Budapest has lured backpackers and budget travellers for decades. It’s comparative prices being favourable to the rest of Europe. In recent years, tourism has boomed, pushing up prices and budget travellers further east.
If you’re on a budget in Budapest you now need to look a little harder to avoid breaking the bank balance. Before you experience the Pearl of the Danube, consider these options to get the most from Budapest while stretching you Hungarian Forint a little further.
1. Bike Share
Despite electric scooter sharing services taking over most of Europe, bike share in Budapest, in my opinion, is better. They are plentiful, you get a bit of exercise, they have dedicated lanes in the traffic (so safer) and, if you use them for less than 30 minutes at a time, they are free! Apart for a small signup fee you can travel all over a pretty flat Budapest at no cost.
The Mol Bubi bike system allows you to sign-up for either 24 hours, 72 hours or a week for a small fixed fee. When you register you receive a code which allows you to unlock a bike over this period and if you only use it for 30 minute intervals you’ll pay no more. It is very easy to get in between all the major points in the city under 30 minutes and official bike racks are everywhere.
For a unique experience, take walk through the bowels of Budapest in a dark and damp maze cut into the rock from residents past. Along with a brief summary of Budapest history, some sections are completely dark whereas others are shrouded in a natural and all-too-eerie subterranean mist.
Labyrinth is possibly the least touristed location in the most touristy part of Budapest. It provides a respite from the heat of summer or the cold of winter and it all feels like anything could go down in there.
Cost: 3000 forint ($10 USD)
3. House of Terror
While horror movie producers do a good job of scaring the bejesus out of us, the real-life terror inflicted on the residents of Budapest is told in the House of Terror. This museum brings the terrible period of fascist and communist occupation beginning in 1944 and ending in 1956.
The building itself was the headquarters of the fascist Arrow Cross party and then the Hungarian Communist party which captured, tortured and killed its many victims in their basement prison.
Cost: 3000 Forint (~$10 USD)
4. Hungarian National Museum
The Hungarian National Museum is as impressive as its grand entrance. Each room is dedicated to key stages in the development of Hungary from almost prehistoric times to present. Despite the fluctuating borders and empires that have come and gone, it highlights the essence that is Hungary and how Buda and Pest bridged the Danube to become the unified Buda Pest.
Cost: 2,600 (~$9 USD)
5. Shoes on the Danube Bank
Almost 60 pairs of iron sculptured shoes curiously sit mounted along the bank of the Danube. This is a memorial to the 3,500 predominantly Jewish residents of Budapest who were killed at this site by the fascist Arrow Cross militia during World War II. This is a free public exhibit to memorialise these people and a somber place for reflection along with a popular site for tourists.
6. Liberty Bridge & Statue
Spanning the Danube, Liberty bridge is an old iron rivet bridge rebuilt soon after WWII. Join the locals of an evening and enjoy beer on the low walls at either end of the bridge and soak up the vibe of the city. Also, overlooking Liberty Bridge is Liberty Statue positioned high above the city providing a sweeping view of the city stretching along the river.
7. Columbo Statue
If you’re a fan of the 1970’s sleuth Columbo, you may be surprised, and a little excited to know a bronze statue of Peter Falk’s Columbo standing on an inner-city pedestrian street. The statue is located on ‘Falk Miksa St’ which also seems to be the only logical connection between a Los Angeles Detective and Budapest. Perhaps if Columbo was still with us he would be able to solve his mysterious memorialisation. Still it’s a positively unique monument freely accessible on the streets of Budapest.
8. Szimpla Kert Bar
There aren’t too many bars where you can enjoy a beer in a bathtub. Entering the sprawling Szimpla Kert open air bar in the bar district of Budapest is like walking into a drug den. Graffiti covers the walls which seem to match the skin of the equally graffitied patrons. Various industrial fixtures form the tables and chairs and the very prominent greenery appears like overgrown weeds cascading down and enveloping the walls.
With many nooks and crannies and full of what seem like independent pop up bars, you can order an ice cold beer or choose from an extensive cocktail menu.
9. Street Food Karavan
Food carts are all the rage in Eastern Europe in summer and Budapest is no different. Street Food Karavan is the pick of the bunch with a lot of decent fast-ish food choose from. Think American style burgers, burritos, gourmet hotdogs, crepes and some asian delicacies. Of course, all can be washed down with a quality Hungarian beer enjoyed at the shared outdoor tables in this inner city food sanctuary.
10. For Sale Pub – Hungarian Goulash
For Sale pub is a bit of an institution. Peanut shells cover the floor, scribbled notes from past patrons litter the walls and beer and goulash flow freely. The two levels are often packed with live music pumping off of the small stage. True, it does have an air of tourist trap about it but it is a good atmosphere and the goulash is indisputably good. One bowl between two is also plenty so you can same some coin if you are travelling in a twosome.
I hope this gives you a head start on your trip to Budapest. There is so much more to see and do in Budapest on a budget. Walking the old streets and enjoying the sights along the river, particularly in summer will last in your memory, and now not too long lasting on your bank balance!