You'll often find that Budapest is a bargain compared to other European cities, because although Hungary is part of the European Union, it does not use the Euro as its currency. The Hungarian currency is the Forint (Ft, HUF), which has the following denominations: notes - 500Ft, 1,000Ft, 2,000Ft, 5,000Ft, 10,000Ft and 20,000Ft; coins - 5Ft, 10Ft, 20Ft, 50Ft and 100Ft. Prices, such as hotel rates, sightseeing tours, etc. are often quoted in Euros. Many businesses, even including some select supermarkets accept Euros. Don't forget to check their exchange rates, as you might be better off exchanging your currency first and paying in Forints.
Hungarian Exchange Rate, ATMs & Credit Cards
ATMs are easy to find in Budapest, and there are many options for exchanging cash. Most often, currency exchange kiosks located in tourist areas or shopping malls offer the best exchange rates. Currency exchange is also available at banks at a surcharge. ATMs dispense Hungarian currency at your bank's daily exchange rate; however, you may be charged a foreign fee on top of the service fees. Many international banks have branches in Hungary. Currency exchange is available at the airport at a significant surcharge (10%-15%). Following is a list of kiosks and websites for daily exchange rates and locations in Budapest and around the country:
CorrectChange has five locations in Budapest (1073 Budapest, Erzsébet krt. 41., 1055 Budapest, Szt. István krt. 23., 1056 Budapest, Váci u. 39., 1114 Budapest, Bartók Béla u. 53. alagsor 4. and 1152 Budapest, Szentmihályi út 171.). CorrectChange publishes its exchange rates online, along with a complete list of locations and a currency converter.
Northline has several currency exchange booths in Budapest, as well as a few located in smaller cities in Hungary. Their website is in Hungarian, however it’s still useful for their complete list of locations plus there is a handy currency converter in the sidebar.
The Exclusive chain of foreign exchange companies offers locations both in Budapest and in several cities across Hungary. They have downtown exchange booths in Budapest as well as locations in shopping plazas, malls and supermarkets. Each company has its own tab on their website and lists both exchange rates and locations.
Interchange offers several locations across Budapest including the major train stations and both airport terminals. Their website does not have a currency converter.
OTP, the National Savings Bank, offers daily cash and foreign exchange rates on their website (link to branch locator in top right corner). You can also check the Hungarian National Bank's (MNB) official daily exchange rates. While the MNB does not carry out foreign exchange activities and only shows the mid-point rates, it's a good indicator of daily exchange rates.
Post offices also offer cash advances on most major credit cards, as well as for American Express travelers' checks. Please avoid using any type of travelers' checks, they are a thing of the past and will not be accepted in most places. You will also find that even if travelers' checks are accepted there may be a fee charged.
Credit Cards, such as Visa, Master Card and American Express, are widely accepted. You will be able to use them at most hotels, shops and restaurants. You may find that most museums, smaller shops, and even some restaurants do not accept credit cards.
If you plan on traveling to the countryside, be sure to take some cash with you to cover your trip, as most businesses there are still largely cash-based.
In main tourist areas (Váci Street and the Danube Promenade being the most notorious) and train stations you will likely be approached by people offering to exchange money at a better rate. Always avoid changing your money on the street, as you will most likely be scammed either by being given counterfeit bills, or a stack of newspaper that has been bundled up in genuine bills at either end.
The number of luxury hotels in Budapest is growing, as are the number of upscale restaurants. As you'd expect, these can be quite expensive. However, you will find that there are numerous cafés and restaurants offering great services and quality food at reasonable prices. Public transportation is affordable; a single ride is about US $1.50. An excellent bottle of Hungarian vintage wine can be found for around US $15. Good seats for a world-class opera performance at the famous Budapest Opera House are less than US $50 (average price range is HUF 900–10,900 or US $5-$50 and the most expensive tickets at premier performances cost approx. HUF 16,900 or US $80). The entrance fee to the famous Gellert Baths is about US $18 and to visit a museum will cost you about US $5–10. A regular cappuccino will set you back US $2, but just keep in mind that prices can vary quite a bit depending on the type of establishment.
Tipping in Budapest
Tipping is very much part of the culture in Hungary, and most people will routinely tip waiters, taxi drivers, hairdressers and even gas station attendants. You will also find that attendants at thermal baths and various other service providers expect a small tip. In fact, it's hard to think of many places in Budapest where you won't need to leave a tip. Upscale restaurants, especially in luxury hotels, will likely have an attendant who will also expect a small tip.
Restaurants and Bars: 10% - 15%
Gas station attendants: HUF 100-200
Public washrooms: HUF 100-200 - this is not really a tip, it's a fee for the use of public washrooms and toilets, as most of them still have attendants. Yes, even at places like Mc Donald's, Burger King or Central Market Hall. Our tip would be to always carry a few hundred forints in your pocket in case you get the urge to go, while touring the city.
Tipping at restaurants in Hungary
Many restaurants and cafés in Budapest add a 10% service fee, which is usually stated on the bill. If you are unsure, ask your waiter whether or not service was included. If the service fee is not included, unless you were completely unhappy with your service, it is customary to tip 10%-15% of the total bill.
Tipping in Hungary's restaurants and bars is quite unusual and can be the source of some misunderstanding. You shouldn't leave the tip on the table. Instead, you are expected to tell your waiter how much you are paying in total or how much change you would like back. Let's say for example that the bill is HUF 3,600 and you would like to give a 10% gratuity and pay with a HUF 5,000 note. In this case you would either tell the waiter that you are paying a total of HUF 4,000 or that you would like HUF 1,000 back in change.
When the waiter brings you the bill, he will stand around until you let him know how much you are going to pay in total. This is not meant to be rude, it's just the way it's done in Hungary. When paying by credit card, you may also find that the waiter will bring the card reader to the table to complete the transaction.
However, we are now seeing that more and more restaurants will bring your change back and let you leave a tip on the table, just like in North America.
If you decide not to tip for whatever reason it is usually considered to be a strong signal of your dissatisfaction, yet it's unlikely that the waiter will confront you, as they might in a city like New York.