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Straddling the Danube River, Budapest easily has one of the most beautiful settings in Europe and, combined with its wonderful architecture, greenery and breathtaking river views, the city is often touted as one of the prettiest on the continent.
Capital of Hungary, the city is bisected by the river, which formerly divided it into two distinct cities: Buda and Pest. Long since united, Buda and Pest are still opposites, both in look and feel: Buda on the western bank is hilly, residential and pretty, while Pest on the eastern bank is flatter, industrial and edgy.
The city has successfully shed its socialist past and nowadays attracts tourists and expats in their droves with a cosmopolitan spirit and exciting business opportunities. Foreign companies have bolstered the economy by establishing regional headquarters and shared service centres in the city, and a thriving international community now exists.
Although it accounts for most of the industry in Hungary, Budapest is more than just a political, cultural and commercial hub. Time Magazine, the International Council of Monuments and Sites, and the New York Times Magazine have all named Budapest as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and it therefore generates significant tourism. Alongside the exquisite architecture and UNESCO world heritage sites, Budapest offers residents a range of things to see and do, including world-class shopping opportunities and some of the best nightlife in Europe.
Choosing which side of Budapest to live on is a matter of preference: bustling, urban, and exotic Pest, or stately, comfortable and considerably quieter Buda. In general, accommodation in Budapest is easy for expats to find and is considerably cheaper than housing in high-profile expat destinations. In fact, the cost of living in Budapest, as a whole, is much lower than in many Western European cities.
While easily one of the most walkable cities in Europe, Budapest also has an excellent transport network, which makes living without a car easy and stress-free. The metro is primarily a Pest operation, with two lines covering wide north-south and east-west arcs and a third, smaller line connecting the centre with the City Park (Városliget). Buda is dominated by a complex tram and bus system.
In terms of culture shock, expats can expect to hear the charming, if baffling, sound of Hungarian chatter throughout the city. English is increasingly spoken as well, though proficiency tends to be best closer to the city centre in the lower-numbered districts.
Expats and English speakers currently flood the streets of Budapest and many services exist for them. Nevertheless, foreigners hoping to get the most out of Budapest will need to understand the city’s unique position as a Europe-in-miniature and appreciate all of the little quirks that go along with it.
►Moving to Budapest with children? Then Education and Schools in Budapest is essential reading.
►For an overview of transport options available in the city, see Getting Around in Budapest.
"Dive right in! Take a basic Hungarian language course right away. Go to as many expat and mixed gatherings as possible to meet as many people as possible during your first six months. Remember – it’s not your country, so you have to adjust to their rules and customs. Walk the city to learn where everything is. Talk to people. Inhale your new life every day and savour the experience. Budapest is still one of the most fun, exciting and vibrant cities in Europe, so take advantage of your time here."
Read more about American expat Gary's experiences in Budapest.
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