Budapest is a city I have a real soft spot for. I have spent extended periods working there over the years, during which I got to know this most elegant of cities, and some of its locals. Therefore, it was always in my mind to return, and when I moved to Slovenia, Hungary became my next door neighbour.
There are three realistic options for travel between Budapest and Ljubljana:
- Driving a car
It’s also possible to fly although there are currently no direct flights between Ljubljana and Budapest, meaning you would have to connect somewhere, and therefore not save much in time once you factor in all the airport phaff. And it would also be an expensive journey.
I have tried all three transport options personally and here’s my review.
Driving from Ljubljana to Budapest
Price: Approx €80 in fuel and tolls
Duration: ~5 hours
According to Google maps, Ljubljana to Budapest is around a 4h30min journey. In practice, when I have done it – it’s more like 5 hours once you hit rush hour traffic and enter the throng of Budapest. The drive is straight forward enough – depending on how much you enjoy highway driving.
The cost in fuel and road tolls puts driving at the most expensive option, plus you’ll most likely have to pay for parking in Budapest too. On top of this, driving means you can’t enjoy the scenery much, or do anything else. So for me, although driving is the fastest option, it’s also the least enjoyable, the least green and the most expensive.
Best for: Speed. If you want the fastest method – driving is best.
Bus from Ljubljana to Budapest
Duration: 6 hours
Flixbus runs a good service between Ljubljana and Budapest. I was generally impressed with the experience; it arrived early, left on time and was clean, modern, had USB and two-pin charging points for each seat, as well as wifi (though I didn’t use it).
When I travelled, (a Wednesday afternoon) the bus was not busy, so everyone had two seats to themselves. The bus stops at a couple of points along the way to pick up/drop off passengers, and also at some service stations for the driver and passengers to have a break.
Overall, the entire process, from booking to boarding to riding with Flixbus was easy, hassle free, and though I normally would not relish sitting on a bus for 6 hours, with a few podcasts to listen to I actually enjoyed it and would take Flixbus again for a journey of this length.
Best For: a good compromise between journey duration, speed, cost and comfort.
Train from Ljubljana to Budapest
Duration: 8 hours
Once a day there’s a train from Ljubljana to Budapest. The carriages are a mixture of the old-school compartment style, and the more modern seating arrangement. I chose to sit in a compartment, and had it all to myself for the vast majority of the journey.
The downsides of the train are that it’s the longest of the three options by a considerable two hours. In total, the journey takes eight hours because the train is just so slow. No highspeed rail on this line.
The train experience is however, relaxing, with pleasant, rural scenery along the way. It’s more interesting than the highway as you get to rumble right through the wild west of Hungary; flatlands, farmland, marshes and woodland and sparsely populated, one-cow-town stations.
Crossing the border into Slovenia, and the landscape becomes more mountainous, as you follow rivers and snake through valleys. Compared to driving in either the bus or car, the journey is more scenic and you get a good lay of the land.
For the train – you’ll need to prepare though. There’s no dining car so bring you own food and drinks, (and entertainment) but as long as resign yourself to the fact that you’re on a train for eight hours, you can use that time to enjoy the journey.
The train is more comfortable than car or bus, as you have more space, a nice view, and can get up and walk around. The downside is that, in the older style compartments at least, it’s a little noisy at times with all those old parts bumping and rattling around.
How to Book Tickets? I do not advise you to use services like Trainline. When I checked it didn’t even have the full list of train options and for the options it did have, it was charging more than 3 times what I paid. Instead, just go to any station – either in Ljubljana or Budapest – and book your ticket there, a few days in advance. Mine cost just €15 one way.
Best for: scenery and space.
So – bus, car or train, between Budapest and Ljubljana?
I’m likely to return to Budapest in future – so having tried out all three transport options – which would I choose next time?
Well, depending on the day and time I needed to travel, I’d most likely go for the Flixbus again. It’s the best compromise I think; more comfortable, cheaper and more relaxing than a car, but not too much slower, yet it’s still about 2 hours faster than the train.
The train is fun for the scenic experience and for comfort as you have loads of space, and if you are in a couple or group I would recommend the train at least once for the experience, as it feels like the most adventurous option. But beware, it’s a long day.
Finally, I would recommend Rome2Rio as a useful site for planning trips because it allows you to compare all the various transport types, side by side.