Seven tips on how to see and do Budapest at its best, on a budget.
‘The Paris of Eastern Europe’, Budapest has the character, the architecture, and the goulash, to stand tall without comparison.
And in Buda and Pest, you get two for the price of one. Even better, you can see it all on a tight budget. We reveals seven of her favourite low-cost things to do on both sides on the Danube.
1. Fisherman’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion is impressive fortified terrace on the ‘Buda’ side of the river which provides one of the best views in the city – especially over the river to the Gothic Revival Hungarian Parliament Building. The Bastion is named after the fishermen whose job it was to defend this part of the city walls during the Middle Ages, but it was only completed in 1902, and looks more like a fairytale castle than a fortification. It’s open all hours and mostly free; you have the option of paying a small entrance fee to get into the very top of some of the lookout towers, but you needn’t pay for these: the view from the free balconies and lower parts of the towers is magnificent enough. The whole area around the Fisherman’s Bastion, known as the Castle District, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and full of museums, churches and palaces.
2. Parliament Building
The most imposing building on the ‘Pest’ side of the Danube is the aforementioned Hungarian Parliament Building. When Parliament isn’t in session, you can take a tour of this impressive building for just 2,250 HUF, or a little over £6. Tours leave every half an hour throughout the day in various languages, taking in the sweeping grand staircase, priceless crown jewels, sumptuous frescoes and the stunning Domed Hall.
3. Margaret Island
Betwtixt Buda and Pest in the Danube, Margaret Island is accessible by bus and, during the summer, by ferry. Cars aren’t allowed on the island, as it’s a public park, so it offers a peaceful (and free) retreat from the city. Simply stroll the 20 minutes from one end to the other, and take in the island’s UNESCO-protected attractions like the musical fountain that plays classical and pop favourites (catch it in action daily at 10.30am, 5pm, 6pm, 7.30pm and 9pm). The Palatinus water park – the largest open-air bathing area in the city – is a great place to cool off in the heat of the summer.
4. Váci Utca
Budapest’s answer to Barcelona’s Las Ramblas is the Váci Utca, a long thoroughfare packed with shops, restaurants and coffee shops. Walk from one end to the other and you’ll get a real sense of the city’s history: look out for what’s left of the original city gate and the building at number 9 where Mozart gave a concert aged 11. Call into Central Market Hall, which sells all sorts of fresh produce on the ground floor, and local crafts (souvenir alert) on the first.
5. Tour the Hungarian State Opera House
Gustav Mahler was once the music director of the prestigious Hungarian State Opera House, and cheap ticket prices mean that you can easily follow in his footsteps by going to a concert. If architecture interests you more than opera, you don’t have to sit through a whole performance; take a tour of the points of interest in this grand Neo-Renaissance building, including, of course, its ornate main stage; plus there is museum dedicated to famous Hungarian musicians.
6. and 7. Pack paprika and go for goulash
In the spirit of Budpaest, two tips in one here. There’s no escaping the paprika-providing red chilli peppers in Budapest; you’ll see bunches of them adorning all the tourist shops and at the city’s markets, as they’re the symbol of Hungarian cuisine. Give in to your inner tourist and take home a string of peppers to hang in the kitchen. Paprika is of course one of the key ingredients of the traditional Hungarian goulash, and no trip to Budapest would be complete without sampling this hearty dish – washed down with Hungarian wine.Try Hunyadi Étterem in the Castle District.
Thirsty for more of Budapest? From pubs to spas, wine tasting to caving, see: