I'm new to the forum and was referred here by another member who was planning a trip to Italy. I just went to Budapest with my family for our marriage. I've been many times, but going with my family who has never travelled outside the US changed my experience--but I'll provide a summary here for the aid of others who are going to travel here.
First of all, the Hungarian people. Overall, I find the Hungarian people to be very kind, though distant and oftentimes gruff. When visiting here, you have to realize that 15 years ago, Hungary was a communist nation and was pretty much shut off from the outside world. Thus, I tend to find younger people much more open to tourists and outside influence than older people. Those who are younger are less engrained in the communist way of life and have had much more world exposure and have been exposed to English in school. Additionally, you need to remember that Hungary has only been a capitalist nation for 15 years, thus customer service isn't as good as in Western nations and many people have a desire to get rich quick, oftentimes at the expense of their customers. always keep in mind "Buyer Beware" though for the most part you won't have many problems. Always ask for the price before you receive a service. The mob also has a presence in Budapest, and they will rip you off, and especially avoid any establishment that you may have been lured into (possibly by a beautiful girl wanting to share a drink with you), casino's and strip clubs.
We arrived in Budapest on May 19th. Many of my family members took the airport transfer service which can be found here:
I'm sure this gives charles hotel a kickback, but I'm unable to find any other way to link to it. My family found the service to be very good and the driver helped my family look for me for an hour before they figured out that I missed my connection and wouldn't be arriving. The advantage of this service is that they only take your group, thus you go directly to your destination with no stops.
I took the airport minibus, which can be found in the airport and costs 2300HUF($11.50 USD) per person each way. The service was good, but of course, as usual, I was the last stop.
I have used public transportation in the past, but in order to get to Budapest you must take a bus then transfer to a Metro then make any other transfers after that. Unless you just have a carryon, I think it's too much of a headache, and I'm one to take public transportation as much as possible in all of my travels.
We stayed at the Charles hotel (www.charleshotel.hu) which was an extremely good value. for 66 Euros a night, double occupancy we got a very large apartment style room with stovetop, kitchen sink, tub and shower with shower curtain, and fridge as well as dishes silverware and basic pots and pans. The hotel is located on the Buda side of Budapest 2 stops accross the river on bus line 112, giving it easy access to the middle of Vaci Street (2 bus stops) and the metro (same stop). There is a non-stop (24 hour grocery), grocery store, and ATM within steps of the hotel and a fairly good, reasonably priced restaurant on premises which serves a large, free breakfast every morning from 7:00 or 8:00 to 10:00. The staff is extremely friendly and helpful, and as usual, the more friendly you are toward them, the better they treat you. We had two stays at this place on our trip, and on our second stay were were upgraded to one of the largest, nicest rooms in the place. The staff were very understanding of our first time international travel guests, and contrary to other reviews I've seen on here, I don't think the bellboys are expecting a tip, but I think they are ordered by the owner to never let a guest carry their own bag. The one downside of this place, which dind't bother me or my guests, is there is a lot of street noise outside, which comes into the rooms even when the windows are shut. If you need quiet in order to sleep, this isn't your place. It didn't bother us, but I saw many complain. Many hungarians stay here (displaying the good value of this hotel) and the staff appreciate any attempt you make at speaking their difficult language.
Unfortunately, I didn't take much note of the restaurants we ate at. The only one I remember is Matthius Pince, right off the 112 bus line first stop on the Pest Side coming accross the bridge. The food was extramaly good with large portion sizes. Some of the best duck I've had with reasonable prices. Staff was somewhat inattentive for what I would consider a good restaurant in Budapest, but still average and our server seemed to not speak much English. I always make special note of the Pizza hut by Oktogon, since it is very much like a lounge with a higher level of quality than it's American counterparts. We also ate a Fatal Etterem, which was highly recommended by an online forum (I thought it was this one), but we found the food to taste very bland, to the point we felt it was reheated or stored buffet style. We did eat here on a national holiday and the place was rather empty, which may have led to this impression. In the past we've had good luck with the standalone LeRoy Cafe, we just have a hard time eating at a restaurant in a mall, so we've never tried their mall locations.
Regarding the sites, I've already discussed this in another post, so I'll copy and paste that here:
The Castle area which includes budha castle, fishermans bastion and mathius church and the market
The Parliment-If you're pressed for time, you don't really need to go inside as the tour is very short, but the line is very long.
Gellert Hill is nice...there is a peace monument and the citadel at the top and a cave church on the bottom. you could easily make it a daylong hike with beautiful views of the city. the hike would start at the Gellert hotel
St. Stephens Basillica
Hero's square and the nearby Oktogon district with it's many shops and restaurants located on Andrassy st.
Szechenyi Bath is in my view the best bath...it's a very large swimming complex that serves as a pool and a spa. Mixed crowds are the norm, but I believe they have separate baths if you are looking for the turkish experience.
Another good place for swimming is on Margit Island they have a pool with waterslides.
Vaci Ut is the major shopping street which has a lot of safe places to eat even though they are probably a bit higher priced.
you should also try to see an opera at the State opera house
For nightlife try "Bed Beach", "E-Klub", Old Man's Music Pub, Bank, and the two clubs at Manmut Shopping Center