While expensive luxury brand hotels have opened their doors in Budapest in recent years, the city’s soul remains. Do not worry if you're on a budget but want to see this beautiful city. There are plenty of things visitors can do that are free of charge, such as seeing the stunning architecture, dazzling Danube vistas, panoramic views, and grassy parkland that cater to families and singles. The best time of the year to visit Budapest is in the fall and spring to avoid the high season crowds, flight, and hotel prices. Along with all the free things to do, Budapest is affordable for everyone.
1. Take a free guided walking tour
The first thing you should do, is take one of the free walking tours offered in the city. This will give you knowledge of the area, history of the two cities and time to go back to places you would like to spend more time at. In this 2.5 hour tour, you will walk across the famous Chain Bridge, visit the Buda Castle, view St. Stephen’s Basilica, and discover the Thermal Baths. Learn about the history of Budapest, famous people, and events. You may even discover some new places that you would like to go see. Morning and afternoon walking tours are available daily at 11:00 am, 12:00 pm, 1:00 pm, and 2:00 pm. The tours are free; however, tips are greatly appreciated.
2. Walk across all eight bridges
You may not want to walk across all eight bridges, but Budapest is often referred to as the ‘Pearl of the Danube’ because of them. The Chain Bridge was the first permanent bridge to connect the two cities, Buda and Pest, in 1849. The other seven bridges are Arpad Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, Lagymanyosi Bridge, Liberty Bridge, Margaret Bridge, Megyeri Bridge, and Petofi Bridge. If you only want to walk across one, the Chain Bridge is a must. It is the most famous of all the bridges and was the first stone bridge to connect Buda and Pest in the 18th century.
3. Walk to the top of Gellért Hill
The panoramic views of Budapest are spectacular from the top of the 235 meter (771 feet) tall hill. Day, night, sunrise or sunset, you won’t be disappointed with the 15-minute walk up. At the top of the hill you will also see the Liberty Statue, commemorating liberation from the Nazis, and the Citadella, built after the War of Independence by the Habsburgs.
4. View the Hungarian Parliament building
The massive Parliament building was built on the Pest side of the Danube to directly contrast the Buda Castle in 1902. It was built to signify that the country’s fate was bound to democracy, not royalty. There is a charge to go into the building for a tour. Ticket prices range from 1,000 HUF (3.50 USD) to 5,400 HUF (18.95 USD) depending on age, residency, and season. However, it is free to view this grand building from outside and watch the changing of the guards. The tours available and hours open vary, so look at their website before going.
5. Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica
Visit the biggest church in Budapest, St. Stephen’s Basilica, also known as Budapest Cathedral, which holds a capacity of 8,500 people. The dome of the Basilica stretches 96 meters (315 feet) tall, the exact same as the Parliament building. No building in Budapest is allowed to surpass this height limit. It is to signify the equality of the Church and Parliament. Entrance to the church is free; however, if you want to go up to the observation deck, open from April to October, it will cost you 500 HUF (2 USD).
6. Go for a walk around Margaret Island
This pedestrian-only island, located in the middle of the Danube River, is a great escape from the city for kids and adults. With a running path that’s 5.3 kilometers (3.29 miles) long, an expansive water park, 11 outdoor pools, and skates and bikes for rent, there is no doubt the summer months are busier than the cooler winter months. It only takes 20 minutes to walk the length of the island, but you can easily spend an entire day or evening there. The attractions on the island include the Centennial Memorial, a tiny zoo, music fountain, Japanese Garden, and water tower. In the summer, the outdoor theater hosts plays, concerts, and operas.
7. Visit Hero’s Square
Hero’s Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was built to commemorate the country’s thousandth anniversary in 1896. At the center of the square is the Millennium Monument, paying tribute to the seven chieftains of the Magyars, the founders of Hungary, and other national luminaries, with archangel Gabriel overseeing them from above a soaring center column. The square is also home to the National Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, City Park and Széchenyi Baths. You will find it easy to spend an interesting and relaxing day here. If you want to enjoy some solitude here, you will need to come early. It gets very busy and lively in the evening hours.
Budapest for any budget
These are just a few of the free things you can do in Budapest. There are many more free and inexpensive things to suit everyone’s desires and price range. To save money on hotels and transportation to the city, visit during spring and fall when it is not the tourist peak season.