Budapest is already known for its budget status: it doesn’t get much better than a place where a frothy beer is cheaper than a bottle of water. But you don’t have to fill up on the local lager to enjoy the city at a discounted price. There are many ways to trim your costs in the Heart of Europe.
1. Venture outside the city center.
Even though Budapest’s city center is amazing in itself, it’s just as entertaining to wander outside of the bustling District V core. Some of the city’s best food, drinks, and nightlife require a little digging, but you’ll be rewarded with far more affordable prices and you’ll get to spend time with actual locals and not just other tourists.
Some of my favorite alternatives to the city center include District II, which is home to most of the city’s beautiful outdoors, District III, which holds some of the oldest history, District VIII, which is filled with stunning architecture and hip, young spaces, and District XIII, which has an entirely different look from the rest of the city. You will be just as entertained at a fraction of the price.
2. Walk or use public transportation.
Budapest has the oldest metro system in continental Europe, and its public transportation network snakes through the entire city. It’s complete with an underground metro, day and night buses, trams, trolleys, river taxis, and suburban railways. You can see all corners of the city in no time. And it’s extremely affordable. Transport passes that cover the entire network system start at $7 for one day, $17 for three days, or $20 for one week. You can also purchase a Budapest Card that includes all public transport and many of the city’s biggest sites for free (including one of the thermal baths and more than ten museums). Plus, river taxis are a really cheap alternative to the touristy river cruise.
All in all, there’s really no reason to hire a taxi in Budapest, especially when the public transportation is entertaining in itself. Opt to go by foot through the city’s historical core or bump and rattle along the Danube River on a historic yellow tram. Hop from one art-infused stop to another on the newest metro line (M4) or scoot into a bucket seat on one of the bright red trolleys. It’s all a part of the Budapest experience.
3. Be a tourist but act like a local.
You’ve probably heard of Budapest’s thermal baths. They should not be missed. But with the steady influx of tourism, the price tag keeps creeping higher and higher. Luckily, you can swap out extravagant prices and crowded pools by visiting some of the smaller and lesser-known spas.
Szechenyi, Gellért, and Rudas top every list, and for good reason. They are stunning and the perfect place to score that selfie for Instagram. But there are cheaper alternatives, like Szént Lukács (free with the Budapest Card) or Király. Or, if you’re in the city during the summer, then Palantinus on Margaret Island is a great option. You get the benefits of indoor hot spas, outdoor chilling pools, and the bonus of a giant wave pool and slides. It’s a total local’s summer hangout with a “beach” and restaurants inside. And if you arrive in the evening, or only spend 3 hours there, you receive a discount!
4. Create your own walking tour.
One of the most appealing aspects of Budapest is its array of architecture and incredibly impressive monuments. Just strolling a few blocks will leave you in awe, which makes this very inexpensive entertainment. You can easily find architecture ranging from Roman ruins to Neo-Renaissance to Art Nouveau to Communist-era. And along the way, you can see all the big monuments too.
If you’re more of a nature person, your walking tour can include some green spaces like Margaret Island, City Park, or a jaunt up Gellért Hill for excellent views of the city. Or, immerse yourself in the forests of the Buda Hills, which are teeming with both easy and challenging, short and long, trails. As a bonus, you get to see a lot of local families enjoying their weekends and you can score some of the best strudel at Normafa.
5. See a show.
Normally this wouldn’t fall into a budget trip, but it does in Budapest! If you’ve ever wanted to feel a little fancy in Europe and see a show at an elegant Opera House, then you’re in luck. You can get nosebleed seats for just a few dollars. Go early to stroll around the interior.
Or if performing arts isn’t your scene, you can catch a film (many in English) at one of the city’s old, historic cinemas. Some of my favorites include Puskin, Művész, Corvin, and (if you’re a true hipster adventurer) Bem Mozi. Again, the ticket will only set you back a few dollars and you can enjoy a film while absorbing the vintage atmosphere around you. For even more culture, visit Budapest in the spring during the International Film Festival, which will take you all around the city (and the world) at several different cinemas.
6. Join the locals and picnic outside.
There are plenty of public spaces where you can sit and sip at your leisure. You can bring all your picnic fixings with you, including your beer or wine and sparkling water for a refreshing fröccs. Fan your blanket out on the green grass and enjoy a warm summer evening along the shores of the Danube, the steps of the Basilica, one of the city’s parks, or in the heart of the city at Elizabeth Square.
7. Combine accommodation with entertainment.
Budapest is known worldwide for its incredible and unique nightlife. With bars and clubs built into old courtyards, decorated with quirky relics of the past, you can see why. If you’re in it for the parties, then you can easily combine your slumber with your fun. There are numerous party hostels that house you above an old ruin bar where music, dancing, and drinking carry on until the morning hours. No cover fees if you’re a guest, and many of these hostels organize walking tours and other events for their patrons, all for the reasonable price of a hostel bed.