3 Nights in Budapest: My Wheelchair Accessible Vacation

Here's the part where I sound like the geography teacher that I'm not: Budapest, the capital of Hungary. A city separated by the Danube river. A city of two halves, you have the hilly district of Buda on one bank of the Danube, and the flatter district of Pest on the other. We traveled in November. It was the last of our short breaks for 2018, and may be our favourite so far.

Hungarian Parliament Building from the Danube river

My Health Condition

For those not reading this on my accessible travel blog, wheeliebigadventures.com, here's a quick summary of my condition. It just gives some context to this blog. I have multiple sclerosis (MS). I'm a manual wheelchair user who self-propels. But I'm just as happy to take a push where I can. Freewheel is my 'cobblestone muncher' of choice. My traveling companion is my fantastic wife and carer, Lisa.

Getting to Budapest

For those in the UK, I'd highly recommend Jet2 City Break. Why did I like them? It's mostly down to the super friendly, personable staff I interacted with when I booked. I booked the flights online but then spoke to their Special Assistance team to discuss my mobility needs at the airport, getting on and off the plane, getting to and from the airplane seat, etc. For anyone who hasn't flown with a wheelchair before, this can all seem daunting (editor's note: see our other Live Quickie blogs addressing this topic), but from the four times now that I've used Jet2, it's been perfect. I appreciate that I might have been super lucky, but hopefully you'll have the same experience I've had.

So for this journey, the Special Assitance included: ambulift to the plane door, transfer out of my chair to the aisle chair, my chair goes into the hold, I'm pushed to my seat, I transfer into the seat, the seat belt clicks into place, everyone's all smiles, and we're off.

Two and a half hours later and we're doing the reverse at Budapest Airport. This was seamless again. Based on my experiences, Jet2 is good at arranging Special Assistance. Here's a link to Budapest Airport's Special Needs page (that's how they title it). It includes a couple of useful Special Assistance videos.

Getting from the Airport to Budapest Centre

The usual range of options are available, but after already using a water taxi in Venice and a dedicated airport train in Rome, I fancied something different. It still has to be public transportation, though. I was going to book a taxi, but with a bit of web-surfing, I learned about the low-floor 100E airport bus. Apparently the service became available in July 2018 and runs from the airport to Deák Ferenc square.

Deák Ferenc square is in the centre of Pest and it was perfect for us. The 100E bus runs every 30 minutes between 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 a.m. Here's a link to some route maps and timetable information. Journey time is about 20-25 minutes. The cost is 900HUF (Hungarian Forint) for a one-way ticket. I'm not 100% sure of the ticketing policy. We paid 1,800HUF from the authorized ticket booth in the airport concourse for the two of us. But we only paid 900HUF for tickets bought from the bus driver on the way back. He was working on the basis that I traveled free with my wheelchair, but Lisa paid for a full ticket. Whatever the policy, as the exchange rate in November 2018 was about 300HUF / $1 USD, it was never going to 'break the bank'.

Does the 'E' in 100E Stand for 'Easy'?

The ticket booth was just outside the main arrivals hall, and the 100E bus stop was just outside the hall (about 110 yards / 100 metres in total). Boarding as a wheelchair user was simple. You make yourself known to the driver before you board the bus. He then opens the side doors, drops the access ramp onto the pavement, and wheels you into the designated wheelchair space. You can then strap yourself in with the seat belt, and there are (at least) two seats for your carer. Perfect.

The bus only has three stops, and Deák Ferenc square is one of them. This is where the bus journey terminates. Our hotel was barely more than a quarter-mile (500 metres) from Deák Ferenc square (I don't know what I did before Google Maps). We got off the bus and took a right turn up Andrássy Street. Maybe a tenth of a mile (200 metres) later and we were at the hotel. The transfer from Deák Ferenc square to the hotel was perfect for us. Me in the chair and Lisa pulling a small wheeled suitcase. Bish, bash, bosh.

Hotel Moments

So what makes me think this is a great hotel? Hotel Moments Budapest is a boutique hotel that just worked for a wheelchair user like me. To assist accessibility, it has a level, smooth entry off Andrássy Street with access via automatic doors (always a plus). It has spacious elevators. There's an accessible toilet straight off the lobby area, and the staff is fantastic.

As with any capital city, there are loads of hotels catering to every size of wallet. But I'm going to give Hotel Moments a name check because they were absolutely amazing for us.

Room 406 and the Case of the "Missing" Shower Chair

The hotel receptionist made a big deal of how she thought we would love our room. I just put her exuberance down to my ignorance of the Hungarian language. She told me they had received my emails and that we'd been given an upgrade. Her parting shot was that she was "sure we'd like it."

Hotel room in Budapest

And it was lovely! It was in a little 'wing' of two or three rooms just off of the main central gallery area. First impressions? The hotel and our room itself smelled gorgeous. The decor was lovely. The floor was wooden parquet, so very 'rollable.' The bathroom was lovely, but it lacked a shower seat. Bugger.

I thought it must be somewhere, but it was nowhere to be seen. It could've been in what appeared to be a cupboard, but the door was locked. So I left Lisa to unpack and rolled down to reception to see if they had a shower chair available.

In hindsight, I now understand why the previously exuberant receptionist gave me a blank look when I asked if there was a shower seat available. She telephoned housekeeping and politely asked me to return to the room and wait for assistance.

I hadn't been back in our room for more than two minutes when housekeeping arrived. She strode straight over the "cupboard" door, all while looking at me quizzically. When she realised the door was locked, she apologised, took out an enormous bundle of keys from her pocket, unlocked the door, flicked on the lights, and there was...

...a second bathroom! All mine! It was an accessible wet room with a roll-under sink and a roll-in shower with a shower seat! Now I know why the receptionist thought I was bonkers.

Accessible bathroom
Accessible bathroom in Budapest

We had just enough time to grab a bite to eat and have a quick roll near the hotel, and that was enough for the first night.

St. Stephen's Basilica

Day 2: Pest

I chose stopping on the Pest side because it was supposed to be level. It was! From a wheelchair user's perspective, the pavements are pretty much perfect for rolling; there are lots of dropped curbs. But I was also using a Freewheel, which is perfect for a manual wheelchair user in a city; it lifts those pesky little castors off the ground.

Budapest's Heroes' Square

The Pest side is compact, and we walked (well, Lisa walked; I rolled) everywhere. From Heroes' Square at the top of Andrássy Street (apparently Budapest's Champs-Élysées), down through Vaci Utca (with its very own C&A - one for the British), along the Pest banks of the Danube - stopping to pay our respects at the Shoes on the Danube Bank. Finishing off with a tour of my favorite building from all of my travels: the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Hungarian Parliament Building

Day 3: Buda

We walked over Chain Bridge and this is a must! But then the hills started. Due to time, we focused on the Castle District. However, because of my liking of buildings we mooched about outside, looking at the gorgeous architecture and taking in the fantastic views down over Pest.

Chain Bridge from Fisherman's Bastion

Accessible Toilets, Part 1

But my main issue was finding an accessible toilet. I now know this is a common problem (for me). But the issue was compounded because most bars and restaurants (I would say all, but I might be wrong) have a humongous step that you need to get over to enter.

I saw a police station and thought, "Perfect, level entry." I was only half-right, though. It was level entry through the main doors, but was followed immediately by four or five steps up to the public areas. Bugger!

The solution (or at least my brass neck solution) was to use the accessible toilet in the Hilton Hotel, just off the main ground floor bar. Despite the door being kept locked, the concierge is the gatekeeper. Problem solved.

Buda's Sights

Fisherman's Bastion

We took the funicular up to the Castle District, which is fun but cramped. But they do accommodate wheelchair users in the carriage and they positively welcomed me. We watched the changing of the guard outside the Buda Castle. I rolled around the medieval streets. I marveled at Matthias Church, and we loved the views from Fisherman's Bastion.

Our Buda tour was whistle stop. So here's a link with more information; I hope you find it useful.

Unmissable Special Mentions

Ruin Bars

For me, the Jewish Quarter was the best part of our trip. It's quirky and it's kooky. There's loads of brightly painted street art, and also Ruin Bars. These are the quirkiest and kookiest of all.

Ruin Bar

For decades after the war, sections of the Jewish Quarter lay in disrepair, awaiting demolition. Then came Szimpla Kert.

Accessible Toilets, Part 2

I am realising this is becoming my mantra! According to the bar staff, there were no accessible toilets in Szimpla. I took this to mean "there are none in the Ruin Bars." However, there was nothing lost in translation, as I was in my wheelchair when I asked.

Toilet entrance in the ruin bar

However, I was given "permission" to use the ladies' room. It didn't bother me, and I can transfer. But it wouldn't suit everyone. Lisa was my "gatekeeper" standing outside the stall and adding to the graffiti on the wall. You can take the girl out of Westhoughton, but you can't take the Westhoughton out of the girl.

Danube Cruise after Dark

This was Lisa's choice, but I must admit that it was ace. The cruise is sold as being wheelchair accessible. You also get the option to make this clear when you book. Sounds easy, right? Yet our cruise booking was canceled by the operator the day after I booked it because the boat that day was actually not accessible to wheelchair users. They rebooked our trip for the following evening on an accessible boat. I don't know what happened the first time, but it was sorted out.

The Danube is a long way below street level (for good reason). The water level rises and falls, but from what I can see on the internet, movement over two feet (0.5 metres) is excessive.

This isn't me being a geography teacher again; I'm pointing out the practicalities of getting on and off the boar when you're in a wheelchair. The photos below show the challenge. I know that I'm a wimp, but the incline was steep. Too steep to roll down unaided, and way too steep to push up on my own.

I didn't need to ask for any help. The staff were there to help before the cruise. And when we got off the boat after the cruise, there were loads of offers to help push me up the gangplank. Thank heavens for the free bar!

Danube cruise

After the gangplank access, we eventually boarded our accessible boat by literally walking through a small boat that was moored next to our big boat. If you're able-bodied this is easy enough, but the two-foot (0.5-metre) gap is not so simple for wheelchair users! Enter four bloody massive sailors. They each got a corner of the wheelchair and lifted me and the chair over the stop and through the small boat. This was an experience that added to our unique night, but it wouldn't suit everyone.

The big boat had a lift to move between levels. It had a full, very posh restaurant, and a (less posh) bar area with a gypsy jazz & folk band. It also had my favorite thing in the world: the disabled toilet that doubles as cleaning supply storage! But the crew was great at emptying the cleaning equipment (and tables and chairs and...) for me.

Cruising the Danube at night

Nevertheless, the views of the Danube at night are amazing. Well worth the challenges of getting on (and off) the boat. I've posted below some photos from the cruise (but none of the toilets, don't worry).

Spíler BistroPub

This place became a favourite eating and watering hole while we were in Budapest, so check them out here. While the food was good, Spíler gets my vote because the staff was amazing. No toilet story here, sorry!

Börze Restaurant

We complete stumbled upon Börze after leaving the Hungarian Parliament Building. It serves fantastic Hungarian food and has staff that went the extra mile. That's why Börze gets my mention. This is despite access being up a step and it having no on-site accessible toilet. And they haven't bribed me!

We wanted to have some great Hungarian food, and I wanted something that was so local we would struggle to get it at home. Börze passed the test, and boy was it delicious. Cottage cheese dumplings! Has the world gone mad?

Cottage cheese dumpling, walnut crumb, sweetened sour cream, and homemade apricot jam
Rose pork tenderloin, pigs cheek, pickle, and potatoes a la brasov

Accessible Toilets, Part 3

We chatted with the manager of Börze throughout our meal. What a great guy! As the night progressed, I needed an accessible toilet. As it turns out, the restaurant didn't have one; the toilets were in the basement, down a spiral staircase. Therefore, no chance for a portly bloke in a wheelchair to make it down there.

After a lot of head scratching, the manager says he has a solution. But did I mind being taken outside the restaurant? It turns out they had an office in the adjacent building. He pushed me in the chair, down the step, into the building next door, into the elevator up to his third floor "office." However, when I got inside the "office," I think it was more accurate to describe it as the manager's own apartment and his own bathroom. All very strange, but "any port in a storm," right?

Final Thoughts on Budapest

What a fantastic city. Yes, there are challenges for wheelchair access. But with a little flexibility, we managed to have a great time. I am fortunate to still have a little flexibility. If you have little or no adaptibility, I am sure verything can be sorted out with more mainstream restaurant choices. But after experiencing the people, I am sure that if they could make a situation work in a positive manner, they would. Budapest is a blast, and we'll definitely go back.

Cottage cheese dumpling, anyone?

About the Author

Dave

My name is Dave Hurst and I have multiple sclerosis (MS) - a progressive, debilitating disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It can cause problems with vision, balance, muscle control, and other basic body functions. It's not caused by anything you've done and there is no cure for it. No two people have the same MS symptoms. Everyone's MS is different. Progressive is the key word. What I'm like today is not an indication of how I might be in a month, a year, five years, etc.

I'm a manual wheelchair user, and as of February 2019, I:

  • have reasonable upper body strength
  • can self-propel my wheelchair for about 2 km (1.2 miles) - albeit slowly and sometimes it's like my own personal battle/challenge
  • can't climb into a bathtub - I can't lift either of my legs to do this
  • can transfer from my wheelchair into a chair, onto a bed, etc.
  • have shocking balance and frequent falls
  • can shuffle, with assistance, for 1-2 meters (3-7 feet)
  • can "Spiderman" about the length of a car
  • can still laugh at myself

I travel for holidays mainly with my wife (my fantastic carer) or also as a family unit, with my two great teenage children. They've all accepted Dad's "funky" feet for years now, and they all help with the pushing - I am a 50 year old bloke with MS, after all!

Most of the stories here on LiveQuickie.com were submitted by readers. Do you have a story to tell? We'd love to hear it. Submit your story here.


Date: 9/17/2019 12:00:00 AM


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