Take a short break to Budapest for less than you think!
By Steph Dye (follow Steph on Twitter: @HelloIAmSteph)
In recent years, cities in Eastern Europe have become more popular than ever, boasting architecture, scenery and culture for half the price of Western Europe. Particularly popular is the Hungarian capital Budapest, which is perfect if you are looking for a budget, weekend break as it is packed with a great variety of things to see and do, whilst also being compact enough to fit into a 48 hour trip. When we visited, we took 72 hours to explore the city, however it’s entirely possible to do it in less. Taking you through from flights to Budapest to cheap accommodation in Budapest as well as attractions, food and drink and extra tips and tricks, we’ll help you to plan the perfect, cheap holiday to Budapest – Broke In London style.
When to visit Budapest
First things first, you have to decide when you want to visit Budapest. This entirely depends on what you want from a holiday. If you visit in the summer, you can enjoy high temperatures (July averages out at about 21°C but can reach the mid-thirties and gets about 10 hours of sunshine everyday). On the downside, this is considered the tourist season which means all of the attractions are more expensive and are generally busier plus, beware of school holidays, in which prices from flights and accommodation will skyrocket. In the winter, attractions are cheap or even free and everything is generally less busy, however you must be prepared for EXTREMELY cold temperatures. When we visited in January, the daily temperatures dropped as low as -9°C and in the night, as cold as -15°C…brrr!
Flights to Budapest
Travelling to Budapest is incredibly easy with flights from most London airports on a daily basis. The flight is short generally taking between two and two and a half hours, depending where you are travelling from and what airline you are using. The simplest way to search for budget flights is to use Skyscanner, Cheapflights.co.uk or Cheapoair.com. Alternatively, if you don’t want to book your flights and accommodation separately, you could book a package deal through Booking.com, easyJet Holidays and Lastminute.com, (though you might find it’s slightly more expensive). When we traveled to Budapest, we booked onto easyJet via Skyscanner, travelling out of Gatwick on a Tuesday and back on a Friday. The return flights came to about £120 (however this was not the cheapest way of doing it – for a cheaper holiday, you could book further in advance and choose cheaper airports, such as Luton and Stanstead). Not a big fan of flying? Check out our tips to travelling Europe by train or car. If your flights are delayed, get advice about compensation here.
Cheap accommodation in Budapest
It’s easy to find budget places to stay as Budapest is incredibly popular with backpackers and Interail-ers, so finding a budget hostel is easy. All of the websites mentioned in the previous section will give you a good idea of the best ways in which to search for hostels and hotels. If a hostel is all you need, you can get a private room for around £30 (or less for a shared room). However, if you are looking for something a little more upmarket, hotels are only a little more expensive – we found an early-bird deal via Booking.com for £35 per person, per night for a three star hotel that included a continental breakfast.
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A little about the city…
So now you’ve got your dates, times, accommodation and travel sorted out and you are all sorted for your trip. So now it’s time to learn a little more about the city itself. The currency of Hungary is the Hungarian Forint (HUF) which currently works out at about 350 HUF to every pound. Hungary is in the EU and many of the hotels and chain shops will actually accept euros (handy if you are travelling across several countries) though you will find the exchange rate is better if you stick to forints. You can work out the exchange rate here.
Travelling about within the city is easy, as Budapest is incredibly compact and you can walk from the centre of Buda, to the centre of Pest in just 30 minutes. However, it is also well served by it’s transport – which comes in the form of buses, trams and metros. All of the transport uses the same tickets, so you can buy single or daily tickets from any driver or machine in the city and use it on any method of transport. A single fare costs 350 HUF (about £1 – though if you buy from a driver as opposed to a machine it costs 450 HUF) and can be used for a single journey of any length. If you are doing a lot of travelling a day, it may be more cost effective to buy a 24hr ticket, which costs 1,650HUF (about £4.60).
Thinking of visiting a lot of Budapest’s attractions as well travelling? You might want to invest in a Budapest Card. These come in rates of 24hr (4,900HUF/£13.70), 48hr (7,900HUF/£22) and 72hr (9,900HUF/£27.60) in order to fit however long you need them for. As well as covering all of your travel, the card also gives you free access to many of Budapest’s biggest attractions and discounts at many other attractions, restaurants and spas across the city.
The best things to see in Budapest
As with any historic city, there are plenty of things to see and do in Hungary’s capital. There are (I think) around seven must-see attractions in Budapest and everything else is up to you, depending how much time you want to spend in the city. We spent three nights and the majority of four days exploring, with lots of breaks in between visits. These are all of the things we chose to check out:
- Buda Castle (free to walk around the grounds, however you have to pay entry fees to enter the national gallery or museums).
- The Parliament Building (entry to the parliament building is discounted to 2,200HUF/£6.20 for EU citizens though if you are under 24, you can join a tour for 1,100HUF/£3.10 so remember to take ID!).
- Shoes on the Danube (this memorial is free and located just outside the parliament building).
- Széchenyi Thermal Baths (an advance ticket with a locker is 4,900HUF/£13.75).
- Fisherman’s Bastion (during the winter months, admission is free, however during the summer is 800HUF/£2.25 or 400HUF for students).
- St Stephen’s Basilica (free admission to the church, though donations are encouraged).
- Great Market Hall (free to visit).
There are also lots of other museums, memorials, galleries and attractions to look up, check the Budapest tourism website for more information.
That’s all you really need to plan your trip to Budapest! Food and drink is also incredibly cheap; we ate out and spent no more than around £15 each, each night. The ruin bars, which are also a popular attraction are known for the local wines, which cost upwards of £10 per bottle – which is still super cheap compared to London. If you are after more information, these are probably the best sites to check out:
We’ve also got plenty more travelling tips for you here.