Good to Know
Hungary - Budapest
Hungary is a heart-stealer; it will lure you back again and again to sample its rich wines, lounge in its thermal spas, gaze at its birdlife and make one more attempt to master its hermetic language. It has all the luxury of Western Europe with a Magyar twist and at half the cost.
Its graceful capital Budapest has a lively arts, café and music scene, and is host to a range of cultural and sporting festivals. In the countryside you'll find majestic plains, resort-lined lakes, Baroque towns, horse markets and rustic villages.
Full country name: Republic of Hungary
Area: 93,030 sq km
Population: 9.8 million
Capital City: Budapest (pop 1,7 million)
People: 89.9% Hungarian, 4% Gypsy, 2.6% German, 0.8% Slovak & 0.7% Romanian
Language: Hungarian, German
Religion: 68% Roman Catholic, 21% Reformed (Calvinist)Protestant, 6% Evangelical (Lutheran), 5% Other
Head of State: President János Áder
Head of Government: Prime Minister Viktor Orbán
GDP: US$134 billion
GDP per capita: US$13,300
Annual Growth: 2%
Major Industries: Mining, metallurgy &agriculture, construction materials, processed foods, textiles,chemicals (especially pharmaceuticals), motor vehicles
Major Trading Partners: Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia
Member of EU: yes
Facts for the Traveler
Visas: Citizens of the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Asian countries and most European countries don't require visas; citizens of some EU countries need only show their identity cards. Nationals of Australia require visas prior to arrival. These are valid for between 30 and 90 days and cannot be purchased at border crossings.
Time: GMT/UTC 4 (+2 in Summer)
Dialling Code: 36
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to Go
Though it can be pretty wet in May and June, spring is just glorious in Hungary. The Hungarian summer is warm, sunny and unusually long, but the resorts are very crowded in late July and August. Like Paris and Rome, Budapest comes to a halt in August (called 'the cucumber-growing season' here because that's about the only thing happening).
Autumn is beautiful, particularly in the hills around Budapest and in the Northern Uplands. November is one of the rainiest months of the year, however. Winter is cold, often bleak and museums and other tourist sights are often closed. Animal lovers might also want to skip this season: many of the women are draped in furry dead things throughout the winter.
Hungary's major celebration is the Budapest Spring Festival (March), a two-week cultural extravaganza of local and international performances, conferences and exhibitions. Other important events include: the Budapest Film Festival (February), which premieres new Hungarian films; Busójárás (Mohás; February also), the nation's top Mardi Gras; Sopron Festival Weeks (Sopron; June/July), showcasing ancient music and dance performances; the Folk Arts Festival (Nagykálló August), one of the biggest and best events of the year; and Jazz Days (Debrecen; September), which is Hungary's top jazz festival.
Money & Costs
Hungary remains a bargain destination for foreign travelers. If you stay in private rooms, eat at medium-priced restaurants and travel 2nd-class on trains, you should get away on about US$25 a day without scrimping. Those putting up in hostels, dormitories or camping grounds and eating at self-service restaurants or food stalls will cut costs substantially.
You can exchange cash and travelers' cheques up to 30,000 Ft at banks and travel agents, usually for a commission of 1% to 2%. Post offices almost always change cash, but rarely cheques. ATMs accepting credit and debit cards can be found throughout the country, but it's always useful to carry a little foreign cash, preferably US dollars or Deutschmarks in case your plastic doesn't work. Credit cards can be used in up-market restaurants, shops, hotels, car rental firms, travel agencies and petrol stations.
Hungary is a very tip-conscious society and virtually everyone routinely tips waiters, hairdressers, taxi drivers and even doctors, dentists and petrol-station attendants about 10%. Not leaving a tip, or leaving a very small tip, is a strong signal that you were less than impressed with the service. Never leave money on the table in a restaurant: tell the waiter how much money you want to leave as a tip as you are paying the bill. Bargaining is not the done thing in Hungary, but you can try a little gentle haggling in flea markets or with individuals selling folk crafts.