Famed for its quaint charm, historic thermal baths and atmospheric ruin bars, Budapest is among Europe’s prime city break destinations. The Hungarian capital is becoming increasingly accessible for visitors with limited mobility, with a variety of public transport, sightseeing, accommodation and restaurant options adapted for easy access by wheelchair users. Judit Kisfaludi, from Hungarian activist group Living Independently – in a Community, gives her top tips for discovering Budapest when mobility is an issue.
When it comes to public transport, Budapest has a variety of options: the metro, trams, buses, trolleybuses and suburban railway lines. “All in all, I’m satisfied with public transport. Basically, you can reach almost every important sightseeing spot via accessible public transport,” Judit explains. In the city centre, almost every main bus and tram route operates with low-floor vehicles. Trams are accessible without help, but if you want to get on a bus, you need to ask the driver to put down the ramp for you (don’t worry, it’s a quick process). Unfortunately, metro lines are less convenient, since Metro Line 4 is the only one with lifts at every stop.
Budapest’s public transport company BKK has a very thorough guide to accessible transport on its website, while its mobile app BKK Futár has an accessible journey planner. In addition, you can call to request a door-to-door minibus service when necessary for the price of a regular one-way ticket, 350 Forints (approximately £1).
Judit moved to Budapest four years ago, and frequent visits by relatives from out of town mean she’s well acquainted with the city’s tourist sights. “Besides the good transport, I like that many attractions are close to each other. You can visit lots of places without having to get on a bus or tram,” she tells Culture Trip. In her experience, the main difficulty comes when visiting old buildings, such as some parts of Buda Castle – the need to preserve these historic sites can make it near impossible to install ramps or other access options. According to Judit, however, there are a number of wheelchair-friendly sightseeing options in Budapest.
Heroes’ Square and the surrounding neighbourhood
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Heroes’ Square is Budapest’s most impressive square. Noted for its colossal statue complex – dating back to 1896 and featuring key Hungarian national leaders from history – the square is an excellent starting point for a wider exploration of the surrounding area. Thanks to its location right next to the Museum of Fine Arts, the Kunsthalle contemporary art museum, Széchenyi Thermal Baths, Budapest Zoo and the City Park, you can spend an entire day in one area. These are all easily accessible with a wheelchair; the buses and trolleybuses that drop you off at the square are mostly low-floor and the zoo is completely flat, while the Széchenyi baths are equipped for visitors with disabilities. The nearby Museum of Fine Arts and Kunsthalle have ramps and elevators, and are must-visits for art lovers.
“I was delighted to discover that the Budapest Eye [the city’s 65 metre-high ferris wheel] has wheelchair-friendly booths,” Judit tells Culture Trip. Accessible via bus 9 or 16, the wheel offers a stress-free way of seeing Budapest from high up – expect a breathtaking skyline of towers, castles, hills and churches.
Some travellers like to plan every minute of their itinerary, trying to check off every must-do on their lists. However, sometimes you can learn more about a city by simply relaxing in a popular local park. Set in the middle of the River Danube, Budapest’s Margaret Island is perfect for chilling out, with its leafy trees providing welcome shade on hot summer days. During the summer months, it’s here that you’ll find the spectacular Margaret Island Musical Fountain, which pairs dancing water jets with eclectic playlists – listen to everything from Vivaldi to the Rolling Stones.
Big Bus’s hop-on-hop-off buses offer a stress-free way to see Budapest’s key attractions. You can choose from multiple routes, including a range of night tours that demonstrate why Budapest is known as the ‘Paris of Eastern Europe’: a city of long, majestic avenues and architectural treasures, elegantly illuminated at night. The Night Tour ends at the elevated Castle District, so you can see the city in all its night-time glory from the very top of Budapest. An audio commentary in 23 languages is also provided.
“You must always do your research as a tourist in a wheelchair, but in Budapest it’s particularly challenging to plan where to eat,” says Judit, meaning there is often little information about the accessibility of local eateries. For an impressive selection of Hungarian and international dishes with guaranteed easy access, Judit says you can’t go wrong with the all-you-can-eat Trófea Grill, a popular chain restaurant that can be found throughout the city. Higher-end restaurants catering to visitors with mobility issues include Gundel in the Budapest City Park (famed for upscale Hungarian dining) and Hungarian-style tapas bar Bock Bistro on Erzsébet Boulevard. In addition, Judit says most restaurants with street-side terraces can be convenient options for wheelchair users.
“Honestly, the state of accessible accommodation in Budapest is not that promising,” Judit laments, with few budget-friendly hotels suitable for guests with mobility problems. This poses a particular challenge if, like Judit, you resent paying large sums simply for a room to sleep in. She estimates accessible hotel rooms usually start from about 30 000 HUF (approximately £80) per night, but is happy to note they are mostly well located.
Radisson Blu Béke Hotel
Close to the grand Andrássy Avenue, the Radisson Blu Béke is one of Budapest’s most iconic hotels. The hotel, which opened in 1913, features stained-glass windows and elaborate frescoes by Hungarian artist Jenő Haranghy. Its lobby café was a popular hangout spot for writers and artists, and hosted exclusive cabaret shows – meaning guests today can sip their coffee knowing they are partaking in a little bit of Budapest history. The wheelchair-friendly hotel has auditory guidance for visually impaired guests, an emergency cord in the bathroom, lower bathroom sinks, higher-level toilets, and elevators and grab rails throughout the building.
Kempinski Hotel Budapest
If you’re looking for more than just somewhere to lay your head, go for the Kempinski. Located right next to the Budapest Eye and Váci shopping street, the hotel boasts an interior just as breathtaking as the view outside. The style of the rooms mix traditional and modern luxury, with contemporary furniture accompanying the hotel’s extensive collection of original Hungarian paintings. The lavish wellness centre offers body treatments, beauty services and massages free of charge for guests. Don’t worry about missing out on anything – the rooms, bathrooms and amenities all cater to disabled guests.
For a more economical option, check out the EasyHotel Oktogon. From Oktogon – a major intersection, situated at the junction of the Grand Boulevard and Andrássy Avenue – you can get anywhere easily, thanks to convenient access to tramlines 4 and 6. The rooms are modest, but the amenities for wheelchair users are definitely not – bathrooms are equipped with emergency cords, grab rails and low sinks, while accessible rooms can either be located on the ground floor or within easy reach of an elevator.