Budapest is the architecturally rich capital of Hungary, located on either side of the Danube river. Previously, Pest was on the East bank while Buda and Óbuda were on the West side. It wasn’t until 1873 that Budapest become one city which is now renown as one of the most beautiful in the whole of Europe.
With little expectation, I was overwhelmed as I hitchhiked over Elizabeth Bridge to be surrounded by stunning architecture on either side of me. I had just 12 hours in the city and I knew that it wasn’t enough. Around one week after I left, I found a free bed in Budapest and came back. Delighted, I stayed for another few weeks in this wonderful city and visited many of the wonderful places in it, without spending large amounts of money. By asking what can you do in Budapest for free, you start to see more than just what is in the guide books.
In my time in Budapest, I found plenty of ways to explore and enjoy the city on a very tight budget. Although Hungary is already a fairly cheap country, saving your cash will extend your travels for longer. There are plenty of free things to do in Budapest and an enjoyable ‘Budapest on a budget’ trip is very much possible. Covering things to see, and where to eat or drink, this is my brief cash strapped guide to Budapest.
If you need free accommodation in Budapest, check out my Free Accommodation post.
Top things to see / do in Budapest for free
A touching experience at Kerepesi Temető (Kerepes Cemetery)
1086 Budapest, Fiumei ut 16
Not normally one for dark tourism, the Kerepes Cemetery caught me off guard. Despite millions of tourists a year visiting places of human suffering and death, I would normally find it disrespectful to allow myself to feel sadness at somebody else’s grief when I have no right to do so. For similar reasons, I recently chose not to visit Auschwitz when in Poland for a few weeks. This is a personal choice however and I think no more or less of people who choose to visit these places. We must only satisfy ourselves. The Kerepes Cemetery is one of the most beautiful tributes to lives gone past that I have ever seen. The amount of time constructing tributes to the deceased is immediately apparent and the cemetery could have been made for kings with all it’s splendour. Take an hour (maybe three), to idly walk the pathways and see what you stumble across. I was particularly taken by the ornate figureheads on many of the graves and the time that must have been invested in constructing them. Many graves caught my eye, but the following rather stood out for me.
Despite dying 36 years apart, this couple’s bodies rest in the same grave. After a couple of hours of walking through the cemetery, I felt rather overawed and had to leave. It was worth the visit.
Embrace city views from Citadella Sétány
1118 Budapest, Citadella sétány 1.
Look to the West of the Danube and you can’t miss the statue high above the city. Follow your nose and head up until you reach it. From here you have magnificent views of the city and surrounding areas in every direction. Ideally head up before sunset and look over the city as the light fades. It’s as beautiful by night as by day, so after the walk, it is worth waiting for.
Walk the Danube river and admire the architecture
Start from Petőfi Hid (Petőfi Bridge) and walk North along the river. Cross over each bridge to walk on the other side if you enjoy alternating the views. This will take you past many of the famous buildings in Budapest, including the parliament buildings, the national gallery, and the castle. You will see many more buildings that you never even heard of. If you have extra energy, take a little stroll into the Buda side near Széchenyi Lánchíd (Chain Bridge) and enjoy the beautiful churches, residential streets, and views that you can find. Finish your stroll on the islands and if you’re still alive, explore the islands. If not, why not come back and finish you’re strolling tomorrow.
There are many more wonderful things to see for free in Budapest, but these are my three favourites and will last a couple of days. There is a great map of Budapest available online which helps you to find all of the things listed above. If you’re you’re still looking for free things to visit, consider visiting Hősök Tere (Heroes Square), Városliget (City Park), Nagy Vasarcsarnok (Central Market Hall), and Szent Istvan Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica). Budapest is one of the best cities that I have ever experienced to just walk in and find interesting places. So start walking.
Street Food One of the most delicious and simultaneously disgusting pieces of street food that I have ever tried, was in Budapest. Lángos. Lángos is a flat bread that is deep fried then smothered in sour cream and cheese. There are other variations available, but the cheese and sour cream combination is the ‘normal’ and most delicious (in my opinion). My favourite Lángos place is found just off Rákóczi útca on Somogyi Béla utca (see the map) and costs only 500 forint (£1.43 / $2.31). It is amply calorie packed to serve two people and also offers a smoked cheese and garlic sour cream option. Enjoy the delicious taste.. just don’t eat it every day. Restaurants There are many interesting but overpriced restaurants all over Budapest. Avoiding these, without doubt, my favourite (and best for value) is Hummus Bar. Typically meals cost 600-1800 forint (£1.71-£5.17 / $2.77-$8.32). They have seven locations across the city (see map) and the food is delicious. A couple of their restaurants are solely vegetarian and I would highly recommend trying the Shakshuka Hummus Plate. After trying almost everything on the menu, I think that this recommendation is rather advisable!
Bars There are hundreds of bars in Budapest serving similar priced beer. The most famous of these is Szimpla, the ruin bar, but as expected, the prices here are fairly high. If you are looking for a cheap drink with a busy atmosphere, try heading to Jackson’s on Krúdy Gyula utca where you can pick up a rack of ten small beers for 100o forint. Street Drinking In warm months, many people buy drinks from the shops and sit on Szabadság híd (Liberty Bridge). In the daytime people bring deck chairs and set them upon the bridge supports while at night they sit together in circles. The views are wonderful, the air is fresh, and bottles of wine can be found in store from only 200 forint (£0.57 / $0.92). It may or may not be legal, but it’s definitely fun. Avoid climbing the bridge while drinking; it’s very high. I once saw a Frenchman fall off from the very bottom and that appeared painful enough! Please comment below if you have anymore suggestions of what to do in Budapest.