From the grandeur of Austria-Hungary to the grim functionalism of communist Hungary to European modernism – explore the city’s history by using the underground railway. This is the first article of our four-part series.
It is easy to see why Budapest attracts over four million visitors to the bustling banks of the Danube each year – from wonderful architecture, to world-class events such as the Europe mega music festival Sziget, to a take-your-pick of sites recognised by UNESCO as having “outstanding universal value” – there is something to see in the city for everybody.
Budapest is a world-class city – and was designed that way. In the heady late-19th-century glory days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Budapest was already celebrating 1000 years since the arrival of the first Magyars. In advance of the celebrations, the city undertook to construct some of its most iconic attractions: Andrassy Avenue and the Grand Boulevard, the Millennium Monument at Heroes’ Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, City Park and mainland Europe’s first metro line to ferry people to the sites.
Known as the Millennium Line, or simply Line One, it has been in continuous use since – throughout the devastating world wars and stifling communist era, which saw the extension of the metro with north-south and east-west routes that connected Buda with Pest, to the exhilarating days of the fall of communism and the ascension of Hungary to the European Union, as well as the opening of the newest metro line – the modern, space-age, driverless M4 that connects Kelenföld and Keleti railway stations.
These routes offer a wonderful way to see Budapest, as metro stations are featured near almost every site that makes Budapest the envy of Central Europe.
Week by week The Budapest Times will take you on a tour of Budapest by metro. This week we’ll introduce you to the system itself and give you some important riding information and useful tips. Each following week we will focus on a different line – beginning with Line One: one of the most famous metros in the world. Each section will outline the major attractions along each route, the interesting history behind some of the stations and suggested tips – from where to watch an English film to where to transfer to catch your international train.
Taken as a whole, this five-part series will be your definitive tour guide as to how to discover Budapest by metro. So no matter whether your group has a history buff, sports fan, shopaholic, nature lover or any other curious traveller, read these articles, jump on the iconic Budapest metro and explore the city from the system with the only UNESCO-recognised line in the world (Line 1, however all four lines will lead you to a UNESCO World Heritage site).
The nuts and bolts: what to know
The first thing to know is that the public transportation system in Budapest is extensive and rather intuitive to learn – even for an English-speaker. All trams and metros feature English on both the posters and public announcement system. Moreover, if you are lost, most staff at one of the BKK (Budapest Transport Centre) offices will be able to assist you in English.
Budapest has four metro lines: two that run north-south and two that run east-west. There are two very handy 24-hour trams that follow the Grand Boulevard encircling central Budapest – the #4 and #6. The metro itself is open from 4.30am to about midnight. Tickets can be purchased from any BKK office or from machines at many of the metro and tram stations. The machines will accept cash or credit cards, although be sure to have change or small notes because they do not always accept large denominations.
Useful Tip #1: Buy daily passes instead of tickets. They are affordable, easier to use and don’t require validation.
The first thing you need to do is figure out how long you will be in Budapest. The BKK offers any variety of passes – single rides, daily passes, ticket blocks, tourist combo cards – and discounts for seniors, students and women travelling with small children. While most web travel sites recommend buying single passes (HUF 350) or a 10-ticket block (HUF 3000), we recommend purchasing the daily / 72-hour / weekly passes because they are much easier to travel with.
Single tickets must be validated every new ride and can quickly be depleted if one gets lost.
Additionally they can be a hassle to validate because it is done in a slow process by a frustrating orange machine that often doesn’t seem to work quite right (they have been talking for years about introducing a more modern token-based system). Pranksters like to clog these already annoying-to-use machines with junk like gum, and then you need to find another one. A daily / 72-hour / weekly pass allows you to just flash it to the ticket operators as you enter the metro station (or situated on the tram) and keep going.
You will need to show a form of ID to purchase one of the passes. The Budapest Card – a transportation pass that offers discounts to museums, tours, baths and restaurants – is available for 24, 48 or 72 hours. As there is a bevy of ticket options available, the best bet is to go online to see what works best for you (www.bkk.hu/en/prices/).
Useful Tip #2: Remember to keep your ticket or pass with you at all times – there is a good chance you will be checked again as you leave the metro.
As noted, it is imperative that you always keep your ticket with you. It is also important that it has been validated properly when you begin your trip – which is why we recommend the passes instead. Failure to produce a properly validated ticket can cost you a hefty fine: HUF 8000 if you pay on the spot or at a BKK office within 48 hours, or HUF 16,000 if you pay later.
Further, if you don’t pay on the spot, the ticket inspector will have to fill out a time-consuming “Surcharging Procedure Report” and you will have to hand over your personal information (either you will or the police will make you). Tourists can and will get caught for this, so be sure to keep your ticket or pass with you at all times.
Remember to come back next week when The Budapest Times takes an in-depth look at the UNESCO-recognised Line One – the oldest metro on mainland Europe. In the meantime, why don’t you start your tour with a trip to the Underground Railway Museum, neatly located at the Deák Ferenc tér metro station – the central hub that sees Lines One, Two and Three intersect. The museum features interesting exhibits about the construction of Line One and includes two full-size retro wagons to enter and discover what it would have been like riding the rails in a different age.
All in all, the metro is a fantastic, affordable and easy-to-use way to see all of the wonderful things that Budapest has to offer via a unique, historic and conveniently located transport system next to most of the capital’s greatest sights.
Single ticket: HUF 350
10-ticket block: HUF 3000
Daily / 72-hour / weekly pass:
HUF 1650 / 4150 / 4950
Budapest Card (24/48/72 hours):
HUF 4500 / 7500 / 8900