Guide to budget Budapest: sightseeing, museums, entertainment, parking
Free Budapest

Guide to budget Budapest: sightseeing, museums, entertainment, parking

Budapest has a lot of interesting things to do. Excursions, museums, entertainment — all this can be free if you know where and when different events take place. I will tell you why you should go on free excursions and how to diversify your vacation for little money.

Free excursions

Almost all of Budapest’s sights can be seen for free. But it is much more interesting to do it in the company of a guide, also for free. Local guides are Hungarians who know the country from the inside. They will share events and facts and advise on how best to spend your time in Budapest.

Tours in English, Spanish, Italian or German. The topics vary. I chose the «Pearl of the Danube» and learned a lot about Budapest’s architecture in two hours.

Zrínyi pedestrian street in the center of Budapest
Zrínyi pedestrian street in the center of Budapest

Free tours of Budapest:

  • Generation Tours. The company offers to learn about historical, communist, Jewish Budapest, and in the evening with a guide to go to a ruin pub (a bar in the ruins of a house) for a free drink. This «trick» is especially popular here. The tour is booked in advance.
  • Trip to Budapest. Morning, afternoon, evening tours on the same topics, only without prior reservation.

Walks around Budapest last 2,5—3 hours in a group of 8—10 people. The stories are fun and informative. I recommend going on a walk on the first day to get an idea of the city and Magyar culture.

Almost all panoramic sites in Budapest are free of charge
Almost all panoramic sites in Budapest are free of charge

Free museums

Budapest’s museums, unlike Warsaw, almost always charge a fee, even on Museum Night. But there are days when some attractions don’t require a ticket. And these will be the best places, including the Parliament.

Museum Night in Budapest takes place at the end of June. This event is not free. For adults the ticket is 1700 forints (5 €) and for children 800 (2,4 €). The price includes transportation between museums and more than 100 exhibitions, sometimes the most unusual.

Budapest museums, which I marked on the map, are free of charge only three times a year — on national holidays: March 15, August 20, October 23. Try to get to the museums in the morning — there are plenty of people who want to get acquainted with Magyar history.

Free museums in Budapest

Hungarian Parliament

On normal days, admission to Parliament costs 6700 forints (20 €). Expensive, isn’t it? And on national holidays you can see it for free.

In summer, free concerts are organized in front of the main entrance on Lajos Kossuth Square: every Thursday, starting at 17:00.

  • Open: April 1 to October 31
  • Parliament is open from 8:00 to 18:00. From November 1 to March 31 until 16:00. The ticket office opens at 11:00.
  • On days of plenary sessions the entrance is closed. It is better to check the schedule on the website.
Parliament building
Parliament building

Historical Museum

An interesting but small collection of exhibits from the Buda Fortress. Several expositions about the rise and fall of the capital, wars and foreign invaders from the time of the Turks and Jagiellonians to independence.

  • Open: 10:00—18:00.

Museum of Fine Arts

It is neither the Louvre nor the Prado, but art aficionados give Budapest’s museum high marks. The collection includes great names from Ancient Egypt to the 19th century: Titian, Raphael, El Greco, works by the Bruegel dynasty, Tintoretto and Lucas Cranach. All this in a luxurious interior.

  • Open: daily, except Mondays, from 10:00 to 18:00.
  • Site with permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Ruin pubs

A trendy «thing» in Budapest is ruin bars: they are a full-fledged café, but not as expensive as restaurants, and not as boring as a canteen or bistro. They were called ruin bars because they are located in emergency buildings, and the interior seems to be decorated with all sorts of junk.

Hungarians call such places «romkocsma». The first place opened in 2002 in the Erzsébetváros neighborhood. This old Jewish quarter with abandoned buildings used to look sad, but now it’s a trendy neighborhood. Now there are about 30 bars here, very popular with tourists.

The cuisine and drinks are varied but inexpensive. On weekends there are concerts or a set by a trendy DJ. Entrance is free, menu ordering is not required, but to avoid standing empty-handed, you can order a drink.

Ruin bars in Budapest

Cat Café

A cozy cafe in the center of Budapest. It was made famous by 15 Maine Coons who live right here — cats and cats of all different colors and dispositions. The animals are well cared for, they are the masters of the house here. Clean, not tortured, well-mannered, they do not insist on attention, they do not get into food. They like to be photographed, but without flash. It is written in the rules.

I suggest coming in the morning or before lunch, before the cats are tired of guests and go to the hands (or table) themselves. The cafe has two floors, with more animals on the ground floor. In the afternoon it is better to book a table, and already by evening in the cafe is full boarding. Visitors are ready to wait in line at the entrance to get to the cats.

The menu includes drinks, alcohol and desserts. There are cat souvenirs in the window: cups, teapots, paintings. Prices for food are a bit higher, but you can limit yourself to just a drink. The owners are loyal.

  • Open: 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. every day.
  • Website with menus and reservations.
The Cat Café cat
The Cat Café cat
Desserts and coffee from Cat Café
Desserts and coffee from Cat Café

Free parking lots

In general, you don’t need a car in Budapest. The sights are within walking distance, and the city is pleasant to walk around. Parking in the center is paid on weekdays.

If you don’t have a car, there are several places to park for free on weekdays:

  • On the doublers of Andrassy Avenue (Andrassy út). There are not always places available, as it is the center.
  • In the parking lot of Arena Plaza shopping center, but from 2018 for 3 hours. Complex near Budapest-Keleti train station.
  • In the parking lot of West End Shopping Center only from 7:00 to 10:00 At other times for 3 hours, but only with a movie ticket. Near Budapest-Nyugati train station.
Free parking in almost the entire Budapest parking zone from 6:00 p.m. Friday to 8:00 a.m. Monday.

Free Wi-Fi

In Budapest it is difficult to get free Internet. I have experienced that in cafes they give you a password, it fits, but there is no connection. But there is in the new streetcars. You don’t have to ride, just get on at a stop in the center.

Traditionally, Wi-Fi can be found at Mc`Donalds, Starbucks, Subway, KFC, and shopping centers.

Budapest streetcars with Wi-Fi
Budapest streetcars with Wi-Fi

Free water

Budapest is unrealistically hot in the summer and until the end of September. Drinking water is essential at this time, and you can get it for free in several ways.

When the temperature is above +30°, tents with free drinking water are set up in Deák Ferenc ter square. Anyone can ask to bring a bottle.

Locals recommend looking for drinking water stands in squares near benches or near places of interest, e.g. near the Parliament, at the Buda Fortress. The figural columns have been preserved from earlier times. In 2017, fountains stylized as fire hydrants were added to them. The water is just ordinary — not from thermal springs.

How else can you save money in Budapest?

  • Morning tickets to the baths are cheaper.
  • Admission to the Fisherman’s Bastion is free in summer from 18:00 and in winter from 16:00.
  • Eat cheaply with locals by cooking together. You can only pay for the ingredients.
  • You can ride along the Danube on a public streetcar for the price of a single ticket. The routes are different, marked with the letter D.
  • You don’t need a funicular (it costs 1200 HUF) or a 10 € carriage to get to Buda Castle. If you go to the left, there are stairs and then an elevator to the top. It’s fast, free and you don’t have to wait in line.
  • You can get up to St. Matthias Cathedral on city bus No. 16 for only 350 HUF (1 €). It runs from the Clark Ádám tér stop every 5 minutes.
These tourists will wait in line in the heat for at least 20 minutes
These tourists will wait in line in the heat for at least 20 minutes