them online). The tour of the main synagogue and museum, although a little pricey, is worth it. The lady who showed me round the museum had been put on a train to Auschwitz as a young teenager, and only by virtue of the fact that the war ended shortly after, did she return. It was fascinating to listen to her.
There are lots of cafes around for lunch, from traditional to quirky to touristy. Spinoza is a famous cafe bar in the Jewish quarter but there are many more. Then I’d go to the spa. In the evening I’d wander along the river and around the Buda hill with the lights on, it’s incredibly beautiful. There’s plenty to do of an evening – a meal with a view, the Opera house is worth seeing even if you’re not an opera fan, and Budapest is famous for its “ruin bars” and nightlife …..
The next day, I’d stay on the Pest side and visit the Parliament Buildings (pretty spectacular) and just wander. Mindquest (a real life “escape the room” adventure) located in one of the ruin bars is loads of fun for kids and adults, or “Beyond Budapest” tours have been recommended as a way to see the more unusual sights.
Then hop on a train and you’re back in Vienna by evening.
Many cities claim they have the most beautiful night time panoramic views of their city river. I’ve been to a few of these competing cities, and so far, Budapest is the most impressive. What’s your favourite night city view?