How to visit Budapest on a low budget

One of the main reasons why travelers love Budapest is its reputation as an economical place to visit. Although it has become more expensive over the years, many visitors still find it cheaper than other European capitals.

Here are some tips to make your money grow Budapest.

Low-cost airlines serve Budapest’s main airport

Unlike many major cities in Europe which have separate remote airports for budget airlines, Budapest has only one airport. Whether you fly with a flagship airline or a low-cost carrier, you’ll arrive at the same place. The low-cost airline WIZZ Air is a Hungarian company and has its base at Budapest airport.

Take public transport from the airport to the center of Budapest

Although Budapest airport is technically in the city, it is far from the center, so you will need a transfer into town. Fortunately, there is inexpensive public transport to take you where you want to go. A one-way bus 100E to the city costs 900 HUF (approximately US$3) and will take you to Deák Ferenc tér, where metro lines 1, 2 and 3 come together, or you can get off at Kalvin tér for the metro 4. Both stops put you in the heart of downtown Pest.

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Sightsee on Budapest’s public transport for a fraction of the price of a bus tour © Eva-Katalin/Getty Images

Forget a tourist bus: discover the city from public transport

Want to take a sightseeing bus tour for a fraction of the price? Just hop on Budapest public transport. Tram line 2 running from north to south along the Danube is one of the most beautiful tram routes, and you will see the entire banks of the Danube along the Pest side with stunning views of castle hill and the Hungarian Parliament along the way.

If you want to go to the banks of the Danube on the Buda side, take trams 19 or 41. You can also go up Andrássy Avenue – a UNESCO listed boulevard – on the surface with bus 105 which will take you to Heroes Square and return along the Danube. A single bus ticket costs only 350 HUF (about 1 USD).

The center of Budapest has many hostels

Budapest is full of excellent hostels, making it easy to find a cheap dorm or private room in the city center. Dorms can cost as little as $8 a night, but if you’re planning on getting a good night’s sleep, avoid those marketed as “party hostels.”

Districts VIII, IX and XI also have low-cost accommodation

Budapest also has budget hotels that aren’t hostels, and these tend to get cheaper the further you get from the center. If you are looking for a dynamic and economical establishment neighborhood near the centertry artistic district VIII – staying inside the ring of the Grand Boulevard (Nagykörút) to avoid areas that can be seedy at night – or district IX in Pest or district XI in Buda.

Stay homestay: couch surf or find a host family

For a more personal – and cheaper – experience of Budapest, opt for a homestay or room in an apartment instead of renting something outright or getting a hotel room. You can find private rooms on Airbnb with local hosts (check ratings and reviews carefully) and homestays on and sometimes on Couch surfing is another option. In the Budapest “Official” Couchsurfing Groupyou can ask local group members for accommodation or guidance.

A tall Gothic-style building with a central dome and many turrets stands beside a river
In summer, the local transport authority offers boat services on the Danube, much cheaper than a cruise © Noppasin / Getty Images

Cruise the Danube on public transport in summer

If you come to Budapest in the summer, you have to sail on the Danube. Budapest’s most famous sights, including Buda Castle, the Hungarian Parliament and the bridges, to name a few, are best seen from the water. But you don’t need to book an expensive Danube cruise: just have the boat operated by BKK, Budapest’s local transport authority. A trip on one of these boats costs 750 HUF (just over 2 USD). Boat services only operate in the summer, so check on the BKK website for departure times.

Choose the less touristy and no-frills thermal baths

Budapest is famous for its historic thermal baths, but if you don’t want to pay US$20, try the lesser-known bathhouses. The Dandar Baths in the XI District are no-frills and cheap – tickets cost 2800 HUF (just under US$10). But you can still visit the renowned baths on a budget: time your visit at Lukacs Baths after 5 p.m. when tickets cost 2600 HUF instead of 3500 HUF.

Visit Budapest in Spring or Autumn

Budapest is not only cheaper out of season, but spring and autumn are also the most beautiful times of the year to see the city. Fruit trees color the city with their blossoms in spring, and autumn gives Budapest a lovely rusty hue.

Besides the natural beauty, these shoulder seasons are also kind to your wallet. If you’re looking to save money, avoid the summer, especially August, which is high season and when accommodation prices can skyrocket, especially if you’re coming during the Sziget Festival or the Grand Prix Formula 1. December, when the Christmas markets are in full swing, is another popular month that can drive prices up.

A bustling covered market with lots of people walking around
Grab a cheap meal at one of the city’s markets, like Nagycsarnok © Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

Have lunch in the local markets or order the menu of the day in the restaurants

If you want to eat on a budget, try the food courts in the market halls, such as the one at Nagycsarnok, which are cheaper than eating at sit-down restaurants. If you want to cook a meal yourself, the market stalls are a great place to buy supplies for a picnic. But if you still want to go to a restaurant, you can do so cheaply by looking for lunch menus. You can easily get a two or three course lunch menu (ebed menu) for US$10-15, even in more touristy downtown restaurants.

Get a Budapest Card to save on public transport and museum entry

If you are will use public transport and you plan to visit the main tourist attractions of the city, such as the Hungarian National Museum, Museum Ludwig, Memento Park and the Museum of Fine Arts, look in the Budapest map. The Budapest Card includes free public transport, free entry to 20 museums and the Lukács thermal baths, a visit to the cave, and discounts for restaurants and tours. A 24-hour card costs US$25, or you can get 48 hours for US$37 or 72 hours for US$49. Do the math as you plan your travel itinerary to see if the Budapest Card will save you money.

European students and seniors get discounts in Budapest

Citizens of the European Economic Area can show their ID to get discounts at sites like the Hungarian Parliament. Reduced admission to the museum is available to EEA citizens between the ages of 62 and 70 (over 70s enter free), as well as visitors under 26. If you are from the EU and are over 65, you can also use public transport for free.

Daily costs in Budapest

Bed in hostel dormitory: 2600–8100 HUF
Basic hotel room for two: 11,000–32,500 HUF
Independent apartment (including Airbnb): from 14,500 HUF
Public transport ticket for 24 hours: 1650 HUF
Coffee: 400–1200 HUF
Sandwich: 2000–6000 HUF
A dinner for two: 8,000 to 25,000 HUF
Beer/pint at the bar: 600–1200 HUF

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