Budapest is a great destination for a city trip and I personally had a great time in the capital of Hungary. With this article I would like to tell you everything you need to know for your backpacking Budapest trip! With those Budapest travel tips, you’ll be perfectly prepared for your time in the city. You will find important backpacking tips and information about logistics, the currency, the internet, security, nightlife, and much more! And just to tell you already: during my visit, Budapest became one of my absolute favorite cities in Europe! It is definitely worth a visit. And with the following tips you are well prepared for your Budapest backpacking adventure!
How do I get to Budapest?
A city trip to Budapest can be done easily, because the capital of Hungary is fairly easy to reach. Of course, the quickest way to get to Budapest is by plane. The Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD) is well connected and it is also considered a hub for some low-cost carriers, such as Ryanair or WizzAir. Therefore, you may be able to come to Budapest for very little money. Although the airport is about 16 kilometers outside the center, the airport buses will take you quickly to Budapest (see more below).
I have a little warning regarding the airport in Budapest for your departure. Some gates (especially those that serve low-cost airlines) are located in an outdoor area on the runway. Here, you have to walk from the airport building for quite some time, then you are in an open warehouse in standing in rows, where you wait for your boarding. There are no toilets here, and it will also be cold in winter. I’ve really never seen anything like this at airports before. Do not worry – aside from this, the airport is okay, including the terminal. There are food courts, internet, cafés. But if you fly off one of these gates mentioned above, it gets uncomfortable quickly. So be prepared, if you are traveling with WizzAir or Ryanair. By the way, if you’re wondering from which terminal you’re departing from – at the airport, only Terminal 2 is currently operating for passenger aircrafts.
Alternatively, you can reach Budapest by bus, car, or train. But depending on your destination, you need a little patience and time – but you can also see that very quickly when looking at the world map. However, Budapest is also easily combined with other destinations in Europe. For example, after my stay in Graz, Vienna, and Bratislava I took the train to Budapest, which worked very well for me.
How do I get from the airport to the city center?
The most practical and cheapest way to get to the city center from Budapest Airport is by taking the airport bus number 100E. It leaves every 30 minutes and takes you directly to the Deák Ferenc téram metro station at Elisabeth Park. This will cost you 900 HUF (about 3 €) and the ride takes 35 minutes. Incidentally, I would avoid the 200E bus line, because this only goes to the Kobanya-Kispest metro station, from where you are again dependent on public transport to get to the center.
From Budapest to the airport it works in the other direction as well with bus line 100E. But here’s another important tip: when I arrived at the station, there was a fairly long queue in front of the ticket machine and a large crowd at the stop that did not fit into the first bus. It was a bit chaotic and my departure was delayed. So expect that it can take a little longer here and plan a half an hour buffer on the way to the airport, so nothing goes wrong.
I would avoid a taxi (or only consider one, if you are traveling with several people), because that will probably cost you just under 30 € to the city center.
Hostel recommendation for Budapest Backpackers
Are you still looking for a suitable accommodation for backpacking Budapest? Then I can highly recommend the Maverick City Lodge! In addition to dormitories, this hostel also has private rooms with private bathrooms (just like in a hotel). Maverick City Lodge is in a great location, right in the hip Jewish Quarter (District 7) and just 20 meters away from the famous Szimpla Ruins Bar. The staff are super friendly and gave me lots of information about the city. The internet was fast and worked well in the room, and everything was clean and modern. I had a great stay here and can only recommend this place. You can find out more about the prices and availabilities (book in advance) here!
Currency and Money in Budapest: Euros or HUF?
Maybe this will come as a surprise, but compared to some of the neighboring countries, they (still) have not adopted the euro, but use the forint (HUF) as currency in Hungary. Here you’ll also directly need your computing skills, because 1 € corresponds currently (as of summer 2019) about 325 forints. The easiest way is to always divide prices by 300. For example, 1000 HUF is about 3 €.
Fortunately, things are also made very easy for tourists in Budapest and many restaurants and stores write down the prices in both currencies, and you are often spared the mental arithmetic.
How to pay in Budapest: Cash or Cards?
Of course, with the different currency, it would be easiest to forego cash and just use your credit/debit card. Unfortunately, Hungary is not there yet. While you can easily pay by card in many places (such as restaurants and cafés), you’ll need cash elsewhere (for example, in many bars or public transport).
Yet another tip for Budapest: count and ensure your change is always right! Because you can be confused quickly by the different currency and a zero more or a zero less on the bill can make a big difference.
Withdrawing money in Budapest: Which ATMs to use
As just described, you will need to get the local currency, forint, for your Budapest city break. You can easily do this at the ATMs. But beware! Pay close attention to which ATMs you use.
Because you will soon realize that in Budapest the blue-yellow ATMs of Euronet are in every corner (see picture below). These are the ones you should avoid as much as possible. Because here you do get the money, but pay a hefty fee, so, after deducting the fee and the bad exchange rate, 15% of your amount is quickly gone. Incidentally, you will find these Euronet ATMs in many other cities in Eastern Europe and I would really let it go.
I give you the Budapest tip to withdraw money only in official banks of Budapest. For example, I used the OTP Bank and did not have any fees for the withdrawal.
Budapest travel tips: You can drink the tap water
I often find it annoying on my city trips, if I constantly have to search in supermarkets or overpriced kiosks to buy water bottles. You don’t have this problem in Budapest! Because you can easily drink the tap water here. That’s why I always have my reusable water bottle in my backpack, which I can easily fill in bathrooms in restaurants or in public water dispensers.
Best time for backpacking Budapest
Budapest is located in the middle of Europe and consequently there is a continental climate. Accordingly, the weather is quite extreme, with very hot summers and very cold winters. Personally, I visited Budapest in June, which was a great time. It was nice and sunny, but not too hot. However, it should be noted that it had rained from morning to evening the three weeks before my arrival. But you can probably steer away from something bad, because it is just a bit of luck.
Even spring and fall can be worthwhile for a Budapest city break, but during these months you can be as lucky as you can be unlucky and catch a period of sunshine or wind and rain. In winter you have a completely different experience in Budapest. Then it can get really cold in the city, especially in December, but you can see the beautiful Christmas markets, go ice skating in the parks, and enjoy the thermal baths in the freezing cold outside.
As you can see, the ideal season to travel to Budapest does not really exist, as each period brings advantages and disadvantages with it and you can always be lucky or unlucky. But I hope you have plenty of sunshine just like me – because then the city is twice as fun.
Safety in Budapest: Is the city safe?
Of course, I can only speak here about my subjective experiences. For me, however, Budapest was a safe destination and I have heard nothing different from other travelers. As everywhere else, you should of course take care of your valuables in markets that are overcrowded, and clubs as well as bars. But even at night I walked through the city by foot, and the streets in the center were always full of people.
Exploring Budapest by foot
At first glance, Budapest – considering it’s the capital of Hungary – seems very big. But you will soon realize that the city center is actually very easy to explore by foot. Most of the city’s attractions are easy to get along with and you’ll get a much better idea of the city than if you’re constantly dodging buses and metros. If the distances are a bit longer (for example to Heroes Square and the City Park or Margaret Island) Google Maps gives you reliable information on which buses or metro lines will get you to your destination the quickest. But you can be sure that your feet will hurt in the evening! On some days I covered up to 20 kilometers by foot!
How to use public transport in Budapest
As mentioned above, you can easily explore most of Budapest by foot. But if you want to travel longer distances, you can’t avoid the metro or the bus. Above all, a ride on the Metro Line 1 is particularly worthwhile, because this is Europe’s oldest metro and even a World Heritage Site. The easiest way to find your way is with Google Maps – here you will always be able to reliably choose your options for routes displayed. You buy the ticket directly on site – see below.
Incidentally, if you want to travel from the Pest side to the Castle District on the Buda side (to Matthias Church or Fisherman’s Bastion), then you can take bus number 16 directly at Elisabeth Square.
Incidentally, a ticket for public transport costs you 350 HUF (or 450 HUF if you buy it directly from the driver). If you want to change, you will need to buy a transfer ticket that is slightly more expensive. The airport shuttle bus for the 100E line costs as described 900 HUF. Otherwise, there are other options, such as a tag ticker or a weekly ticket – which most tourists will probably not need. An overview of all current prices and ticket options in Budapest can be found here.
Validate your metro and bus tickets
This is another very important tip for your Budapest vacation. You must still validate your tickets for the metro or the buses after the purchase, otherwise you risk a high fine. For this, you have to put the ticket in the small machine. The fine, if you accidentally miss doing that, is probably $ 55. And control is surprisingly frequent in public transport in Budapest.
Avoid taxis in Budapest
Personally, I have never gone to Budapest by taxi and would recommend you to avoid this. Because of locals I was advised against it. Apparently, the taxi drivers in Budapest are known for cheating tourists and vacationers and demanding too much money. As already described, you can explore Budapest on foot, otherwise I would dodge onto the metro and buses and avoid taxis. Uber is unfortunately not available, because the app was banned due to the taxi lobby. An alternative is the local app, Bolt (formerly Taxify).
Internet in Budapest: Getting a mobile SIM card
Finding internet or Wi-Fi is not difficult in Budapest and you will soon realize that every café, every restaurant, and every bar offers free internet. Of course, to be even more flexible, mobile internet is also worthwhile.
Good news! Due to the new EU rules, data roaming is now free and you can also easily use your German SIM card with Internet reception in Hungary. Alternatively, you can also buy a local SIM card, because in Hungary, mobile internet is much cheaper than in Germany. There are a few vendors available; I opted for Telenor and bought a SIM card that included 10 GB of data in an official store for little money. All I needed was my passport, and within a few minutes everything was done.
Best viewpoints when backpacking Budapest
No matter which city I explore – I always take it upon myself to look for the best viewpoints and the best panorama. Fortunately, there are some places in Budapest that offer a fantastic view of the city. I would like to introduce you to them now!
Especially in the late afternoon or early evening, it is worthwhile to tackle the short hike (20-30 minutes) from the end of the Elisabeth Bridge on the Buda side to the Gellert Hill. Because on the Gellertberg you have one of the best vantage points in Budapest! Here you can see both sides of the city with the Danube in the middle. And when the sun goes down slowly, the panorama is even more beautiful.
You should also not miss the view of the Pest side of the city from the castle palace. Directly above the cable car station, you have a fantastic view of the Chain Bridge and you can also see the parliament building. If you walk a bit further, the Fisherman’s Bastion also gives you another great view of the city.
Now another Budapest secret tip: the St. Stephen’s Basilica is not only impressive from the outside, but it is also worth a visit to the dome! You pay a small entrance fee (500 HUF) and then you can go over the spiral staircase or the elevator to the balcony of the dome. Incidentally, you should do this in the morning, because that’s the time the buildings are most beautifully illuminated by the sun.
Exploring Budapest with a free walking tour
Whether in London, Dublin, Madrid, or Barcelona – a “free walking tour” is always at the top of my list when I visit a city for the first time. If you do not know the concept, here’s a little explanation: Most cities now offer tours where a fun guide takes you or your group through the city. The special thing about it? Unlike “classic” city tours, you do not pay a fixed price. After the tour, a tip is expected and you can decide how much you want to give. Usually, depending on the country and group size, 5-10 € per person.
Since your guide needs the tip, he will also be particularly entertaining and motivated to show you around his city. So far, I have had only really good experiences with the Free Walking Tours and for a first impression this is a great option.
Also in Budapest, there is a free walking tour that starts twice daily (at 10:30 and 14:30). The meeting point for this is the St. Stephen’s Basilica – but look again on the official website before, for up-to-date information. As part of this tour I walked 2.5 hours through the city, and the end was at the Matthias Church. My guide, Szabi, was really entertaining and told us a lot about Budapest – a clear recommendation!
Backpacking Budapest Budget: How expensive is the city?
Generally speaking, Budapest is a cheap travel destination in Europe and you can explore the city for a lot less money than in, say, London or Dublin. In general, the entrance fees to most attractions are comparatively cheap and often cost not more than a few euros. It is always difficult to have an exact budget. Here I would like to show you some classic cost points for a Budapest city trip.
- Night in hostel: about 15-25 €
- Beer in a bar: about 2 €
- Dinner: about 7-12 €
- Snack: about 3-5 €
- Metro ticket: about 1 €
- Day Spa in Thermal Spa (Szechenyi): about 17 €
- Dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica: € 1.50
Nightlife when backpacking Budapest
In addition to the historical and cultural attractions of the city, the nightlife in Budapest is great! Even though you may not have come to Budapest to celebrate, I suggest you check out the city’s unique ruin bars. At the turn of the millennium, many of the then almost decayed, empty houses and buildings were converted into alternative, hip bars. The most famous one is the Szimpla Kert Ruinenbar. This two-storey complex with a large courtyard consists of various rooms and bar areas, some of which are quite bizarre and alternatively furnished. It’s worth a visit!
In addition to Szimpla Kert, there are also some other ruin bars. By the way, most of them are located in the Jewish district (the 7th district), which is probably the center of the nightlife in Budapest and where you can switch from one bar to another.
By the way: Budapest is a popular destination for stag / hen parties. Accordingly, you will find countless hordes of men and women in the city, drunk and often dragged through the streets during the day and let it really crack. Generally, Budapest is well-known for cheap alcohol and a wild nightlife, and that is a favorite with many tourists.
Budapest travel tips: Enjoy the green areas and parks
In addition to all the churches, castles, and historic buildings, Budapest also has some idyllic parks where you can relax a bit from sightseeing. Right next to the Heroes’ Square and the Szechenyi Thermal Bath is the City Park, which also houses the zoo and the Vajdahunyad Castle.
A great place for a leisurely afternoon is Margaret Island, which is located just north of the Danube. On one of the two bridges (either south or north of the island) you can reach Margaret Island by foot and walk for miles. Margaret Island also has some attractions to offer, such as the dancing fountains and the Japanese garden.
Cheap eats and food in Budapest
Hungarian cuisine offers some delicious dishes and snacks that you should try during your Budapest city break. The most famous food from Hungary is probably the goulash, but that’s not all! Bean soup with ham and sour cream, chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage leaves, mushroom stew with dumplings, and – it might sound a bit strange – cold fruit soup!
You should also try langosch, a great snack, in between. But I also have a secret for you: only a few minutes behind the basilica you will find the food stand “Retro Langosch”, where you get a super tasty langosch (flat or rolled) for little money.
Travel tips for Budapest: Relax in the thermal baths and spas
Budapest is famous for the thermal baths and spas of the city – the water of the natural springs in Budapest is said to have healing effects! You should definitely visit one of these baths in Budapest. They usually offer various pools and saunas, both indoors and outdoors. One of the most famous spas I have visited is the Széchenyi Spa in the city park. Two other very popular and beautiful thermal baths are the Rudas Bath and the Gellert Bath, on the Buda side of the city right in front of the Gellertberg. Normally admission costs just under € 20 for a day pass, and if you book online in advance, you can skip the queue at the entrance. You should bring flip-flops, swimwear, and a towel!
Explore Budapest at night
Sure, Budapest is beautiful by day. But even after a long day sightseeing you should use your city trip to take a night stroll through Budapest, because many of the city’s buildings (in fact over 150!) are beautifully lit. Above all, of course, you have the parliament and the castle palace. You probably have the best view of nightly Budapest from the two sides of the Danube bank as well as from the bridges of the city. Believe me – Budapest looks quite different at night and a reconnaissance trip is well worth it.
My summary about backpacking in Budapest
I hope my Budapest travel tips help prepare you well for your upcoming backpacking trip. I definitely liked Budapest and I am sure (and hope) that you will have a great experience in the city as well. Let me know in the comments, if you have a note or want to pass on an insider tip that I might have missed. Otherwise, I wish you a lot of fun on your Budapest backpacking adventure!