Everything You Need to Know About Taking a Train to Budapest
I have been to Budapest before, but it was 20 years ago on a school trip. We flew into the airport were picked up by a van and taken to our hotel. I didn’t have to worry about a thing. This year I was taking my three favorite people in the world by train and there weren’t a lot of internet resources. So here is everything you need to know about taking a train to Budapest.
But First, Something Completely Different
While we imagine Europe always existing exactly how it does today, this is quite untrue. Especially when thinking about countries from the axis powers during WWII and those behind the Iron Curtain up until 1989. Hungry is one of these countries. World War I ended the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and World War II began it’s life as a Soviet Satellite state. While this meant the end of communism, elections went the way of socialism and many years of political and economic upheaval. They joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004, meaning the country as we know it today is ultimately less than 20 years old. This makes it look and feel quite a bit different than other countries, which I love. But can also make for a trickier trip. This explanation will make more sense as you read on, I promise.
Train Tickets to Budapest
In the hours and hours of research I did to figure out how best to purchase tickets to get from Vienna to Budapest the one thing that seemed unanimous was that the Hungarian Rail Service would not accept home printed train tickets. That being said to save money I would highly suggest buying tickets a couple months in advance to save money. Then even though you have your home printed or phone tickets, take that information to your departing train station ticketing booth and have them print you physical tickets. You don’t want to get chucked off a train in the middle of nowhere for having insufficient proof of travel.
If you are buying tickets last minuet and you are leaving from Vienna, you can buy tickets at the central train station at either a kiosk or at the ticket counter upstairs. Everyone at the ticket counter is incredibly nice and speaks English very well. However, they may tell you that you can hop any train during the day of your ticket, and while that may be true of the OEBB (Vienna National Rail), it is not true of the Hungarian Rail Service, your train time is your train time no amount of haggling or extra fees will get that time switched.
Train Stations in Budapest
There are two train stations in Budapest, Keleti and Kelenfold. They are both on the same line, Keleti being on the end of the line. If you are coming from Vienna you will pass through Kelenfold before you reach Keleti, and unless your accommodations are in the suburbs you will want to make sure you stay on until the last stop. Not all trains pass through Kelenfold though if coming from the north often trains go straight to Keleti, never passing through the south western suburb of Kelenfold.
Keleti Train Station
The Keleti station is a gorgeous station, perched right in the center of downtown at the top of Rakoczi street. This makes for incredibly easy access to most sights in town. To make matters even easier, easy access public transit. Just walk outside the station you will see stairs leading below ground and ticket kiosks at the ready. These do have English options, it is my understanding this a new feature and quite the blessing.
International ticketing can be found on the top level in the vestibule between the outside and inside of the main station, it is not obvious and there are no signs. When you walk into the main doors of the station veer left, go about halfway down the platform and walk left through a large doorway, and then take another left into the vestibule. You will have to tell the door attendant what you need, he will give you a ticket, which will in no way be in order compared to the other numbers on the call board. You will get served quickly, it is just a very odd process. Everyone in this area of the station did appear to speak English.
Folks working at the regional desk decidedly less so. Regional ticketing is at the basement level below the reader boards. This desk would handle any ticketing related to traveling within Hungarian boarders.
There is also an information booth to the right of the main doors, folks here also appeared to be well versed in English though not what we Americans would consider overly friendly. Please don’t take offense to the chilliness, I found this relevantly common and not because they are rude. They are not rude, everyone I spoke to was incredibly helpful, just perhaps more reserved than we are used to.
Killing Time Near Keleti Station
If you time your arrival at Keleti well before your departing time as we did there are quite a few restaurants and shops in the area to keep you busy while you wait. Up Kerepesi street there is a shopping mall, and tucked back a block on Mosonyi is a police museum. If the weather is nice enough there is a rather large park just up Fiumei street. On the other side of the train station there is a fair amount of recognizable American fast food chains, including a Starbucks which has free Wi-Fi and nice bathrooms. As well as two grocery stores Coop ABC and City SPAR. Our train into Budapest did not have a dining car, though departing it did. If you have a long onward train ride I wouldn’t count on one, on our ride in there was a woman pacing the train asking for sips of peoples drinks, she wanted our coffee. Don’t be like her, stock up on essentials might before making the journey.
In summary there are some tricky things about getting into and out of Budapest by train. But I think this post should help eliminate some of the confusion. It is at the very least everything you need to known about taking a train to Budapest, tried and proven to work.