Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Can you visit Budapest on a budget?

If, like me, you’d heard countless stories about the ruin pubs, baths and crazy nightlife that Budapest is famous for, you might be forgiven for desperately wanting to go. This past summer, my friends and I went on a whistle stop tour of Europe by interrail, and our last stop was Budapest. Though I had been told that it was a budget-friendly destination, I had also heard the same about Amsterdam before discovering otherwise. However, Budapest did exceed all expectations, both financially and as a city. So if you are wanting to go on a wallet-friendly but truly spectacular holiday, I would definitely recommend visiting Budapest.

Food and drink is also substantially cheaper in Central and Eastern Europe. A large gin and tonic will run you at least a fiver in the UK, but only costs two quid in a bar in Budapest. Similarly, a full meal only costs about a fiver each. Quite simply, money stretches a lot further over there.

In terms of when to go, most cities are beautiful throughout the year. However, having experienced Budapest in summer, I would recommend to go then if you can. The city is alive with young travellers, and vibrant all through the night. The warm weather is also a great escape from the often damp English summers.

How to get there:

Train: My friends and I arrived in Budapest by train from Vienna, and if you are considering interrailing or just generally taking the train to Budapest from a previous destination, it is incredibly cheap, easy and convenient. However, I warn you not to fall into the same trap we did. Budapest train stations are not the most English-friendly place at night, and it can be incredibly difficult to find a taxi (as we learned the hard way) at midnight. If you are taking a train during the day or early evening, I’m sure you won’t have trouble finding transportation. Though we did eventually manage to find a taxi, after flagging a driver down who had stopped for a smoke, I would probably recommend not taking a train that gets you there at 11pm or later.

Flying: Skyscanner is your best friend here. So is Expedia. We booked our flights for August through the latter after browsing both. Our flights cost about £50 each from Budapest to Birmingham via Amsterdam. Of course, flying from London airports and in off-peak season will result in cheaper flights. I’d suggest checking out Skyscanner’s ‘cheapest month’ (or Kayak’s alternative) tool to find the most cost-effective time to fly. However, don’t be deterred by flight prices, because any extra money you have to spend on flights, you will easily save on accomodation. If you can, take carry-on bags to avoid the additional cost of checked-in luggage, or split a suitcase with a friend to cut down on costs.

Where to stay:

Airbnb. Airbnb. Airbnb. One night in a centrally located apartment can cost you around £10 per person, per night. Our accomodation for three nights in August came to a fantastic value, costing the three of us £12 each per night. The apartment was also directly opposite Instant, an amazing club that blows Neon and Smack out of the water. Plus, free entry! Already within great distance of some of the most famous ruin bars in Budapest, it was also a good walking distance from bus stops and metro stations, which made travelling around the city incredibly easy and cheap. Public transport tickets are also very inexpensive.

What to do:

The city:

You can’t go to Budapest and not visit Budapest Castle. Now also home to the city’s national art gallery and the national history museum, getting there is easy and cheap, and both bus and metro won’t cost you more than £1 for a ticket each way. Similarly, you can save money by walking up the hill instead of taking the funicular. It’s a steep, but a perfectly manageable climb. The views you get of the city from this point are unrivalled.

Walking from the castle to Fisherman’s Bastion also allows you to explore some authentic Hungarian restaurants, serving great meals at even better costs. The area around Fisherman’s Bastion is beautiful, and you can get the best photo opportunities with the famous arches the further from the statue you go. You don’t need to pay the additional fee to go into the turrets (as we did) to still get stunning views. Walk back across the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge to gain a different (and again, free!) perspective of the beautiful city.

Thermal baths:

We had a very limited window within which to go to one of the famous thermal baths. Though I’d suggest going to more than one if you get the chance, I would definitely recommend the Szechenyi Baths. It really is worth the hype! Not only does it have stunning architecture, the multitude of both indoor and outdoor baths means there’s something to suit everyone. Tickets cost about £16 for entrance and a locker, and you can stay for as long as you want, sampling all 18 pools and 10 sauna cabins.

Secret hack: enter the building from the front entrance to buy tickets and skip the long queues, but then go in through the side entrance to grab a locker. The changing rooms on the side are bigger than in the front area!

Don’t forget: a towel, a Contactless card (the food stalls poolside don’t take cash!) and a waterproof phone case.

Nightlife:

Instant. Instant. Instant. Clubbing culture in Budapest is very different to the UK. Firstly, there are no entry costs. Second, the club itself is spread across at least three floors, each of which has a separate bar area (with drinks costing a maximum of £3), an outdoor smoking area and a small dancefloor (the main, massive dance floor is on the ground floor). If you think downstairs Smack is packed, you’re in for a shock, though thankfully there’s actually ventilation and air conditioning at Instant.

Ruin bars truly are as beautiful as they look in photos. However, if you do also go in the summer, be prepared to stand in queues for up to an hour to get into the most popular ones.

Lastly, another amazing thing to do in Budapest is Sziget. Depending on whether your trip is in the early weeks of August, Sziget is Hungary’s answer to Coachella, and boy does it do it well. With massive headliners like Kendrick Lamar (2018), Arctic Monkeys (2018), The Chainsmokers (2017) and countless others, you would be hard pushed not to find a headliner you like. Plus, it is extraordinarily cheaper than going to Reading and Leeds, with a 7-day ticket (which includes free camping!) costing £300. That’s 7 whole days of crazy partying (check out the aftermovies if you don’t believe me), with some of the biggest acts in the world and beautiful weather for £300. Compare this to three days in Reading, in a cold muddy field for £200 and you’ll see why Sziget is much better value for money.

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