There is no doubt that the majority of eastern European countries are cheaper than the rest of the continent. Budapest is a prime example of this, consistently ranking among the most affordable holiday destinations, not just in Europe, but worldwide. History, culture, and striking scenery – Budapest has it all. Even better, the nightlife is amazing, but won’t set you back like other European destinations.
Where to stay
Carpe Noctem Original. Perhaps my favourite hostel that I’ve stayed in to date. It is especially catered to solo-travelers and doesn’t permit larger groups so was perfect for me. It had a great social ambience which didn’t feel forced as it sometimes can in other hostels. The staff were always on hand to give you advice for navigating the city by day, and then join you on bar crawls by night. Prices start at £10.50 for a standard 8 people mixed dorm in low season, £26 for the same in high season. Book in advance as it fills up quickly.
Before the unification of 1873, Budapest was actually three separate cities: Buda, Óbuda and Pest. Óbuda was located where the current third district is, with Buda and Pest lying either side of the river. You can always tell whether you’re in Buda or Pest because the former is hilly whereas the latter is extremely flat. Therefore, you can explore most of Pest by foot, or hop on the extensive metro or tram network if you’d prefer.
To easily access the higher points in Buda, we bought tickets for the Hop-on-Hop-off bus. Granted – they are a little pricey, but they are valid for two days and you can use them as a form of public transport. It will help familiarize you with the layout of the city and come in handy when you’re dreading the ascent to Castle Hill.
Direct flights using Wizz Air or RyanAir. Cheapest to fly from London. Typically around ~£150 return in high season and ~£90 return in low season. Flying time 2 hours 20 minutes.
Arrive early and spend your first day doing the majority of the sightseeing. Catch the Hop-on-Hop-off bus from Andrassy Ut. This shopping area is worth a stroll down, it’s the longest street in Budapest, and bares a striking resemblance to Champs Elysees – one of the reasons why the city is so often dubbed the ‘Paris of the East’. Get off at Gellért Hill (a UNESCO world heritage site) where you will find the Liberty statue and the Citadella for amazing panoramic views of the city. Hop back on and then get off a little further down at Castle Hill to wander around. Check out the Hungarian National Gallery, Buda Castle, Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion all ideally located near each other. You can walk down from here and walk across Chain Bridge which will take you back across to Pest.
I’ve visited in both summer and winter, and I’d highly recommend going in the latter. Summer definitely has its perks: the weather, the musical festival Sziget, the parks. However, not only is it the low season in winter and therefore cheaper, I also found that it gave the city more of a magical atmosphere. Plus, you can take advantage of the markets. Definitely on parr with other top European Christmas markets, with an array of gifts, and better yet, food to feast on.
Have dinner at Drum Cafe, a trendy eatery which serves traditional Hungarian food. Portions are large and it is ridiculously cheap. Head back to the hostel to pre-drink with everyone else and then head to Morrisons 2 (not the supermarket, but a bar with six dance floors and a heated garden). You’ll pay an entry price of around £5. This entitles you to free drinks all night: actual ones, too, not ‘free drinks’ in the sense of a dodgy bar crawl where most spirits and anything half decent is off limits. This is the perfect time to try pálinka, the national spirit of Hungary. It’s a fruit brandy available in flavours like cherry, apricot and plum.
Soothe your hangover with a trip to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Since you’ve spent so little on your trip so far, you can even afford to indulge in a spa treatment. This is ideally located within the park, which is adjacent to Heroes Square. This area also contains the Hungarian National Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts (although MOFA is currently being renovated until the end of 2017). Unless you have a burning desire to explore either, then I suggest skipping both and heading straight to the House of Terror for an alternative insight into Budapest. The museum is a memorial to those who were detained, tortured and killed in the building during the communist and fascist regimes which terrorized Budapest in the 20th century.
Also not to be missed are St Stephen’s Basilica, and the Shoes on the Danube Bank. The latter is a poignant sculpture created by Can Togay and Gyula Pauer to honor the memory of the people (mainly Budapest Jews) that were ordered to take off their shoes before being shot by Arrow Cross militiamen during WWII. End your cultural day with a stroll along the river, where you can admire the Hungarian Parliament Building (which was actually modeled on Westminster’s Houses of Parliament).
For your second night out, head to the seventh district (the former Jewish Quarter) and begin with dinner at The Hummus Bar for a quick and healthy bite. You’re now perfectly located in the home to an array of quirky ruined bars, housed in abandoned buildings, where the average price for a glass of wine is 91p. Some of the best include Szimpla, Instant and Aker’t. Depending on the days that you’re there, the hostels arrange an array of activities, including a boat party. I’m not a huge fan of the boat parties as I feel like they are kind of overpriced and not long enough to get a party vibe going. However, it is undeniably a beautiful way to see Budapest, especially the Hungarian Parliament building, lit up.