Looking to travel to Budapest on a budget? Here are seven free things to do in Budapest that won’t cost you a dime…
I visited Budapest for the first time recently and, truly, it was like something out of a fairytale. In winter Budapest is all charming snow-lined streets, intricate architecture and glittering fairy lights draped around every bar and restaurant. With the long boulevards, canary yellow taxis, and the freezing cold temperatures it also has a real sense of magic about it. An added bonus is that there are plenty of free things to do in Budapest, and so that makes it a really afforadable choice for travellers on a strict budget.
Divided into the Buda and the Pest, and with the Danube river running through the middle, there’s so much to do in Budapest. There’s so much history, lots of places to explore, and awesome food to sample – including lots of delicious street food. I loved every second of it, which wasn’t a bad result at all considering that we only picked Budapest over Copenhagen for our winter break because it was so much cheaper. I wasn’t sure it I would enjoy it all that much but it was one of my favourite city breaks ever!
You don’t have to spend much in Budapest at all. There are tons of cheap things to do in Budapest. During our winter break to we visited museums, searched out the ruin bars and even had a dip in the Szechenyi thermal baths, which was a slightly surreal – but welcome – experience in the middle of December. None of it cost much at all. There are also lots of free attractions in Budapest and we did a lot of stuff that didn’t cost a dime. It was awesome. I really want to go back. But in the meantime, here are my top free things to do in Budapest during the winter…
1) Climb Gellért Hill…
Climbing Gellért Hill is one of the best free things to do in Budapest and it’s also a great way to enjoy some truly stunning panoramic views of the city. I felt especially lucky that we were able to see everything in the winter dusted with a beautiful frosting of snow. It might not have been easy to climb up the hill in the snow, but it sure did look pretty so I’ll take it.
Once you get to the top of Gellért Hill you’ll be rewarded with a close up view of the Liberty Statue, which commemorates those who sacrificed their lives to Hungary’s independence. Take some time to mosey around after your climb and you can even treat yourself to some mulled wine from one of the takeaway vans at the top, which was definitely very welcome. Who ever thought of opening a place up there deserves a medal!
2) Do a free walking tour
Walking tours are a great way to get a real sense of a city, and the good thing is that in Budapest there are lots of free walking tours to try. Free Budapest Walking Tours runs daily walks that explore all the must-see sights in the Buda and the Pest. As part of the general walking tour you’ll visit sights such as the Royal Palace, Matthias Church, the Castle District, and lots more. You can also choose a tour to explore a more specific theme or area of the city, such as the Jewish District walk, the Communism walk, or the Street and urban art tour. They also offer paid tours if you’re looking for a more in-depth experience, or simply want a private tour.
3) Visit the Great Market Hall
The Great Market Hall is the largest market hall in Budapest. Bearing in mind that this is a list of free things to do in Budapest, my advice is to visit here straight after breakfast when you’re less likely to be tempted by all the delicious looking food on offer. Trust me, there is a LOT of delicious food on offer and this is where I first spotted the traditional Langos I wanted to try.
Take your time having a wander around; it’s a treasure trove of traditional food, Hungarian paprika, clothes, bags and more matryoshka dolls than I’d ever seen in my life. If you’re anything like me and you’re on a budget Ryanair flight home you certainly won’t have any room for souvenirs, but it’s lovely to see and it gives you a real sense of what Budapest is all about.
4) Visit the shoes on the Danube
This simple, sobering memorial is a must-see when you visit Budapest. Set on the banks on the river, the shoes on the Danube monument pays tribute to the 20,000 Jews who were shot and killed by the Arrow Cross Militia during the second world war. The memorial is formed of 60 cast iron shoes which poignantly illustrate the moment the victims were instructed to take off their shoes and line up along the river before they were executed.
Coming in all shapes and sizes – men’s boots, women’s heels, and even tiny children’s shoes – they highlight the fact that no one was spared from the atrocity. Visit as the sun is setting across the river and take a moment to pause and reflect on a moment in time none of us should ever forget.
5) Explore Fisherman’s Bastion
If fairytale turrets, winding staircases and gorgeous ornate architecture are a little bit of you then you should definitely visit Fisherman’s Bastion in the Castle District. Built between 1895 and 1902, it’s a wonderful place just to wander around, take in the views of the Danube, and be charmed by all the fairytale architecture – pretty much every single angle looks like it’s been taken out of a Hans Christian Anderson book. It’s all very magical!
Is Fisherman’s Bastion free to enter? Yes it is – most of the balconies and turrets of Fisherman’s Bastion are completely free to enter and you can wander around as you please. If you want to access the upper turrets then there is a small entrance free but, like most things in Budapest, it’s really not expensive. I think we were chilled to the bone so were happy to move on but on a warmer day it’d definitely be worth seeing even more.
Fisherman’s Bastion is also a great spot for a bit of Instagram posing… if that happens to be your thing. I had no idea the below photograph was ‘the’ photograph to get until a queue suddenly unveiled itself in front of us and I had to wait ten minutes to get anywhere near this window. The good thing was that I picked up some posing tips from the people in front of us, haha.
6) Cross the Chain Bridge
Before we arrived in the city I’d been researching things to do in Budapest, as you do, and one of the things I remembered reading was the urban legend surrounding the Chain Bridge. The story goes like this: the sculptor of the stone lions at either side of the bridge, a man named János Marschalkówas, was convinced he’d achieved perfection with his design. However, he was then aghast when it was pointed out to him that the lion sculptures were missing a vital element: they didn’t have tongues.
The story goes that he was so devastated he threw himself in the Danube in shame. It’s all just an urban myth, however, as the lions DO have tongues – it’s just you can only see them from above. So there you go. I was super excited to see the lions and you’ll also enjoy glittering views of both the Buda and the Pest if you cross the bridge in the evening, like we did. It’s definitely one of the top ten things to do in Budapest, make sure you do it!
7) Visit Heroes Square
Looking for more free things to do in Budapest? Then why not visit Heroes Square? We stumbled on the square on the way back from the Szechenyi thermal baths, but I’m so glad we did because it’s definitely worth seeing. This is where you’ll find the Millenary Monument, which was designed in 1896 and is a 36 metre pillar topped by the archangel Gabriel. It’s so tall that you might struggle to include it in a photograph!