Budapest is Hungary’s wonderful capital city, and is full of incredible things to do – many of which are absolutely free! There are beautiful works of architecture, wonderful natural sights and Budapest’s cultural and historical centre, all of which you can enjoy without needing to spend a penny. Julie and Zach Ruhl from Ruhls of the Road put together this list of the very best free things to do in Budapest for you to enjoy, with a few extras added from me.
Perhaps the single most impressive building on earth is the Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest. It is stunning in pictures; however, it is even more awesome in person. Walking along the Parliament building will make you feel dwarfed in a way that few other buildings make you feel. Not only is it tall, but it is also vast, spreading seemingly endlessly along the Danube River.
The Parliament building architecture is what makes it so uniquely beautiful. You can spend an hour gazing at the enormous Gothic structure and not grow tired. The perfect symmetry, huge domed centre, tall & sharp towers, and every nook and cranny stands out the longer you look at the building.
Legend has it that Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, once attempted to buy the Hungarian Parliament building. Of course, his offer was not accepted, and the building remains the home of Hungary’s governing body.
If you want to go inside the Parliament Building it’s recommended to buy tickets in advance online, or with one of the tour options below:
Shoes on the Danube Bank
Located just outside the Parliament building, right along the Danube River is a subtle yet powerful monument. The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a memorial consisting of bronze pairs of shoes located right along the river. This monument was erected to remember the victims of the Arrow Cross Terror, when 3,500 Budapest citizens, many of whom were Jewish, were rounded up and executed along the banks of the Danube. This monument is a sobering and powerful site, and you should visit it to pay respects and immerse yourself in Hungarian history.
Szechenyi Bridge (Chain Bridge)
Budapest is known as the ‘Pearl of the Danube’. The Danube River cuts right through Budapest. Fun fact: this used to be two separate cities, Buda and Pest, before they were connected by many bridges and combined into one city! The Szechenyi Bridge, also known as the Chain Bridge, is the most beautiful and famous of these bridges.
The Szechenyi Bridge is amazing for many reasons. First off, the size of the bridge is incredible. You’ll be walking up to the bridge, and it’ll just keep growing taller and taller until you are standing at the base and it towers over you. As you walk up, you’ll see that on each of the 4 corners of the bridge stands an enormous lion statue, standing guard over the Szechenyi Bridge. The bridge itself is architecturally wonderful as well and is a modern marvel for you to see. You’ll be amazed at the unique structure that acts as both a cultural artefact and an important thoroughfare in Budapest.
One of the most beautiful buildings in Budapest, Fishermen’s Bastion also has some of the best views in the city. If you can stand the early start, coming here for sunrise is worth the effort as you can enjoy the views and beautiful architecture almost by yourself. Later in the day, there is a charge to get up to the upper level for the best views, but first thing in the morning they are free – if you get there before the staff operating the barrier!
While you’re here, take some time to admire the impressive Matthias Church, a late Gothic Roman Catholic Church with beautiful spires and a colourful tiled roof, similar to St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.
For many years, the old Jewish Quarter in Budapest was strewn with empty buildings, left abandoned after the war when their inhabitants fled persecution or were forced to leave their homes and businesses.
In 2002, the first Ruin Bar was born, when a group of friends decided to make use of one of the empty buildings and turned it into a bar and cinema. It became Szimpla Kert and is the most famous Ruin Pub, and certainly the most popular to visit. It is free to enter, although buying a drink means you can sit back and really soak up the atmosphere. Try to visit during the daytime, in particular on Sunday when they host a farmer’s market and bunch and at night to really see it come alive. Get lost in the maze of rooms and discover bizarre pieces of décor among the huge selection of tat – my personal favourite is an old bathtub but keep your eyes open for the Trabant car from the Communist era.
Gellert Hill & Liberty Statue
Gellert Hill is a large hill located right alongside the Danube River on the South side of Budapest. From atop this hill, you’ll have an incredible bird’s eye view of the city and the landscape surrounding this area. In addition, the Liberty Statue stands atop Gellert Hill, which provides an excellent photo opportunity.
The best time to hike up Gellert Hill is in the morning, for a few reasons. First off, the hill is a bit of a walk, so you can get your exercise out of the way for the day when you hike up the hill. Secondly, if you can make it for sunrise, it is quite a sight to see the sunrise over the horizon right across Budapest. Also, on Gellert Hill, you’ll find the famous Citadella, a military fortress with another great view of the city.
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Street art in Budapest is all over the city – in particular around the old Jewish Quarter and along the banks of the Danube. Some hostels such Wombat’s City Hostel Budapest offer free street art tours, or you can explore the area yourself to find some wonderful murals, statues and hidden gems that you might not expect! Some of my favourite street art pieces in Budapest are the little bronze sculptures dotted around the city, including cartoon characters, a mini tank and even a Rubik’s Cube!
Free Walking Tour
If you’d like to learn about the history and culture of Budapest while you explore, a free walking tour with a local guide is the best way to do that if you are backpacking in Budapest or visiting on a tight budget. Although the tour is technically free, it is customary to tip your guide for their time. Tours will take in most the top things to do in Budapest on foot, such as Elizbeth Square, St Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest Castle and the Jewish Quarter.
Budapest at Night
Exploring Budapest at night is a must and doesn’t have to cost you a penny. As well as soaking up the atmosphere in the Ruin pubs, take a stroll along the Danube River. Walking along the river in the evening will give you the best views of the Parliament Building which is lit up a glowing yellow colour at night, and the Buda Castle. Crossing the river over one of the bridges will get you the best of both banks of the river. Photographers will want to bring a tripod for some gorgeous shots – the Chain Bridge at night without the crowds is a favourite spot for many.
READ MORE: Amazing Things to do in Budapest at Night
If you have some cash to spend on a Danube dinner cruise, you’ll also be treated to a lovely meal while you enjoy the river. Local Hungarian dishes, served with a heavy dose of paprika, will likely be on the menu for you to taste and enjoy, in addition to a wonderful drink and dessert menu as you float along admiring the views.
St Stephen’s Basilica
A magnificent cathedral in the heart of the city, St Stephen’s Basilica is a beautiful church with an immense 96-metre-high dome. The dome makes it the highest building on the Pest side of the city along with the Parliament Building. It has a beautiful interior and is free to enter but if you want to go up to the roof for wonderful views, there is a small charge. Inside the church, you can also see the holy right hand of the first Hungarian king, St Stephen himself. Football fans may also be interested to know that Hungary’s most famous footballer Ferenc Puskás is buried beneath the dome.
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Heroes’ Square and City Park
If the weather is fine, a stroll around City Park is a great way to get some fresh air and visit Heroes’ Square which is at the entrance to the park, at the end of Andrassy Avenue. Heroes Square is one of the major squares in Budapest, with an iconic statue complex featuring the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars (tribes of Hungarians who first arrived here in AD 895) and other important Hungarian national leaders, as well as the Memorial Stone of Heroes. The park has a large lake and lots of green space, as well as being home to Budapest Zoo, Vajdahunyad Castle (which houses the Museum of Hungarian Agriculture), the Museum of Fine Arts, and Szechenyi Thermal Baths. If you want to go inside any of these there is a charge but walking around the park is free.
Free Museums in Budapest
Most museums in Budapest charge a small entry fee, but if you happen to visit on Hungarian national holidays, some are free – including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Hungarian Architecture. If you are an EU citizen under 26 then you can also get free access to many of the museums on the 3rd Saturday of the month.
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Margaret Island (Margot Island) is a large island in the middle of the Danube, which can be reached from either side of the river on a bridge. Once on Margaret Island, you can get lost in the natural wonder around you, right in the middle of one of Europe’s large cities! For your time on this island, you’ll think you were in a huge park, and you’ll have a blast exploring it.
The best way to explore Margaret Island is on a bike. You’ll be able to cover much more ground this way and you’ll be able to see more sites. If you’d like to, there are even pedal cars for 2-6 people to use at once! That can be a very fun way to get around the island and will be a memorable experience for your group as well. Spend a few hours exploring Margaret Island, stopping at the beautiful fountains and lawns along the way, while admiring the gardens and flowers you see as you cruise the island.
Central Market Hall
A final must-see site while visiting Budapest is the Central Market Hall. This is essentially a large shopping area full of great little kiosks and makes for a great activity; especially if you have any bad weather during your visit. At the Central Market Hall, the first thing you’ll notice is all of the fresh fruits and vegetables. This market is the best place in town to buy anything fresh, including a selection of meats, seafood, and cheeses! If you plan on cooking or having any picnics during your Budapest visit, stop here to gather all your supplies ahead of time.
Further into Central Market Hall on the second floor, you’ll find many local shops to browse. Here there are many art shops and quirky kiosks, and many places ideal for buying a souvenir or gift for someone special at home. At Central Market Hall, bartering is welcome, so don’t feel like you have to pay the sticker price for everything. Treat it a bit like a game, if there is something you want, it is likely for sale at a few different kiosks. You can barter with the first one or two, and if you don’t get a good result you can buy it from the third seller!
What do you think of these fabulous free things to do in Budapest? Which ones would you add to your Budapest itinerary? I’d love to hear what you think, please leave your comments below.
About the Authors
Julie and Zach Ruhl (Ruhls of the Road) have been travelling full time since 2018. They love to see new places, experience new cultures, and hike through national parks across the world. Check out their travels and follow along on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook!
Where to Stay in Budapest (by Claire)
Hostels in Budapest
As the #wombatsTraveller ambassador, I stayed at the wombat’s BUDAPEST hostel, which is in a great location for exploring the Jewish Quarter and Budapest nightlife in general, and for me is the best place to stay in Budapest on a budget. It is also close to a metro station and tram stop so it’s easy to get around the city. It is in a busy area, so I felt safe walking to and from the metro station at night, and it is just a few minutes’ walk away from the Ruin Bars.
There are dorms and private rooms available, an in-house bar and buffet breakfast served in the morning for a few extra forints. The staff are friendly and have some great tips for exploring Budapest on a budget. The bar also has various evening events during the week, including karaoke, DJ nights and pub crawls, so you don’t even need to leave the hostel to find something to do in Budapest at night!
Alternatively, you can check out all of the hostels in Budapest here.
Cheap Hotels in Budapest
There are a lot of hotels in Budapest to choose from, but some of the best-reviewed hotels include Hotel Moments, which is next to St Stephen’s Basilica and gets excellent reviews while offering affordable rates. For a splurge, look no further than the fabulous 5* Aria Hotel which is right in the centre and has a lovely roof terrace overlooking the basilica. Check availability at all hotels in Budapest on HotelsCombined.
Airbnb in Budapest
If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $40 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
If you’re looking for travel insurance for your trip to Budapest, get a quote now from World Nomads.
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