11 Free/ Cheap Things To Do In Budapest | Budget City Guide
Updated: Jun 30, 2020
Ever since visiting Budapest on my interrailing trip way back in 2016 I've been completely obsessed with it, and last year I finally managed to head back there with 5 of my best friends for a cheeky winter get away. It was summer the first time around so I spent the majority of my time sitting in cafes and gardens with iced drinks and appreciating the scenery, whereas this time it was like a snowy fairytale. We filled our week with lots of exploring, snowball fights and too much hot chocolate (as well as one very, very hungover day- thank you stroh shots). The mixture of relaxing in the sun and then some real in depth exploration has made me fall in love with the city even more, and also given me lots of fun info I can pass on to you!
City breaks are all fun and games until you spend £500 on 3 days away. Luckily Hungary is really very cheap compared to what we pay for things here in the UK, so even though flights will cost you a little more than nipping over to Paris for the weekend, you're pretty much guaranteed to have a cheaper trip over all. Even so, I've compiled a list of what I think are the top picks for cheap/ free things to do around this beautiful city, so let's get started:
Fisherman's Bastion (Free)
This is one of the best known monuments in Budapest, located in Buda Castle grounds on the 'Buda' side of the river. You can visit the lower terraces and towers completely free of charge, and take in the most gorgeous views over the Danube and the 'Pest' area. My recommendation would be to come here for the sunset, especially if you're visiting during winter. In any season though, the colours and lighting at that time of day will give you views that just can't be matched anywhere else in the city.
Margaret Island (Free)
Providing a peaceful hideaway from downtown Budapest for both locals and tourists alike, Margaret Island is a fab place to visit at any time of the year but especially during the summer months. Attractions on the island include a musical fountain show, sports and athletics activities, ruins, a theatre, a Japanese garden, and a huge section dedicated to park and playgrounds. As well as this, Margaret Island is also home to Palatinus Beach (£5-9.50), a water park-type setup with a huge selection of slides, pools and restaurants: the perfect way to cool down on those hot summer days. The island is easily accessible by tram, bus and car (although you do have to pay for parking- around £1.30 p/hour). Visit during the morning/ early lunchtime to avoid the larger crowds. (Here's the TripAdvisor page for the island too)
Buda Castle Hill Funicular (Around £3 - £5)
Probably one of the more popular attractions in the city and yet there never seems to be much of a crowd/ queue. The funicular will take you up (and down too, if you wish) to Buda Castle from it's starting point at the edge of Chain Bridge. You CAN walk up the winding pathway to the top of the hill, which I did during Summer, but be willing to get a lil sweat on if you do! The funicular is a much more easy, fun way to approach the castle and is a great way to appreciate what has been a staple mode of transport for the people of Budapest since the 1870s. A one way ticket will set you back around £3 for a one way or around £5 for a return. You can also check out the 'Budapest' highlight on my Instagram to see a video of us on the funicular, if ya fancy!
Central Market Hall (Free)
This restored neo-gothic trading hall is the perfect place to grab some souvenirs from your trip. It's huge lower floor is filled with food and drinks stalls selling everything from meat to pots of honey; you can explore by yourself or book a tour to make the most of your trip and have some tasting opportunities too! The top floors are dedicated to souvenirs, fine goods and cafes, we spent HOURS walking around the place. You can buy scarves, postcards, watches, bags, clothing, jewellery and basically anything else you can think of, while also snacking on some incredible food from the various stalls dotted around the edges of both the second and third floors. Honestly you could get lost in this place!
Christmas Markets: October- End January (Free)
I wasn't going to mention this as it definitely only applies to you when visiting during the winter months but they were honestly SO beautiful that I just needed to nip in and tell you. If you get the opportunity to visit then definitely take it, the stalls are so much better than any other Christmas Market I've ever visited, selling everything from food to clothing to homewares. They're located in Lake City Park for a few months every year, and you can also ice skate on the lake during the peak of winter.
Szechenyi Baths (Around £15)
Okay so not strictly 'cheap' but for how incredible of an experience it is, it really is a bargain. The price I've included is for a weekday ticket with a locker and the opportunity to stay all day if you'd like, so prices will vary ever so slightly depending on when you go/ how long you want to visit for. The baths consist of 18 pools, 10 saunas, steam cabins and various spa treatments; the whole thing is a really lovely way to relax for a few hours. We went at night and because of the cold it was all steamy and felt quite magical. We had so much fun, it was a real highlight of the trip, I can't recommend it enough! Check out their website for more info.
See the sights (Free)
A lot of the most stunning things to see in and around Budapest are the buildings and monuments that are dotted around the city; The architecture there is like nowhere else I've seen. We spent a whole morning just wandering around some of the famous sights and taking it all in. A few recommendations that you definitely shouldn't miss would be Heroes Square, Parliament, Buda Castle, Dohany Street Synagogue and also Matthias Church, which we didn't see recommended on any other blogs or tourist sites but was honestly beautiful- You'll find it right next to Fisherman's Bastion. You can do as we did, just wandering around by yourself and nipping in for hot choccies as you go, or you can do it with one of the many walking tours that are available every day of the week. This company have one of the highest rated tours you can find, and it's also completely free! You can just turn up at the time and place and head off, definitely a fab idea for solo travelers.
Szimpla Kert (Free)
You can't visit Budapest without a trip to the ruin bars and Szimpla Kert is the best and most famous one in the city. Both times I visited, both times it defeated me. The venue itself is really cool and unique, housing lots of various neon lit bars, shisha lounges and games rooms dripping in plants, all within a set of ruins. Spend an evening here hanging out in all of the different themed rooms where booze is cheap and dancing is encouraged, but one word of advice- DO NOT DO A SHOT OF STROH. Palinkas and double shots of various spirits are the standard way to drink in Hungary, but deep in the depths of the menu you will see an option for 'Stroh'. This 80% proof Austrian rum will provide you with the best night out of your life, but the hangover! The HANGOVER may actually kill you. It put my friend and I in bed for a whole day the next day, I've never felt anything like it and we missed out on a day of exploring. Give it a go if you dare, but don't say I didn't warn you! Here's a link to their website for any other details.
Karaoke at Gozsdu Udvar (From 5 euro)
This is one of the nicest areas to eat/ drink that we found throughout our trip, and ended up visiting there multiple times over the week. There's a lovely mix of traditional Hungarian cafes and well known chain restaurants, as well as a fab selection of clubs and bars; there's something for everyone! You can find a full list of whats on offer over on their website here, but my recommendation is to do a spot of karaoke over at Blue Bird Bar. A couple of my friends did it after a few drinks and said it was amazing; I really wish I'd done it too but I was still knackered from the hangover haha.
History & Myths Night Tour (£16)
On the steeper side of evening entertainment comes this walk by Mysterium Tours. A few of my friends did this on one of the nights and absolutely LOVED it, again I wished I'd done this too! Don't make my mistake! It's a tour around the grounds of Buda Castle, telling stories of famous figures from the city who were believed to be vampires as well as a general insight into the 'bloody side' of the area. My friends knew so much more about the city than us the next day and it was something so unique to Budapest, I would definitely recommend doing this or something similar if you can!
Opus Jazz Club (Free)
If a quiet night of music and a few drinks is more up your street then check out Opus. We spent a night tucked away in here as my first outing after -that- hangover and it was so nice. The drinks were reasonably priced, the music was incredible and the little venue was the perfect place for a chilled evening in the heart of the city.
And that's everything for now! Like I explained at the start, Budapest really is one of my favourite cities in the world, I'd definitely go back a third time. There's so much to do and the whole city feels so vibrant. If you're thinking about booking a trip out there then please do it asap, you won't regret it!
Do you have any cheap tips and trips for Budapest? Or any recommendations for the city in general? I'd love to hear about them! Meg x