Things To Do in Budapest on a Budget JetSettingFools.com

Things to do in Budapest on a budget

Budapest, as a city, is an extremely affordable destination. However, as we started our research into what to see and do, we quickly realized how easily we could bust our budget. Almost every tourist attraction charges an entry fee – some upwards of nearly $20 USD. We set our budget at $75 total per day for our 11 day stay, so we had to get a little creative to discover things to do in Budapest on a budget.

Budapest Hungary sign

The first thing we had to do was cross off a few of the pricy activities. Paying $18 each to tour the Parliament Building just didn’t fit into our budget. We also eliminated entrance into Matthias Church ($4.50) and the Great Synagogue ($9) – and, since we’re not museum people, we crossed all of those off our list, too. Once we whittled it down to what we actually wanted to see and do, we researched affordable alternatives to the mainstream tourist offerings.

Things to do in Budapest on a Budget

See the sights on foot

While entry into the sights can be pricy, viewing the beautiful architecture from the outside is completely free of charge. We mapped out the buildings and neighborhoods we wanted to see and then grouped them together into manageable walks. (See below for details and tips.) For a lengthy walk with views and changing perspectives, zigzagging across the four bridges (Margaret, Chain, Elizabeth and Liberty) that span the Danube in the heart of Budapest is a good way to see the city.

Walking the bridges is one of the best things to do in Budapest on a budget

Thermal Baths

Partaking in the thermal baths of Budapest have become an iconic activity for visitors and the two most popular baths – Szechenyi and Gellert – have tourist prices to match (about $15 USD). Looking for a more authentic and local experience, we opted for the Lukacs Thermal Baths, which offers a short 2-hour visit for just $7.50 USD.

The Lukacs Thermal Baths are one of the best things to do in Budapest on a budget

Opera House

As budget travelers, we rarely consider attending cultural events like an Opera. However, we heard that tickets to the Opera in Budapest can be downright cheap – and it’s the truth. Our upper balcony seats cost $2 USD. And, since it wasn’t sold out, we got upgraded to the main floor (sixth row!) at no extra cost. Considering that a 45 minute tour of the Opera House costs $15 USD, we found this to be the deal of the trip.

$2 seats at the opera is one of the best things to do in Budapest on a budget

Danube River Cruise

Several tour companies offer hour-long boat tours, but they tend to be a bit more than we are prepared to pay. Since we were willing to forego the narration, we hopped on the city commuter boat that only charges $2.50 USD for the 45 minute ride.

For things to do in Budapest on a budget, take the commuter boat instead of a tourist boat

For a roundtrip experience, we boarded at Margaret Bridge on the Pest side, rode south to Liberty Bridge, disembarking again on the Pest side and rode the historic #2 tram ($1.25/ticket) back to the city center.

Historic tram #2 only costs $1.25 and is something to do in Budapest on a budget

Note: There are two types of boats: one is fully enclosed, the other one has an open air upper deck, which provides the better experience.

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Parks

Three parks are easily accessible from the center of Budapest: City Park, Margaret’s Island and Gellert Hill. Each one is free, has a plethora of trails, sights and green space for walking, lounging or picnicking.

There are several parks in Budapest, including Margaret Island.

Monuments, Statues and Squares

Budapest is dotted with monuments, statues and squares. We could hardly walk the city streets without running into thought-provoking monuments, playful statues or small, bench-lined city escapes. The most moving monument for us was the Holocaust Monument along the Danube River (north of Chain Bridge on the Pest side). Bronze shoes mark the spot where, in 1944, the Arrow Cross shot Jews to death and let their bodies fall into the river to be washed away.

Monuments and statues can be found all over Budapest

Budapest on a Budget Tips

Food and Drinks

Food options in Budapest are almost endless, ranging from expensive and touristy to cheap and fast. Twice we had sit-down meals of traditional Hungarian food. Affordable entrees were about $7 USD (as usual, the more touristy the place, the higher the price). However, most of the time, we opted for take-away from the grab-and-go windows. Kebabs were our meal of choice, never costing more than $2.50, but we also indulged in burritos and pizza (large slices for about 75 cents).

For a taste of something sweet, the local bakeries were the way to go. Traditional cakes, by the slice, were about $1 each and baked fresh using handed down recipes. There were plenty of inexpensive food options at The Great Market Hall, too.

Traditional sweets are inexpensive in Budapest Hungary

Beer and wine always add a bit to the budget, but we are willing to pay for it. In Budapest, local beer and wine are about $2 a glass. Craft beer only costs slightly more – and is well worth the upcharge in our opinion. Our favorite places for the good stuff were: Jonas, Kandallo and Only Good Beer.

Jonas Bar in Budapest Hungary with outdoor seating along the river.

All around Budapest there are spectacular vistas, walkways with benches and green parks – and eating and drinking in these spaces is completely acceptable. Food-to-go and beer from the grocery store are a great recipe for cheap and fun dining experiences.

Things to do in Budapest on a Budget: 5 Self-Guided Walking Tours

  • Walk 1: Parliament to Chain Bridge. Sights: Parliament Building, Liberty Square (Szabadsag ter), St. Istvan’s Basilica, Zrinyi Street and Chain Bridge. Tips: The café in the middle of Liberty Square is surprisingly affordable. St. Istvan’s accepts donations, but is free to enter.

Budapest on a tight budget: Budapest Parliament Building - free to look at from the outside...and very impressive!

  • Walk 2: Castle Hill. Sights: Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, Mary Magdalene Church, Royal Palace. Tips: Skip the funicular and hike up, it is a fairly short walk. Don’t pay the fee for Fisherman’s Bastion, there are plenty of areas that are free; the northern tower is occupied by a café and they allowed us to take a peek and a picture without making a purchase. At the arched entrance into the Royal Palace courtyard, on the right, is a small and informative display of the history of the castle – and it’s free.

Budapest on a tight budget: We passed on touring the inside of Matthias Church, we were awed enough just by looking at it from the outside!

  • Walk 3: Jewish Quarter. Sights: The Great Synagogue, two smaller synagogues and monuments. Tips: Entrance fees are charged at all of the synagogues, but free to look at from the outside…and quite beautiful.

Budapest on a tight budget: The Great Synagogue comes with a slightly high entrance fee ~ but it is astounding to look at!

  • Walk 4: Oktogon to the Danube River. Sights: Opera House, Erzsebet Ter, Deak Ferenc Utca, Vigado Ter. Tips: It is free to enter – and gander – at the gold flecked Opera House lobby, but tickets in the cheap seats are awesome value for the money!

Budapest on a tight budget: It's free to go into the lobby of the Opera House an get a taste of the opulent decor

  • Walk 5: Budapest at night. Sights: St. Istvan’s Basiica, Chain Bridge, Royal Palace, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion and Parliamet. Tips: After the sun goes down, the iconic monuments of Budapest are bathed in spotlights. Walking along the river in a loop from Margaret Bridge to Chain Bridge (and crossing both bridges) provides fabulous views.

Budapest on a tight budget: The iconic sights of Budapest glow under spotlights after the sun goes down. St. Istvan's Basilica was stunning at night.

Notes and Tips for Budapest

Accommodations

We, once again, relied on our go-to option of Airbnb.com to secure accommodations – and we weren’t disappointed. Located in District Six, we were well within walking distance to the sights. Our high-ceilinged, bright apartment had one large room with a separate kitchen and bath – and only cost $34 a night. (Use this link to join Airbnb and save money on your first stay!)

Budapest on a tight budget: Our accommodations in Budapest, found on Airbnb, were only $34 a night!

However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip:

Or These Hostels: 

Before You Go: Our top tips for your trip

  • Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
  • We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
  • It’s easy to get turned around or lost in any new city! Be sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook prior to arriving.  
  • We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.

Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for our complete packing list and other travel resources!

 

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We want to know: What are your favorite things to do in Budapest on a budget? Have any to add to our list? Tell us in the comments below!

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Things to do in Budapest on a Budget

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10 thoughts on “Things to do in Budapest on a budget

  1. Mariana van Aswegen

    Thanks for a wonderful post, this will help alot if we go in April. I noticed that you also went in April? How was the weather? Boots and jacket kinda weather?

    • Hi Mariana – The weather was fantastic in Hungary in April…for the most part! It was warm with blue skies – no jacket necessary – for days, but then it turned cold and we had to bundle up a few times. Unfortunately, spring weather can be so difficult to predict. Our best suggestion is to pack layers! Have a great trip! Budapest is a wonderful city 🙂

  2. Tom & Mickey Smith

    Mickey and I had the opportunity to travel for a day to Budapest from Vienna in 1983. The border had just opened up a few months before and the entire place looked like a black and white movie. As our bus traveled though the city there were very few people out, no restaurants, no cafes, just gray buildings. At one point we saw a long line of people waiting to get into a building. The guide told us they were waiting for a shipment of Levi’s that were going on sale that day. Things sure have changed. The place looks great. I would love to go back.

    • Miki

      Tom & Mickey, as a Hungarian I am sure that your trip shold have happened around 1989 instead of 1983, because in ’83 it was hardcore socialism in here, borders were closed (the iron curtain was solid & impossible to cross). The opening of the borders was in 1989 as the whole Eastern Block started to collapse. And yes, a Levi’s store was THAT big deal back then, just like the McDonalds. 😀

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