In unprecedented times like these, it's important to have hope for better days. As for me, I look back at photos and reminisce on the exciting experiences I had, as well as the amazing people I met along the way. One of my crazier adventures took place when I was studying abroad in Copenhagen and was given a week off from my already lax education. While most of my American peers were traveling to more-frequented destinations, such as Paris, Rome, or Amsterdam, I opted to visit my close friend who was studying abroad in Athens.
After a couple of days in Athens, I realized that I should take advantage of having all of Europe in my fingertips, and perhaps make a visit elsewhere during my vacation. Don't get me wrong, Athens is an incredible city, with amazing food, culture and especially perfect if you're a history buff, but to spend a week in Greece just didn't make sense for me, unless I went island hopping in Santorini or Mykonos. As a college student who doesn't have mommy and daddy's credit card on my Apple Pay, Santorini and Mykonos were obviously out of the question. While Greece is relatively cheap compared to what I was spending in Copenhagen, I yearned for a destination that was perfect for broke college students, such as myself. A few minutes of research and some last-minute stress-inducing, flight redirecting later, I hopped on the cheapest Ryanair flight I could find and landed in Budapest. I hope this guide serves as a little taste on what this city offers for those of you looking to spend less, but still get to experience a fulfilling and worthwhile trip!
Kindly Recycle Your Misconceptions on Hostels
I guess it's sort of scary to sleep in a crowded room full of strangers and not the best idea for the faint-hearted, but unless you want to spend $100+ on a hotel room, hostels are your safest and best bet forint can buy. If you're a solo traveler, like I was, I knew that I didn't want your average, boring hostel that had no sense of community. I wanted to meet people my age, as well as let loose in a new city, so I chose to stay at The Grandio Party Hostel.
As soon as you walk in, you are immediately welcomed by staff-members, who're there to make you feel a part of the family. Along with a warm welcome, you get a free shot (try the palinka), as well as reduced drinks, with proof of your staying at their outside bar, open 24 hours. Located right in the center of the city, a single night at this place will cost you a whopping $8. Not only is this place incredibly cheap for budget travelers but you'll be able to meet, drink, and party with people from all over the world. As for the accommodation itself, let's say you get what you pay for: a bed, locker, and bathroom. Is it the cleanliest of living accommodations? No, but are you there to get your beauty sleep? Probably not either. Depending on the weekend, you could even take a boozy night cruise on the Danube!
Orientation and Itinerary Planning
As you've read above, I'm not one for history so I'm going to give you the TL;DR. Budapest is split right down the Danube river. As an 1873 merger between two distinct cities, Buda resides on the western bank and Pest on the opposite, or an easier way of remembering for my geographically challenged folks is that Buda has the best views of Pest, because of its hilly topography.
If you want to make the most of your trip, I recommend staying on the Pest side of the Danube because of its proximity to all the attractions! Depending on where you're staying, you may want to start at The Hungarian Parliament. The third-largest parliamentary building in the world is a sight to see from the outside, as well as the inside. A tour will cost you $12 or $22, depending on whether you're an EU resident or not. I say skip the tour and just admire it from the outside but to each their own.
If you leave the parliamentary building and head towards the Chain Bridge, you'll stumble on dozens of bronze shoes on the ground, facing the water. This intense monument was erected by film director Can Togay to honor the Jewish people, who were ordered to take off their shoes, before being shot and carried away by the Danube during World War II. After reflecting on and making sure to never forget the past, head to the iconic Chain Bridge that stands just a few hundred feet away, guarded by two sculpted lions. No trip to Budapest is complete without walking across the bridge towards Buda.
If you want to have a gaze of this urban beauty from a distance, you're going to have to give your glutes a bit of a workout. Visitors can either pay $6 to get on a relatively slow funicular as a quirky form of transportation, or walk up a relatively manageable hill that will take you less time than waiting on the long lines for the funicular. Once you make it to the top, come up with a competition with your friends from the hostel to see who can get the best shot of Budapest from Fisherman's Bastion! Next, continue on a short 15-minute walk towards Buda Castle, where visitors can visit the National Gallery ($10) or the Budapest History Museum ($7.40).
After taking in the views of Pest from Buda, walk across Liberty Bridge towards Budapest's Central Market Hall, where you can find anything ranging from sausages to paprika, both of which you need to eat and bring back (minus the sausage) with you. You will be amazed by the stalls upon stalls of variety. If you're looking for a souvenir to bring back, go upstairs and be astonished by a range of unique goods!
Hungry after working out those glutes in Buda? Visit one of the food stands on the second floor and order lángos! This deep-fried dough will keep you filled for hours. Be sure to get the classic with cheese and sour cream! Anything with Nutella and fruit is there to appease the Western tourists, so try not to settle for what an Instagram influencer would order.
Thermal Baths, More Food, and Nightlife
To most people's amazement, this Hungarian capital sits on an array of thermal springs. For centuries, Hungarians have been flocking to a variety of Budapest Baths, and the one you choose depends a lot on what you're looking for. For my Hungarian bath experience, I chose Budapest's most popular bath, Széchenyi Baths. This bath has 15 indoor thermal pools and three outdoor pools, including a whirlpool. From the center of the city, it is a 40-minute walk, but if you prefer to take public transportation, hop on the metro for a retro experience on the oldest electrified underground railway system in continental Europe, for just a short 10-minute ride. The ticket to enter the baths will cost you $22, which includes your own cabin, so arrive early to skip the long lines and have more time to relieve your joints, muscles, and aches on the enriched calcium and magnesium springs! If you want to get a night full of partying in you, come for the Sparty that's hosted every Saturday!
If you're looking for a more low-key bath that the locals frequent, visit the Király Baths. It's an authentic Turkish bath experience. I also recommend gazing at the stained-glass windows and art nouveau architecture of Gellért Baths!
A visit to the baths sure does create an appetite! If you decide to make your way back into center city, I recommend visiting the Street Food Karavan. This space has everything for everyone! From goulash to vegan burgers, patrons are allowed to walk among the many vendors to choose whatever satisfies their cravings. As for a sweet treat, visit the many kürtoskalács stands that are spread out all over the city! This sweet doughy treat is usually wrapped around a cylindrical baking spit, above hot charcoal. For a finishing touch, bakers roll the golden-brown cone on your choice of cinnamon, vanilla, cacao or walnut for just $1!
After fueling your body on food and enriching your soul and muscles with these heavenly waters, take a night out in town and see what Budapest's nightlife has to offer! Next to the Street Food Karavan, stands one of the most popular ruin pubs, Szimpla Kert. Located in the Jewish Quarter, this space used to be homes to many residents, as well as a site of a stove factory! Visitors will be amazed by its bric-a-brac appeal and its decrepit aesthetic. While nothing matches, everything comes together and belongs, which also says a lot about the type of people that go out to this place! You will be sure to find someone from every corner of the world, enjoying a cheap cocktail.
Budapest: A Little Something for Everyone
Whether it's taking in the history or going hard at the ruin bars, Budapest is perfect for anyone who is looking to get the most out of their tight budget. Centrally located in Europe, you can get in and out of the city via train, so there is no excuse to skip this grand city on the Danube.