1. PUBLIC TRANSIT ?

Yes one can do it. But should one?

That depends.

Note, first, that In general, all of the information about public transit below is about reaching central Pest, and is primarily for locations near the Blue (#3) Metro; public transit to Buda from the airport is an especially poor idea and how complicated it will depend a good deal on what part of Buda you are heading to (for the Hilton and the Castle District it's a bus a metro and a second bus; most every other part is even more cumbersome).  The website, quite a good one, for Budapest public transit BKK is: http://www.bkk.hu/en/welcome/

For some people, there is a bit of a thrill in diving right into a locale by using the public transit system (or whatever alternative the locals use) to get in from an airport in a city they have never visited. It's a kind of explorers' badge of honor, and it saves money (though often at the expense of time). In Budapest, this should be reserved for the very, very thrifty or the diehards. The fee monitoring system for the transit system is counter-intuitive to many people (if you want to use it from the airport, be sure to research it thoroughly to avoid possible fines), though it has a kind of internal common sense once you get the hang of it. Hungarian is a language that few outsiders speak, and you can't get by with another language when faced with a person who speaks only Hungarian. It is neither Germanic nor Romance nor Slavic nor Asian. The good news is that many, many people speak some English. The bad news is that most of the bus drivers and metro cashiers often do not.

If you are headed into the city center, public transit involves a bus (#200E) from the terminal to get to the metro terminus at Kobanya/Kispest (Blue Metro, which is the #3 line).  Then you take a metro into town.  The Blue Metro starts there, so you can take any train.  It is above ground at this point and there are stairs, escalators, and elevators (the latter two are part of the adjacent shopping center).  The stop in the very center of Pest is at Deak ter, and all three Metro lines intersect at that stop (and only at that stop).  Transfers between metro lines here are free and do not require a separate ticket. Ticket control is usually enforced at Metro stations, so you will be "helped" at entry. Remember to keep your ticket, because there will be control as you leave the Metro again!

For arrivals after 10:30 pm (and a potential wait for getting through the passport line if necessary and getting one's bags if you have any checked luggage), you may well miss the last regular 200E bus (presently scheduled at 10:52).  The option at that time of night involves a late bus (tickets can be purchased on entry into the bus for each leg of the journey).  You take the 900 to the 950, transfer (it's not hard to figure out where...it's the only extended, several minute, stop), and get off the 950 at Deak ter or elsewhere among its several city center stops.  

Information on both the regular route and the night route are at:

http://www.bkk.hu/en/timetables/

The bus to the metro (or the night bus to the other night bus), DOES require a separate ticket or a special Transfer ticket  (you can NOT transfer for free between anything other than a metro and a second metro and currently that can only be done at one point that being Deak Ter).

And every ticket has to be validated, immediately upon entry into a bus or tram or just before entry to the tracks of the metro. Ignore this at your peril.  The rules are not obvious, but they are randomly enforced and if you cannot produce a properly validated ticket on demand you will be subject to a very hefty fine. 

You can purchase tickets or a travel pass from the BKK's customer service points located at the arrival level of terminal 2B its hours of operation are Monday thru Sunday from 6:35 to 22:15. There is also a temporary customer service counter at the arrival level of terminal 2A which is open from 8:45 to 20:20.

You can also get single tickets from a newsstand or a 24-hour pass or individual tickets from a machine at the bus stop (if all you are buying is a ticket, the simplest is the news stand).Details about the vending machines can be found at: bkk.hu - scroll down to the XVIIIth District section, which describes what items can be purchased at the two airport vending machine sites.

Travel cards or public transit passes, come in two sorts and multiple duration's. There are 'normal' passes that include unlimited access to public transit and are particularly aimed at locals but are generally thought to be the better option for tourists as well.  And there are more expensive, tourist-oriented, 'Budapest Card' passes that include other sightseeing services and, indeed, one version doesn't even include access to public transit at all.

These do not have to be validated every time you step into a public transit vehicle, and so are extremely convenient ... so convenient that it may be worthwhile even if you are an inveterate walker (if you are a walker , the individual tickets may be a better deal but many still buy passes much of the time just to avoid the hassle of always having a ticket when they need one; and even if it costs a little more than you would otherwise spend, it will only be just that -- a little more).  Details can be found at: http://www.bkv.hu/en/travel_cards Note that the vending machine by the bus stop at the airport only sells 24-hour travel cards, while the one in the terminal itself also sells the 72-hour card.  

Among the normal passes there is also an extremely cost-effective group travel pass24 Hour Group Travel Card 

Another approach is the Budapest Card:

http://www.budapest-card.com/

There are three versions of the kind with unlimited transit travel: 24-hour (4500 HUF), 48-hour(7500 HUF), 72-hour (8900 HUF), all for adults (and up to one child <6 years old accompanying each cardholder).

http://www.bkv.hu/en/other_commodities

These cards include two free guided walking tours, admission to seven museums, and a large number of discounts.  In order to break even on the additional cost of the card you have to take advantage of quite a number of the included freebies (a 24-hour card costs 4500 Forints more than an unlimited 24-hour travel pass, for instance).  The museum admissions come to about 10000 Forints if you go to all seven, but that is surely impossible within 24 hours; there are several pay-what-you-want walking tours available in Budapest, so it is hard to put a value on the included walking tours, and of course the discounts are only of as much value as the ones you take advantage of. It's a calculation each traveler needs to make individually, based on their anticipated use. 

Back to the question at hand -- how do you take public transit in from the airport?

In sum, unless you buy a  Budapest Card or a transit pass at the airport, you will need a ticket for the 200E bus to Kobanya/Kispest.  There you can buy a second ticket for the Metro, or you can buy one of the travel cards at the cashier.

Deak ter is the center of town, and the two other Metro lines intersect there (again, you can use your Metro ticket to transfer to a different Metro at Deak ter, but you cannot use a single ticket to transfer between buses and Metros). Deak ter is an insanely complicated metro station because the three lines intersect in what amount to three linked separate underground stations, and the street is a very busy and somewhat confusing area once you surface above ground from one of the half dozen or so exits; the odds are pretty good that you will find that you have to go back down and come up somewhere else to get wherever you are headed. 

From there, to the Castle District, take the #16 bus. To most of central Pest, walk.

The cost of getting into the city by public transit comes to about €2-3 per person depending on route and what tickets you buy (and the exchange rate that day).

 2. MINI-BUS .

Some are big fans of this option, and it is less costly than a taxi for a solo traveler. You buy a per-person ticket and it takes you to pretty much anywhere in the city center. Of course, it also takes everyone else in the bus to wherever they are going, so it potentially has a bunch of stops, and a longer trip than a taxi. And more roundabout. And when it is full, it is, well, full so you get to know your neighbors, perhaps getting to know their elbows particularly intimately. All of this would make lots of sense if it weren't as expensive as a taxi for 2 riders, and more expensive than a taxi for 3 or more. But it is the best deal for solo travelers, and a good deal for 2 sociable ones with extra time. There is a booth for the official shuttle, and it is hard to miss.

Airport website minibus link

Note that Wizzair has recently started to contract with a bus company for a bus service from Liszt Airport to a specific location in the city center. There is a discount for Wizzair passengers, but the service is somewhat awkward and the information online is largely in Hungarian

Wizzair site

As the Wizzair site notes, it is a service between the airport parking lot and one stop in the city center (Madach Imre ter).  It does not run on a specific schedule and is, in general, a bit penny-wise and pound-foolish. There are easier ways to save a small number of Euros, not least of which are the mini-van for solo travelers and public transit.  Still, at 4 Euros for a solo traveler, it is not much more than the Metro and slightly more convenient if you are going to the Deak ter vicinity (Madach ter is at Deak ter). 

 

3. TAXI

Starting September 1, 2013 the system of taxi regulation is in effect in Budapest; all taxis must be painted yellow, all must have a standardized meter and rates, all must have a lighted TAXI sign on their roof to show when they are available.  They are no longer able to charge flat rates and always must work off the meter with a standard fare of 450 Forints to start and 280 per additional km of driving, 70 per waiting time minute.  

Taxi Option 1: There is an "official" taxi company, Fö Taxi.

They have a booth inside the terminal, and will get you to the city center for about 6000-8000 HUF (€22-30 depending on exchange rate and distance). They used to charge a flat rate, but the September 1, 2013 changes prohibit that, so in theory they will only be able to charge exactly the same rate as any other company.

They have the official contract with the airport, and are a convenient, reliable way into the city center.

www.fotaxi.hu

'Official' means they pay the airport for the privilege and it means that the airport not only gives them a booth within the terminal but also fights to discourage other taxi companies from working at the airport. There are taxis available, even late at night; they can make arrangements for larger cars if your group is more than 4 (at a higher price).  The airport is small and manageable, and the taxis are immediately outside the door as you walk to the curb. No need to book in advance. 

Fö accepts Forints, credit cards, and most major currencies, but its exchange rates for foreign currency can be very unfavorable (less because they are deliberately trying to cheat than because the rates fluctuate a lot and the company changes its exchange rate infrequently).  In general, it is least costly to pay for the taxi in Forints.

Because Fö pays for the privilege to be the official taxi at the airport, its costs of doing business are higher than those of the other cab companies. You can, as a result, save a (very) few Euros by booking with another reputable company:

Taxi Option 2:  Arrange with another reliable taxi company to meet you at the airport. Most taxi companies will do it, and several have English speaking dispatchers, reliable taxis and good drivers by and large. There is ample discussion in the Budapest Forum about taxis in Budapest generally.  With the new law, all taxis must charge the identical rate for the identical ride.

Taxi Option 3:   Arrange with a Specific Airport Transfer Service to meet you inside or outside, as you exit the secure area, with a sign with your name on it. If you have a particular desire to be met by a driver on arrival, or want a specific kind of car, or have special individual needs like a baby seat or wheelchair, you may want to book in advance with a specific airport transfer service or driver.  Again, there are new regulations that regulate as well this sector of the business, but because these cars do not have to be specially marked it may be more difficult to know whether the car has been officially registered as a transfer company; if you book with such a company or driver, be certain that the driver you go with is the one you booked with and not an unregulated driver soliciting passengers as they exit.  Moreover, unlike cities like NYC or London, there are no real 'airport transfer services' in Budapest, in the sense of large fleets like the taxi fleets, with central offices, English-speaking staff available immediately, and dispatchers; there are just just brokers who book individual drivers and individual drivers seeking to establish a more professional presentation than the independent drivers accosting arriving passengers in the terminal.