When Carornocar first started looking at Budapest, our natural inclination was to suggest that this is an obvious destination where no car is needed at all. This is perhaps most easily influenced by the fact that after London, Budapest has the oldest underground network in the world, and in modern Budapest, public transport still comprehensively serves the city and its suburbs well.
We would also go further and point out that it’s very easy to combine a visit to Budapest with two other central European capitals which are both within a two-hour journey of the Hungarian capital, namely the Slovakian capital Bratislava and the Austrian capital Vienna. Both of these cities also have excellent public transport, so it would be easy to travel in some sort of triangle between them, or even to find low-cost airline flights into Budapest and then to travel onwards from one of the other cities.
However, it would be a shame only to focus on these obvious nearby large cities where public transport is widely available, just as it wouldn’t be doing the wider area justice if we just advised sticking to the city of Budapest itself, using local public transport, and not venturing out at all.
The first place that’s well worth visiting and in easy reach of Budapest is Lake Balaton, which has a huge range of outdoor activities. Beyond this, there are also any number of scenic areas at the eastern edge of the Alps are within easy reach of Budapest.
James says - a few trip notes:
One particular destination which is around a 4 hour drive from Budapest is the absolutely stunning Plitvice lakes national park in neighbouring Croatia. Plitvice may be slightly closer to the Croatian capital Zagreb, and independent travellers might well prefer to get there by taking organised bus tours from either Zagreb or the coastal city of Zadar. However, Plitvice is still an easy day trip from Budapest, and it’s so impressive that we’d highly recommend getting a hire car in Budapest just to go and see it (check terms and conditions about driving out of Hungary). This might be something you’d prefer to do as a day rental from downtown Budapest, but some visitors might prefer to have a hire car for their whole trip and then to see other scenic areas at the same time.
A hire car still has the advantage of flexibility, and for a group travelling together, it tends to work out is better value than train fares. In terms of convenience, there are good motorway links between Budapest and neighbouring Austria and Slovenia, and these might well work out better than messing around with fractured train connections, depending on whether you are staying in suburban or central Budapest.
Should I rent a car in Budapest? In summary, our car hire advice for Budapest is that there is certainly no need to get one, and non-driving visitors will get around here absolutely fine. However, even if you just get a Budapest hire car for one day, the opportunity to visit Plitvice lakes is one that should really never be missed, and for this reason alone our verdict is a yes.