This article is primarily for tourists planning a trip to Hungary. You’ll learn not just about the language in Hungary but also how to survive in the country without knowing Hungarian, how to simplify your travel, and what challenges you might face when interacting with locals. This information is crucial and will help you save your nerves, time, and sometimes even money.

Language in Hungary: Basics

I won’t bore you with the history of the Hungarian language; let’s dive straight into interesting facts and important points:

  • The official language in Hungary is Hungarian. Everyone in the country speaks exclusively Hungarian. In the western part, German is also well-known.
  • It is considered one of the most complex languages globally, with more exceptions than rules.
  • The Hungarian alphabet has 44 letters. The official description includes 26 base letters, 5 letters with acute accents, 2 letters with umlauts, 2 letters with double acute accents, 8 alphabet letters consisting of two characters, and 1 letter consisting of three characters.

Interesting Fact:

In the Hungarian alphabet, there are 2 letters A, 2 E, 4 O, and 4 U.
language in Hungary
In the Hungarian alphabet, there are 2 letters A, 2 E, 4 O, and 4 U.

But the most interesting part comes next. Hungary is located in the center of Europe, surrounded by countries with Slavic languages on one side: Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Ukraine, and on the other side by Austria and the German language. How Hungary managed to preserve its unique language unlike any other remains a mystery, considering its centuries-long history intertwined with its neighbors.

  • Hungarian belongs to the Finno-Ugric language group. Its closest relatives are Mansi and Khanty (Uralic languages). Finnish and Estonian are distant relatives. However, today, a Finn won’t understand a Hungarian, and vice versa.

Personal Experience:

I travel a lot in Europe, know English, have a basic understanding of French, German, Italian, and Spanish. When I visit any European country, even without knowing the local language, I can grasp the context and approximate meaning from signs and words. In Hungary, it’s completely different.

The Hungarian language is something else. It’s like trying to grab onto thin air. Nothing is understandable, not a single word. Even reading a sign, knowing where it is, and what it depicts, you simply cannot understand anything from the text.

language in Hungary for tourists
Here’s a regular sign on a city parking lot. Even if you know the context, try to understand what’s written. Should you not leave your car there because windows might be broken? Is the parking lot not secured? Be cautious, can stones from passing cars harm your vehicle? In reality, it says: “Don’t leave valuable items in your car in plain sight. Don’t give thieves a chance!”

Language in Hungary: Difficulties for Tourists

Let me tell you about the most common difficulties that tourists will definitely encounter.

Useful to Know:

Hungarians don’t know English very well. In Budapest, tourist areas are fine in this regard. Many sellers there at least have a basic level. But the farther you go from Budapest, the worse the situation with English becomes. In the regions, they even know German better. The older generation speaks German fluently. Traveling in Hungary with German will be easier than with English.
  • Menu in Restaurants: Finding Hungarian national dishes in an English menu is difficult; the translation is terrible. Famous dishes like Halászlé, Pörkölt, or Túrós Csusza are translated simply as Meat with Vegetables or Pasta with Cottage Cheese. But when you look at the menu in Hungarian, it becomes even less understandable.
Language in Hungary features
Here’s a menu from a restaurant. The dish names in Hungarian are in bold, and below each one is the English translation. Read the Hungarian names, try not to peek at the translation, and figure out what dish it is. Imagine you came to eat, and the menu is only in Hungarian; there are plenty of such places outside Budapest.
  • Prices in Grocery Stores: This is a moment that is usually not a problem in any other country but is challenging here. For example, a large shelf with vegetables, many price tags, and you simply don’t understand which is a pepper and which is a tomato, where it’s priced per kilogram, and where per piece. Only the numbers are understandable, and they are, by the way, like ours.
  • Various Daily Challenges: Asking for directions, reading signs or announcements, whether something is open or closed. All of this poses difficulties. It might be amusing only on the first day; afterward, it becomes quite tiring.
about the Hungarian language
Here’s an ordinary door to a regular store. Among all the signs, you can only understand the opening hours from 6 am to 8 pm. But what about the rest?

Tips and Life Hacks to Simplify Your Life

Before your trip to Hungary, everyone should do two things that, if not solving all the problems mentioned earlier, will definitely make your journey much easier.

  • Always Have Internet on Your Phone: The article at the link provides detailed information about the internet in Hungary, local mobile operators, where to buy a SIM card, how much it costs, coverage, and so on.
  • Pre-install the Google Translate App: It’s free, available for both iOS and Android. And most importantly, it understands Hungarian, albeit with some difficulty 🙂
Hungarian on the menu
Without internet and a translator, dealing with the Hungarian language can be quite troublesome. This inscription is from the menu of one of the restaurants. It might mean that additional taxes and service charges will be included in the bill, or maybe they only accept cash, not cards. It’s something you want to know before placing an order. In reality, it says that they have delicious draft beer and wishes you a pleasant appetite. But often, information about additional taxes is also written at the bottom of the menu.

Google Translate Feature:

The main feature of the translator is that you can use the camera to translate text, like a price tag in a store or a sign. It translates words in real-time from a photo, but this requires an internet connection. The translation may not always be perfect, but at least you’ll understand the meaning.

Now you understand how tricky the Hungarian language is, to the point that even Google struggles to provide an accurate translation. Imagine what it’s like for others.

In conclusion: The language in Hungary is like “have a booby’s look while consulting a book.” Nothing is clear at all. When you travel here, you memorize some words, and it becomes a bit easier. But the majority of tourists arrive and depart with zero knowledge of the Hungarian language.

IMPORTANT: Below are useful links that will help organize your trip to Hungary and Budapest:

  • Flight: Aviasales – compares prices for flights among 30+ airlines flying to Budapest.
  • Tours and excursions:
    • Viator and GetYourGuide – the best services for finding tours in Budapest and Hungary with the largest database of activities in Hungary. They offer river cruises on the Danube, tickets to baths, and 1000+ tours (available in different languages).
  • Accommodation, apartments, hotels, hostels:
    • Hotellook compares the prices among dozens of other booking services and offer the best price
    • Booking – the most popular booking platform
    • Agoda – even more accommodation options in Hungary
  • Car rental: DiscoverCars – the leading and largest car rental service in Hungary.
  • Travel Insurance: EKTA.
  • eSIMAiralo virtual SIM card in Hungary.
  • Taxi and airport transfers: Intui.Travel