A Broke Backpacker’s Guide to Budapest

It’s true what everyone says: Budapest, Hungary is dirt cheap. However, because Budapest is dirt cheap, it can be easy to spend a lot of money by accident, because you have it in your head that it’s so much cheaper than home.

If you’re a backpacker with a trip to Budapest coming up soon or you just think you might want to go some day, here’s a list of tips and activities to help you see Budapest on a backpacker budget.

Tip #1: Already have some currency when you arrive

This is a good rule for travelling to a new country in general.

The Hungarian currency is called forints, or HUF for short. Currently, £1 is worth roughly 333 HUF.

To get to and from Ferihegy airport in Budapest, you take a bus called the 200E, which is blue and says – shock – “200E” on the front. The bus requires exact change, so it would be helpful if you had a little on hand. A ticket costs 350 HUF from the airport customer service point, or 450 HUF from the bus driver.

Pile of Hungary Forint banknotes and coins money

Tip #2: Know the exchange rate, take out what you need

Cash machines will often charge a fee for non-Hungarian bank cards, so try to budget how much cash you will need on your trip based on how many days you will be there. Only take out that much so you don’t have to pay the fee more than once.

And then, you know, don’t walk around with all those bank notes just floating around in your pocket. If you’re staying somewhere that has a safe place to store your valuables, think about how many HUF you’ll need each day, and only take that much with you.

Tip #3: Only use cash machines inside a bank

When my travel buddy Katie and I first arrived in Budapest around midnight, we didn’t have enough cash to pay our hostel, and the closest cash machine was a random one on a street corner. Katie was worried that it would “eat” her card, but I thought she was being paranoid, and I stuck my card right in. Nothing bad happened and it dispensed cash and gave me my card back, so Katie put hers in too and it was fine. However, two days later, we went back to get more cash (we clearly didn’t follow Tip #1), and the machine announced it was “capturing” her card “for security purposes.”

After that, for the duration of our time in Budapest, we only stuck to cash machines inside of a bank, as we figured cash machines attached to a bank and not just on the streets with nobody attending them were likely safer and maybe not as prone to card-eating. This seemed to be correct.

Cheap Things to Do in Budapest

If you’ve spent any time looking at Budapest on Instagram, you’ve definitely seen pictures of the Szechenyi Baths. While beautiful and relaxing, a day at the Baths isn’t exactly backpacker budget-friendly.

The most basic package – being able to spend as much time as you want in the spa’s various baths and getting a locker to put all your stuff in – costs 4,900 HUF, or £14.69. (That’s weekday prices – weekend prices are more like £15.20).

Szechenyi thermal baths in Budapest.

Whether or not you choose to check out the baths, here are some free or cheap activities to help you experience Budapest on a shoestring:

1. Take a free walking tour

As you may or may not know, Budapest is separated into two sides: Buda and Pest.You can take a three-hour free walking tour that will show you both sides. It meets every morning at 10:30 a.m. at the steps in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica.

It’s free, but tips are encouraged. (Other tours are available, but I can only vouch for this one.)

Just don’t do like me and Katie did and think you know the way back to your hostel, and then turn a three-hour walking tour into a five-hour one because you don’t know the way back and you get horribly lost.

2. Check out the Great Market Hall

While this is yes, a market, it’s very pretty, has many floors, and has some cheap souvenirs to buy for your family and friends back home. How many people do you know that can say they have paprika straight from Hungary?

The south gate of the Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest – Hungary at night

3. Drink like a local in Deák Square

While all the tourists are at ruin bars, Deák Square is where the locals go to have a beer or two.

People can bring in their own beers and sit on the many benches surrounding the square, but there’s also a number of bars you can go inside for a pint.

Drinking in public in Budapest is technically illegal, but, like many cities, as long you’re not flailing around, drunkenly yelling and causing a scene, you’re allowed to sit and enjoy a beer wherever you want. Alcohol bought off-site is not permitted inside bars.

The square is also beside a massive Ferris wheel that lights up at night, which is pretty cool, and it’s also on top of a club that has a pond on its roof, which is even cooler.

4. Check out a ruin bar

Okay, I know I kind of knocked ruin bars before, but they’re actually really cool.

The term ‘ruin bar’ refers to dilapidated, ruined old buildings that have since been turned into bars.

The oldest and ‘most touristy’ ruin bar is Szimpla Kert, and although I just referred to it as the ‘most touristy,’ it’s actually probably one of the most unique places you’ll ever see. The space used to be a factory, and it still feels factory-esque, with loads of rooms connected to each other, and various bars and decorations. Man, I’m just not going to do it justice, you have to go see it yourself.

Instant is another cool – and a bit less touristy – ruin bar. Like Szimpla, Instant is a bunch of rooms all connected together, with a different type of music and different decorations in each room.

Neither has an entry fee, and the standard price of a beer in Budapest is roughly £1.06. Go nuts.

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