Not only is Budapest one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in Europe but it’s also one of the most affordable. Three-course meals start at €4 and beer at a pub can go for less than €0.50. There are walking tours costing the price of a tip, low-cost theatre tickets and priceless views.
Free Things to do in Budapest
After living in Budapest for more than a year, I’ve seen it all. You can read my full list of places to visit in Budapest and my thoughts on where to stay in Budapest including the city’s best neighbourhoods. But if it’s free sights and attractions you’re looking for, here are my suggested free things to do in Budapest.
Classic Budapest Attractions
These are the most popular, not to be missed, quintessential attractions for first-time visitors to Budapest. Even if you’re a Budapest regular, these spots are always worth a repeat visit and they’re completely free.
1. Buda Castle
The first thing you’ll likely want to do when in Budapest is head up to Buda Castle. While there isn’t actually a castle here, you will find pretty gardens, the Royal Palace, the Hungarian National Gallery, the Hungarian National Library and of course, fantastic views of the Pest city skyline. You can avoid the pricey €3.90 funicular ride to Castle Hill by walking up the stairs or even better, take the free escalator from the Garden Bazaar just south of the funicular. There are also free lifts dotted around the castle area.
If you happen to be at Buda Castle during the day on the hour you can see the changing of the guard which takes place near the funicular at the top of the hill.
2. Fisherman’s Bastion
A terrace and seven towers make up the Fisherman’s Bastion lookout point. This is where you’ll find one of the most incredible, classic views of Budapest looking out over the Danube River towards the Hungarian Parliament building. The best times to visit are at sunrise and sunset. The light will be beautiful at either time but at sunrise, you’ll most likely have the place entirely to yourself. The main area of Fisherman’s Bastion is free to enter but for a small fee, you can visit the upper towers, although the view is much the same.
3. Hungarian Parliament
The massive neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament building is hard to miss and you won’t want to. It’s an incredible work of art as much as a functional building. Tours of the building are no longer free but are inexpensive for EU citizens and students. You can book a guided tour here. The changing of the guard is free to watch but doesn’t seem to take place every day. Ask at the tourist office for exact times if you’re interested.
4. Heroes Square
At the end of wide, tree-lined Andrassy Avenue is one of the largest squares in Budapest, Heroes Square. Here you’ll find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, statues of Magyar and Hungarian leaders, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art. Heroes Square is at its most beautiful and peaceful at sunrise or at night.
5. Szechenyi Chain Bridge
Budapest’s iconic Chain Bridge crosses the Danube River at the base of Buda Castle on the Buda side and in front of the Art Nouveau Gresham Palace on the Pest side. Walking across the suspension bridge on the south side will give you great views of Buda Castle and on the north side, the Hungarian Parliament.
6. Budapest at Night
Budapest is one of those cities that really shines at night. All the main sights, especially the Parliament, Chain Bridge, Buda Castle and Heroes Square are beautiful to walk around after dark. If you’re looking for crazy things to do at night, I’d start with a ruin bar tour for an all-night cheap party.
Outdoors, Parks and Squares
Budapest is a green city with huge public parks, hiking trails, formal gardens and historic squares.
7. Buda Castle Garden Bazaar
An interesting way to enter Buda Castle is via the Garden Bazaar. The entrance to the formal garden is at the base of the castle at the restored 19th-century monument. This part of the UNESCO site is occasionally used for events but otherwise is a pretty area to walk around and enjoy the view. From here you can take the escalator or lift to the upper level of the castle.
8. Margaret Island and Bridge
A visit to Margaret Island is one of the most relaxing things to do in Budapest. The huge island park is the ideal place to escape the summer heat or walk through fallen autumn leaves. Get supplies from the Great Market Hall for a secluded picnic on the island or spend time walking around the medieval ruins, Japanese garden or the musical fountain. Access the island from Margit Bridge or further north at Arpad Bridge.
9. Gellert Hill and the Citadella
If you have the energy, climb the path to the top of Gellert Hill in Buda. This is another spot you should save for a sunrise or sunset visit. The best views are from the top at the Citadella but there are places to sit along the way to stop for the views over to Pest, the Elizabeth Bridge or Liberty Bridge in the other direction. Access the path from the end of the Liberty Bridge opposite Gellert Thermal Bath.
10. Liberty Bridge
The green Art Nouveau Liberty Bridge is one of the most photogenic sights in Budapest. The bridge crosses the Danube River at the Great Market Hall in Pest over to the base of Gellert Hill in Buda. The bridge itself is topped with black Turul birds, a mythical bird of prey and the symbol of modern Hungary.
11. Vajdahunyad Castle and City Park
At the end of Andrassy Avenue behind Heroes Square is the massive City Park. There are many free things to do here like jogging, having a picnic by the lake or walking around the elaborate Vajdahunyad Castle. Not free are visits to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Ice Rink, Transport Museum and famous Hungarian restaurants but these are all worth a visit. Also in City Park are Budapest Zoo and the Capital Circus which I don’t recommend visiting as they use animals for entertainment.
12. The Danube Promenade
The Pest side of the Danube River is an incredibly beautiful place for a walk. You can take in many of the city’s main sights, architecture and famous monuments all for free. Start your walk at Elizabeth Bridge (the white suspension bridge) towards the famous Chain Bridge, then further along to the Hungarian Parliament and finish at Margaret Bridge (where you can access Margaret Island).
13. Vorosmarty Square
Vorosmarty Square is one of the busiest squares in Pest. It’s home to the famous Cafe Gerbeaud and Budapest’s largest Christmas market. The square is the starting point of Vaci utca, Budapest’s main touristy shopping street which leads all the way to the Great Market Hall.
14. Liberty Square
The largest green space in the 5th district is home to the US Embassy, the Ronald Reagan statue, the Soviet War Memorial, the controversial German Occupation Memorial and an ongoing protest against the German Occupation Memorial. There are occasional free concerts in Liberty Square.
15. Batthyany Square
This square in Buda is one of the best spots to get a photo of the Hungarian Parliament located directly across the Danube. It’s especially beautiful at sunset and at night although there isn’t much else to do in the area.
16. Egyetem Ter – University Square
A very pretty little square in the 5th district which includes the gorgeous Eotvos Lorand University. There are some nice modern cafes and restaurants in this area including Madal Cafe and Buddies Burger and the more traditional Central Cafe and Belvarosi Disznotoros. There’s a great rooftop bar at Hotel Rum which is also one of the nicest boutique hotels in Budapest.
17. Karolyi Garden
A very pretty formal, French-style garden down the road from University Square. Have a drink in the corner Csendes wine bar or their cheap ruin bar next door.
Churches and Synagogues
Budapest has countless churches and at least 20 (former) synagogues. Some are free to enter, others you need to take a tour. All are free to enjoy from the outside.
18. St Stephen’s Basilica
St Stephen’s dominates the Pest skyline and is free to enter. The streets around here are full of high-end restaurants, hotels and corporate offices. There is a great Christmas market in front of the basilica in December and January and similar markets and free events at other times of the year. For a small fee you can take the lift to the viewing platform.
19. Dohany Street Synagogue
The largest synagogue in Europe is not free to enter but you can look around from the outside. The main synagogue is built in Moorish Revival style. There is a memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust along the Wesselenyi utca side of the synagogue.
Markets, Food & Shopping
If you stick to window shopping it’s free and there’s nothing wrong with just looking around at Budapest’s many markets and design stores.
20. Great Market Hall
Budapest’s central indoor market is often voted the best in Europe and is one of the most popular attractions in Budapest. The building itself is an attraction, particularly due to the green Zsolnay roof tiles originating from the city of Pecs. On the ground floor, you’ll find fruit and vegetables as well as classic Hungarian cakes, bread, salami, palinka and paprika. On the top floor, you’ll find Hungarian fast-food style restaurants and shops selling clothes, lace, books and souvenirs.
You might find some free food samples here but if you want to eat from a classic Hungarian market I suggest visiting the higher quality Hold utca market instead.
21. Hold Utca, Klauzal and Hunyadi Market Halls
The Great Market Hall is well worth visiting but if you want to visit an off the beaten path market hall, Budapest has many. Hold Utca has one of the highest quality markets popular with local office workers looking for a cheap and delicious lunch (the langos here is one of the best).
The recently renovated Klauzal Market in the Jewish Quarter has organic food and my favourite cheese shop selling raw milk and Hungarian cheese.
The rough around the edges Hunyadi Square Market has virtually no tourists and is considerably cheaper than other markets in Budapest.
22. Vaci Utca
Taking you from Vorosmarty Square to the Great Market Hall is Budapest’s famous shopping street Vaci utca. It’s a nice walk with some pretty architecture but you might want to avoid the tacky souvenir shops and tourist restaurants.
23. Szimpla Sunday Farmers Market
Szimpla is Budapest’s most famous ruin bar. There are multiple bars housed in the one multi-story building, centred around a large internal courtyard filled with eclectic furniture. It’s popular with tourists and locals and free to enter if you want to look around. What you might not know is the bar turns into a farmers’ market on Sunday mornings. Again, it’s free to enter and look around or you can buy picnic supplies from local Hungarian growers.
24. Gozsdu Court Flea Market
Gozsdu is a passage and courtyard connecting Kiraly utca and Dob utca in the busy Jewish Quarter. The area is lined with cafes, restaurants and even a rooftop bar. It’s one of the busiest places in Budapest for eating out but during the day on the weekend, the passage is filled with pop-up stalls and a flea market.
25. Andrassy Avenue
Window shopping is always free and Andrassy Avenue is the place to do so in Budapest. It’s often cited as the ‘Champs-Elysees of Budapest’ but to be honest there’s not much going on there these days and you might notice a number of the stores are empty. However, you will see some of the most extravagant architecture in Budapest including the beautiful State Opera House.
26. Paloma Design Showroom
Hidden in a little courtyard in the 5th district (Kossuth Lajos utca 14-16) is the Paloma designer showroom and event space. Here you’ll find a number of small Hungarian designers at work selling creative products, mostly clothes, handbags and accessories.
27. Mono Art & Design
Another great shop for browsing is Mono Art & Design, also on Kossuth Lajos utca in the 5th district. Most things here are made by local designers including some quirky clothes, beautiful jewellery and unusual furniture.
Budapest is known for its incredibly varied Art Nouveau architecture but there are so many other styles around like Medieval and Baroque architecture in the Castle District, the neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament, neo-Renaissance Opera House, Moorish revival Dohany Street Synagogue, communist-era Stalinist architecture and also a significant number of Bauhaus buildings from the 20s and 30s.
Budapest100 is an annual event celebrating 100 year old buildings in Budapest. Each spring there are events, architecture tours and open houses where you are free to get an inside look into some of the city’s private residences, schools, museums and other buildings of significance. This year the focus is on Bauhaus architecture, a style that was hugely popular in Budapest. Free guided tours are available in English but you need to pre-register for tickets. In 2022, the event takes place on the 14th and 15th of May.
29. Art Nouveau and Art Deco Architecture
Some of the more outstanding Art Nouveau and Art Deco buildings in Budapest include these:
- Bedo-Haz – Museum dedicated to the Hungarian Art Nouveau movement.
- Turkish Bank House – Beautiful colourful mosaics.
- Gellert Thermal Bath – Swim in an Art Nouveau masterpiece.
- Palace Hotel (Novotel Hotel Budapest Centrum) – Classic Art Nouveau architecture.
- Paris Department Store (Lotz Cafe) – A gorgeous facade but it’s difficult to get a good view.
- Postal Savings Bank – Designed by famous Hungarian architect Odon Lechner complete with equally famous green Zsolnay ceramic roof tiles.
- Gresham Palace – Now the Four Seasons Hotel opposite the Chain Bridge.
- Museum of Applied Arts – Stunning design with a green roof in the 8th district, by Odon Lechner.
- Geological Institute of Hungary – Also designed by Odon Lechner.
- Hungaria Spa – A long and complex history surrounds the Hungaria Spa and its final reinvention as a hotel. The facade and revolving door remains from the original building.
- Parisiana – The quirky-looking Art Deco Parisiana is easy to miss on Paulay Ede utca in the 6th district. Designed by local architect Bela Lajta who was influenced by Odon Lechner.
If you’re interested in learning about Art Nouveau in Budapest you can take a tour with a local historian. Learn more here.
30. New York Cafe
Budapest has some of the most incredible buildings I’ve ever seen and the New York Cafe has to top them all. To eat at the cafe is very expensive but you can enter via the hotel entrance and have a look at the interior for free. I suggest being discreet when you do this and being respectful of the hotel and cafe guests.
There is some well-established street art in Budapest and of course, new artwork is popping up all the time. You’ll find most street art on the Pest side of the river, especially in the Jewish Quarter.
31. Neopaint Murals
Neopaint is behind some of Budapest’s most well-known artworks and murals. At the open parking lot on Rumbach Sebestyen utca is 6:3, a painting depicting the famous 1953 football match where Hungary defeated England at Wembley Stadium. Hungary’s ‘Golden Team’, with star footballer Ferenc Puskas, defeated England 6 to 3.
Other Neopaint murals include Budapest Anno at Varoshaza ter and Playground on the corner of Kiraly utca and Kazinczy utca in the 7th district.
For more street art in Budapest, check this post or take this alternative walking tour in Pest.
Free Events and Festivals
Budapest has a non-stop calendar of free events and festivals in the city. Below are some of the most popular events but you can get a list of other events here.
32. Christmas Markets in Budapest
Budapest has one of the best Central European Christmas markets and a visit is one of the most popular things to do in December or anytime in winter. The main Christmas markets generally run from November and past Christmas into the new year. There are multiple markets around the city but the most popular is at Vorosmarty Square and in front of St Stephen’s Basilica. You don’t have to spend money to enjoy the Christmas markets, it’s nice enough to just walk around and take in the atmosphere.
33. New Year’s Eve Fireworks
If you happen to time your visit to include New Year’s, you can watch the free fireworks which take place in different parts of the city. The most popular spots for fireworks tend to be over the Danube at the Chain Bridge and around Heroes Square and City Park. Budapest is on my list of top New Year’s destinations in Europe and is a great time to visit with so many things to do at this time of the year.
History and Memorials
Memorials for Hungary’s most recent history and events, notably WWII and the 1956 Revolution, are found throughout the city. Most of these sights are in Pest near the Hungarian Parliament and in the Jewish Quarter.
34. 1956 Revolution Exhibit
If you’re not paying attention you might walk right by this underground exhibit located beside the Hungarian Parliament at Kossuth Lajos Square. Walking down the stairs you arrive at a small underground museum where you’re free to look at photos and watch the footage (with English subtitles) from the 1956 Revolution. Protestors were shot down by Soviet tanks directly on the square in front of the parliament. If you walk across the street to the Ministry of Agriculture building you’ll also see a small memorial to those killed in the square, marked with iron balls where bullets struck the building.
35. Imre Nagy Statue
The failed Hungarian Revolution saw leader Imre Nagy brought on charges of treason. He was tried, found guilty, sentenced to death and executed, all in secret without the public’s knowledge. The memorial to Imre Nagy is located diagonally across from the parliament at Vertanuk tere (Martyrs Square) where his statue stands on a bridge looking back to the parliament.
36. Memorial to the 1956 Revolution
On the edge of Budapest’s City Park are the columns of the Memorial to the 1956 Revolution. The memorial commemorates the 50th anniversary of the failed uprising and the columns represent the people coming together to unite their strength for freedom and independence. It was built on the site of a former Catholic church, demolished by the communist government. The monument is controversial due to its abstract, modern design as well as the perceived complicity with the old regime by certain members of the government.
37. Shoes on the Danube Bank
Located on the Pest side of the Danube Promenade, near the Hungarian Parliament, the Shoes on the Danube Bank is a famous memorial to honour those who were killed by the Arrow Cross Party militiamen during World War II. People were ordered to take off their shoes and were lined up and shot in a way that their bodies would fall into the river and get carried away by the current.
38. Carl Lutz Memorial
Related to the Shoes on the Danube Bank, the Carl Lutz Memorial, on the corner of Dob utca and Rumbach Sebestyen utca in the Jewish Quarter, honours Swiss consul Carl Lutz who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the war. The memorial represents the occasion when he jumped into the Danube to rescue a woman who had been shot by the Arrow Cross firing squad. If you have further interest in this piece of history, you can visit the Glass House, the building (and now memorial) where thousands of Jews were protected during the war.
Museums and Galleries
It’s difficult to find free museums and art galleries in Budapest, especially if you’re not an EU citizen or student. Some museums do have one free entry day per month, others at certain times of the year (often on Hungarian national holidays). Check the individual website before you go.
39. House of Terror Museum
The House of Terror is Budapest’s best museum if you’re interested in the history of the communist era, spies, torture, propaganda, the 1956 revolution and the fall of communism. This museum is not free for everyone unfortunately but is free on the first Sunday of the month for citizens of the European Economic Area.
Not Quite Free in Budapest
Here are a few more things to do and see which are not quite free but cheap or discounted.
The #2 Tram
For the price of one tram ticket, you can hop on the #2 tram for a cheap sightseeing ride along the Danube Promenade, past the Chain Bridge, Buda Castle (on the other side of the Danube), the Hungarian Parliament and through the beautiful 5th district. Get on at the Great Market Hall / Liberty Bridge and stay on until the last stop after the Parliament. Purchase your ticket from the machine before you board and don’t forget to validate it.
Free Walking Tours
Like most big tourist cities, Budapest offers free walking tours. Local guides take you around and depending on the tour you might visit Budapest’s main sights, tour the Jewish Quarter, take a street art or alternative city tour, explore the architecture or maybe take a communism tour. Of course, these tours aren’t actually free, you should always tip your guide at the end for their time and service but there is no upfront fee.
Free with the Budapest Card
With the occasional exception on Hungarian national holidays (15th March, 20th August, 23rd October), Budapest’s museums are not free. However, some of the most popular museums are free with the Budapest Card. The card includes free admission to 17 museums, some art galleries, free public transport, free entry to Lukacs thermal bath and discounts on other baths and attractions.
The Budapest Card ranges from approximately €20 for one day up to €60 for five days. So museum entry is not free but ‘free’. If you plan on visiting a lot of museums while in Budapest or have a long list of things you want to do, you’ll definitely save with the card, but if museums aren’t your thing, give it a miss. Read the list of free museums before you purchase to be sure it’s worthwhile for you (entry to the House of Terror is not included).
Find out what’s included and order your Budapest Card here.
Map of Free Sights and Attractions in Budapest
That’s it for my list of free things to do in Budapest. If you have questions on what you can do for free or have anything to add, please leave a comment below.
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