Survival Guide to Public Transportation in Budapest

Travel Tips — By Gyongi Asztalos on August 26, 2010 at 5:58 pm

BKV vehicles: bus, tram, cog-wheeled railway, replacement bus, trolley, old tram, suburban railway, underground, funicular

On visiting any city, having some sort of encounter with local transport is unavoidable! Getting from A to B using a completely foreign transportation system can be overwhelming, and figuring out where to buy tickets, which tickets to buy and what buses to take can get confusing. Below is an illustrated „survival guide” if you wish to Budapest’s public transportation system hopefully making your lives here that much easier!

BKV logo

With stops located at least every 400 meters, the BKV (Budapest Transportation Zrt.) is the most convenient way of getting around. Congested one way streets and huge traffic jams make driving in Budapest not for the inpatient or faint hearted! Cycling is also good option with plenty of rent-a-bike’s scattered around, but that would limit your scope to the inner city.

SIGNAGE

Transportation signs are always a pain to decode! Even though most of them in Budapest are translated to English, some are still in need of explanation. Here are a few that you might come across around the city:

Subway:

From left to right: Metro 1, Metro 2 and Metro 3

Budapest has 3 metro lines, referred to as lines number 1, 2, and 3, or the Yellow, Red and Blue lines. This colour coding is the source of continuous confusion, with the odd incident of poor unsuspecting tourists waiting in the subway until the right colour metro comes, realizing only after a few minutes wait that they are all the same! Just to clarify: the colours refer to the colour coding on the subway map, not the colour of the actual vehicle!

Buses, trams, trolleys:

Below are examples of signs found in each stop to indicate the types of vehicles that run along a given route.

From left to right: Bus sign, Tram sign, Trolley

Safety and other instructions:

From left to right: elevator safety sign on side of elevator, subway safety and hygiene sign, HÉV stop “no smoking” sign, tram stop safety sign

Because Budapest is invaded by tourists all year round, instructions are always translated into minimum English and German, or completely speak for themselves. One note here about elevator safety: the top left picture indicates standing to one side as being the correct way to use the elevator. In Hungary this means standing to the right and passing on the left!

PAYMENT SYSTEM

There are two options for paying: either at the tills located in every metro station, or at the ticket vending machines also located in every metro station. You will also find ones in tram stops, but these are usually out of order.

Till:

Paying at the till is only necessary if you are looking to buy a pass or have something more complicated to inquire about. If you just need single tickets, using the vending machine is your best bet.

How to buy a ticket over the counter the Hungarian way:

  1. Very politely greet the person behind the till. Try learning the phrase „jónapot kívánok” (good day), the formal way to say hello. Any attempt at speaking Hungarian is much appreciated by locals.
  2. Speak very slowly when asking for what you want to avoid any communication problems and its consequences i.e. being given the wrong type of pass.
  3. Pay the right amount and take your pass through the little window provided, then say „köszönöm, viszontlátásra” (thank you, goodbye) – this will again be much appreciated.

Ticket vending machine:

The ticket vending machines come with instruction is Hungarian, English and German.

  1. Select the right language on the touch screen menu.
  2. Then select the type of ticket (e.g. single or short section ticket) according to how far you intend to travel.
  3. Indicate the number of tickets you would like.
  4. Press the „pay” button on the touch screen and insert coins.
  5. Take your tickets and change.

Types of tickets and passes:

Because the BKV is a network of the subway, buses, trolleys, trams, the suburban railway (HÉV), the Fogaskerekű (cog-wheeled railway) and the Funicular, any ticket or pass purchased in any location will be valid for all of the above listed during the time interval stated on the ticket, excluding the Fogaskerekű, for which only the passes are valid for, and the Funicular where separate tickets need to be purchased on site. There are a series of complex rules concerning validity, so for more details visit the bkv.hu website also available in English.

  • Single tickets cost 320 HUF bought in advance, 400 HUF bought from the conductors themselves on the vehicle. Note that it is only possible to buy tickets from the conductors on night buses, and not having a valid ticket during the day means getting fined!
  • A Ticket booklet of 10 single tickets will cost you 2800 HUF meaning if you want to use any form of public transport 10 times but no more, this is your best deal!
  • There are a variety of passes worth checking out: the 24 hour pass at the price of 1550 HUF, the family pass at the price of 2200 HUF valid for 48 hours, the 72 hour pass at the price of 3850 HUF and the weekly pass at the price of 4600 HUF.
  • You can also get group discount, meaning 600 HUF per person per 24 hours if your group is anything ranging from 10 to 40 persons with a maximum of 2 accompaniers.

Click here for further details.

HOW TO RIDE

Top 5 routs touching major sights:

  1. Tram number 4/6: Runs along the Great Ring Road, from where practically all the sights are within a 10 minute walking distance.
  2. Deák Ferenc Square: Largest junction of the city; the only place where the 3 metro lines meet. This is also where the Andrássy Avenue begins.
  3. Tram number 2: Runs along the Embankment on the Pest side between Boráros Square and Jászai Mari Square, passing the Central Market Hall and the Parliament amongst others with a beautiful view of the Gellért Hill and Castle Hill on the Buda side.
  4. Yellow Metro line: Runs from Vörösmarty Square in the heart of the city under the Andrássy Avenue all the way to the City Park where the Hero’s Square, Széchényi Spa, Amusement Park and famous Gundel Restaurant can be found.
  5. Bud number 16: Best way of getting up the Castle Hill for those not up for the 10 minute uphill walk . Best place to catch it is the Elizabeth Square stop near Deák Square.

Tips and tricks:

Conductors do not wear uniform but everyday clothes, and you can identify them by this arm band they put on after entering the vehicle

Ticket punch in the subway

  • In Budapest we have ticket punches and conductors rather than turnstiles! The most important thing is not to forget to validate tickets on entering the subway, or in the case of buses, trolleys and the HÉV, on the vehicles themselves, as fines for using any service of the BKV without a valid pass or ticket is 6000 HUF on the spot. It is not uncommon for tourists to be fined a larger sum, so remember not to pay more to avoid being ripped off!
  • Always push the stop button in advance to indicate your intentions of getting off, as if the bus stop is empty and no one else indicated the driver is not obliged to stop. The open buttons on the outside of buses and trams also need pushing if no one is getting off, as doors don’t open automatically and the driver may not notice you want to get on.
  • When standing in a bus stop, make your intent of getting on very obvious, as if no one pushes the stop button the driver is likely to mistake you for someone standing near the stop on other business!
  • Always, I repeat always hold on when standing, as bus drivers here prefer the accelerator to the breaks! Especially take care on trolleys.

ETIQUETTE

  • DO hand seats over to elders. This is common courtesy, but taken very seriously here.
  • DO let everyone off the vehicle before getting on yourself. Even though queuing is not the strength of Hungarians, this order of things is strictly abided by on transportation vehicles!
  • DO NOT have music booming out of your mp3 players. Many locals do it but it is highly frowned upon.
  • DO NOT put your feet up onto neighbouring seats. Just don’t do it.

For further details on where to stay and what to do in Budapest, check out the NileGuide site!

Tags: “Budapest Transportation”, “Getting Around”, “Travel Tips”