Hungary’s capital Budapest is the most populous city in the country and one of the largest in the European Union. In 1873 it became one single city occupying both banks of the Danube River and unified Hungary’s former cities Buda, Óbuda, and Pest. Therefore, if you’re looking for fun free things to do in Budapest while traveling on a budget, this post will definitely come in handy.
Free Things to Do in Budapest
Granted with UNESCO World Heritage Site status, Budapest for many is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. It mixes its fascinating history with a bright, laid-back modern artistic style. Budapest attractions can vary from historic and iconic sites, museums, beautiful parks, and the most popular Ruin Bars. The city won’t leave you unsatisfied.
The most important places to see in Budapest are within the walking distance from each other, therefore, you won’t need to take public transportation once you get to the city center.
1Take a Free Walking Tour of Budapest
Free walking tours are one of the best ways to introduce yourself to the city. The locals, who voluntarily work as the guides of those tours are happy to show and tell all the interesting details of their city. However, do note that even though the name suggests ‘Free’, it is not entirely free. You give the guide a ‘tip’ of the amount you think the tour was worth.
While there are several such tours in the city, I would suggest this particular company to start exploring Budapest for free. The company offers many interesting daily tours along with the general tour of the city.
We took Free Budapest Tour that lasts around three hours and took as to the main landmarks of Buda and Pest. Besides, providing interesting insights of the city and Hungary, our guide also suggested where and what to eat in the city. She was happy to answer all the questions we had.
2Admire the St. Stephan’s Basilica
One of the iconic places to see in Budapest is the St. Stephan’s Basilica. This Roman Catholic church is named after the first King of Hungary, Stephen. His right hand is displayed here in the reliquary and if interested, you can enter the church and see it for a small fee. Otherwise, exploring the inside and outside of the basilica is free of charge.
3Track down the various statues across the city
Budapest is definitely one of the most artistic cities I have visited. And those adorable statues scattered across the city adds a special touch to it. I had fun finding those piece of art and taking pictures. Some have the history behind, while some are just the statues.
The sculpture of ‘Little Princess’, that in my opinion looks like Peter Pan, is one of the most popular arts of the city. Laszlo Marton, inspired by his daughter who loved playing in a princess costume, created it in 1972. And few know that the replica of this statue is displayed in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space.
Very close to the St. Stephan’s Basilica, you’ll find this Policeman statue, standing on the corners of Oktober 6 and Zrinyi Streets. Inspired by the characteristic faces of Budapest, the artist Illyas Andras formed the physique of the statue after his grandfather.
4Cross the Chain Bridge
Joining the Buda and Pest districts of the city, the Chain Bridge is one of the most popular and beautiful bridges here. Opened in 1849, it was the first permanent bridge across the Danube river.
5Walk up to the 0 KM stone
When you cross the Chain Bridge towards the Castle Hill Funicular and Buda Castle, you’ll see one of the free Budapest attractions. This limestone indicates the point from which all road lengths to Budapest are estimated in the country.
6Feel as if in a Fairytale
We all dreamed of having a fairytale castle in our childhood. You can easily fulfill this dream at Fisherman’s Bastion – Budapest’s must-visit place for its gorgeous architecture and panoramic views over the city.
Surprisingly, the castle is not medieval. It was built in the 20th century in a neo-Gothic and named after the Guild of Fisherman, who defended that part of the city walls during the Middle Ages. You can wander here for free, but you’ll need to pay to walk on its walls.
Possess the World travel blog talks about how to spend the anniversary in the city
7Commemorate the History
One of the mesmerizing free things to do in Budapest is the shoe monument on the coast of the Danube River. 60 pair of shoes acknowledges those Hungarian Jews shot by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-1945. The victims were lined up at the coastline and shot into the water. Very touching and straightforward memorial is a must-see to understand country’s history.
8Amire one of the most beautiful Governmental buildings
The Parliament, located on the bank of the Danube River, accommodates the National Assembly. The building built in 1884-1904 in neo-Gothic style, is 268 meters long, the domes are 96 meters high and have 691 rooms. Many believe (including me!) that it is the most fascinating and gorgeous building both inside and outside. If you are more interested to know how the government functions here, you can get a 45-minute tour costing around 5,200 HUF.
9Visit One of the Most Famous Squares
Heroes’ Square is the largest, most impressive and the most visited sites in the city. It was built in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of the country. An iconic monument features a central pillar and two parallel colonnades on both sides. On top of the post, Archangel Gabriel is holding the Hungarian crown, while the colonnades house statues of other historical Hungarian figures.
10Stroll around the Jewish quarter
One of the best things to do in Budapest on your next visit is to wander through the streets of the Jewish quarter, where you’ll find interesting snippets of history, modern art, the biggest synagogue in Europe, and some of the most diverse nightlife.
11Track down the Street Art
If you are a street art lover and looking for some of the most beautiful examples of this modern art, Budapest should be on your bucket list. Here, I have seen the gorgeous works adorning the black walls of the buildings. And if you’d like to learn more about the artists and how the whole movement started, you can take a Free Street and Urban Art Tour.
12Go to an alternative bar crawl
Besides all the things mentioned above, Jewish quarter is home to some of the most popular bars in town, called Ruin Bars. The whole concept of those bars started in 2001 when youngsters wanted to have a place to drink cheaply. What used to be an abandoned building or an unused outdoor space, they turned them into a nice, friendly, chaotic, and alternative bars that became a hub of Budapest’s nightlife.
The name, Ruin Bars, is exactly what it means. Don’t expect them to be nicely remodeled or posh, the whole idea is to leave those walls in their original state and decorating the area with vintage and second-hand items.
Szimpla Kert was the very first one and is still the most popular place to go for a drink in Budapest. However, do note that it gets packed in the evenings, while there’s a huge line of travelers outside waiting for their turn to get in. Therefore, I would suggest visiting the place a bit earlier than 6 pm or crawling to other bars before, such as Kuplung, Racskert, Ellato Kert & Taqueria, or Instant to name just a few.
Check out The Travel Leaf’s post on Where to Stay in Budapest for Any Budget Traveler
13Visit the Great Market Hall
Great Market Hall or the Central Market Hall, located near the Szabadság Bridge, is the great way to combine a bit of a shopping with sightseeing. The area is not only favorable by many locals for their everyday grocery shopping, but it’s also popular among Budapest visitors.
Besides vegetables, seasonal fruits, and local products such as wines, spirits, and sausages, you can find handmade gifts and ornaments, various souvenirs, delicious chocolate bars, and food stalls on the second floor.
Note: The market is closed on Sundays and national holidays.
Other Things to Do in Budapest on the Budget
14Enjoy a Boat Ride Over the Danube
Dividing the city into two parts – Buda and Pest, Danube River offers various cruises all day round. However, if you do not fancy a boat ride, you can still enjoy the banks of the river by walking along the coastline. You can even enjoy a cold or warm beverage at the bars and restaurants situated here.
Adults – 3.900 HUF; Students – 3.500 HUF
15Take it slow and relax
Budapest is the city of spas and recreational parks, enabling its visitor to experience the culture and relax at the same time. The capital boasts with 12 thermal baths scattered across the city, where a temperature is at least 30C. Gellert and Szechenyl baths are the most popular ones. However, if you do not feel like visiting the public baths, you can still enjoy many recreational parks.
Cheapest Bath 3,300 HUF Check prices
16Ride the funicular
If you’ll get tired of all the walks you did, you can save your legs a hike and ride a small funicular to the Buda Castle. Taking only a few minutes, the ride provides gorgeous views of the city, Danube river, and some of the sights of the Castle Hill.
Adults – 1,200 HUF = $4.72 = €3.85; 1,800 HUF return = $7.09 = €5.78;
What to try in Budapest
When visiting a new city or country, we are tempted to try local delicacies and traditional meals. Hungarian cuisine is rich with soups, stews, luscious pastries, and delicious casseroles. Hungarian paprika is the most popular ingredient of the local cuisine, giving a unique taste and fiery color to the meals. This, though, doesn’t mean the dishes are burning hot.
This is the most famous meal to try in Budapest. This beef soup is made with paprika, onions, green peppers and tomatoes. Some of the venues even add potatoes or noodles to the soup. The best places to try one, according to our local guide, is at Kek Rosza Restaurant.
Chimney cake or Kürtőskalács in Hungarian is one of the most popular desserts you need to try here. Made from the sweet dough rolled onto a wooden roller and grilled over the hot coals, the cake is a perfect snack while enjoying your walks in the streets of Budapest. On your request, those cakes can be dipped or topped with walnuts, chocolate, vanilla, or cinnamon to name a few.
Just another great snack to get you going in the city. Suggested by our guide, she said that once we try, we either going to love it or hate it. If you are a bit familiar with the Russian Sirok, a cottage cheese bar dipped in chocolate, then you’ll definitely love it. Those can be found in various grocery stores in the refrigerator section and comes with all the different flavors.