17 Unbelievable Free Things to Do in Budapest (2023)
If you’re planning a trip to Budapest and looking for some free activities to add to your itinerary, you’ve come to the right place. I recently spent two weeks in Hungary’s capital and discovered many amazing free things to do in Budapest.
Budapest is a city with plenty of affordable and even free options for travellers on a budget. Countless museums, parks, and landmarks can be enjoyed without spending a single coin. Even some of the main attractions in this beautiful city are free things to do.
Overall, Budapest is a city full of budget-friendly options for travellers. So pack your bags, grab your walking shoes, and get ready to explore this beautiful city without breaking the bank!
Quick history of Hungary
Before we can dive into the best free things to do in Budapest, let’s have a very quick look into Hungarian history. Because so many great free things to do in Budapest are interlinked with the country’s history.
The city of Budapest was only created in 1873 by merging the three cities of Buda, Pest and Óbuda. Even today you hear many references saying the Pest side of the city or the Buda side of the city which are separated by the Danube River. The Buda side is where the Buda castle is located and the Hungarian Parliament House is on the Pest side.
The first king of Hungary, King Stephen, plays a very important role in Budapest. Stephen was crowned in 1000 or 1001 with a crown sent by Pope Sylvester II. This crown is one of the most precious possessions of Budapest and it’s on display in the Hungarian Parliament Building. King Stephen was declared a saint after his death. Today you can find Stephen’s statue in many important places, for example at the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Heroes square. The main Basilica of Budapest is also dedicated to King Stephen.
In 1896 was the big Millennial Exhibition celebrating the 1000th anniversary of Hungary’s birth. Many of Budapest’s most iconic sights were built for this Millennial Exhibition. The Hungarian Parliament Building for example was inaugurated in 1896, although it was only completely finished a few years later. Vajdahunyad Castle was built especially for the Millennial Exhibition out of wood and cardboard but because it was so popular they rebuilt it with stone and brick a few years later.
Hungary is a country rich in history. I just briefly focused on two events and skipped a thousand other important events. Because those two are the most important ones to know for the best free things to do in Budapest, I’m gonna talk about now.
17 Best free things to do in Budapest
Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building next to the River Danube is the most iconic building in Budapest and marvelling at it from the outside is one of the best free things to do in Budapest.
It’s one of the most beautiful parliament buildings in the whole world and it’s definitely the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
The building, which was completed in 1902, stands tall on the banks of the Danube River and features a beautiful neo-gothic design. From the outside, you can admire the intricate details of the building’s facade, including its many spires and statues.
Be sure to snap some photos and take in the views of the river and the nearby Buda Castle. While tickets for a guided tour of the inside can be expensive, seeing the Parliament Building from the outside is completely free and definitely worth a visit!
Buda Castle isn’t the most beautiful building in Budapest, that honour goes to the Hungarian House of Parliament, it’s not even the most beautiful castle, in my opinion, Vajdahunyad Castle deserves this title, but Buda Castle is still worth visiting.
Buda Castle used to be the royal palace, today it houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest Historical Museum. One of the great free things to do in Budapest is to wander around the castle grounds and enjoy the view of the city which is completely free.
The whole Buda Castle district is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When I visited in May 2023 there was a lot of construction but I can imagine how beautiful the area will look.
Buda Castle Funicular
The Buda Castle Funicular goes all the way up to Buda Castle. It’s very popular but it’s not free to use. However, the walk up to the castle only takes a few minutes anyway and the best view is actually from the path leading up to the castle. So, it’s not worth spending money, the best things really are the free things to do in Budapest.
The Budapest Castle Hill Funicular was first opened in 1870 and it was the second of its kind in the whole world. It got destroyed during World War II and only reopened in 1986. Today the cars have the same design as when the funicular first opened and they’re a big tourist attraction.
Fisherman’s Bastion is a stunning terrace with the best lookout towers over Budapest. Even though it might look like it, in its current form the Fisherman’s Bastion was never used as a fortification.
The Fisherman’s Bastion was originally built in the late 19th century as a decorative lookout tower, and its distinctive white stone towers and arches have made it one of Budapest’s most recognisable landmarks and one of the best free things to do in Budapest.
Its 7 towers represent the 7 Magyar tribes. The Magyars were the first people to settle on the land which is now Hungary.
The lower sections of the Fisherman’s Bastion are free to visit and offer some of the best views of the city. There is a fee to enter some of the towers and terraces, however.
Inside the Fisherman’s Bastion, there’s a beautiful statue of Hungary’s first king, Stephen.
The Matthias Church is located right next to the Fisherman’s Bastion. It was built in the 14th century and restored in the late 19th century. For some time in the 16th century during Ottoman rule it functioned as a mosque.
I was quite surprised to find out that the church isn’t named after Matthias the Apostle but after King Matthias Corvinus, a Hungarian king from the 15th century.
Unfortunately, entering the church is not free but the best thing to do is marvel at it from the outside anyway. The architecture of the Matthias Church is astounding, the tower is just so detailed and beautiful. And the colourful roof makes the church even prettier.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is a very imposing basilica in the heart of Budapest. It’s the largest church in Budapest and the third largest one in Hungary.
The basilica is dedicated to the first king of Hungary, Stephen, who Christianised Hungary. After his death, King Stephen was declared a saint by Pope Gregory VII.
Unfortunately, visiting the church from the inside is not free admission, but even just having a look at it from the outside is worth it.
When you’re at St. Stephen’s Basilica don’t miss the statue of the police man. Legend says if you rub his belly, you can eat as much delicious Hungarian food without gaining any weight.
There are multiple bridges connecting the Buda and the Pest side of Budapest. All of the bridges were destroyed during World War II and rebuilt afterwards.
The oldest permanent bridge is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Crossing the Chain Bridge on foot is one of the popular free things to do in Budapest. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible when I visited in May 2023 because of construction work on the bridge.
My favourite bridge to cross on foot was the Liberty Bridge, or Szabadság hid in Hungarian. This beautiful green bridge goes from Central Market Hall to Gellért Hill. People don’t just use the Liberty Bridge to cross the Danube River but also to relax. You might see people sitting on the bridge chatting or reading a book. And to read a book on a beautiful bridge is definitely one of the unique things to do in Budapest.
Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall, or Great Market Hall is the biggest and oldest indoor market in Budapest. It’s located inside a beautiful, historic building, right next to Liberty Bridge. In the market, you can find everything from fresh produce to souvenirs.
I have read online that people got scammed inside the Central Market Hall and that some things are very overpriced. So, keep that in mind when going shopping there. However, strolling through the market is one of the great free things to do in Budapest (if you don’t buy anything).
Gellért Hill is a beautiful park with amazing views of the city of Budapest. It’s one of the green lungs of the busy city. This hill rises 235 meters above the Danube River and is home to several notable landmarks.
One of the most unique attractions on Gellert Hill is the Cave Church, which is located in a natural cave system and was once used as a secret church during the Turkish occupation of Hungary. The church is open to visitors and offers a fascinating glimpse into the country’s history. Visiting a church inside a cave is one of the unusual things to do in Budapest.
Going for a walk in this beautiful park and taking in the views is one of the best free things to do in Budapest.
Right next to Gellért Hill are the Gellért Hill Thermal Baths, a bath with natural hot springs in a stunning, old building. You can even drink the thermal water in Budapest, it’s supposed to have many health benefits.
At the top of the hill, you’ll also find the Liberty Statue, a massive monument that was erected in 1947 to celebrate the country’s liberation from Nazi rule. The statue offers breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding landscape.
The Liberty Statue in Budapest is a massive monument that stands atop Gellert Hill and offers panoramic views of the city. Taking in the city from above is one of the amazing free things to do in Budapest.
The statue was erected in 1947 to celebrate Hungary’s liberation from Nazi rule. It’s a symbol of freedom and a must-visit spot in Budapest.
Unfortunately, when I visited, the top of the hill was under construction, so I couldn’t get up close to the statue. However, the walk up the hill was still worth it for the stunning views alone.
Despite the renovations, visitors can still enjoy the views from the top of the hill and soak up the historical significance of the monument. So, if you’re planning a trip to Budapest, be sure to add a visit to the Liberty Statue to your list of things to see.
Dohány Street Synagogue or simply Great Synagogue is the largest synagogue in all of Europe. It’s located in the old Jewish quarter of Budapest.
Even though visiting the synagogue from the inside is worth it if you have the budget for it, just admiring the outside is worth it. The architecture is simply impressive with its Moorish influences.
Andrássy Avenue is a big boulevard connecting the city centre with the city park. The popular street is known for the many beautiful buildings lining it. Since 2002 it’s even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, strolling down Andrássy Avenue and taking in the beautiful architecture on either side is one of the top free things to do in Budapest.
Andrássy Avenue is even home to some famous sights in Budapest, like the Hungarian State Opera House and the House of Terror Museum. The House of Terror has an art exhibit symbolising the iron curtain right in front of the building, don’t miss it if you stroll down Andrássy Avenue.
Heroe’s Square in Budapest is one of the most famous squares in Budapest and visiting it is one of the top free things to do in Budapest.
The square is dominated by a tall column topped with the Archangel Gabriel, who is said to have visited Hungary and blessed the nation. The base of the column features seven statues that represent the Magyar tribes who founded Hungary. Flanking the column are two colonnades that house statues of Hungarian kings and other historical figures. You can find Hungary’s first king, Stephen, on the first spot on the left side.
Heroe’s Square is also the gateway to City Park, which is home to the famous Széchenyi Thermal Baths and the Vajdahunyad Castle.
Whether you’re interested in Hungarian history or just want to relax in a beautiful setting, Heroe’s Square is definitely worth a visit.
Budapest City Park is a gigantic park just behind heroes square. It’s the perfect place to enjoy the sun, relax on the grass, have a picnic or discover some of the sights hidden in the park.
I was very surprised when I saw the big hot air balloon in the city park. It just goes straight up so the passengers have a great view of Budapest. A cool side effect of this is that everyone else has a great view of the hot air ballon which you can see from many different places in the city.
The two main attractions in the city park are the Széchenyi Thermal Bath and the Vajdahunyad Castle. While the Széchenyi Thermal Bath is not free to visit, Vajdahunyad Castle is.
Most people visiting Budapest just visit Buda Castle and skip Vajdahunyad Castle. But in my opinion, Vajdahunyad Castle looks way cooler. I’d even call it one of the best free things to do in Budapest.
If you want to enter the castle, you have to pay an entrance fee but the best part is admiring it from the outside.
The castle looks like a magical Transylvanian castle and it was actually modelled after the Transylvanian Hunyad Castle. At the time of the construction of Vajdahunyad Castle in 1896 Transylvania was still part of Hungary, now it’s in Romania.
What to do with the ruins of buildings? Make the hippest ruin bars and pubs! During the day you can visit the ruin bars to explore the eccentric art displayed in them for free. And during the night they transform into the most sought-after bars.
The most famous ruin bar is Szimpla Kert. It’s one of the coolest and biggest ruin pubs. But it can get really crowded. You might even have to stand in line and wait until you’re allowed to enter.
In case you visit Budapest in summer, you should not miss out on Margaret Island. Margaret Island is a green island in the middle of the Danube River and it’s a very popular recreational area. It’s the perfect place for a walk or to relax in the sun. But there are also many things to discover on Margaret Island.
One of the unique things to see is the Musical Fountain, a fountain in the Japanese Garden with a moving statue on top which plays music three times every hour. But there are also many restaurants and bars on the island and even an open-air cinema and a bath.
Is Budapest expensive?
I’ve been to Budapest multiple times and to be honest, the city has gotten more expensive. Compared to some other European cities, like London, Budapest is still pretty affordable. But compared to other European cities, like Sarajevo, it’s more expensive.
All in all, I’d still say Budapest is very affordable, you can find cheap hotels and food and the highlights of any trip are the amazing free things to do in Budapest.
FAQs about free things to do in Budapest
Are museums in Budapest free?
No, most museums in Budapest are not free to visit. However, most museums are rather cheap, usually the entrance is below €10.
Is Budapest Castle free?
You can walk inside the Budapest Castle grounds for free and that’s the best thing to do anyway.
Are Budapest trams free?
No, trams are not free in Budapest. The best ticket option in my opinion for a visitor is to get ten tickets at once, that way each ticket is cheaper and you can validate one ticket at a time whenever you need it.
Can you just walk around Buda Castle?
Yes, you can just walk around Buda Castle grounds for free. Inside the Buda Castle is a museum, you need to pay an entrance fee if you want to visit the museum.
Is Buda or Pest better?
The Buda side of the city is mainly known for Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and Gellért Hill. Almost everything else is located on the Pest side of the city. So, I would recommend staying on the Pest side and just visiting the Buda side for a day.
Is public transport free in Budapest?
No, public transportation in Budapest is not free. You need different tickets for different modes of public transport. If you get a 24-hour ticket, you can use any public transport.
Can I use Euro in Budapest?
The official currency in Budapest is Hungarian Forint. Many places in Budapest accept Euros as well, although the exchange rate in shops and supermarkets is to your disadvantage.
Can you drink tap water in Budapest?
Yes, you can safely drink tap water in Budapest. As a matter of fact, it even exceeds EU standards. And it’s not just safe it also tastes very good.
Final thoughts: Is Budapest worth visiting?
There are so many amazing free things to do in Budapest, but is Budapest worth visiting? Absolutely! In my opinion, Budapest is one of the most beautiful European cities.
Hungarian’s capital offers amazing architecture, green parks and natural thermal baths. You can explore interesting history or just enjoy the lively atmosphere.