Traveling on a Budget in Budapest, Hungary
January 1, 1970
by Hannah Frankel
*All monetary amounts are in USD, unless otherwise marked*
My boyfriend and I recently completed a two month bicycle trip around a significant portion of Europe. Because we were traveling for two months, and are recent college graduates, we wanted to keep our daily expenses as low as possible. That meant hunting for bargains wherever we could find them. And the countries with the lowest prices were Hungary and the Czech Republic.
The first night we arrived in Hungary, we stayed at a place called Göcsej Völgye Kemping, a campground run by a very sweet couple, Margit and Atilla. The campground was located near the Hungary/Slovenia border. When we arrived, Margit and Atilla welcomed us graciously, got us set up in one of their tents (we had our own, but they said not to worry about the effort of setting it up when theirs were already ready for guests), and then walked with us down to the local lake. Since it started to storm while we were in the lake, they told us we should move our stuff into one of their cabins instead, so we did. We still used our own sleeping bag, but got to sleep in a real bed — which ended up being very nice, as the weather was terrible that night. In addition to providing us with a cabin, they gave us dinner and breakfast. Dinner consisted of fresh, thick-cut bacon that we cooked ourselves over a campfire, and pálinka (a strong Hungarian alcohol) made by Atilla’s father. For breakfast, we had Hungarian French toast (Hungarian toast?), which was bread dipped in egg and then cooked in bacon grease. Super tasty! All of this ended up costing €30 (or $34), which is an amazingly good price for a cabin and two meals. And the company was excellent! Although it is pretty far out of the way if you are spending your time in Budapest, if you can find your way over to Göcsej Völgye Kemping, I would highly recommend it.
From Göcsej Völgye Kemping, we made our way over to Budapest, where we stayed in an AirBNB a bit outside of the main part of the city. (Because we were traveling with our bikes, we had to be very strategic about where we were staying. While there are some great hostels in Budapest, we needed a place to keep our bikes, which meant that we usually stuck to campgrounds, AirBNBs, or Couchsurfing and Warmshower hosts. But more on that on a later post.) We stayed with Csaba (you can find his listing here), who was such a wonderful host, providing us with transportation instructions and restaurant recommendations. He also helped us get our bikes and all our luggage up the stairs. The entire apartment was ours for the time we were there, and it was only $26 per night.
Budapest City Card
Once in the city, we bought the 24 hour Budapest City Card for €17 per person. This got us free transportation for those 24 hours, as well as free or discounted entrance to a ton of different things. I think that the best part of the card was the free entrance to the St. Lukacs baths. Budapest is famous for their thermal baths, and we really wanted to make sure we experienced that. There were several different pools at St. Lukacs, all at different temperatures ranging from warm-swimming-pool all the way up to very-toasty-jacuzzi, as well as a few steam rooms and saunas. While the place wasn’t empty by any stretch, it wasn’t too crowded, which was nice. It also seemed that it was a location that some of the locals used as well — we appreciated the fact that even though there were a lot of tourists there, it didn’t really feel like a tourist trap. It was out of the main part of the city, and a bit hard to find, as the entrance kind of looked like the entrance to a medical campus. But everyone around was very helpful and pointed us to the right gates.
At the baths, there were lockers included in the entrance fee (which was free for us), that opened with a wristband we got upon check in. It was a very good system, as you didn’t have to keep track of a key while floating and soaking. To get out of the facility, you simply dropped your wristband into a receptacle, the gate opened, and you left. Really a very simple process. While the locker rooms were coed, there were plenty of private changing rooms, as well as showers and hairdryers for use after you swam. While the facility was not the newest, it was a really good experience, and you definitely can’t beat the price!
The other highlight of our time in Budapest was the ruin pubs. Developers have recently started taking old and condemned buildings, fixing them up just enough so that they aren’t in imminent danger of collapse, and turning them into bars and pubs where a lot of millennials go to hang out. We went to Szimpla Kert, which was described to us as “a food court of bars.” The place is in a two story building, and there are several of little bars — one for cocktails, one for beer, one for wine, etc. — and tons of seating. The space is artfully hipster, designed very carefully to look like everything was just thrown in and mismatched. It’s charming in its dilapidation, with both art for sale and graffiti covering every flat surface. There is often live music, as well as free wifi and lots of outlets. There was no cover charge, and although we went on a weeknight, it didn’t look like that would be any different on the weekend. And right next door is a permanent collection of food trucks and carts, making for an easy and cheap way to spend the evening.
With our Budapest card, we were also able to get discounts on a boat cruise down the Danube, so for about $30 per person, we went on a three hour boat cruise, timed to coincide with sunset, that also included a buffet and live music. This was a great way to experience the city, as we got to see it both at sunset and after dark, when all of the buildings, like the castle and parliament, were lit up. The food was a mix of some Hungarian staples along with some more American style food (fried chicken and French fries, anyone?) and a lovely dessert buffet as well. Make sure to go down to the docks in person, as that’s how you’ll get the best price.
Another option for cheap food in Budapest is the GoFree Waffle Bar — it is so tasty. I highly recommend the kiwi, pineapple, and caramel waffle if you’re in the mood for something sweet. I liked it so much that I went there twice!
Overall, Budapest was an amazing city to visit. Everyone that we interacted with in Hungary was so nice, and much more generous than they needed to be. It’s easy to stick to a pretty low budget, especially if you are strategic about your use of the Budapest Card. It was, by far, one of my favorite cities on this trip, and I can’t wait to go back again!