Budapest and Prague Travel and Photography Tips Part 1
Budapest Travel and Photography Tips
I have long wanted to travel Europe by train. I recently had a short notice opportunity to travel so decided to have a test run of European train travel. Prague and Budapest have been on my list of places to visit for a long time and were at the top of the list of destinations.
This two part article gives details on some of the sites I used to research and book the trip and features a selection of photography tips for anyone planning a visit to either Budapest or Prague.
Researching Flights and Train Travel
The Man in Seat Sixty-One website is my go-to site to find reliable information about European train travel. I recommend this site if you have any plans to travel Europe by train. If you haven’t considered using the train to get about in Europe then have a look. It may well surprise you how easy and cheap it can be. Looking through the seat 61 website, I found there was a direct train service between Prague and Budapest. Ticket prices were a bargain starting at only €19!
To maximise the available time in both cities, I chose to fly from the UK. The first site I check for cheap flights is Skyscanner. I find Skyscanner is useful because you can choose broad searches. I selected ‘UK’ as the departing airport and ‘Prague’ as the destination and in no time had a selection of flights and prices. I repeated the search to get results for Budapest flights. Comparing flight prices showed flights to Budapest were cheaper. It made sense then to start this trip with a flight to Budapest and then catch a train to Prague.
For return flights, I searched for ‘Prague’ as the departing airport and ‘UK’ as the destination. The first search showed the cheapest flight was £69. I decided to check neighbouring countries to see if there was anything cheaper. I quickly found I could get an Easyjet flight from Berlin Schonefeld to Luton for £19!
I went back to Seat 61 to see how easy it would be to get from Prague to Berlin by train. There was a straightforward service available priced at €39.
So travel wise, everything looked straightforward – a flight to Budapest, direct train from Budapest to Prague, train to Berlin and flight home.
I used Trip Advisor to find suitable accommodation. A couple of well reviewed places were available in both Budapest and Prague so the trip was viable.
I chose to stay for three nights at the Akademia Apartments in Budapest and then two nights at the Charles Bridge Hotel in Prague.
Modern travel is amazing, within 10 minutes I had
- booked flights with Jet2 and Easyjet
- checked in on both flights
- printed boarding passes.
- received confirmation for five nights accommodation in two different countries
I returned to Seat 61 to find out about train tickets. The first leg from Budapest to Prague needed booking via the Hungarian Rail Operators website. The site is fairly easy to navigate and buy tickets as there are English versions of the web pages. Be aware there is no print at home option for tickets. When you buy a ticket, you get the usual email confirmation. This confirmation is an e-ticket with a 10 digit reference code at the top. When you arrive in Hungary you need to visit a main railway station. Here you can print your tickets from the internet ticket printing machines. These are blue coloured ticket machines dotted around the stations. Enter your 10 digit reference number and your tickets will be printed.
To find ticket prices for the second train trip from Prague to Berlin, the Seat 61 site advises checking prices on both the German Rail Website and the Czech Rail websites. Prices can vary on each site so you may save some money. I bought tickets from the bahn.de site for €39 each plus €2 per person for a reserved seat. These tickets can be printed at home.
Budapest Airport Transfers
With the key elements of travel and accommodation booked, I researched the smaller items such as getting to our accommodation and the best ways of travelling around at each destination.
The Budapest by Locals website is packed with lots of useful information and is a good read for anyone thinking of travelling to Budapest. TripAdvisor forums are also a useful resource. I found two real nuggets of useful information.
The first nugget was from TripAdvisor. A lot of people were recommending the Budapest Airport Shuttle minibus transfer service. This service takes you straight from Budapest to the doorstep of your accommodation. You can book your transfer in advance. Your confirmation email will include a booking reference.
After collecting your baggage at Budapest airport, simply follow the lines on the floor marked ‘Airport Shuttle’. The lines guide you straight to their booking kiosk. Give the person your printed confirmation and your minibus will be arranged. You are usually asked to take a seat and await your accommodation name to be called. This service is cheap and efficient as it literally drops you off at the steps of your accommodation. The airport is 25km from Budapest city centre and takes about 40 minutes in the rush hour. Budapest driving could be politely described as ‘enthusiastic’ and the shuttle is recommended as a convenient way to avoid this enthusiasm!
Budapest Travel Card
The second nugget of advice involved advice on the public transport network in Budapest. Budapest has an excellent public transport network including buses, trams and metro system. Two travel cards are available – the Budapest Card and the Travel Card. Both cards include free travel on all public transport for a set period of 24, 48 or 72 hours. The difference is that the Budapest Card includes some free entry or discounts to specified attractions and discounts at certain restaurants.
I recommend one of these two cards if you want to use public transport to get around the city.
The 24 hour Budapest Card is 4900 HUF or €17 each
The 24 hour Travel Card is 1650 HUF each or €5.30
There is a lot of discussion about the relative value of each card. On this trip, I found the Travel Card gave the best value. We didn’t have enough time to visit a lot of the attractions but needed to get around easily and cheaply.
If you were visiting for two or three days and intended to visit and enter a lot of attractions, then I would recommend the Budapest Card.
If you were only visiting for two or three days and just needed to get about cheaply then I would recommend the Travel Card.
One thing to note is that there are a lot of venues and discounts included with the Budapest card. You will need to get about a lot to get the most value from the Budapest card.
You can choose to buy individual tickets for your tram or metro trips but be very wary and vigilant in your use of individual tickets. There are several different types of ticket available with differing conditions. You MUST validate your individual tickets BEFORE starting your journey at the red machines on the Metro or in the trams. Ticket inspectors are extremely vigilant in checking tickets. Should you be found to have an invalid or unvalidated ticket they are renown for being extremely firm with transgressors. Significant on the spot fines and threats of police intervention are frequently mentioned on forums by tourists caught out.
I highly recommend the use of a travel card if you intend to use public transport as they do not need validating in any way. You just show the ticket to the inspector when asked.
As mentioned earlier, I used Tripadvisor to find suitable accommodation.
In Budapest, we booked 3 nights in the Akademia Apartments on Akademia Utca. This is a one bedroomed self-catering apartment. The apartment is perfect for a couple as it provides all you need for a quiet break. Akademia Utca runs parallel to the Danube one street back from the riverbank. The Parliament building is about 200yds from the front door. If you know Budapest then you will understand how perfect this location is. You are right on the No 2 Tram Line and 350yds from the Kossuth Lajos ter on Metro line 2. This is particularly useful if travelling by train as this Metro line takes you directly to Budapest Keleti railway station.
Budapest Photography Suggestions and Tips
- Shoes on the Danube
- Hungarian Parliament building
- Margaret Island
- Chain bridge
- Buda Castle
- Fishermans Bastion
- Danube Promenade
Although Budapest is busy with people bustling around, I felt totally safe even with all my photo equipment. At night, I had my tripod over my shoulder with my camera attached walking around and felt safe. I did exercise caution at all times and was always on the lookout for potential problems but never once felt uncomfortable.
The people are extremely friendly and the city is beautiful. As you look around it seems inconceivable the city and people were witness to such brutality and horror for so long.
There are many photos of Budapest on the internet, all very similar, so one of my aims was to capture a different viewpoint on these iconic locations.
Below is a selection of my alternative views on Budapest with the odd classic viewpoint thrown in.
Shoes on the Danube and the Danube Promenade
The promenade provides a nice leisurely stroll along the River Danube. From the Promenade you get great views of the magnificent Buildings and attractions on both sides of the river.
The shoes on the Danube memorial consists of 60 pairs of 1940s period shoes. They commemorate the Jews who were lined up on the Danube’s riverbank bank, executed and whose bodies fell into the river during 1944 and 1945.
Hungarian Parliament Building
The architecture of the Parliament building is truly stunning. The building is of Neo-Gothic styling and was fully completed in 1902.
The Chain Bridge is one of the central tourist attractions and one of the main crossings when visiting the different attractions. There are lots of opportunities to take photos of, and from, the bridge.
Hungarian Photography Laws
So, after proclaiming the delights of photography in Budapest, here is the caveat mentioned in my introduction. In March 2014, the Hungarian government enacted a new ‘civil code’. The code makes it illegal to include a person in a photograph without their prior explicit permission.
If ‘Street Photography’, the capturing of candid day to day scenes, is your thing, then Hungary is not a country that should be high on your list of places to visit.
I have tried to find evidence of actual prosecutions under the modified ‘civil code’. To date, I can’t find any hard evidence of a prosecution for including a person in their photograph. Even so, I wouldn’t want to be the first and neither would you, so exercise caution when taking photographs in crowded areas.
I mentioned earlier how busy Budapest was. In reality, it is almost impossible to take general photographs without people appearing in the shot.
From a professional photographers standpoint, commercial photography in Hungary is fraught with potential problems. I have been reviewing the online collections of the major stock agencies. It seems there is a small number of images available with people in that obviously haven’t given permission. What I do see is a lot of ‘sterile’ photos without people.
What I take from this is that a small number of stock photographers are unaware of the ‘civil code’ changes. A larger number are aware and supplying ‘sterile’ people-less pictures.
That is a real shame as such a vibrant place deserves recording in its true beauty – of which people are a key ingredient.
The EU are studying the wider implications of Hungary’s civil code and is due to report in late June. Let’s hope the report clears up the situation for public photography in Hungary.
So, in summary, be careful if considering using your photography for commercial purposes.
Fortunately, an unintended consequence of the new code means there are plenty of reasons to experiment in close-ups, abstracts and long exposures!
If you are sensible with your people photography then I am sure there will be no problems. Nothing in my caveat detracts from the fact that Budapest is a stunning city, full of friendly people and I heartily recommend you to visit.
Thanks for reading, in part 2 I will focus on the trip from Budapest to Prague.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments