This guide to Hungarian train tickets, and how to buy them online, covers the basics of what you can expect to encounter when making bookings.
The idea is to provide context for the tickets and journey options you should typically encounter, in usual circumstances, when making a booking either online or at the station.
SMTJ has striven to ensure that the advice presented is as accurate as possible, but a guide such as this cannot cover every combination of journey options.
Hungarian national operator MAV sells train tickets for journeys within and to and from Hungary on its recently relaunched booking site.
It offers particularly good value for international train journeys and a plus of booking international tickets on the MAV website, is that seats will be assigned, no matter which train you will be taking.
Meaning that if you'll be travelling by Railjet, or on one of the EuroCity routes with optional reservations, you will in effect have complimentary assigned seats.
But if you book at a station, you will have to pay an additional fee if you want to reserve on international trains when it's optional.
Though as travelling within Hungary by express trains is comparatively cheap, you won't make such big savings for journeys within Hungary.
Also be aware that if you book online on MAV you have to collect your ticket(s) at the station in Hungary, they can't be emailed or posted.
You can save the equivalent of around €2 by booking tickets online for journeys within Hungary by IC, EC or Railjet trains.
But it doesn't matter how far ahead you book, the online prices for the domestic journeys are fixed.
If you want to book at stations, the best option can be using the ticket machines, as ticket counter staff may not speak English.
The larger ‘yellow’ machines are comparatively simple to use, thanks to good English translations; and easy to follow step by step instructions.
Tickets for all online bookings on MAV made outside of Hungary have to be collected from ticket machines at stations; you will need to insert the card you used, when making the booking online to collect a ticket, so make sure you take it with you.
So If you book train tickets TO Hungary online, you can only collect them in Hungary.
You have to purchase a ticket for your bike at a station if you want to take it on a Hungarian train.
For journeys under 50km a flat rate is charged of 235 HUF, for journeys above 50km, the price depends on distance.
Children aged 3 and under travel for free (they need to sit on an adult's lap).
Children aged 3 -5 travel for free if they sit in an adult's lap, but 50% of the adult rate if they occupy a seat.
Children aged 6 -14 travel at half the adult rate.
Limited numbers of discounted tickets are available for international train journeys between Hungary and Austria, Germany, The Czech Republic and Switzerland; they're seemingly not available when traveling to/from other countries.
Different ticket prices are often offered, so the very cheapest tickets inevitably sell fastest.
If you’ll be making an international train journey from Hungary, MAV will have the cheapest ticket prices.
And there are incredible bargains to be had; travel from Budapest to Berlin by EC train for €29!
So for international journeys from Hungary it is worth making the effort to book online and then collect the tickets from the ticket machines at a station in Hungary; DON'T print the ticket yourself, it won't be valid.
You'll be sent a code, that you can enter into a ticket machine (the online booking process includes a map showing the stations equipped with such machines).
Only tickets printed by the machines are valid
The yellow MAV branded ticket machines have English translations and step-by-step instructions for printing tickets.
(As tickets have to be collected in person in Hungary, booking tickets for trains TO Hungary is a conundrum, despite MAV often offering the cheapest prices for such trains).
A fairly long list, but it will save you time, money and confusion.
(1) Use the ‘full fare’ default - unless you are under 26, will be travelling with children 14 or under, or a pensioner; fall into one of these categories and you’ll be entitled to a discount.
(2) The prices for international journeys are displayed in euros
(3) Tickets for international daytime trains are generally added 2 months ahead of the travel date, but overnight trains can be added sooner
(4) On the first screen you see, having clicked ‘search’ (the screen on which you enter the travellers details including date of birth etc) all of the trains travelling between the cities you have selected, on the date you have chosen, will be displayed
If at the next stage of the booking process, you’re not given the option for selecting tickets for some of these trains, it means they are not on sale YET.
(5) This initial screen is also the screen on which you have to select 1st or 2nd class; to compare prices between 1st and 2nd class tickets you need to hit the back button and switch between the two options.
(6) A key thing to look out for when using MAV is that, when you click ‘tickets and prices’, you will be taken to a page that only lists the ticket prices and not the trains.
That list of departures you could see on the previous screen will no longer be visible, but the trains you CAN book are listed on the NEXT step
(7) At the next step, click on the ticket prices to see which departures can be booked at that particular price; when more than one train is available you can pick whichever train suits you.
(8) So to see every train departing on your chosen date, you may have to click on multiple ticket prices.
Meaning that if you want to travel by a specific departure, that you saw listed on the initial search results page, you may have to click on more than one ticket price in order to find it.
(9) What can cause confusion is that not all trains may YET have been added to the website.
For example, when clicking on a price, you might only see a night (EN) train and not the daytime (EC) train etc; and in this instance, that will be because the tickets for the EC train have yet to be placed on sale.
(10) All international tickets sold online by MAV are train AND seat specific; seats will be assigned when making a booking.
(11) A plus of booking international tickets online with MAV is that seat reservations are included, even on routes when they are otherwise ordinarily optional, such as Budapest <> Wien, or Budapest <>Praha.
(Reservations are compulsory' for these discounted online tickets because they are seat specific).
(12) On the international daytime routes where no discounts are seemingly available, seat reservations also happen to be compulsory, so the tickets sold online for these trains are also seat specific.
(13) Reservations are also compulsory on the night trains, so the night train prices on MAV all include the reservations fees.
(14) So if you book last minute at the station for journeys to Austria, Germany, The Czech Republic and Switzerland, not only will you have to pay a higher price, because the discounted tickets won't be available; you'll also have to pay an additional fee, should you want to, for a reservation.
Rail pass users have to purchase a reservation (supplement) for journeys by IC trains and for journeys within Hungary by EC and Railjet trains.
These supplements cannot be purchased online and they're not sold by the ticket machines, so use a ticket office (and hope the staff will speak English; taking a print out of the trains you want to reserve on can help,
If you want to avoid the reservations on the IC/EC trains, slower, alternative trains are available on all of those routes
However, many of these alternative trains are 2nd class only, all seats can be taken at the busiest times of day and some of these slower trains aren’t air-conditioned.
In contrast IC trains are faster, guarantee a seat and many are air-conditioned, so rail pass users shouldn’t rush to avoid IC trains, particularly in the summer months.
Using rail passes to travel to and from Hungary:
Reservations are NOT compulsory for rail pass users for international daytime journeys on the EC trains between Hungary and Slovakia and Czechia, nor on the Railjets for international journeys to Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
Though reservations are recommended if you’ll be travelling with a 2nd class rail pass on the Railjets; they're typically busy trains.
However, they ARE mandatory on all other international daytime trains and on ALL international overnight trains.
These rail pass reservations cannot be booked online and in Budapest they can only be purchased in person at the counters in the international ticket offices at Budapest-Keleti station and Budapest-Nyugati station.
Queues can build up in summer, so the best option is to purchase any future reservations before leaving the station when you first arrive in Budapest.
I wanted to share my passion for train travel and explain how anyone can take the fantastic journeys I have taken.
This is one of more than 100 train travel guides available on ShowMeTheJourney, which will make it easier to take the train journeys you want or need to make. As always, all images were captured on trips taken by ShowMeTheJourney.