As former budget-friendly European cities grow increasingly expensive (we’re looking at you, Prague), prices in Budapest, Hungary remains relatively inviting to the international travel crowd.
Often referred to as “the Paris of the East,” Hungary’s capital city provides a unique adventure for travelers looking to explore a city that is quietly charming by day and bursting with life by night.
Hungary isn’t the cheapest destination to visit, but there are ways to visit Budapest without breaking the bank (while still having an amazing time!).
When planning a backpacking trip to Europe, Budapest is always a top choice among travellers — and for good reason.
Here’s my guide to travelling to Budapest on a budget.
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Activities in Budapest (that won’t break the bank)
Budget travelers will find a wealth of things to do in Budapest that don’t cost a dime.
To first get acclimated to the city, choose a free, self-guided tour itinerary that sparks your interest and take yourself on a fascinating stroll through some of Europe’s most well-preserved historical sites.
Or, if you’d rather be guided through the city, check out this free walking tour of Budapest. While it technically is free, the knowledgable guides work on tips.
For incredible, panoramic views, meander across Chain Bridge or hike to the summit of Gellért Hill.
Plan to spend a few hours exploring Castle Hill, the vehicle-free, UNESCO World Heritage site that sits along the Danube River.
Here you’ll find the Buda Castle, the underground Castle Labyrinth, Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church, and many more captivating medieval landmarks.
Art and history buffs should visit during the annual “Night of the Museums” in June, when a single ticket gets you into dozens of participating galleries.
And if you’re into music, theatre, or architecture, then a visit to the Hungarian State Opera House is definitely in order. Established in 1884, this breathtaking, neo-Renaissance-style music hall allows visitors to explore its grounds for free.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest, and it’s also free to visit!
Other spots worth checking out include Károlyi Gardens, Szabadság Square, Heroes Square, Millenáris Park, and Lake Balaton (also known as the Hungarian Sea).
Getting Around on a Budget
I recommend walking as your best bet for getting around the city, especially if you’re staying near the center or its historic districts.
However, Budapest offers plenty of public transportation options, including four metro lines, major tram lines, bus and trolley services, and even a boat service that operates summer through fall.
If you purchase a single ticket from a ticket vending machine prior to your ride, expect to pay about 350 HUF, or about $1USD. Single-ride tickets purchased aboard typically cost about 450 HUF, or just over $1.50USD.
And if you’re likely to use public transit multiple times in a day, you may want to consider purchasing a 24-hour travel card for 1,650 HUF, or about $5.75USD. These cards are valid on all modes of public transportation for an unlimited number of trips, and you decide your starting time.
As a bonus, this travel card also includes discounts on many of Budapest’s top attractions.
PRO TIP: The Hungarian ticket system is one of Budapest’s top tourist complaints. To avoid frustration (and a possible fine), be sure to always validate your ticket when starting your trip. Note that transfer tickets must be validated at the start of your trip and at the point of transfer.
For the best and most affordable accommodations, your best bet is to book a hostel in the city center or green belt.
For an even cheaper stay, check out some of the quieter side streets or forgo the 2-person room in favor of a dormitory. Booking.com lists a number of highly-rated hostels that offer dorms starting at $5USD per night.
Some of the site’s top-rated and top-reviewed options include:
- Treestyle Hostel—Offers free Wi-Fi and dorms starting at just $5.37USD
- Fifth Hostel—Offers free Wi-Fi and dorms starting at just $9.33USD
- GoodMo House—Offers free Wi-Fi & breakfast and dorms starting at just $9USD
If you prefer comfort and solitude over the close quarters and unpredictability of a dorm, consider booking a private apartment, bed and breakfast, or guest house.
Of course, these days, Airbnb is a big player when it comes to accommodation. You can save money by renting out an apartment with a few friends, or booking a room in someone’s home. This is a great way to meet the locals, and make new friends…while saving money.
There are often discounts for booking online, but be sure to note whether or not taxes are included and pay attention to additional hidden fees.
PRO TIP: For the best prices, avoid traveling in Budapest’s peak season, which lasts from May to September. And unless you’re going specifically for the event, do not book a trip during the F1 Hungarian Grand Prix (which typically falls in the last week of July).
Low-Cost Eats in Budapest
There are endless places to eat in Budapest where you can experience traditional Hungarian food at a reasonable price.
Keep in mind that the food in Hungary is quite heavy (goulash and stropachka for example!), and the meals here will keep you full for hours — meaning you might be able to skip a meal or two, which will definitely help the budget.
Having said that, make sure you don’t miss out on sampling the authentic foods of Hungary, and Budapest has some great places for you to dig in.
Have a look at the Great Market Hall (AKA Central Market Hall), Budapest’s oldest and largest indoor market. Located at the Pest end of the Szabadság Bridge, this 3-story, neo-Gothic bazaar is frequented by locals and tourists alike.
On the main level, you’ll find seasonal, affordable produce, pickled vegetables, meats, and spices. Try the creamy duck or goose liver — a Hungarian specialty!
PRO TIP: You’ll likely get more bang for your buck from the more modest stalls, which may be off the beaten path.
If you want to avoid the market’s heavy crowds, grab a table at a self-service restaurant.
These diners typically offer a main dish and a soup for around 700 HUF, or about $2.50USD. For unbeatable prices, air conditioning, and an open terrace, try Metropolitan Café!
And remember, no Hungarian experience is complete until you’ve indulged in Budapest’s street food.
One cheap, must-try option is kolbice, a grilled sausage similar to a hot dog. Served inside cone-shaped bread (and often with tasty toppings), this delicious meal can be found in shops and stalls and at festivals.
Another Hungarian specialty to try is lángos, “Hungary’s most beloved anti-health food.” The deep-fried dough, often topped with ingredients like sour cream and shredded cheese, is the perfect blend of soft, crisp, and crumbly.
For a night out, consider purchasing beer and doing some pre-drinking before heading out. Having said that, a pint of beer in Budapest is only around $1.50, but craft beer will set you back more.
Now You Know How to Travel Budapest On a Budget!
For the global traveler looking to explore the ancient cities of Eastern Europe on a budget, a stop in Budapest is a no-brainer.
As you can see, there are numerous things to see and do to keep you busy, tasty foods to eat, and affordable transport and accommodations to be had.
Budapest may not be the cheapest place to travel in Europe, but it’s definitely one of the more affordable capitals.
The only downside is that it’s in the Schengen Zone meaning many travellers can’t stay longer than 3 months, and after travelling to Budapest, trust me, you’ll probably want to stay longer than that! Enjoy your trip.
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