10 things to do for free in Budapest

Hungary's fascinating capital houses history-packed museums, quirky markets and bustling Quarters. Explore the city for free, says budget traveller Lauren Williams

3 mins

Budapest is one of Eastern Europe's most rewarding cities, with the romantic Danube splitting Bud from Pest, hearty cuisine and sweeping boulevards you're spoilt for choice. To save those pennies while wandering between tempting coffee houses, here are ten free things to do in Hungary's beautiful capital.

1. Climb Castle Hill

No trip to Budapest is complete without a trip up iconic Castle Hill. The 1km walk is rich with culture and history, rewarding visitors with stunning views of the Danube and Budapest's cityscape.

The cherry on top is the Hungarian Royal Palace. Although the various museums housed inside charge a small fee, admission to the palace and its gardens are free for all. Keep a keen eye out for statues peeping from behind trees in the pretty gardens.

2. Take to the streets

The three free walking tours available in this Eastern European gem have something to suit every traveller's tastes. The classic route covers the main sightseeing spots from the Fisherman's Bastion to the Royal Palace and offers priceless advice on where to eat and how to avoid tourist traps and scams.

Alternatively, the communist tour will satisfy any history buff who walks Budapest's streets – learn about communist propaganda and hear first-hand stories of life under the party's rule from the locals. www.triptobudapest.hu

3. Explore Kosponti Vasarcsarnok (central market)

Under the patchwork tiled roof and magnificent ironwork of Budapest's Central Market Hall, lie rows upon rows of stalls selling specialty foods, jams, liqueurs and the usual tourist tat.

Discover the hustle, bustle and busy atmosphere of Budapest life, while taking in the city's (sometimes unusual) smells and sights. Be aware of your possessions while squeezing between the hoards of people.

4. Escape to Margaret Island

To get away from city life, head to the green oasis in the middle of the Danube for miles of fountains, public baths and monuments.

The island's romantic walkways, medieval ruins and relaxing atmosphere are popular with the Budapest people, so be sure to get there in the early morning if you're after seclusion. However, if mixing with the locals and contributing to the happy-go-lucky feel of Margitsziget is more your thing, take the plunge during the sunny mid-afternoons of spring.

5. Marvel at the Cave Church

Overlooking Liberty Bridge sits a quiet retreat carved into stone. The small unique grotto, which was blocked up during the communist years, is now looked after by the Hungarian Paulite order of monks and is open and free to the public.

Inside, the walls of the chapel are natural rock and hide small alters and niches for statues. If you're lucky enough to witness a service during your visit, the natural curves of the walls offer individual acoustics and an experience that won't be forgotten in a hurry.

6. Admire Heroes' Square

When visiting Budapest, you’d do pretty well to miss this remarkable memorial to the arrival of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin. Images of war and peace, work and welfare, knowledge and glory can all be seen standing proudly on top of the two imposing semi-circular structures.

In the centre stands a 36-metre high Corinthian column with a statue of the Archangel Gabriel looking down over the city.

To fully appreciate Heroes' Square, take a step back to get it all in view. Be sure to arrive early – this is one of Budapest's most-visited sites and attracts swarms of travellers by midday.

7. Wander in Vajdahunyad Castle grounds

The castle, which sits inside the City Park, was originally made out of cardboard and wood, but has since been transformed into longer-lasting stone. While walking through and exploring the grounds of this castle, which was made to look like those found in the Transylvanian countryside, you’ll find Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architectural styles.

Sit with statues and enjoy people-watching under shady trees or sit with your feet dipped in the calm lake, found behind the castle.

8. Visit the Hungarian Parliament

If you have plenty of time to spare in the Hungarian capital, take a free tour of the Parliament building – EU citizens can visit the Parliament and Crown Jewels free of charge, as long as a passport is presented on arrival.

If politics aren’t your thing, the building is difficult to miss from most vantage points on the Danube – walk along the rive and take in the cityscape from further afield.

9. Cross the Széchenyi Chain Bridge

The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is probably one of the most iconic and important pieces of architecture and engineering in Budapest. Officially opened in 1849, it was the first permanent stone bridge to connect Buda to Pest, and was only the second permanent bridge along the whole of the Danube.

Take a stroll across this unusual suspension bridge while reflecting on the city's history – just watch out for the leering lions. Or take a step back and view this impressive structure from further away at night – the pretty lights reflect off the Danube below.

10. Saunter through the Jewish Quarter

To get a taste of real life in Budapest, wander the compact streets of the old, UNESCO, WWII Jewish Ghetto. Within this beautiful part of the city, you’ll find Europe’s largest Synagogue, as well as hundreds of hidden tea-houses and boutique pubs that are only visible to the trained or hawk-like eye.

This part of Budapest shows visitors a different side to Hungarian life and is not to be missed on any trip to the capital.

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