Us Europeans often take ultra-cheap city breaks for granted, jetting off to exotic capitals from our home countries for the price of an average night out in the UK. Frugal free spirits will therefore be delighted by Budapest, with its excellent exchange rate giving you spending leeway.
The ever-popular, ever-vibrant Hungarian capital is bursting with cheap entertainment, whether you’re looking for 80p pints or classy open air dining, Budapest is thoroughly enjoyable for travellers on tight budgets.
See bridges, castles and riverside retreats
As (one of) the former capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Budapest is bursting with lavish architecture and expansive river views that will fill your Instagram followers with envy. Kick things off with a walk across the iconic Chain Bridge, the first structure to connect the two sides of the capital. Next, test yourselves with a holiday workout by climbing the hill to Buda Castle where you’ll be treated to panoramic views of Pest to the east before exploring the narrow cobbled streets of Buda.
For a bite on the go, seek out street food stalls selling tasty local specialities such as Kolbice(Hungarian style hot dogs) or lángos (decadent deep fried flatbreads). After filling up head back down towards the Danube to admire the spectacular gothic Parliament building, which is justifiably the most famous of the city’s architectural jewels.
Finish off by enjoying the open air at Margitsziget, an island and park rolled into one complete with large green fields, medieval ruins and swimming pools. It’s the perfect place to people watch or duck out of the bustling city and unwind. You’ll also find a host of bars dotted around the edge of the island offering cheap drinks and river views to start your night in style.
Enjoy a new kind of spa day
Recharge after a heavy evening at one of Budapest’s grandiose thermal bath complexes. These ornately decorated tiled palaces are havens of relaxation for locals and tourists alike. Szechenyi Baths is the most famous institution, attracting over 1 million visitors a year thanks to its huge outdoor pools, impressive architecture and central location within the City Park.
Hop across town and you’ll find Gellert Baths, a gorgeous art-nouveau spa complex offering all day access to its 10 pools, giving you a chance to wile away the hours without any clockwatching. Each pool has its own distinct character complete with imposing pillars and detailed mosaics.
Top tip Szechenyi stays open at night, so do your research and find a Bath Party that fits around your schedule for some after hours revelry in a sublime setting.
Roam Ruinpubs until the wee hours
The global reach of hipsters is seemingly unrelenting, with exposed brick bars and IPAs now features of many a continental capital. For the past 15 years or so Hungarians have been tweaking this successful formula to create something special. Budapest’s trademark Ruinpubs offer a refreshing take on alternative nightlife by transforming crumbling buildings into zanily decorated party hotspots that you won’t find anywhere else.
At the tourist heavy Szimpla Kert you can sip saccharine cocktails whilst being surrounded by nostalgic 90s toys you forgot existed and old-school computer monitors spewing gibberish. It can get busy towards midnight but thanks to its open air setting and multitude of rooms, the atmosphere is still relaxed enough to have a casual conversation over the throbbing house music.
Grandio fuses cool courtyard bars with a party hostel, inevitably attracting an eccentric international clientele, whilst Mazel Tov offers a more modern take on the Ruinpub experience serving imaginative Middle Eastern food.
Focus on free art
Most museums in Budapest charge a small entrance fee however bargain hunters will be relieved to know that there are free cultural hubs to discover too. TELEP is a forward-thinking gallery and meeting point that offers a diverse range of photography and art exhibitions as well as performances. It’s also located in the heart of the fascinating Jewish Quarter which we highly recommend exploring.
Those with avant-garde tastes should head to Várfok Gallery for the latest and greatest Hungarian contemporary works whilst more traditional types might prefer the Virag Judit Gallery for 19th and 20th century collections.
Eat like a local at the Great Market
Another grand architectural treat to enjoy for free is Budapest’s Great Market Hall. Home to stalls of all sorts across three storeys with guaranteed treats to make your tastebuds tingle. Stock up for a picnic in the park at one of the modestly priced fruit stalls or head to Fakanàl for cheap Hungarian fast food to fuel your afternoon.
Now you’ve got your itinerary sorted, the only thing left to find is a place to stay. For unbeatable prices head to the easyHotel Budapest Oktogon, ideally located minutes away from Andrassy Avenue and a stone’s throw from the Ruinpubs and thermal baths.
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