Getting Around Hungary

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Getting Around Hungary

By train

The train network is star-shaped (hub-and-spoke), fanning out from the centre at Budapest. This is caused by history because half of the once complete train system went to the neighbor countries after World War I. If neither the starting or ending point is Budapest, expect to travel for a long time often with change in Budapest.The Hungarian National Railway is MÁV and GYSEV (some lines in the west of the country). MÁV has online schedule and pricing site. See boxed text about how to use its online booking system, available only in Hungarian.

Intercity (IC) trains are the fastest, and they're up-to-date, well maintained and clean. They link the major cities with Budapest. Expect to pay about 550 Forints (= 2 EUR) extra fee independently from the distance for the manditory seat reservation (not in international ICs, ECs). In some cases the extra charge can be lower. Compared to the majority of Western European ticket prices, Hungary's IC trains are amongst the cheapest, with an excellent record of speed and comfort. In almost all cases they also have a restaurant car. At the weekends many students use these IC trains to commute between Budapest and other cities, so an early advance booking is recommended on Friday afternoons for the trains leaving Budapest and on Sunday evenings for trains towards Budapest. Working with a notebook is generally safe, unless it's heavy overcrowded.

Other train lines usually are not that fast, and not always cleaned up to the high standards (even in the 1st class), and often vandalised (mostly in Budapest region); however quality standards are improving. During summer trains linking Balaton to Budapest are sometimes overcrowded with the IC usually being sold out. The next choice is the gyorsvonat, or the old fast train. Pricing depends only on the distance and on the car class. Cash desks assume 2nd class by default for non-IC trains (at least in Budapest for English speakers), so if you didn't catch your IC, consider asking 1st class, paying small extra for much more comfort. Smoking is prohibited on all trains, as well as on the station platforms.

Young people (under 26 years) may travel with 33% reduction at the weekends (Friday afternoon included). Children (under 6 years) and retired (citizens from EU countries over 65 years) can travel free except on InterCity trains where the extra fee (reservation) must be paid.

It is possible to buy Inter Rail pass for Hungary. Check whether buying tickets for each journey is cheaper.

By bus

Hungary’s national bus network is operated by 28 state run companies, united in Volán Association. Connections are frequent, prices are identical to those on non-Intercity trains. Bus lines often are more complete than train lines, the speed is quite similar. Long-distance buses are clean and safe, but often subject to delays. Buy your ticket at the station ticket desk before boarding; if you do not take your bus at a main station, purchase a ticket from the driver. Make sure that you validate tickets even when buying from the bus driver. The small orange boxes are used for validating tickets and are seen at several points throughout the bus. Ticket inspectors operate on the airport bus and if you have not validated your ticket, you are liable for a 7000 HUF on the spot fine. It is a good idea to reserve your tickets for national holidays, Friday and Sunday evenings beforehand. Online booking is available only in Hungarian. See boxed text about how to check the timetable.

By boat

There are several scheduled riverboat and hydrofoil lines operated by MAHART PassNave Ltd. from the capital city Budapest to towns in the Danubebend, like Szentendre, Visegrád and Esztergom

In the capital city there are several sightseeing and night cruises opereated by MAHART PassNave Ltd. and other shipping companys, like Legenda Ltd.

Although from May to September there is a good hydrofoil boat connection between Vienna and Budapest.

There are some ferries on Danube and Tisza but their undetermined working hours make them non-recommended. You can trust the ferry on Lake Balaton, though, for a modest price.

By car

Most roads in Hungary are two lane apart from modern motorways. Main roads are mostly in good shape, however cracks, potholes and bumpy roads are common on minor roads and in major cities though they are constantly being repaired. Usually you can travel by using a map and the road signs.

Motorists frequently pass cars at the last possible moment resulting in a daily symphony of near, head-on collisions. As there are few shoulders alongside Hungarian roads, motorists are frequently passing bicyclists and the numbers of fatalities have risen sharply in recent years. Generally speaking, Hungarians tend to drive very aggressively, tailgating, flashing, and honking is very common, especially on motorways. In large urban areas, you can sometimes see motorists fighting each other during traffic jams, and they may even sometimes pull you out of your car if they think you have offended them in some way, though such occurrences are rare.

Another problem is the police. Besides maintaining public safety, they sometimes concentrate on fining motorists and revoking driving licences. You can expect speed cameras in many places (hidden in roadside bushes, behind trees, garbage bins, parked vehicles, and so on). Road defects are often fixed with 30 km/h speed limit signs, and police cars equipped with speed cameras may show up shortly after the sign has been installed.

Expressways are not free, but there are no other toll roads or tunnels. A vignette system is used, similar to that in neighboring Austria and Slovakia, but as of 2008 the vignette is stored electronically and checked for using gantries that read license plate numbers. You can purchase them in intervals of 4 days, 7 days, 1 month, or 1 year. The vignette is very important and it is a good idea to buy it even if you don't plan to use the highway. Control is automatic with video cameras and you will get a high ticket (70 000 HUF) automatically without any warning.

if you travel by normal roads the speed limit is 90 km/h between cities and 50 km/h inside, which slows you to the average around 60km/h. Roads often have high traffic (especially main roads like #8 to the west, #6 to the south and #4 to the east). On highways, the speed limit is 130 km/h unless explicitly noted otherwise, but in the inside lane it is still very common to have someone speed by you.

When you cross the country from the west to the east (or vice versa), take into account that there are only a few bridges crossing the Danube outside Budapest. There are some ferries available though.

Outside urban areas, it is a legal requirement to drive with headlights on, even during the day.

Hungary has a policy of zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol. If you are caught driving even after only having a couple of units of alcohol you are most likely to be arrested. 

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