Things you can do in Budapest for under €15
Heading to Budaful Budapest? Ok that was lame, I’m sorry. Seriously though, Budapest is stunning. I spent a week in Budapest over Christmas and it’s safe to say Budapest captured my heart is a way no other city has.
I’m not sure exactly what it was that so entranced me about Budapest. Was it the grand old buildings lining almost every street? Could it be langos, a type of fried bread topped with sour cream and cheese? Or was it that Budapest is great value for money, and our forint went a lot further in a week than I thought it would?
If you’re looking for the perfect holiday destination, stop the search; Budapest is it. Dive straight into this guide for a list of 15 epic things to do in Budapest on a budget.
15 Things To Do in Budapest For Under €15
1. Watch the Sunset From Gellert Hill
Ya’ll know I love a good sunset spot, and it’s even better if it’s free.
For the ultimate sunset in the city (and one of the top things to do in Budapest) take a hike up to the top of Gellert Hill. It’s about a 15-minute climb to the top but trust me friend; the views are worth it. As the sun sets over the city below you’ll have a panoramic view of the Danube River, Buda Castle, Parliament and the Budapest Eye.
For an extra special experience pack a bottle of wine and picnic. As it was A) freezing and B) 3:30pm when we enjoyed our Gellert Hill sunset we had to settle for steaming mugs of hot chocolate, but hey, it was still pretty perfect.
2. Explore the Fisherman’s Bastions
Disclaimer; I’m a bit of an overplanner (if you didn’t already know). You can be sure that before I went I had a list a mile long of where to eat, what to do and the best photo spots in Budapest.
The place I was looking forward to photographing the most? Fisherman’s Bastions. Built in the late 18th century this fairytale fortification offers endless photo opportunities, from the whimsical turrets to the extensive view of the city below. Friend, I had even saved photos of good angles to try and replicate.
I had planned to get up at sunrise to be there early, but it was winter and snuggling under the blankets seemed more important, ya know? Anyway, by the time we got there at around 10am Fisherman’s Bastions was crawling with tourists. More tourists than we’d seen anywhere else in the city, in fact. So while I didn’t get my perfect ‘gram shots, I did love exploring Fisherman’s Bastions. There’s definitely a reason it’s one of Budapest’s top attractions.
Fisherman’s Bastions is open year round and entrance to the lower balconies is free.
3. Take a dip in a thermal bath
Get your togs on; one of the top things to do in Budapest is to take a dip in one of the city’s thermal baths. Hungarians take their thermal baths serious; Budapest is sometimes known as the ‘City of Baths’, and the baths are fed by 120 hot springs said to contain healing waters.
Before you choose where to soak (an important decision) it’s important to follow thermal bath etiquette. You must wear swimsuits at all times and swim caps are required when swimming in the lap pools. Bring jandals (flip flops) as the floors can get slippery.
With it’s mosaic-clad walls and stained glass windows, Gellert Baths is one of the prettiest baths in Budapest. This Art Nouveau baths was opened in 1918 and the complex features several indoor and outdoor pools with temperatures ranging from 26C to 40C. Gellert Baths also offer a range of saunas, massages and other treatments.
Tickets to Gellert Baths start from 6300 HUF for a spa ticket with locker.
Széchenyi Baths is undoubtedly the most popular baths in Budapest. The large, maze-like complex offers 15 indoor pools and 3 outdoor pools. Personally, I’d recommend heading straight for the outdoor pools. The inside is a little dingy but the outside pools are stunning.
Whatever the weather keep an eye out for locals playing chess on floating boards. Looking for something a little spicier? Iconic “sparties” featuring DJs, laser shows and film screenings take place most Saturday nights.
Tickets to Széchenyi Baths start from 5900 HUF for a spa ticket with locker.
4. Go for a hoon on Margaret Island
Looking for a fun thing to do in Budapest? Why not take a ride on the wild side on Margaret Island?
A 2.5km-long island in the middle of the Danube River, Margaret Island is home to a range of cool activities. Sure, the food stands, bars and open-air shows are only open in summer, but it doesn’t mean that the island is dead in winter.
Whenever you choose to visit you’ll spot enthusiastic joggers, parents with prams and people out for a stroll. Walking the island can take a while, so why not rent a golf cart, pedal-powered bike or segway?
5. Admire the Chain Bridge
Technically two cities spanning either side of the Danube River, Budapest is home to a lot of bridges. (8. There are 8 of them). In your exploring you’ll no doubt cross a bridge or two, but make a point of checking out the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.
The Chain Bridge was the first permanent stone bridge connecting Pest and Buda and today is one of the most iconic buildings in Budapest. Sure, it’s useful to cross the river, but it’s also pretty to look at.
6. Learn a little history at the House of Terror
Curious about Hungarian history during Soviet reign and the Second World War? Make sure to check out the House of Terror.
The museum contains exhibits relating to the facsist and communist regimes in 20th-century Hungary and is also an important memorial to the victims. While the museum is one of the most visually stunning of it’s kind that I’ve seen, I honestly found it a little hard to follow. Instead of plaques on the walls explaining exhibits there’s sheets of paper to read, which not only seems a little wasteful, it’s pretty hard to read an essay while you’re walking around. Still, a must-visit attraction in Budapest.
Tickets to House of Terror are 3000 HUF. Make sure to get there early. We arrived at midday and the queue went around the street.
7. Check out Hero’s Square
Did you know Budapest was founded in over 1000 years ago? Yeah, neither did I, until I took a visit to Hero’s Square.
Known locally as Hősök tere this important square was established in 1896 to commemorate the 1000-year-old history of the Magyars. Stand back to admire the large statues of the 7 Magyar chieftains and make sure to grab a pic or two.
Have a little extra time? Located right next to Hero’s Square are the Museum of Fine Arts and Kunsthalle (Hall of Art).
8. Grab a drink at Szimpla Kert
If you’ve heard of any ‘top things to do in Budapest’ visiting one of the city’s ruin bars is likely high on the list. There’s a good reason for that; Budapest’s ruin bars are epic.
In the early 2000’s the former Jewish Ghetto was filled with abandoned buildings, stores and lots. Given that the neighbourhood had been left to decay after World War II it was the perfect place to set up an underground bar scene.
The first of these bars, Szimpla Kert, was set up in 2002 and it’s safe to say the ruin bar scene is no longer so ‘underground’. While you could easily make an afternoon of doing a pub crawl around the ruin bars, if you only have time for one make sure it’s Szimpla Kert.
Once an abandoned factory, today Szimpla Kert is a large pub filled with eclectic memorabilia. There’s even a open-top Trabant car (Communist car). Seriously, it’s like having a G&T in a thrift store.
9. Dinner at Street Food Karavan
Looking to fuel up before a night of ruin bars? Luckily for you, friend, Street Food Karavan is literally right next door to Szimpla Kert.
This cute open-air food court features numerous food trucks, lanterns and a rainbow-coloured seating area. The food trucks range from vegan food and pizzas to Pad Thai and fried chicken. Make sure to check out the langos stand. The langos sold here are so good they were rated in EasyJet’s list of the top 10 best street food stalls in Europe, and they even do langos burgers.
You can eat standing up or at the seating area down the end. Szimpla Kert would be the perfect place to spend an afternoon in summer (but it was pretty great in winter too).
10. Marvel at the Hungarian Parliament Building
As it’s one of the most iconic buildings in Budapest, you have to make time to check out the incredible Hungarian Parliament Building.
Inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of Hungary in 1896, the building is a spectacular example of Neo-Gothic architecture and is the third largest Parliament building in the world. When the National Assembly is not in session, visitors are able to take a 45-minute tour of the inside. Tickets are 6,400 HUF for non EEA citizens.
If you’re on a budget or not too keen on a tour head across the other side of the river for the best photo spot of the Hungarian Parliament Building.
11. Get High on the Budapest Eye
Not that kind of high, silly.
Another top thing to do in Budapest is to ride the Budapest Eye. Located in Erzsébet Square in the city centre this 65-metre high ferris wheel is the highest in Europe. From the top you’ll have fantastic panoramic views of the Danube River and across to Buda Castle and you’ll be able to peer across to St Stephen’s Basilica.
Adult tickets to the Budapest Eye are 3000 HUF (€10).
12. St Stephen’s Basilica
You can’t visit Budapest and not check out the impressive St Stephen’s Basilica.
The largest church in Budapest, St Stephen’s Basilica is named after Budapest’s first king, St. Stephen. Interestingly (though perhaps not for poor St. Stephen) the church is home to his mummified right hand, the Szent Jobb (Holy Right Hand).
If you’re keen on another great view in Budapest make sure to head up to the dome’s observation deck (open April 1st through Oct 31st). Though entrance to the church is free there is a 500 HUF fee to visit the observation deck.
Visit Budapest at Christmas and St Stephen’s Basilica is home to one of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Budapest. Complete with ice rink, Christmas tree and light show projected onto the Basilica, the Advent Fair is reason enough to plan your visit back.
13. Admire the views from Buda Castle
Sick of discovering the best views in Budapest? Never! This city is beautiful and there are endless vantage points to discover.
One of the best free things to do in Budapest, then, is to admire the views from Buda Castle. To get to the castle you can either walk (about 10 minutes) or catch the funicular from the Buda end of the Chain Bridge. Return tickets are 1800 HUF.
Historically home to Budapest’s kings, today Buda Castle houses the Hungarian National Gallery and The Budapest History Museum. While you could visit the museums it’s just as much fun to wander the outside of the castle soaking in the views. From Buda Castle you get a spectacular panorama of the Danube, the Chain Bridge and the Pest side of the city.
14. Gellert Hill Cave
Looking for something a little quirkier to do in Budapest? Pay a visit to the fascinating Gellert Hill Cave.
Gellert Hill Cave is part of a network of caves running through Gellert Hill. It served as a chapel and field hospital during World War II until 1951 when the priests were imprisoned and the cave sealed off. After the fall of the Iron Curtain the cave was reopened as a chapel and services are still held there today. While not large, Gellert Hill Cave is an interesting Budapest attraction.
Masses are held from Mon – Fri at 8:30am, 5pm and 8pm and on Sundays at 8:30am, 11am, 5pm and 8pm.
15. Eat Traditional Hungarian Food at Hungarikum Bisztro
One of my favourite things in any city is trying different foods, and eating out is definitely one of the top things to do in Budapest. For the ultimate Hungarian comfort food make sure to check out Hungarikum Bisztro.
Fitted out with checkered tablecloths and homely furniture Hungarikum Bisztro is instantly welcoming, and the food matches the decor. The restaurant focuses on producing traditional Hungarian dishes done the way Grandma would have made them, so expect lots of hearty meat dishes and potato dumplings. The service at Hungarikum Bisztro was exceptional and the local wines were delish too.
Dining at Hungarikum Bistzro may set you back a little more than €15, but not by much. We got entrees, mains, dessert and drinks and only spent €20 each.
Phew! Hope you’re planning on spending at least a few days in Budapest because as you can see, there’s a lot to do. From tasting the city’s cuisine and experiencing the nightlife, to checking out historical buildings and seeking the best viewpoints, Budapest has something for every traveller (but especially those on a budget).