Bike Citizens Guide to Budapest - Explore Hungary’s capital by bike
Budapest is not just the capital of Hungary, the city on the Danube is also one of the fastest-growing cycling cities in Europe. The Bike Citizens Guide to Budapest gives tips for a short break for bike-enthusiasts and reveals the community’s secret hot spots. Everything you need to know about Budapest bike culture, compact and in-brief!
Aperitif – (Cycling in) Budapest in general
Around 1.7 million people live in Budapest and the cycling conditions are beyond ideal. Most of them live on the Pest side of the river. The easiest way to get from A to B is on the extensive network of cycle paths. Pest is flat, extensive and is the livelier part of the city. Buda, by contrast, is quieter and demands a lot from the passionate cyclist in terms of fitness. There are a lot of hills and climbs here. To get from Buda on one side of the Danube to Pest on the other, there are a good ten bridges from Óbuda in the north, to Kelenföld in the south.
If you’re looking for a cycling challenge, you’ll find it in the Buda Mountains. At 529 metres, János Mountain is the highest peak and a real, natural adventure on the outskirts of town for city dwellers. Yet another highlight and perfect for cycling holiday makers and travellers: One of the most beautiful stretches of the European cycle path EuroVelo 6 (EV6) goes through Budapest along the banks of the Danube. The most impressive stretch goes past the most striking landmarks of the city: On one side Castle Hill – on the other side, Parliament.
A few words about the weather. There’s a truism amongst cyclists in the city: No matter where you cycle in Budapest, the wind is always against you, and it can be very strong. Generally when it comes to weather, Budapest is a dream for cyclists. A continental climate with a moderate amount of rain is normal for the Hungarian capital, and even when it does rain, it never really lasts long. The Buda mountains trap most of the rain clouds and it says dry in the capital more often that the forecasts say.
Community locations and activities
In Budapest, the bike is more than a means of transport. The community in all aspects of cycling is strong and active. Drazsé (pronounced Dragée) is a key figure in the scene, and is called Zsolt Aigner in real life. The former courier, who still goes by his nickname, organises events of all kinds for everything to do with bikes as part of the CBI City Jam Community.
It’s all about the bike at Cycle Banditos Illegal too. Whether in a bike race through the countryside, or Alley Cats in the city, mainly cycle couriers test their ability. Naturally, the race format is open for all types of bike – a really special experience.
Alongside all the cycling fun, there are also projects going on in Budapest which are looking at the serious side of cycling. Műhely Klub is one of these. Social worker Árpád Végh set up the “Workshop Club” in 2010. Since then, the profile of the project has changed enormously. At the start, Árpád repaired bikes which had been donated, along with homeless clients. More and more children from the family centre next door started to take an interest in the activity. Today, the club works mainly with children from a home. Fixing donated bikes is no longer the key focus of the project: A wide variety of sports events (Programme here) give kids the opportunity to experiences success and growth as a group.
Under the name Hungarian Cyclists’ Club (HCC) the Hungarian Bicycle Lobby stands up for embracing the bicycle as a means of transport nationwide. The biggest bicycle association in Hungary is affiliated to European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) and starts a lot of actions around cycling such as “Bike to School” and “Bike to Work” Campaigns. The Urban Independence Magazine reported (link)!
Bike repair and workshops
If you bring your own bike to Budapest, you don’t need to worry if it gets damaged. There’s an expert in the city for every possible type of bike.
The Balkar Bike Shop is an absolute must for all bike lovers. Opened by former bike courier Galád, they don’t just fix up second-hand frames, they also host exhibitions and film nights. They mainly work to order. Cycling enthusiasts of all kinds can get their very own personalised (and painted) companion at Galád. If you’re looking for a contact in the Budapest courier scene, the best thing to do is to drop in at Balkar,
The best place for fixies, single-speeds, or for a bike built to your very own specifications is Recikli. The shop is located a little outside the city. The mechanic and owner is a pro when it comes to “Fast Urban Cycling“. At Recikli they believe repairing is better than new. That’s why they always use a well-preserved, second-hand replacement part, instead of a new one. Recycling and upcycling (and so saving) is important to the “Recikli guys”.
For mountains bikes and cargo bikes, Norbert in the workshop of the courier company Hajtás Pajtás is just the man. As an enthusiastic cargo bike rider and mountain biker, he knows exactly what these cyclists need. Thanks to the wide variety of bikes in the store, there is nothing he can’t repair. Norbert is a keen recycler too – a characteristic typical of the whole of Budapest, and one which makes for trustworthy workshops.
And speaking of money: Hungary is not in the Eurozone. You pay using the local currency, the Forint (HUF). It’s not worth changing money before you leave home. The bureaux de change in the city offer good rates – except those at the airport and the train stations.
E-bikes are the exception in Budapest. It’s mainly cargo bikes that use electronic assistance on the road. We are not aware of any corresponding recommendations at the current time ( August 2018)
Bike Sharing: Explore Budapest on a hire bike
If you don’t bring your own bike to Budapest, there are a few options for getting a bike. The quickest way is with the public bike sharing company Bubi. Register on the website and pick up a bike. The docking stations are spread over the whole city. Admittedly, the bikes are a bit heavy, but they are very uncomplicated. The pricing is fair: Short trips under 15 minutes are fee. You can easily cover all inner-city distances in this time.
For longer trips into the countryside or to neighbouring Lake Balaton, we wouldn’t recommend the Bubis. A visit to Trecikli bike hire is very worthwhile. High-quality, mainly Italian road bikes and unmistakable special editions are built there. Their hire fleet is correspondingly quick and high-quality. Bikes can be hired for 6 EUR per day.
And speaking of Lake Balaton: A well-constructed cycle path goes 200 km around the lake. Faster cyclists can get round the tour in a single day. The more leisurely can do the trip in several stages, spending relaxed nights in the camp sites around the lake, or in one of the many accommodation options available. Wild camping is not allowed!
The Budapest cycle path network
In general, cycle paths in Hungary are not well signposted. You can mainly spot the route by a mark on the ground, or on small green arrows on signs. You’ll have more success in Budapest on the Buda side – here, almost all arrows point to the Eurovelo-Route 6 – the Danube cycle path. It doesn’t matter though. Whether you’re using your own bike or a hired bike, the network of cycle paths is extensive, and here’s a tip to finding your way around: The paths mainly run alongside the roads for cars!
Nowadays, the motorised transport users are quite well used to colleagues on two wheels. So you do cycle correspondingly carefully. But take care: Bikes are allowed on many roads in and around Budapest, but not on them all! In the inner city, watch out for corresponding traffic signs – particularly on the main transport arteries, and streets with a speed limit of 70km/h, cyclists are not wanted, or explicitly forbidden by warning signs. This ban does not apply on national roads (with a 70 km/h speed limit). In the inner city, we strongly recommend you don’t weave in and out of pedestrians on your bike. There’s a high risk of an accident, and particularly in the summer months, everyone’s out and about on foot, there are a lot of tourists about and from April to October, half of Budapest is out on their bike. In the main cycling season, the cycle paths are simply completely packed. That’s great on one side. On the other, it makes getting anywhere much harder, as the cycling infrastructure in Hungary is relatively new, and the riding style is sometime a little adventurous: Mutual consideration or forward looking riding is not yet found everywhere. For example, not everyone gives way to the right yet.
Important tips for all areas of cycling
Wearing a helmet is not compulsory in Hungary, but we’d always recommend it. Good bike lights are absolutely essential – both high light power and flashing lights are allowed. A high-quality light is also obligatory for all cyclists. Bike theft is not a trivial offence!
Taking your bike on public transport
Taking bikes on local public transport (BKK) is not allowed. There are exceptions and pilot trials on certain lines. You can take your bike without any restrictions on the suburban railway (HÉV) and the cog-wheel railway (the Fogaskerekű) in the XII district. The same goes for the tram lines 56, 56A, 59, 59A, 59B, 60, 61. Bikes may also be taken on bus lines 65, 65A, and 165. On bus line 212, please note: You can only take bikes at weekends and on public holidays! If you’re out on trolley bus line 77, you can also get on with your bike. You can bring your bike on the public Danube ferry – lines D11, D12, and D14. You need to use a second single 350 Forint ticket (around 1.10 EUR) for your bike.
And with all these kilometres in the saddle, you shouldn’t forget Hungary’s culinary highlights, particularly when you’re on holiday. The goulash (pörkölt) and goulash soup (gulyás leves) are very well-known. The baked bread dough lángos with sour cream and cheese has many international fans. The best thing to do is to relax and enjoy some refreshment on Római Part, the Roman riverbank. This untouched stretch of riverbank on the Danube in the north of Budapest attracts visitors with its many restaurants and bars – from the refined to the alternative – it’s got everything. Some of the most popular places are undoubtedly the Fellini Kulturbistro and the Két Rombusz. Both bars have an alternative feel and in the high season, there are often improvised bike workshops here. And best of all: This stretch of the riverbank is part of the EuroVelo 6. Just pass by? Impossible!
Last but not least: Although the Hungarian language has the reputation of being one of the most difficult in the world – anybody can manage a köszi – pronounced “kuh see”. That means “thank you”. And the locals love it – whether with a bike or without.
More about “Hungary by bike” in the Urban Independence Magazine:
- Hungary cycles to work: Bringazz a Munkába!
- Bike Citizens online route planner for Budapest: Test the 5minsbybike-function
- Bike Citizens City Portrait – short
About the author
Elisabeth Katalin Grabow is a freelance journalist and convinced fixed gear cyclist. But the author loves to switch to her downhill mount at weekends. For around eight years now, she has lived, worked and cycled in her chosen home of Budapest.