With its exciting nightlife, great food, and stunning architecture, Budapest is becoming a more and more popular European tourist destination. Although prices have gone up considerably over the past few years as Budapest is welcoming more and more visitors each year, it’s still an affordable holiday destination compared to other European capitals. So, if you are on a tight budget, there are still plenty of things you can do. Here’s a list of either free or cheap activities in Budapest that will make your stay memorable while also save you a few Forints.
Join a free walking tour around the city
If you want to discover Budapest though the eyes of locals, there are plenty of free walking tours organized in the city by local tour guides. Tours start daily, last about 2-3 hours, and are available in English, although there are some tours in other languages (e.g. German or Spanish) as well. Although these walks are considered free, it’s customary to give a small tip to the tour guide at the end of the tour. Another free and fun way to explore Budapest is by downloading our very own Have Fun Travel app to your phone, and try one of the free, self-guided audio tours of Budapest. The various audio tours offer an informative, and insightful introduction to the city of Budapest.
Take the flying chairs to the breath-taking Elizabeth Lookout Tower
The Budapest Chairlift – or Libegő in Hungarian – is one of the fun outdoor activities in the Buda Hills. The two-way chairlift system transports passengers between Zugliget and the Elizabeth Lookout Tower on János Hill. With its 528 meters, János Hill is the highest hill of Budapest, and on its top, you’ll find the Elizabeth Lookout Tower, built in beautiful Neo-Romanesque style, and named after the empress of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, Sissy. The ride on the chairlift takes about fifteen minutes, and the views over the Buda Hills are spectacular. The adult return ticket costs only about 4 EUROS (1400 HUF), while the entrance to the lookout tower (Erzsébet kilátó in Hungarian) is free.
To get to the Chairlift, take bus 291 from Nyugati to the very last stop called Libegő, Zugliget.
Organize a romantic picnic at the Citadel on Gellért Hill
If you want a romantic dinner with a breath-taking view on a budget, buy a bottle of wine and some sandwiches at a Budapest Market, then climb up to Gellért Hill and enjoy some of the best views of Budapest from the Citadel. The Citadel is the English name for the Citadella, a 19th century fortification located on top of the Gellért Hill. The fortress was built in 1854 to serve as a defense during the Habsburg Monarchy. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s especially worth to visit after dusk when the whole city including the Buda Castle, the Parliament and the bridges light up. The walk around citadel is free, you only need to pay if you want to visit the Russian bunker and the exhibitions.
To get there: take Bus 27 from Móricz Zsigmond körtér and get off at the Bujdosó Juhász stop, or simply walk from Szent Gellért tér on the Buda side (near Szabadság Híd – Liberty Bridge). The walk takes about 15 minutes.
Listen to the magical Musical Fountain on Margaret Island
During the summer months, when locals flee the inner city in search of shady green spaces, Margaret Island becomes a popular chill-out place, while the musical fountain charms everyone with its changing shapes of water and hourly playlists. The melodies vary from children’s tunes to classical music in the morning, while the music features the 60’s, then switches to a collection of current pop hits in the afternoon. The playlists continues until 9PM, varying every hour, so that everyone can find something for their taste. After dusk, the fountain is lit, and the melodies are accompanied by an amazing water- and light show. For more fun things to do on the island, visit the free petting zoo with ponies, deer, bunnies, and various birds, the beautiful Japanese Garden with a fishpond, or head to the Palatinus Beach & Outdoor Pools which is much cheaper than the famous and crowded Széchenyi Thermal Bath.
To get to Margaret Island, you can either walk to Margaret bridge, or take the Line 2 Tram, and get off at Jászai Mari tér.
Eat your way through the Great Market Hall
If you’re looking for a culinary experience, don’t miss the Great Market Hall (also called the Central Market Hall) in Fővám Tér, which is Budapest’s biggest inside food market. Here, you can buy all sorts of goods on 3 distinctive stores: fruits, vegetables, dairy products,sausages, salamis, hams, pickles, fresh fish, Hungarian paprika, local wines, various souvenirs, and you can even try the famous Hungarian Lángos with sour cream and garlic. If you want to avoid big crowds, visit on weekdays, and although the market is fairly cheap, beware of overcharging, so make sure to check the prices before you buy anything.
To get to the Great Market Hall, take trams 2, 47 or 49 to Fővám tér. The nearest metro station is at Kálvin tér (M3 blue line).
Say a prayer at the St. Stephen’s Basilica
The two most well-known churches of Budapest are Matthias Church in the Buda Castle district and the St. Stephen’s Basilica, but while you must pay an entrance fee to visit the Matthias Church, the Basilica can be visited free of charge. The other advantage of the Basilica is that it’s located in the very center of the city, not far from Deák Square, and is surrounded by many great restaurants and wine bars. This majestic church building is the largest church of Budapest and hosts up to 8,500 people. It was named after St. Stephen, the first Hungarian King, who converted Hungary to the Christian religion, and whose mummified right hand is on display inside of the church. Although there’s no fee to enter the church, there is an entrance fee of 500 HUF to go up to the observation deck. To reach the deck for spectacular, panoramic views of Budapest, you can either walk up the stairs or take the elevator. Guided tours of the Basilica are also available for a fee of 2000 HUF.
Have a drink at a Ruin Bar
Ruin bars have become extremely popular places to visit for young people coming to Budapest. These alternative pubs are located in derelict buildings, and usually have a very unique, artsy atmosphere. Ruin bars are not only pubs, but often focal points for various contemporary arts events as well, and over the past few years, they have reshaped Budapest’s cultural landscape especially in terms of nightlife. To visit them and learn about their history, you can either embark on a guided Ruin Bar Tour with a group or using the Have Fun Travel App, or just explore them on your own. The most well-known ones include Szimpla Kert, Instant, Doboz, Grandio, Kuplung, Mazel Tov, Kőleves Kert and Fogasház. They usually serve a wide variety of alcoholic drinks, including beer, local wines and palinka, which is a traditional Hungarian fruit brandy. At the cheapest bars you’ll pay around one EUR for a beer.
Marvel at the Parliament Building from Tram line 2
The Hungarian Parliament Building is a stunning example of Neo-Gothic architecture and is also the world’s third largest parliament building. Wonder why such a small country needs such a huge parliament? Well, the parliament was built in the 19th century when Hungary was much bigger in size, as it has lost one-third of its territory after WWI. If you don’t have a time lot of time on your hands or don’t want to pay the entrance fee, just visit this marvelous building from the outside. The most comfortable way to do this is by taking Tram line Nr. 2, which is the 7th on the top 10 most scenic trolley rides in the world by National Geographic. Tram line Nr. 2 is a public transport line that runs along the river Danube, passing by Corvinus University of Budapest, hotels, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, the beautiful House of Parliament, and of course we should not forget St. Gellert’s Hill, the Buda Castle and the Fisherman’s Bastion on the other side of the Danube either. It’s best to hop on Tram line 2 at Vigadó tér, near the shopping street, Váci utca.
Take your best selfies at Fisherman’s bastion
Well-known for the breath-taking panoramic views it provides, the Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest’s 1st district looks like a fairy-tale castle. No wonder it’s one of the most photographed tourist spots in Budapest. From its towers you can enjoy a spectacular view of the river Danube and Margaret Island, and you can also spot the landmark buildings on the Pest side such as St Stephen’s Basilica, the Parliament, Gresham Palace, and, in the distance, the Inner-City Parish Church. It’s important to note that there is a fee to enter the lookout at the top level of the bastion, but you can enter the lower level for free and the view is equally beautiful.
To get to the Fisherman’s Bastion, climb up to the Buda Castle by either walking or taking the Funicular, then go to Holy Trinity square. You can also take the Castle Bus (public transport) which leaves from Széll Kálmán tér.
Enjoy a boat cruise down the river Danube
If you want to take a river cruise in Budapest without having to pay a fortune, then take one of Budapest’s public boats. Budapest’s public transport system (BKK) which includes metro lines, trams and bus lines has recently been expanded to boat lines as well. This means that any ticket you buy to access Budapest’s public transport is valid for the BKK boats as well. Taking a public boat is a comfortable and cheap way to explore Budapest from a unique perspective, marveling at the beautiful buildings on both sides of the riverbank. Public boats currently run on 3 routes: D11, D12 and D14. From these, D12 is probably the most recommended route for tourists. It transports passengers between Kopaszi Gát and Római Fürdő, covering the inner-city area, with stops at Buda Castle Bazaar and Margaret Island, then continuing to Római part (Roman Riverbank) which is full of outdoor venues and has an open-air bath (Római Fürdő) as well. If you decide to take a public boat, make sure to check the schedule in advance, as water levels can affect the boat’s operating routes.