Yup, I got fucking scammed in Budapest, Hungary. Basically, my first day in Budapest involved 2 random Hungarian trick-girls and the police. If you want to read straight through to the scam part, here’s the shortcut.
Intro to Budapest
Budapest is the capital city of Hungary. The name itself came from the consolidation of 2 cities or areas: “Buda” and “Pest”. BTW, you pronounce it “Pesht” instead of “Pest”. Buda area is the one on the left / west side of the city (it’s the hilly one). Many people say that rich people live on this side, though I know some common people who live there too. Pest area is on the right / east side (the flat one). If you compare both areas, you’ll see that streets and city blocks in Pest area look more properly designed, this is because there was a big flood in this area, and they had to re-design the town.
Getting to and from Budapest
It’s quite common for travellers to group their Budapest trip with other cities nearby, including:
- Prague, Czech Rep. (just north of Austria and Slovakia)
- Vienna, Austria (which is 3 hours away by train from Budapest)
- Bratislava, Slovakia (even closer to Budapest than Vienna)
- Krakow, Poland (north of Slovakia)
All within easy reach of railways or bus network.
Budapest is easily accessible by car, plane and train. I flew from Athens to Budapest with Aegean Airlines, which took 1 hour and 50 minutes. Train between Vienna and Budapest takes 3 hours and costs around 27 Euros (this was a go-show ticket, bought on the same day). The train I took from Budapest to Vienna was also heading to Salzburg and Munich.
Budapest Airport – ATM & Transport
ATM Machine – When you arrive at Budapest airport, there is an ATM machine in the baggage claim area. Take some Hungarian Forint money while you wait for your luggage.
Airport Transfer – At the airport exit, find the bus stop for bus number 200E. This bus will take you to the nearest metro station from the airport, called Kobanya-Kispest (blue Metro line 3 / M3). This is the last stop of the bus.
If you buy the bus ticket from the ticket machine at the airport exit, it will cost you 350 HUF. However, the machine at the airport was broken when I was there, so I bought the ticket on board the bus, which was a little bit more expensive: 450 HUF. Don’t forget, you need to validate the bus ticket (insert to the slot machine) immediately on board the bus. Same goes with using the metro, before you go down to the metro platform; make sure you validate your ticket using the machine by the escalators.
My Accommodation: Lavender Circus Hostel Budapest
I booked my hostel accommodation in Budapest via hostelbookers. I sorted the available places by ratings and found Lavender Circus Hostel as one of the best ones in terms of feedback. From the images, the hostel looks like a hip place with an artsy and vintage atmosphere. I chose this hostel and it was probably one of the best hostels I have ever stayed at!
The hostel is not like a dorm hostel where you will find many random drunk people sharing a room. This hostel only consists of private double rooms, so it’s more like a hotel really. Most guests were couples and families but there are also some solo travellers like myself. The people who work there are awesome (especially Ildi), they were really helpful and you can talk to them when you get lonely (seriously they said this exact same thing: “if you ever get lonely, come to the lobby and hang out with us”).
When I arrived at the hostel, the first thing they did was serving me with shots of Palinka (a traditional Hungarian shot) and also some Hungarian wine. Palinka was once banned from homemade since its alcohol level can vary greatly from 40% to 70% depending on the maker. But now they lifted the ban and let people make their own Palinka. I haven’t even paid for anything, yet they served me 2 shots of Palinka and a glass of wine. This place is awesome, and I’m loving Budapest already!
If you have stayed at many hostels, you must know the atmosphere from a big hostel type where it’s far from intimate and it’s quite hard to meet other people. Here it’s exactly the opposite. I can speak with them for hours and hours. Actually, after a long day of travel exploring the city, I always looked forward to go back to the hostel and just socialize there with anyone around (with Palinka and wine of course). Overall, I had a great time staying at Lavender Circus Hostel and would recommend it to anyone.
What to see & do in Budapest – Points of Interest
If I have to summarise Budapest in bullet points, it would be:
OK maybe it is a bit unfair to include “tourist trap” in my summary of Budapest, but hey it happened to me and many people; and I think it is worth to share the story so that anyone reading this can avoid being scammed.
Free Walking Tour in Budapest
The first thing I usually look for in any European cities is the free walking tour.
- First of all, you will learn about the city’s or country’s history.
- Second of all, you will know places to visit, restaurants to eat at, awesome bars and pubs, etc. Or if they don’t tell you, just ask!
- Last but not least, you will meet other travellers. Just be open and friendly, you’ll definitely make friends!
Out of all free walking tours I have ever joined in European cities, Budapest probably has one of the best walking tours (maybe in a tight competition with Prague). About 60-70 people gathered to join the walking tour in Budapest, but we were then divided into 4 groups of 15-20 people. And all the guides are friendly and very knowledgeable about the city. The meeting point for the regular tour is at Vorosmarty Square, daily at 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM.
With them, you will learn about the history of Budapest and Hungary, they will tell you which restaurants and pubs to visit and other things to do. Same people who run this free walking tour also have some more free tours, the Communism Walk and the Jewish District Walk. They also have a free Spanish language tour.
Budapest Ruin Bars / Pubs
Imagine this… communist residential blocks, uncompleted buildings, abandoned ruins, and they turned these into bars and pubs. How cool is that?
From my short visit, they always talk about these 3 most famous ruin bars in Budapest:
- Instant – A true Communism residential block
- Szimpla – This place is quite big, with some cool corners and awesome setting
- Fogas – This place is quite small, with the least number of tourists (when I was there)
I highly recommend you to visit all three ruin bars above. You can also join some pub crawl tours that are organised for tourists. You can find the brochures at your usual accommodations. Or if you don’t like to party (or consume alcohol), these places are also open in the day as regular cafes.
Here are some photos of the above 3 ruin bars:
All 3 ruin bars above (and more bars) are located in the Jewish area, which I think is a very cool and hip area (think of London’s Soho). They have some boutique small bars and cafes here, and you will find Budapest’s real life and night life in this area. Walk around here in the evening for a random pub crawl, or in the day for the cafes / restaurants.
The Jewish area is basically an area that covers inside these spots / metro stations:
- Blaha Lujza Ter
- Nyugati Palyaudvar
- Deak Ferenc Ter
One of my favourite streets in Budapest is the Kiraly Utca / Kiraly Street, where you can find cool pubs and bars, and small restaurants.
The Hungarians were invaded / colonised by the Turks in the past, hence the bath culture. They have several baths in the Budapest area. Here are some of them:
- Szechenyi Bath
- Gellert Bath
- Lukacs Bath
- Kiraly Bath (Turkish)
- Rudas Bath (Turkish) – Single sex, not mixed
For first time travellers to Budapest, they always recommend the Szechenyi Bath (located in the north of the city – near the Heroes Square). Szechenyi Bath is a cheaper option and the bath area is much larger. I myself went to the Gellert Bath, a smaller bath in the city centre and it features some nice architectures.
Apologies to say this, but I personally think visiting the bath was a complete waste of my time. Probably because I just went to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland the week before, which was incredible (I think this is a must-do-thing at least once in your lifetime). I really don’t see the point of taking a warm bath in the summer where it is actually warm outside. So maybe it is better to do this in the winter.
- National Museum – Hungarian history
- House of Terror – Nazi and Communist occupation history (they were based in the same building, in different times)
- Museum of Applied Arts
- Rock Hospital – Nuclear military bunker and Hospital in a cave
- Memento Park Museum – Outdoor museum features socialist statues and military barrack
- National Gallery – Fine art
- Holocaust Memorial Center – Genocide of Hungarian Jews
Central Market Hall
Located south in the city by the Green bridge. You can find traditional food, wine, etc.
Budapest / Hungarian Parliament Building
It’s the third largest Parliament building in the world.
View of “Pest” from “Buda” hills
You know the famous bridge with love locks in Paris? Well actually these things also exist in many other places, including Budapest. The difference is, in Budapest the locks are secured to a tree-fence at a park, quite far from the water.
The simple analogy is you “lock” your love then throw away the key to the river. You can only unbind your love by opening the padlock (hence everlasting). In Budapest, you “lock” your love, then you will have to walk quite far to the river. This way you will have time to really think about what you are doing; and some people change their mind during the walk (well I’m sure this is only a joke).
Location: Elizabeth Square
The Infamous Budapest Tourist Trap
I am so ashamed to admit that I got scammed with the oldest tourist trap in Central & Eastern Europe. It was my first night in Budapest and it involved 2 trick-girls and the police.
I took the metro from the Heroes Square and got off at Vorosmarty Square. It looked like a nice and rich part of town so I walked slowly while taking photos with my SLR camera. Suddenly these 2 Hungarian ladies came up to me asking for directions. One of them looked around my age (about 27 to 33), attractive, she said she is Hungarian from out of town near the Austrian border. The other one looked older (around 40), she said she is Austrian-Hungarian (she speaks both Hungarian and German). They told me they work together in that same city near Austria, hence they don’t know Budapest.
I told them I don’t know the area as I am not a local. They asked me where I’m from etc. I was just being myself, trying to be nice and friendly to people, wanting to learn cultures and make friends with everyone, so the conversation continued on. We started walking together and somehow decided to go to a pub for some drinks. You must think I’m an idiot right now, but when I travel alone, I do these random things all the time, in fact on a daily basis. I’m sure solo travellers out there can relate to my story.
So about 2-3 blocks away from where we initially met, there was an underground bar. We went in. They started to order a lot of drinks. We had several shots of Palinka each, a couple of bottles of wine, and the older lady also ordered some salmon salad too. Unfortunately I don’t remember their names (or what they said their names were).
Apparently these girls are not stupid. They have travelled to many places in the world, including South East Asia where they can describe Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. They also know some words from these languages (Thai and Malay). When they found out that I am working in digital marketing, they then started talking about Apple, their marketing strategy, their market share etc.
Suddenly the younger lady became too “friendly” with me, and there were some physical touches going on. That’s it, I thought. There was definitely something wrong. Why was she so nice to me? The younger one flirts quite a lot. Come on, I know I don’t look like Brad Pitt. In my mind, I just know that I needed to get away from this situation.
Meanwhile, the older lady kept on looking at her mobile phone. I started to worry… She then received a phone call, she said it was her twin-sister. She gave me the phone to talk and surprise her sister. She sounded natural on the phone. Was this part of their act? The waitress has also been watching us (watch me to be exact) since we sat down. There’s definitely something wrong. So I told them that I wanted to go back and have some sleep, as I am really tired having just arrived earlier that day.
They looked a bit disappointed, they said they would like me to join them to go to a night club. Again, I forgot the name of the nightclub, but it was quite a funny name. And they even said they wanted to visit the club because of its funny name. They also invited me to join them the next day to take the hop-on-hop-off bus. But I politely insisted to leave.
We asked for the bill. When the bill came, I told them “OK let’s split the bill 3 ways”. The older lady pretended not to hear what I said. While the younger one said: “in Hungary, guys always pay the bill”. FUCK… I looked to my left and right, the bouncers were looking at us. OK so that’s when I know I was being scammed. I guess I just have to pay my way out of this situation.
The bill came down to around 60,000 HUF. That is around 300 Australian Dollars. For Budapest standard, the bill would only be around 50 Australian Dollars (a glass of wine is around 3 dollars; shots are probably 3-4 dollars). I told the waitress that I did not have that much cash. She said they do not accept cards, but there is an ATM (conveniently located) inside the underground pub, near the stairs. WTF? I said to myself I am going to cancel my card ASAP after I paid this bullshit bill – as the machine could possibly be rigged.
Then I left and went back to my hostel. I told the story to Ildi (the hostel staff), and she suggested to go to the police. She did say that this happens very often in Budapest (yes I’m a jackass). Usually, the bill can go up to several thousands of Euros for guys who go on all-night with these trap-girls. Good thing that I realized I was being scammed quite quickly.
The police asked these questions:
- Did they have menus at the pub? (Yes, but I did not touch them at all).
- Did they force you in any way to pay the bill? (No, I just had to get out of that situation so I paid my way out of it).
They said they were sorry, they could not help me because those people did not break any law. OK.. fair enough. When I explained the location of the pub, they could not find this place in their records. WTF.. That is so dodgy.
Because I was curious, I decided to go back the next day to the same pub in the afternoon. The below is the photo of the underground pub from outside. The pub location: Stroll along Vaci Utca. If New Yorker is on your right, keep walking pass Hard Rock Café, keep going for 1 block, keep looking to the right, you’ll see the entrance to this pub (under some clothing store).
Just in case you were wondering, the girls are allegedly working for the pub.
Alright.. enough trick story, back to Budapest.
Food & Cost – What and Where to Eat
Budapest is very cheap. One good meal at a nice restaurant will not cost you more than around 7 to 10 Euros. Traditional food to eat here includes:
- Goulash Soup – In Hungary it is more of a soup than stew.
- Paprika – Somehow they eat paprika all the time in their meal, preferably with cottage cheese.
- Cottage Cheese – You will find this everywhere, meshed into any meal, even kids chocolate bar.
- Some Dumplings – that they eat with everything (sort of like rice or pasta for them).
First day arriving in Budapest, Ildi recommended me one of her favourite restaurants, which is a traditional Hungarian pub called Puroska. Its location is Damjanich Utca, number 40 (on the left if you are walking from the city center). It’s quite far from the city central but it’s worth the walk. I ordered the catfish with paprika and cottage cheese which costed me 2,100 HUF (7 Euros).
Best Goulash in Town
I asked the free walking tour guide where to eat the best Goulash in town, she recommended a restaurant called Kiado Pub. The location is Kiadó Kocsma, 1061 Budapest, Jókai tér 3.
Drinks Cost in Budapest
Drinks are dirt cheap in Budapest:
- A full glass of wine costs around 2 Euros.
- Beer is around the same (if not cheaper).
- A shot of Palinka is about 2.5 to 3 Euros.
Although I was scammed in Budapest, the city is phenomenal. I will definitely return to this city. People are friendly (though not so many of them speak English), but they do try. They might be shy at first (as in they do not open a conversation with you), but when you approach them, they are nice and friendly. Just make sure you avoid the trap-girls.
If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.