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Is Budapest Worth Visiting?

Updated: Aug 15

As you make your plans this summer for travel, have you thought about Hungary? Budapest is home to almost 2 million people and the largest number of thermal springs in the world.

So, let’s address the most important questions:

Is Budapest worth visiting?

What’s the best 2-day itinerary in the capital?

And since my RTW trip isn’t free – how to explore Budapest on a budget.

Let’s dive in below.

view from the Danube River with historic buildings

While Hungary is in the Schengen Zone, they use their own currency – the Forint, which is about 342 HUF to $1 USD (as of July 2023). Yeah, you read that right. Seeing pricing in the thousands is definitely hard to stomach, but don’t forget to do the conversions as you go because it does add up!

Is Budapest Worth Visiting?

In a nutshell, YES! Budapest is worth a visit, even if only for a weekend. It has a rich history, vibrant nightlife and thermal springs for that much needed R&R. There are many direct flights into the city on the country’s low-cost carrier – Wizz Airlines, so check out your options and book a seat!

What to Do in Budapest: Top Spots to Hit Up in 2 Days

Fisherman’s Bastion

You can take a tram or the funicular up to the top of Castle Hill, but walking up the steps is definitely my favorite (and budget-friendly). Back in the day, there was a fish market here, thus the name. At the top, take in the panoramic views of the city and Danube River, as well as St. Matthias Church and/or Buda Castle. If you want to save your pennies, you can visit parts of the viewpoint for free, taking in the sights and forgo entry to the castle or church.

shoes on the danube with candles and flowers

Shoes on the Danube

Do you know the story? The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial for the thousands of Jews executed by the Arrow Cross Party during WWII. Sculptor Gyula Pauer placed 60 pairs of shoes to honor those who were lined up along the riverfront, shoes removed and executed so that their bodies could fall into the river. The installation brings home the sheer brutality of the Holocaust in Budapest and is definitely a must-stop in the city.

Thermal Baths

Most thermal bath spas range from 8,000 to 11,000 HUF, so finding one that is low budget is a hard task. Fortunately, I found Veli Bej Spa, which offers 3-hour entry for 4,500 HUF. They are closed from 12 pm to 3 pm each day, so plan to go in the afternoon to ensure you gain entry (closed in the morning M-F). Veli Bej is open until 9 pm and has a café on site. The traditional Turkish bath section consist of 5 pools ranging in temperature. There are also Finnish and infrared saunas, along with a jacuzzi and locker rooms. Towels can be rented for an additional charge, but I recommend bringing your own, as well as shower shoes. The bath is coed so bathing suits are mandatory, however a swimming cap isn’t required (like other thermal springs). I loved the old-world charm, with modern saunas. Veli Bej is not a party bath, like Szechenyi Spa, so expect a low-key experience.

Hop a Tram

yellow tram on the liberty bridge in budapest

For just a couple of bucks, you can take in the city’s downtown view by tram. Due to the construction on the Chain Bridge, Tram 2 (or by car) is the main way you can cross the famous bridge and get up close and personal to some of the historic sights. Buda Castle, Matthias Church and the Statue of Lady Liberty are all visible from the tram.

Great Market Hall

This restored market in a neo-Gothic building is a one-stop shop for souvenirs, lunch and local treats. The second floor is full of stalls with t-shirts, trinkets and local products. The main hall has a farmer’s market with fresh produce, pastries and tasty bites. The basement has butcher shops and fresh seafood, along with a grocery store if you want to pick up some meal items for lower cost. I’m always thinking about my daily budget, so I hit up the grocery store for fresh juice, pastries for breakfast and snacks for the day.

Ruin Bars

Fancy drinking in a vast, dilapidated building? Well, the ruin bars are the spot for partygoers. The eclectic furniture, edgy artwork and live music makes the bars more hipster and less dumpster. It’s an essential Budapest experience, so grab a drink! If the party scene isn’t for you, consider going in the late afternoon before the strobe lights and DJs start their magic.

Note: This is definitely a touristy area, so limit yourself to one drink if you’re on a budget!

City Park

raised gardens at the museum of ethnography in city park

City Park is filled with hidden spots to explore. My favorite is the raised garden that curves along the top of the Museum of Ethnography, creating a unique green space. Be sure to stop at Heroes’ Square and Vajdahunyad Castle. There is a statue of Anonymus in the castle courtyard. If the weather is nice, it’s a great place to enjoy an afternoon wandering around the gardens.

How to Explore Budapest on a Budget

To ensure you keep to a tight travel budget, some pricey attractions have to go – touring the Parliament Building, entrance into Mattias Church and the Great Synagogue – were all crossed off my list. I got to visit the outside of St. Stephen’s Basilica but didn’t pay to enter or climb the tower.

You can take a free walking tour with GuruWalk to receive some local history and insight into some of these top sights and save the entrance fees. To see a large view of the river, consider taking a long walk between the four bridges – Margaret, Chain, Elizabeth and Liberty. If you really want a WOW moment, stroll after the sun goes down to enjoy the spotlights on all of the iconic monuments.

If your budget allows, consider a boat cruise on the Danube River. There are several options for all different budgets, including some splurges with dinner and champagne.

Additional Tips for Travel in Budapest

Download the city’s travel app – Budapest Go to purchase tickets, journey plan and navigate the city. It’s the best way to buy your tickets for the Airport Express, trams or buses. If you are really on a tight budget, forgo the Airport Express (100E) and take a local bus and/or train downtown – it’s 1/3 of the price and only 5-20 minutes longer, depending on your destination. I took the 200E and then switched to the train. You can buy a 90-minute ticket that should more than cover your trip.

Looking for cheap accommodation at a good price? Check out latest offers for the best options when you travel. If you’re like me, your loyalty earns you even more discounts. After 6 months of travel, I have reached Genius Level 3 which offers 20% off, free upgrades and free breakfast at various locations.

If you travel to Budapest in December, be sure to visit the biggest Christmas market by the Ferris wheel at Vörösmarty square from mid-November until December 31. There is also smaller market by St. Stephen’s Basilica with a small ice-skating rink and large Christmas tree.

Hungary is known for its fruit brandy, so try a glass of the apricot for a unique flavor.

Enjoy Budapest! It's definitely worth a stop on your European tour, and I hope you enjoy the rich culture, vibrant nightlife and thermal baths. You can explore this great city even on a budget.


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