This year we decided to spend the New Year’s holidays in Budapest, instead of staying at home. Both tickets and hotel room were booked back in August, so the prices were appealing and not too high for such trip.
Period of reference: 29/12/2013-3/1/2014.
Team consisting of me, my wife and our 4 year old son.
My last time in Budapest was back in September 2010, but it was for business purposes so I did not get to see much things.
- It is a traditional city, with an intense medieval character at the center of Europe,
- it is said to be cheap (at least compared to other destinations),
- it is said to be really festive during Christmas holidays
- there is a direct flight from Athens,
- we found really cheap flights during the summer (for the Christmas holidays)
Why NOT Budapest?
- It is cold and humid during the winter, especially for a 4-year old kid
- Use of English is limited in public places (e.g. metro stations, public means of transportation, even shops)
- The use of the local currency means that one will lose some money during conversions (e.g. cash conversion, credit/debit card)
- It is not as cheap as it used to be; prices for goods like food, shoes/clothes and other stuff are now comparable (if not more expensive) to the Greek ones!
- There’s no metro connecting the airport with the city, so you either have to commute using more than one mean or to use a taxi.
- We had various issues with our debit cards during the pre-authorization. We finally managed to have one of them working. It was probably not the hotel’s fault, but the communication was rather problematic as they never responded in our requests to find an alternative way of payment.
- We arrived at the hotel at 10.30 but the check in was at 15.00 (rather late, but it was the policy of the hotel). There was no way to speed things up, so we had to leave our luggage at the hotel, take a short/long walk around, had something to eat before we we returned to the hotel and almost fell asleep while waiting for our check in.
- The hotel’s spa, swimming pool and wellness facilities are actually shared with guests and people actually using the gym etc. In fact it is a rather crowded facility, to which we also had access.
- The apartment was indeed big and included a fully-equipped kitchen, a sofa, a large LCD TV and lots of storage spaces. The bathroom was innovated, clean and bright, featuring both a shower and a bathtub; however, it lacked any window or mean of ventilation… a bowl full of fruits was available and well-appreciated.
- Not too many bathroom amenities; just two bars of soap, an antibacterial gel and shower gel/shampoo in a dispenser. I missed anything with the hotel’s logo on it.
- The apartment smelled badly; it had something to do with the bathroom and despite the use of an air-freshener, the smell was obvious
- The room was cleaned daily and a broken lamp was immediately fixed without us asking the reception (apparently the previous guest informed the reception about that)
We had the opportunity to do a little sightseeing, as our son was getting tired and bored easily, he had to be at bed at about 14.00 and 23.00 respectively, he does not like to eat outside (e.g. fast-food, restaurants etc.), he was getting cold etc. On top of that, he didn’t like us to take photos so we had to trick him. The weather was cold and cloudy (as expected) but at least it did not rain during our stay, so we could take some short walks. We visited the central market, Vaci utca (the most visited street of Budapest) and the green bridge. That was all. We planned to take the Children’s railway (Gyermekvasút) but it looked hard to reach any of the stations…our son would love that but we had to skip that. We mainly used the blue metro line, as there was one metro station close to our apartment and the city center was only 3 stops away.
We had our first lunch at the local KFC, which were rather close to our hotel. I really liked the food but my wife and son didn’t. We also tried McDonald’s and had dinner at two more formal restaurants. The food was nice, goulash soup was lovely but the prices were rather high – higher than the ones some years ago. One planned dinner at For Sale pub was cancelled due to a problem with our reservation and I was advised not to visit my favorite Fatal restaurant for various reasons.
The central market was crowded and provided us with the opportunity to buy some souvenirs for family and friends; however, the prices were not lower than the ones in the shops, even at Vaci utca, which is considered as a tourist place. We got some sweet paprika, cups and toys for the kids.
- On Sunday evening we had a meeting for dinner with other Greeks at the Calvin metro station, which was only 10 mins by metro from our station. We went to get the metro tickets but the booth was closed (as expected). The automatic ticket machine outside the station did not accept bills (we only had 500 and 1000 HUF banknotes) and after we made some change by buying stuff at the nearby grocery, the ticket machine proved to be out of order. There was no way for us to buy tickets at this point so we started walking. It took us about 30 mins to reach the Calvin metro station and our son froze in the meantime!
- Prices were rather high in general; in restaurants we paid about 15 euros per person for a main dish and a shared desert, while prices for clothes, shoes etc. were usually higher than in Athens!
- The best way for buying local currency is to wait until you reach Vaci utca or other commercial streets of Budapest, which are full of exchange shops. The exchange rate is much better than the one provided by banks or at the airport. You can even pay the taxi with a credit card, so you do not need any HUF before reaching your hotel.
- As regards taxi, the safest option is Fotaxi, the official company associated with the Budapest airport; they are legitimate and you even get a voucher with an approximate amount of payment, based on the place of your destination (which in our case was almost 100% correct). It takes about 20-25 euros from the airport to the city center and the taxi drivers are really kind.
- The use of credit/debit cards is really common in Budapest and might be the best option of paying while shopping, eating out and booking tickets. You only have to check with your bank if additional fees apply; in my case, I had one debit card which had additional fees for paying in currency other than EUR, so I opted for another one which was only charging the currency rate based on the Visa one.