Your Weekend Guide To Budapest
Budapest has everything: stunning architecture, top-class museums, amazing nightlife, and best of all? Despite its rising popularity in the past few years, it’s still incredibly cheap. The Hungarian capital has all the charm and culture of other top European cities but without the price tag. It’s perfect for a weekend trip but if you like your travel a little slower-paced, you can easy spend a week in this beautiful city perched on the Danube River. Better yet, Budapest is a fab destination all year round; this beautiful summer hotspot transforms into a winter wonderland in the off-season.
View from the Castle district
There’s no shortage of hostels to choose from in Budapest and there’s a bed to suit every budget. If you’re looking for something cheap but cheerful, Baroque Hostel is packed with original style in a perfectly central location and you can grab a bed here for as little as £12 a night. Heading to Budapest for the nightlife? Get started at Hive Party Hostel – a huge hostel with a killer reputation and its own ruin bar, Hive will only set you back £17 a night. If you want something a little less raucous, I can personally recommend Hostel One at £25 a night: small but full of life, there’s plenty going here to keep you busy every day but quiet enough that you can still get some shut-eye. All these prices are for a bed during July, so you can expect to pay a lot less if you want to see the city in the snow.
We all know that one of the best things about travelling is food, and Budapest is full of flavour and won’t break the bank. You can grab a meal for as little as £5 and drinks are more than reasonable too: a beer will only knock you back £1 but if you’re feeling fancy, a cocktail can be as little as £3.50. If you want to stay in for a meal or two, you can easily whip up a dish in your hostel kitchen for much less than that – check out the Central Market Hall for some inexpensive and local ingredients and pick up some souvenirs whilst you’re there too.
Walking is a great way to sample the sights of Budapest, but if you want to see it in full you’re probably going to need to use some public transportation. Good news – just like everything else in Budapest, their extensive network of trams, trains, and buses is very affordable. A single ticket will only cost you 350HUF, but if you’re planning on trekking all over the capital I suggest buying a Travelcard, which starts at 1650HUF for 24 hours. You can check out all of Budapest’s BKK transport prices here.
Inside Instant, one of Budapest’s most popular ruin bars. [Photo cred: gotohungary.com]
MONEY SAVING TIPS
Budapest is one of the cheapest major cities in Europe to visit, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t still try to get the biggest bang for your buck. Heading to the city in the winter is the number one way to save money; not only are flights lower in cost but the hostel prices drop considerably.
If you’re planning to sample Budapest’s party scene, then I’d recommend getting started with an organised pub crawl through your hostel, as these will normally include entry and free drinks in a few places to get the night going. Lastly, if you’re planning on seeing as much of the city as possible, you might want to consider grabbing a Budapest Card, which not only gives you free transport, but also free or discounted entry to a tonne of sights across the city.
Take the cable cars to the peak of Castle Hill for spectacular views of Pest. At the top, you can spend hours admiring the stunning architecture of the Royal Palace (also known as Buda Castle), Fisherman’s Bastion, the Matthias Fountain, and more magnificent and historical buildings.
If your inner history buff is bursting to get out, head over to the National Museum to get educated on Hungary’s past. The exhibits span several floors, beginning with the Hungarian Bronze Age, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to see everything.
Dare a trip to the House of Terror, which serves as a museum for the communist and fascist regimes of Hungary. It’s also memorial for those who were victim to those regimes, some in this very building, and you can visit the basement cells where prisoners were held.
Heroes’ Square is an absolute must – an iconic historical site home to the Millennium Monument which honours heroes of Hungary’s past. The square is sandwiched between two art museums: Budapest’s Hall of Art to the left, and the Museum of Fine Arts on the right (closed for renovations until Spring 2018). Behind Heroes’ Square is the beautiful expanse of City Park where you can find Vajdahunyad Castle, Budapest’s Zoo and Botanical Gardens, and the Széchenyi Thermal Baths.
Hungarian Parliament Building at night
LOOK OUT FOR…
St. Stephen’s Basilica is one of Budapest’s top tourist attractions for a reason: it’s beautiful. The Roman Catholic church is the most important church in the country and its incredible Neo-Classical architecture attracts tourists all year round. It’s home to a sacred relic: the mummified right hand of St. Stephen, which you can see for as little as 900HUF. The dome also offers amazing panoramic views of the city for just 400HUF for student admission.
The Hungarian Parliament Building is beautiful when it’s all lit up at night, but regardless of the time of day, the best way to see it is from the river. If you want to gaze upon all its evening glory, consider booking a Danube River dinner cruise or grabbing tickets for a boat party.
The memorial known as Shoes on the Danube Bank pays tribute to the those killed the fascist regime during the Second World War. The 60 pairs of iron-cast shoes are a remarkably poignant reminder of a painful era of the city’s history. You can find it on the Pest bank of the river, a little way down the bank from Parliament.
Széchenyi Baths [Photo cred: www.szechenyibath.hu]
You can’t visit Budapest without taking a dip in their world-famed thermal baths. Széchenyi Thermal Baths are the most popular as it’s the largest medicinal bath in all of Europe, but with natural hot springs all over the city, there are plenty of spas to choose from. Make sure you check out their schedules in advance because some are single-sex-only on certain days. You can also party in some of the spas at night, an event which has earned the adorable nickname of ‘sparties’ – tickets for this can usually be purchased through your hostel, or online in advance.
Palinka isn’t specifically Hungarian – you can find it in a number of other Eastern European countries – but this fruit brandy is very popular in Budapest. If the hostel of your choosing has a bar, it’s pretty likely they’ll have it and most offer a free shot on your first night. It’s a bit of an acquired taste, but find your flavour (because, boy, there’s a lot of ‘em) and knock one back like the locals.
Like palinka, you can find goulash all over Central and Eastern Europe, but this yummy dish is native to Hungary and therefore a must-try when you’re in the capital. A hearty stew with a bit of spice, you can find goulash in most restaurants throughout the city, and the many varieties mean there’s something to suit every palate.
Budapest has an awesome party scene, due in part to their ruin bars: quirky clubs in old buildings full of character. There are many which are worth a quick visit, so if you planning to party the night away in Pest, I’d definitely recommend joining an organised pub crawl which you can either book online in advance, or see what your hostel has to offer when you arrive.
The craze of Escape Rooms really took off in Budapest, so if that’s your thing you should definitely check one out whilst you’re here. The prices depend on the size of your team, so you may want to recruit some fellow hostellers to join you. My personal favourite is ExitPoint, where afterwards you can grab a drink in the adjacent ruin pub, Fogas Ház.