Seeing the Parliament building is one of the top things to do in Budapest.

Backpacking Hungary: Top experiences

 

  1. Exploring Budapest’s ancient architecture
  2. Trying paprika potato chips, paprika soap, and paprika-infused water at a paprika festival
  3. Sampling Bull’s Blood wine from dozens of small vineyards in the Valley of the Beautiful Women
  4. Journeying to the end of the Ottoman Empire in Eger
  5. Challenging the locals to a fooseball game in a ruins bar

 

Jump to the list of posts from Hungary, or read on for my comprehensive Hungary travel guide.

 

Hungary itinerary ideas

 

The best Hungary holidays take you beyond Budapest, to smaller cities like Eger.
Hungary is more than Budapest. Take the time to explore provincial cities in Hungary like Eger.

 

Hungary is a small country that is relatively easy to get around. So you can cover a lot of ground in a short trip.

 

With one week in Hungary, start by exploring all the things to do in Budapest with 3 days in the capital. This is where you’ll find a wealth of historical sites — from ancient churches to important sites from the 1956 revolution in Budapest. Be sure to get out to the medieval towns around the Danube Bend — Szentendre is particularly nice. Stop for a night along Lake Balaton before continuing to Pecs and then Szeged. From here you can cross into Serbia or head back to Budapest.

 

A two-week Hungary vacataion will give you enough time for all of the above before continuing into the Bereg region — the heart of Hungarian folk traditions. From there, it’s a convenient hop to Eger, the land of Bull’s Blood wine and gorgeous hilltop castles. From there you can go back to Budapest or pass through Debrecen to pick up a train to Ukraine.

 

Hungary weather and when to visit Hungary

 

Many places to visit in Hungary shut down outside of the peak summer season.
Hungary is at its best — but also its most crowded — in July and August.

 

The weather in Hungary is similar to elsewhere in Central Europe — hot summers, mild springs and autumns, and cold winters.

 

Tourism really picks up in July and August. Expect big crowds, booked-out accommodation, and lines at some of the major attractions in Budapest.

 

Spring and fall are the best times to visit. The weather is still warm enough to enjoy being outside, but the crowds are much fewer. If you’re backpacking Hungary on a budget, try to visit in June or September, when campgrounds are still open.

 

Winter is very cold and can be snowy. Most places catering to tourists shut down between November and March.

 

Language in Hungary

 

One of the less-visited, but still great, Hungary tourist attractions is the Valley of the Beautiful Women.
In Hungarian: “Valley of the Beautiful Women.” The direct English translation: “Nice Woman Valley.”

 

The main language spoken in Hungary is Hungarian. It bears little resemblance to other Central European languages (or really any other languages at all). The grammar is extremely complex, and it’s known for being one of the most difficult languages to learn. In fact, the only living languages that closely resemble Hungarian are spoken in western Siberia!

 

As a visitor, you’ll have little trouble getting by in English, especially if you stay in the area around Budapest. The further afield you go, the more helpful it will be to have some basic knowledge of Hungarian. This is especially useful when trying to read bus and train timetables.

 

Budget for backpacking Hungary

 

Is Hungary cheap to visit? If you're backpacking through Europe, you may be surprised at how similar prices are here to countries further west.
Even most of Hungary’s castles have free admission. That being said, Hungary is no longer one of the cheapest countries in Europe.

 

Backpacking Hungary is a little cheaper than traveling in its neighbors to the west and a little more expensive than its neighbors to the east.

 

If you’re willing to self-cater, take public transportation everywhere, stay in hostels, and visit outside the peak season, you could keep costs down to about $20 a day. Double that and you could have some meals in restaurants and splurge for an occasional hotel stay outside of Budapest, making for a much more comfortable Hungary vacation.

 

Sample costs

 

Dorm bed in a hostel: 4,000 Forint

Fast food or self-service meal: 600-1200 Forint

Beer at a bar: 400 Forint

Museum or historical site admission: Free-1500 Forint 

Train ticket from Eger to Budapest: 3,000 Forint

Taxi from Buda to Pest: 1,000 Forint or less

Evening visit to a thermal bath: 5,100 Forint

 

Hungary visa requirements

 

Europeans and Americans don't need a Hungary visa unless they're staying longer than 90 days in the Schengen zone.
Most Europeans, North Americans, and Australians don’t need visas for Hungary.

 

Hungary is part of the Schengen Zone. This means that North Americans and Australians don’t need a Hungary visa for visits of up to 90 days out of any 180-day period. You won’t even notice border crossings with Austria, Slovenia and Slovakia.

 

If you’re backpacking across Europe, you can only spend 90 days out of 180 in the Schengen Zone total. In practice, Hungarian border officials probably won’t check closely if you’ve entered and left the Schengen Zone several times, but it’s not a great idea to risk it.

 

European Union citizens can travel to Hungary with nothing more than a national ID card.

 

If you’re crossing to Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, or Croatia, you will cross a patrolled border and get a passport stamp. The Serbo-Hungarian border is particularly tense now with the construction of a border wall in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

 

Accommodation in Hungary

 

Budapest has great budget hotels. But other cities in Hungary are pricier for backpackers.
Budapest has the best range of hotels in Hungary. Elsewhere, budget travelers may have to camp.

 

In the world of Hungarian accommodation, there’s Budapest — and then there’s everywhere else.

 

Budapest has been a backpacker haven for decades now. It feels like there’s a hostel every five meters. Before you book one, do your research: a lot of the party hostels are gross and expensive. Dorms in someone’s flat are also available and have a higher cleanliness standard. Most hostels are in Pest, which is where you’ll want to stay anyway, since it has a more livable vibe (Buda’s a bit swanky).

 

In other cities in Hungary, it can be quite difficult to find affordable places to stay. It’s worth timing your visit to Hungary in the summer and bringing a tent. Camping will open up much more of the country to you.

 

In Eger, you can rent a caravan at a campground a bit outside the city during the warmer months. Pecs and Szeged have limited budget accommodation options as well.

 

Otherwise, you’ll have to upgrade to simple mid-range guesthouses when backpacking Hungary. These can come as cheap as $25 — a very reasonable price if you’re traveling with others — but the cheapies can also be pretty far outside the city center. $40 is a more reasonable budget for a good, central hotel in Hungary.

 

Food in Hungary

 

One big bonus of Hungary tourism is getting to eat at the amazing bakeries.
Bakeries are great places to grab breakfast on the go.

 

If you’ve been traveling around Central and Eastern Europe for awhile, backpacking Hungary will come as a welcome surprise. There is food with flavor here!

 

Hungarian food’s claim to fame is paprika as a key ingredient. Whether it’s in your goulash (the national dish), cod soup, or simply a condiment on the side, it will appear on your table in some form. Meat and vegetable stews spiced with paprika are among the most common dishes.

 

Meat features prominently in the Hungarian diet. The most common vegetable is potatoes, but you’ll also find cabbage, bell peppers, dark leafy greens, and plenty of other veggies served as side dishes.

 

Hungarian bakeries are some of the world’s best. You never have to search hard to find perfect bread (served as an accompaniment to most meals) and pastries. They serve as a cheap and quick breakfast, or a good place to pick up self-catering supplies.

 

Drinks in Hungary

 

Be sure to sample Bull's Blood wine during your Hungary vacation.
Sampling Bull’s Blood at one of the local vineyards near Eger.

 

Cafe culture is big in Hungary, like its Central European neighbors. Hungarian cafes verge on the stuffy side, and especially in Budapest, they can be outrageously expensive. But coffee and cake with a view of the Danube is a quintessential Hungarian experience and worth the splurge at least once.

 

Hungary produces its distinctive full-bodied Bull’s Blood wine in the area around Eger. If you want to sample it, head to the Valley of the Beautiful Women, where there are 20-some wineries that offer free tastings and wine by the glass ($1). If you want something sweeter, head to the Tokaj region for its famed local sweet wines.

 

Activities you can do while backpacking Hungary

 

The best things to do in Hungary include wandering around and soaking up the unique architecture.
Hungary has some gorgeous churches.

 

When you visit Hungary, you can do all the typical activities in big European cities. See some churches, visit the museums, explore the castles, walk along the river and check out the different neighborhoods. Architecture and folk art are where Hungary really excels.

 

One of the best ways to see Budapest is on a free walking tour. There are so many things to do in Budapest that this can help you cover a lot on a short trip. Most tours last 3-4 hours, and you can choose different themes — from the classic sights to the “Communist walk” around Pest. Tip your guides well!

 

Hungarians love to pamper themselves and the tourists who visit with spa days. Check out one of the country’s famous thermal baths (or in typical Budapest fashion, go to a party at them), or relax along the shores of Lake Balaton at one of the popular spa towns.

 

Nightlife is big in Budapest. You can’t miss an experience at a so-called ‘ruins bar’ — derelict buildings converted to dive bars. Hungarians love to play fooseball, so most bars have a table.

 

Hungary’s rolling hills are alluring for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking is one of the best things to do in Hungary. But visiting outside of the peak summer season can bring disappointment — popular hiking areas and campgrounds may close as early as September 1st.

 

Transportation in Hungary

 

Wondering where to go in Hungary? No need to worry about transportation -- buses and trains cover all the main Hungary tourism spots.
Trains and buses cover most of the country. You only need to rent a car to get to really remote places.

 

Hungary is very easy to get around. The rail network serves most small towns and all the big cities. You can buy tickets same-day, and most journeys are just a couple hours — the trains are fast. If you’re taking one of the limited-stop trains, you must have a seat reservation. You can now make reservations online and just print your ticket at the station.

 

If you’re under 26 and have an ISIC card, you can theoretically get discounts on the trains. However, ticket salespeople seem torn on whether this applies to foreign travelers or just Hungarians — you won’t always get it.

 

The bus system is even more comprehensive than the rail system, and unless you’re going way off the beaten path, can get you virtually everywhere. Most routes have multiple departures each day. Show up at least 30 minutes before the bus you want leaves, if only because bus stations can be very confusing.

 

Most travelers use the tram system to get around Budapest. It’s tempting not to buy a ticket, but be forewarned: there are plainclothes police in many cars who will slap you with a big fine if you get caught. Just pay the $0.75 for a ticket.

 

Safety when backpacking Hungary

 

Any Hungary travel guide has to mention that pickpockets are everywhere in Budapest.
Backpacking Hungary is very safe. Just watch out for pickpockets in Budapest.

 

Backpacking Hungary is very safe.

 

There are pickpockets in Budapest, so keep your wits about you — especially on trams.

 

Many backpackers party it up in Budapest. This may not be the smartest move. A thief can spot a wasted backpacker from a mile away. There are plenty of other things to do in Hungary that don’t involve getting too drunk to keep your wits about you — it’s not worth it.

 

Hungary travel advice for women alone

 

Hungary is extremely safe for solo female travelers. You may occasionally face some unwanted attention, most commonly if you’re out at night alone, but it’s nothing worse than what you probably experience at home on a daily basis.

 

Ready to get started? Check out the posts from Hungary.

 

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Soak up Budapest's amazing architecture. Try Bull's Blood wine near Eger. Go to a paprika festival. Start your backpacking Hungary adventure here!