The official currency of Hungary is the Forint but so far everything I have looked for prices online, such as trains, buses and taxis, are quoted in Euros and Forints. Hotel reservation asked that I pay in Euros at the hotel. Considering that I will only spend a few days in Budapest, are Forints necessary? Or can I pay for transport, admissions and food in Euros? In such a case, how is the conversion rate set?
It might be possible to use only Euro, but as the others have already pointed out, the conversion rate is not very favourable. In the last year, new ticket vending machines have been installed in Budapest, which accept credit cards, but obviously not Euro banknotes so at least for public transport you will need either HUF or a credit card. So if you don't want to use HUF, you might use your card (depending on its conditions). Of course, if you want to go to small shops, restaurants etc you will most probably need HUF.
I did not visit Budapest, but spent some time in Hungary last year. My experience was that even if a few shops accept euros (especially larger shops in areas with many tourists), they tend to give you very unfavourable exchange rates.
When hotels annouced their prices in forint and euro, in some cases, it even appeared to be two completely different prices. One of the hotels I staid in offered a single room for 25€ or 5,500Ft a night. The price in forint is about 30% below the price in euro. As a foreigner, most hotels first gave me the price in euro and when I asked to pay in forint, without problems they offered me the lower price in local currency.
Many large shops accept EUR in Hungary, but they offer a terrible exchange rate. You're better off if you do currency exchange in one of the dedicated booths or offices. Most small shops don't accept EUR. Depending on your home bank and your debit (not credit!) card, withdrawing HUF from an ATM can give you a good rate. Please make sure that your home bank does the currency conversion.
It is usually preferred to pay with Forints in Hungary, as even in cases where the stores accept Euros they will do it with a sub-par exchange rates, and also give the change back in Forints anyway. Most high street exchange booths (especially in tourist areas - airports and train stations) will also operate with very high margins, so you should avoid them too.
On the other hand there are a few, which operate with very low margin exchange rates, meaning you could potentially get much better rates than what you would get from your bank (the linked one for example has much better rates than most UK banks offer you). If you want to get the most from your Euros you should defintiely check before travel whether it's more worth it to use your debit / credit card, or to use one of the exchange offices that operate with low margins.
Assuming that you want to hit up only major tourist destinations, it's likely that you could get by with only your credit card and a few thousand HuF. But if you want to go to any truly local bars, restaurants, shops, etc., you'll want a decent amount of HuF, especially outside of Budapest.
I've just spend 4 days in Budapest in December 2018. I have an N26 credit card which I used:
- Public transportation ticket
- In restaurents,
- In Széchenyi thermal bath,
- In 3D museum,
- dm (groceries - forgot shampoo), Aldi, Lidl
- small Christmas booths
It worked flawlessly. Some of the restaurants printed a Forint reference price, but it was always way higher than what N26 charged me.
There were three occasions where I needed cash:
- Two super small christmas booths - I simply took others then
- A "pirate candy" shop
- The luggage safe at the central station
For the last one, I used Gyorspénzváltó Kft.. It's a small shop with WAY better exchange rates than the ATMs / the exchange shop on the other side.
Basically, EURO IS NOT ACCEPTED IN HUNGARY.
-Only SOME larger, tourist-oriented hotels and restaurants accepting euro in favour of tourists, but generally, euro is NOWHERE accepted in hungary. The real economy will usually not accept euro (or any other currency).
-If you find something that accepts euro, the price will be 50-150% higher than the price in forint.
-Your foreginer credit card will be immediately vomited out by any of the generic ATM machines, or the machine will confiscate your card, displaying a phone number that you must call, if you want it back... You really do not want this.
-HUNGARIANS ARE NOT USING BANKING CARDS TO BUY/SELL THINGS IN THEIR ORDINARY LIFE. DO NOT EVEN TRY TO BUY THINGS WITH YOUR CREDIT CARD IN HUNGARY! ONLY FORINT CASH IS ACCEPTED! FORGET A CREDIT CARD, ITS USELESS!
-In short, yes, you need Forint in your hand, there is no other way to pay for things in hungary.