Food & Drinks
#1 - Only a small fraction of Budapest residents eat out, because downtown restaurants are expensive in comparison to local salaries. As a result, most center city restaurants, particularly the pricier trendy and fine dining establishments, are mainly frequented by tourists and expats. More locals and lower prices can be found at cheaper, diner-type places called étkezde/kisvendéglő (see the best ones).
#2 - In Hungary, it's customary to eat breakfast within the warmth of the family home. However, this tradition has been eroded by increasing number of tourists and foreign students. These days in Budapest you can find several options for a croque-monsieur to start your day, both in casual, no-frills cafés and trendier venues.
#3 - Most restaurants in Budapest don't employ hosts to greet and seat people, meaning that guests are free to pick and choose a table they like.
#4 - Prix fixe lunches are available in many restaurants on weekdays at a reasonable price, usually ranging between €5-7. Before choosing à la carte, it's worth inquiring about a set meal (see the best options).
#5 - In Hungary, dinner is usually eaten between 7 and 9 PM, and it's the biggest meal of the day. For the best experience and most locals, try booking a table for 8 PM.
#6 - Free water and free refills are unknown concepts in Budapest (and in greater Hungary). In restaurants you should specifically ask your server for tap water (to which the likely reaction is annoyance), otherwise they will serve you and charge for bottled water.
#7 - Mentally prepare yourself for potentially disappointing customer service in Budapest. Waitstaff with an attitude is a general Eastern European phenomenon and, while things have somewhat improved, Hungary is a severe case.
#8 - As for tipping, 10% is the standard and expected in Hungarian restaurants and bars, with up to 20% for exceptional service. Please note that lately some places have begun to add an automatic service charge (in the range of 10-15%) to the bill, and the waitstuff may or may not draw your attention to that.
#9 - Despite being part of the EU, Hungary hasn't yet switched to the euro currency, instead using the Hungarian forint. Although some stores and restaurants do accept euros too, you shouldn't be counting on it. Given how weak the Hungarian currency is, most prices run into the thousands, ten thousands, so make sure to double-check the digits on your bill before paying.
#10 - A word to the wise: as many cafés, restaurants, and bars are cash-only establishments, it’s generally a good idea to carry money with you.
#11 - Indeed there is a thermal bathing culture in Budapest but it's probably a little different than you might think. If you browse through this essential guide, you will know which baths to go to (and which ones not to).
#12 - The insides of Budapest's grand pre-war buildings aren't usually quite as impressive as you might imagine. They were haphazardly parceled up by the state during communism in order to accommodate people moved in to Budapest from the countryside. Dysfunctional layouts bedevil residents to this day.
#13 - The nationalization of residential buildings in Hungary began during communism in 1952. After the fall of the system in 1989, people had the option to buy (back) their homes from the state at highly favorable prices. As a result, most people today own their apartments in Hungary, in fact, the proportion of privately owned apartments is above 90%.
#14 - During the summer months, Budapest can feel deserted on the weekends. This is because the local population moves out en masse to Lake Balaton, a popular summer destination about an hour and a half drive from Budapest.
#15 - Public water fountains in Budapest are few and far between. However, thanks to a creative idea by a group of locals to turn ordinary hydrants into drinking fountains without compromising their original function, you will have plenty of opportunities to quench your thirst as you roam the city.
#16 - Many Budapest buildings have a stone plaque placed on their facades with the "Műemlék" inscription. These are landmark-protected buildings with architectural or historical significance. Although the texts are written in Hungarian, it's worth taking a closer look as one can make out the construction date and sometimes even the architecture style from the wording. The buildings in the Castle Hill are teeming with such landmarks.
#17 - In the name of the local population in Budapest I kindly invite visitors to be respectful of our city. The increasing prevalence of stag-party tourism has begun to affect us. It isn't pleasant to have to listen to beer-bikes blasting music as they cross through residential streets, nor to experience loud and rowdy visitors who leave behind empty bottles and trash. We love having visitors and a good time but please remember this is our home and treat it with the care you show your own.