What is there to do in the Hungarian capital? And how much should you budget? Here I give a breakdown of Budapest city break costs from my five-night “flashpacker style” stay; where I went, what I did, and whether I’d do it again.
Accommodation – food and drink – entertainment (museums, tours and spas) – transport – my costs – verdict
I paid £139 / €178 / $227 for five nights.
For this, I got a private AirBnB apartment on the main boulevard, Andrassy Avenue. I was 30 seconds from the metro line, and within a 20-minute walk of all the major sites. The apartment had a double bedroom, so the cost would’ve been the same if I’d been travelling with a friend or partner.
There was a palatial living area and loads of natural light, with views out to the boulevard. The bed was comfy, the hot water ran hot. The kitchen was basic, but adequate for my needs.
The communal areas were rather shabby chic, but it was excellent value for money for the price I paid.
Click here for a discount on your first AirBnB stay.
Food and drink costs in Budapest
My food and drink costs of £88 / €112 / $143 were based on:
- Breakfast – coffee and pastry at a café
- Lunch – street food
- One course dinner with glass of wine at a restaurant (3 evenings) £10-£14 / €12-17 / $16-23 per evening
- Noodle bar casual dinner with beer (2 evenings) £5-6 / €6-7 / $8-10 per evening
- One night out taking in Budapest’s bar scene
Breakfast is pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a bit more detail about everything else.
Pizza slices abound, but for a more Hungarian experience, try langos. Langos is battered and deep fried potato, and the favoured topping is a smothering of sour cream and cheese. Healthy it is not. Bloody tasty though. Prices run around 300-500 forints (£0.75-£1.25 / €0.90-€1.50 / $1.25-$2.05), depending on your heart-attack requirements. If you want to keep your Budapest city break costs down, street food is the way to go.
A decent glass of wine in a bar or restaurant can be found for £2.50 / €3 / $4 and up. Beer is cheaper than wine – around £1.50 / €1.80 / $2.45 a bottle. Coffee is a similar price to beer, more if you have latte needs.
A note on food and drink
Café culture abound. In the evening the pavements stay alive, with restaurant seating supplemented by patio heating and a proliferation of blankets. Make the most.
Entertainment costs in Budapest – museums, tours and spas
My spend of £28 / €36 / $46 entertainment was pretty low, partly because the weather was good so I wanted to be outside. Here’s my take on the Budapest attractions I experienced:
Szechenyi Spa Baths
Budapest has 130 spa baths, of which Szechenyi is one of the most famous, housed in the City Park. The deal includes a combo of mineral thermal pools, steam rooms and saunas. Treatments are also available. Some spas are single sex on some days, so it’s worth checking this out in advance.
My view: Blissful relaxation that soothed my aches and pains a treat. Many signs are in Hungarian only, so a bit of watch and follow is helpful ☺ The price at Szechenyi was 4800ft (£12 / €15 / $20) and included a secure private changing cabin. Other baths are a few hundred forints cheaper.
House of Terror
Housed in an imposing building that both the Nazis and Communists used at their headquarters in Budapest, the focus is on the Hungarian occupations by both. Imagery and video feature prominently. You can swot up further on the numerous take-away fact sheets.
My view: Worth every penny of the 2000ft (£5 / €6.50 / $8) entrance fee. You can rent an audio guide for 1500ft (£3.75 / €5 / $6) more.
Walking Tour (free)
There are many free walking tours to choose from. I opted for the Communism walk, as I was interested to learn more about what it would’ve been like to grow up under Communism. The lively commentary shared the good and bad realities of healthcare, employment, education, housing, TV, religion in the Communist and post-Communist years.
My view: This is a hugely educational tour lasting more than 2.5 hours. Leave a decent tip.
Museum of Decorative Arts
The small temporary Islamic arts exhibition here was impressive in detail and variety, featuring textiles and ceremonial swords. The Museum’s permanent collection includes a floor of Art Nouveau pieces. The building itself is impressive both outside and in; although on my visit most of the exterior was covered in scaffolding.
My view: At 2000ft (£5 / €6.50 / $8) basic admission, or 3000ft (£7.50 / €9.50 / $12.25) to include the Islamic arts exhibit, I felt it was a bit overpriced. Unless you have a passion for Art Nouveau.
Museum of Marzipan, Szentendre
As well as the cobbled streets, Danube walking / cycling path and café / ice-cream overload, Szentendre is home to a myriad of museums. The Museum of Marzipan caught my imagination after a tip-off – where else can you find Michael Jackson immortalised in marzipan?
Yup, it’s Jacko in marzipan
Cutesy buildings abound in Szentendre
My view: The 500ft (£1.25 / €1.60 / $2) entrance fee was worth it for the kitsch factor alone. The rest of Szentendre makes for a fun day trip from Budapest. To get there, catch the HEV (suburban railway) for the 45-minute journey.
Wandering costs nothing, and in Budapest there’s a lot of wandering to be had. Up the hills, over Chain Bridge, to the palace, around the castle, to Heroes Square, along the Danube … the list goes on.
Local transport costs in Budapest
I spent £9.50 / €12 / $15.50 on local transport, plus an extra £8 / €10 / $13 for a one-way airport shuttle.
If you’ve experienced the London Underground where your nose is stuck in someone’s armpit whilst you simultaneously practice contortionist manoeuvres of which Houdini himself would’ve been proud, then you’re gonna love Budapest’s metro system.
At a cost of only 350ft (£0.90 / €1.10 / $1.40) a ticket you can whizz around town in the minimum of time. And get a seat. Day transport passes and strips of ten tickets are available, covering the metro, buses and trams.
The HEV suburban railway was also super-cheap, with a return ticket to Szentendre costing 620ft (£1.55 / €1.85 / $2.55)
My Budapest city break costs – excluding flights
All are based on an exchange rate of 398.99 / 311.82 / 244.53 forints to the £ / € / $, calculated on 25 September 2014 from xe.com. I have rounded figures throughout for easier reading.
Accommodation 5 nights – same cost for 1 or 2 people: £139 / €178 / $227
Food and drink p/p: £88 / €112 / $143
Entertainment p/p: £28 / €36 / $46
Local transport p/p: £9.50 / €12 / $15.50
Airport shuttle one-way p/p: £8 / €10 / $13
Misc (bathroom): £0.45 / €0.58 / $0.74
Total Budapest city break costs for 5 nights for one person: £273 / €349 / $445
Total cost for 5 nights for two people sharing a room: £408 / €521 / $664
How you could spend more / less in Budapest
It would be easy to spend more on a Budapest city break: stay in a hotel, avoid street food, order a bottle of wine with dinner, have dessert every night, go shopping … the list is endless.
If you’re on a backpacker – rather than flashpacker – budget, then you can save money in Budapest by: staying in hostel dorm rooms, drinking beer rather than wine (or not drinking at all), and sticking to casual eats. The market is a good bet.
Budapest is a vibrant city with a strong artistic and cultural heritage that’s immediately apparent in the buildings, the arts scene and the tongue-twisting language.
I sensed the creative vibe in Budapest’s streets – from the outdoor and unpretentious cafe culture, to the plethora of local men playing cards or chess. Beer seemed like an obligatory drink for everyone after 1pm.
As a solo traveller, Budapest was easy to navigate, felt safe and wasn’t full of touts trying to sell me things. A “hello” in Hungarian is helpful to break the ice, but in the service industries English and German is widely spoken. Which, when you see written Hungarian, you’ll be glad of!
Would I go back to Budapest? Yes, yes and yes again.
Have you been to Budapest? How do you find it compares to other “city break” destinations in Eastern Europe?