The capital of Hungary is Budapest, which is also the largest and most populated city. Other major cities are Győr in the west, Pécs and Szeged in the south, Debrecen in the east and Miskolc in the northeast. Hungary is a unitary state, divided into 19 counties. There are also 23 towns with county rights. The capital – Budapest – is independent of any county government.
The official language is Hungarian, the 13th most widely spoken first language in Europe with around 13 million native speakers. It’s also one of the official languages of the European Union. There are many rural dialects spoken countrywide, though standard Hungarian is based on the variety spoken in Budapest. An interesting fact is that Hungarian is a member of the Uralic language family and distantly related to Finnish and Estonian.
Hungary’s geography is defined by its two main waterways, the Danube and the Tisza. These two rivers divide the country into three sections: Dunántúl (literally “beyond the Danube” or Transdanubia), Tiszántúl (“beyond the Tisza”), and Duna-Tisza köze (“between the Danube and Tisza”). Transdanubia is a primarily hilly region which includes the very eastern stretch of the Alps (called Alpokalja), the Transdanubian Mountains in the central region, and the Mecsek and Villány Mountains (both famous for their vineyards) in the south. The northern part of the country is covered by the foothills of the Carpathians. Hungary’s highest peak with its 1014 metres, The Kékes, is also found here. The country is home to the world’s largest thermal water cave system and the second largest thermal lake – „Hévíz” in Hungarian, the largest lake in Central Europe – Lake Balaton – and Europe’s largest natural grasslands – The Great Hungarian Plain or „Alföld” in Hungarian.
Hungary has a mild continental climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are hot with low overall humidity levels but frequent rain showers, while the winter is cold and snowy. Average high temperature in the summer is 23 to 28°C and average low temperature in the winter is −3 to −7 °C.
Hungary is in the Central European Time Zone (GMT+1).
Daylight saving time: runs between the end of March and the end of October (CET+1/GMT+2).
Currency and money
The Hungarian currency is the forint (Ft and HUF). If you want to exchange your currency to forint, always do so at an official exchange office. Never exchange money on the streets with random strangers, since this is prohibited by law.
There are ATMs on almost every corner in Budapest, and you can find at least one ATM in every city countrywide. Money withdrawal from ATMs is in forint.
All major credit and debit cards (MasterCard, Visa, etc.) are accepted. If you want to use a card and you have doubts about whether it is accepted, please look for the usual window stickers. Note: card acceptance is not obligatory, so always carry some cash in forints.
Cash payments that don’t end in 5 or 0 will be rounded to the closest 5 or 0, e.g. for HUF 152 you pay HUF 150 and for HUF 158 you pay HUF 160. All prices in shops are gross prices including VAT.
Medical cost for EU residents and students
For residents of the European Union (plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland) “basic healthcare” is free. Have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and passport or ID ready to show to medical staff. You must get your EHIC before arriving in Hungary (or be able to get one and present it within 15 days of treatment), otherwise medical care must be paid for. This “basic care” doesn’t cover non-emergencies or emergency repatriation. The EHIC doesn’t cover pre-existing conditions or “medical tourism” either, but chronic conditions are covered. Subsidies on medicines vary and EU residents (with ID) might be eligible; this will be calculated as you pay at pharmacies.
Transport in Hungary
Even in comparison with other European networks, Hungary’s domestic transport network is considered expansive; every settlement can be accessed via bus, rail or both. Whether you are travelling by bus or by rail, initially it is recommended to use the Travel Schedules menetrendek.hu travel planner to select the optimal route; with the help of the planner, domestic rail or bus routes can be selected on the basis of several aspects (e.g. travel time, number of transfers). The travel planner can also be downloaded as a mobile application.
The application can also be used to plan complex journeys (joint use of rail and bus services). In this case, it is worth checking the exact route plan under the “Útvonal részletei” (Route details) menu item, including available transport service providers and services, as well as the place of transfer and connecting times.
In the event that rail rides are available between the selected sections of the journey, it is recommended to repeat the search for the given section on the web site of the rail company, where the ticket may also be purchased. Railway travel may also be planned via the integrated maps operating on smart phones with an iOS or Android operating system.