Budapest has a fairly extensive public transportation network. In Freiburg, I could get by just on the straßenbahn, and it was handy and functional for a largely centralized city of its size. Of course, Budapest is considerably bigger and considerably more sprawling. Like many similar European cities of its age, it’s largely devoid of skyscrapers. The center of the city is made up of buildings that are all pretty equal in height, largely a consistent six stories. The result is that there is no overridingly dense core like in American cities. While Budapest still runs a hub-based transport network as if it has that dense core, it has to have relatively frequent transport networks throughout the city. The density doesn’t afford itself to using the metro everywhere, so you end up with a lot of diversity in modes of transport.
(Full disclosure – I stole a couple of these pictures from my 2009 trip to Budapest. Clearly I have not taken enough pictures of vehicles to comprehensively do an entry like this)
The centerpiece of this is, of course, the Metro. Budapest Line 1 was the first line in continental Europe, and runs the length of Andrassy Boulevard just steps beneath the surface of the street. Most of the stations on it still bear the more decorative designs of dating from 1896. The other two lines feel quite different. Line 2 feels incredibly Soviet, with station designs that are a bit darker and more utilitarian. Line 3 feels relatively modern in its design. The result is that you can basically tell which line you’re riding on based solely on what the stations look like – handy if you’re ever a bit confused. Budapest is currently constructing Line 4 (which was originally supposed to be completed before I got here). Line 4 will be handy because it will be the first line that doesn’t transfer in Deák, the main transfer point, allowing people to shave some considerable time off their journeys. Also, it will make only the second tunnel under the Danube – there are only three subway stations on the Buda side of the river at present.
Old-timey line 1
Soviet line 2
Modern (and momentarily blurry) line 3
And perpetually Soviet-looking subway cars.
Metro aside, there are four major types of public transport: the HÉV (suburban rail), trams, trolleybuses, and buses. Handily, all are color-coded: green, yellow, red, blue. Generally, they run as you’d expect them to. The HÉV run from the metro stations at the end of the 2 and 3 lines out into the less dense areas of Budapest, and, ultimately, the suburbs. The only time I’ve used it is going to Szentendre, though I might take the one that passes across the street from my apartment some day just to see where it takes me.
Trams are on the bigger inner city routes not covered by the Metro and have an occasional bonus 24 hour-route. I live outside the radius of the tram network so I don’t use them nearly as often as friends who live in the central area would. Still, knowing where the trams goes allows you to cut a significant time off your commute over the metro at times, given the nature of transferring.
New looking trams
Soviet looking trams
Finally, there are trolley buses and buses – which basically do the same things, except I can follow wires overhead to see where trolleybuses go and I can’t with buses. Ultimately, this means that trolleybuses are confined to denser areas where the wires can be connected comprehensively and the buses go out further into the fringe of the city. Needless to say, buses are an essential part of my transport.
While this is the core of the public transportation system, in Buda, there are a couple of outliers mainly designed for tourists/weekenders, not commuting, both in the Buda Hills to take you into the parks. Both are gimmicks. There is the cogwheel railroad (which I've not used yet), which is an old-style railroad that takes you in to the forest. And then there is the children's railroad, which is run and administered and conducted by children. Thankfully, driven by adults.
The children's railroad made all the more harrowing that, while run by children, it appears to have the fewest safety features of any of the public transportation options in Budapest.
So far, it's served me well - yet despite all of these options available, Budapest has been under a perpetually worsening smog warning for the past two weeks. Go figure!