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Budapest is the capital of Hungary, and is actually two cities in one. It is situated in the north of the country on the Danube River, which divides the city into two parts: Buda on the west and Pest on the east. The two sections are very different in character, with Buda featuring hilly residential areas and terrace buildings along the river, and Pest featuring mainly commercial areas. The city is sprawling, but well laid-out, and it is easy to get around. Budapest is known for its amazing architecture, much of which dates from the turn of the 20th century, giving the city a historic feel. The city is an interesting mix of Western luxuries and more quaint and traditional aspects. Some refer to Budapest as “the Paris of Central Europe” because of its rich cultural history and flourishing arts scene, and it has also been called “the Queen of the Danube.” The city is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, with over 20 million visitors a year.
Budapest enjoys some of the sunniest weather in all of Europe, and no matter when you visit during the year, your chances of fine weather are good. Spring and autumn tend to be the best seasons to visit because the weather is at its most beautiful and there are fewer tourists. The winters do get fairly cold, but not until around mid-December. January is the coldest month, and temperatures average around -2¢ªC (28¢ªF). Even in winter, there are blue skies and plenty of sun. You can expect rain showers in late spring and in November, but these generally do not last long. August is the hottest month, with temperatures averaging between 21-30¢ªC (70-86¢ªF).
The Hungarian language is also known as “Magyar,” and is very unlike most other European languages. It is not an Indo-European language, but rather a member of the Finno-Ugric family, and is distantly related to Finnish and Estonian. The most common foreign language that Hungarians speak is German, but many also speak English, particularly the younger generation.
The most common religion in Hungary is Catholicism, which includes about 68% of the population. Many are Roman Catholic, but there is also a variety of Hungarian Catholicism with slightly different traditions. There are also Protestant denominations, with 20% of the population being Calvinist and 5% Lutheran. About 5% of Hungary is Jewish. Muslims, Hindus and other religions make up a very small percentage of the population.
The currency used in Hungary is the forint, abbreviated as either ‘Ft’ or ‘HUF.’ There are notes in denominations of 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10,000 and 20,000 Ft, and the coins in use are 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 Ft.
In Hungary, it is common to tip about 10% in restaurants. You should tip immediately when you pay the bill by rounding up, rather than wait to leave it on the table. It is also normal to tip taxi drivers, hairdressers, and even doctors and dentists. For all of these services, a tip of about 10% is common, but if you are unhappy with the quality of the service, it is acceptable to tip less or not at all. You can also give petrol-station and restroom attendants, and ushers in movie theatres a small tip.
The normal sales tax in Hungary is 20%, but some medicines and other necessary goods only carry a 5% tax. Tax is included in all prices that you see in stores. As a tourist, you are entitled to a refund of up to 16% of the taxes you pay on goods in Hungary. Exceptions to this are works of art, collectibles and antiques, for which you cannot ask a tax refund. In order to be entitled for a refund, you have to spend at least 50,000 Fr in one place, and must take the items you have bought out of the country within 90 days. You will need to get a “VAT Reclaim Form” from the shop where you make your purchase, and then present it to customs officials at the airport when you leave.
The country code for Hungary is 36, and the area code for Budapest is 1. To call Budapest from abroad, dial 00 36 1 followed by the local number. There are a number of public telephones in Budapest, from which you can make both local and international calls. They accept both coins and phone cards, which you can buy at phone shops and any post office. They come in amounts of 800, 1800 and 5000 Ft. If a telephone box has a black and white arrow and red target on the door, it displays a number and you can be phoned back there.
There are several internet cafés in Budapest, most of which have 20 or more terminals. At many internet cafés, you can also play games, burn CDs and DVDs, print and photocopy. 200 Ft per hour is around the average price. Most internet centres stay open until 11 pm or midnight.
Most shops are open Mon- Fri from 9 am - 7 pm, and food stores typically open earlier, usually at 7 am. Some food stores are open on the weekends, but generally only in big shopping centres. Department stores are usually open Mon - Fri from 10 am - 6 pm and Sat from 9 am - 1 pm. Some stores are open late on Thursday night. Tobacconists and sweet shops have more limited hours than other stores, usually closing every day in the afternoon.
Banking hours are Mon - Thurs 8 am - 1 pm, though some banks stay open an hour or two later. Post offices are open Mon - Fri from 8 am - 7 pm and Sat from 8 am - 1 pm.
On the following days, most shops will be closed, as well as banks and post offices. Public transportation may also be more limited.
1 Jan, New Year''s Day
15 Mar, Anniversary of the 1848 uprising against Austrian rule
9 Apr, Easter Monday
1 May, Labour Day
28 May, Whit Monday
20 Aug, National Day (Feast of St Stephen)
23 Oct, Republic Day (Anniversary of 1956)
1 Nov, All Saints'' Day
25 Dec, Christmas Day
26 Dec, Boxing Day
Budapest does not have any more or fewer safety problems than the average European city. It is always important to be savvy to avoid becoming the victim of a crime, but you do not need to worry or feel unsafe. As a tourist, it is more likely that you will be the target of pickpockets or scam artists, however. So follow common sense, and don’t place valuables where they could be snatched. Also, be wary of any people who approach you on the street and ask you to do something, however friendly they might appear. Changing money on the street is actually forbidded in Budapest, and it is a bad idea anyway. Try not to carry too much cash on you. Places to be most on the lookout for pickpockets include the Castle District, Vaci utca, the metro, and trams.
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