DANCING PANDAS

Journaling The Journey

25 Free and Fun things to see and do in Budapest

After hearing so many amazing things about the Paris of the East, it surprisingly surpassed even our expectations. Budapest is a beautiful large city sitting proudly on both sides of the Danube river. It’s personality sparkles due to it’s architecture, green spaces, art, history and diversity. There are so many free and fun things to see and do in Budapest. We are sharing all the ones we found with you!

Walking around Buda Castle a great free and fun thing to do in Budapest
Walking around Buda Castle

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, was created in 1873 by the merger of three cities: Buda, Óbuda and Pest. Buda is west of the Danube, Obuda is an island on the Danube and Pest is east of the Danube. Signs of early habitation date back to the Stone Age. And known history of Budapest begins with the Roman town of Aquincum, founded around 89 AD.

Even though the city is quite inexpensive we were amazed by how many free and fun things we found to see and do in Budapest. Here is our list:

Summer Concerts

Vajdahunyad Castle - A venue for free Concerts on the list of free and fun things to see and do in Budapest
Vajdahunyad Castle – A venue for free Concerts

Of all the free and fun things to see and do in Budapest, I think our favorite are the concerts. 2019 is the 5th year that Zenelo Budapest has brought these free concerts to the city. This summer, between June 1st and August 18th, 16 locations will offer 600 free, open-air concerts.

St. Stephen's Basilica - a venue for free concerts
St. Stephen’s Basilica – a venue for free concerts

The concerts create a unique atmosphere with the help of both classical and pop music at locations loved by city dwellers and tourists alike. Some of the venues include Vajdahunyad Castle, Saint Stephen’s Basilica, Hungarian National Gallery, Kunsthalle and the Castle Garden Bazaar. There are concerts for young children, for youth, adults, etc., and for many different music tastes. Take a look at their website for specific times and venues.

Ruins Bars

Szimpla Ruins Pub - first floor inside.
Szimpla Ruins Pub

We fell in love with the quirky and eccentric culture of ruin bars. Finding and experiencing different ones throughout the Jewish Quarter was one of our favorite free and fun things to see and do in Budapest.

Budapest ruin pubs have been a part of the drinking culture for over a dozen years. Every one is unique but, more often than not, a ruin pub in Budapest will have a rundown and slightly sketchy exterior that completely contradicts the vibrant colors and unique ambiance you’ll find inside. Filled with second hand furniture and nearly anything funky picked off the curb, these formerly abandoned buildings are now pretty integral to Budapest. And it all seems to have started in the city’s 7th district” – the Jewish Quarter.

Szimpla Ruins Pub art inside
Szimpla Ruins Pub

From our perspective the Szimpla Pub was the most eclectic and interesting. The pub started as a place for people to find a cheap drink in a relaxed environment, but has grown to become a tourist attraction and community center. The pub hosts free community events like movie screenings, live music, an art gallery, the Kazinczy Living Library, the Szimpla Farmers’ Market (Sundays), and the Szimpla Bringa bicycle flea market (very inexpensive bike sales and rentals).

Funky Szimpla Ruins Pub - patrons drinking in bathtubs.  One of our favorite free things to see and do in Budapest.
Funky Szimpla Ruins Pub – patrons drinking in bathtubs

No one seemed to care if you ordered a drink or not. Many just strolled through the various exhibits throughout the large 2 story building. Some people brought their computer and sat in a corner enjoying the free wifi and ambiance.

Budapest Original Walking Tour

Matthias Church part of the free and fun things to see and do in Budapest through the free walking tour
Matthias Church

This free and fun walking tour is a great way to see and do the major sites of Budapest. The sites covered are:

Major sites

  •  Danube Promenade
  •  Municipal Concert Hall
  •  Gresham Palace
  •  Academy of Hungarian Sciences
  •  St.Stephen’s Basilica
  •  Chain Bridge
  •  Castle District
  •  Royal Palace
  •  Matthias Church
  •  Fisherman Bastion

Starts daily at 10:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m.
Meeting point: All tours leave from Elisabeth square – 15 meters from the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel, in the shady park.
Length: 2.5-3 hours – covers about 2.5 miles (~ 3.5 kilometers)
No pre-booking is required for groups of 8 people traveling together or less
For groups of more than 8 people they offer private tours (booking is required). No tours: Dec.24 at 2.30 p.m, Dec.25. Jan.01, Aug.20 at 2:30 p.m.

Evening Walking Tour

Budapest Downtown part of the free walking tour
Budapest Downtown

This is a shorter free walking tour than the day one. It offers a different perspective to the traditional tour and is well worth the time. Here are the sites that are covered on this shorter tour:

Major sites

  •  Danube Promenade
  •  Downtown area
  •  Inner City Parish Church
  •  Great Market Hall
  •  Liberty Bridge

Starts daily at 6:30 p.m. No tours between Jan.7-Mar.31.
Meeting point: All tours leave from Elisabeth square – 15 meters from the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel, in the shady park.
Length: 1-1.5 hours – covers about 1.5 miles. ( ~ 2 kilometers)
No pre-booking required for groups of  up to 8 people travelling together
A minimum of 3 people are required No tours: Dec. 24th, Dec. 25th, Dec. 31st, Jan. 1st.

Communist Walking Tour

Communist walking tour patrons ready for Armageddon.
Communist Walking Tour Patrons

This free walking tour discusses what life was like for the people of Budapest during the Communist occupation. How it affected most people over the age of 30 still living in this city. Sites of this interactive and very informative walk include:

Major sites

  •  Physical areas of the 1956 uprising
  •  Bronze Bullet Memorial
  •  Flag with the Hole
  •  Eternal Flame
  •  Secret Exit of a Military Bunker
  • The last Communist Memorial
  • Symbols of “Soviet Friendship”

Starts daily 10:00 a.m. & 3:30 p.m. No 3.30 p.m. tours between Jan. 7-Mar. 31
Meeting point:  All tours leave from Elisabeth square. 15 meters from the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel, in the shady park.
Length: 2 hours – 2.5 hours – covers about 1.5 miles. ( ~ 2,5 kilometers)
No pre-booking is required for groups of 8 people traveling together or less
For groups of more than 8 people they offer private tours (booking is required). No tours:  Dec. 24th at 3.30 p.m. Dec. 25th, Jan. 01., Aug. 20. at 3:30 p.m.

Jewish District Walk

Within the Jewish Quarter antique and vintage shops abound.
Jewish Quarter – Antique and Vintage Shops

This free walking tour is an introduction to the rich past of the historical Jewish quarter.  After spending quite a bit of time in Jerusalem and at sites of Polish concentration camps this was a very meaningful tour.

Major sites

  •  Dohány street Grand Synagogue
  •  Kazinczy street Orthodox Synagogue
  •  Rombach street Synagogue
  •  Gozsdu Courtyard
  •  Wallenberg Memorial Park
  •  Last piece of the ghetto wall Entry fees for the temples are not included and the inside of the synagogues are not part of the tour

Starts daily at 10:00 a.m. & 3:30 p.m. No 3.30 p.m. tours between Jan. 7-Mar. 31
Meeting point:  All tours leave from Elisabeth square. 15 meters from the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel, in the shady park.
Length: 2 – 2.5 hours – covers about 1.5 miles (~ 2.5 kilometers)
No pre-booking is required for groups of 8 people traveling together or less
For groups of more than 8 people they offer private tours (booking is required). No tours:  Dec. 24th at 3.30 p.m. Dec. 25th, Jan. 01., Aug. 20. at 3:30 p.m.

Street Art & Urban Art Tour

Street Art in Budapest is a free and fun way to spend a day.
Street Art in Budapest

This free and fun walking tour shows off the the colorful Street Art of the Jewish quarter which are must see and do things in Budapest. It also reveals a recent innovation created by local graffiti artists.

Murals seen during this walk

  •  Sissy
  •  Hungarian invention: Rubik’s cube
  •  Famous 6:3 football game played by Hungary and England
  •  Polish-Hungarian friendship
  •  Cover of Time magazine in 1957
  •  And many more…

Starts daily at 3:30 p.m.
Meeting point:  All tours leave from Elisabeth square. 15 meters from the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel, in the shady park.
Length: 2 – 2.5 hours – covers about 1.5 miles (~ 2.5 kilometers)
No pre-booking is required for groups of 8 people traveling together or less
For groups of more than 8 people they offer private tours (booking is required). No tours:  Dec. 24th., Dec. 25th, Jan. 01., Aug. 20

Street Art of a moose in Budapest
Street Art in Budapest

Avenue and Heroes’ Square Walk

Széchenyi Thermal Bath part of the free and fun tour in Budapest
Széchenyi Thermal Bath

This is a free and fun walking tour which covers many must see and do sites in Budapest listed below:

Major sites visited

  •  The UNESCO World Heritage site Andrássy Avenue aka the Hungarian Champs Élysèes
  •  State Opera House
  •  Hungarian Broadway & Soho
  •  Oktogon square & the Grand boulevard
  •  House of Terror
  •  Hidden farmer’s market
  •  Heroes’ Square
  •  Vajdahunyad Castle
  •  Széchenyi Thermal Bath
  •  The Millenium Underground

Starts daily at 10:00 a.m.
Meeting point: All tours leave from Elisabeth square. 15 meters from the Budapest Eye Ferris wheel, in the shady park.
Length: 2 – 2.5 hours – covers about 1.9 miles (3 kilometers)
No pre-booking is required for groups of 8 people traveling together or less
For groups of more than 8 people they offer private tours (booking is required). No tours:  Dec. 24th., Dec. 25th, Jan. 01., Aug. 20

Although all of these walking tours are free to the public, we do make sure to tip the guide (if we found the tour to be useful).

Citadel

Statue on Gellert Hill
Statue on Gellert Hill

The Citadel located at the top of Gellert Hill is a wonderful place to go for a free and fun run or hike to catch amazing views of Budapest and see things on the way up. The balconies provide unique vistas along the way as do the different sculptures and artifacts. At the top there is a park, a small souvenir shopping and eating area as well as the famous Liberty Statue.

Views from the Citadel
Views from the Citadel

This fortress has been used and abused by Austrians, Nazis and Soviets. It was a perfect surveillance spot due to it’s magnificent vistas. To this day the Liberty monument is a memory of not only liberty but also of historical oppression.

The Citadel itself is a U-shaped 19th century fortress of about 220 meters long, 60 meters wide, and 4 meters tall. It has 60 cannon placements – basically taking up the whole plateau of Gellert Hill.  A great place to bring a picnic and watch down over Budapest below.

Cave Church

Cave Church built into the rock of Gellert Hill is a great free and fun thing to see and do in Budapest.
Cave Church

The Cave Church is literally built into the karst rocks of Gellert Hill. It was founded in 1926 as the ‘Rock Church’ and is not a historical monument but a functioning church of the Hungarian Pauline Order. Given this, it is free to the public to enter.

Margaret Island

Margaret Island in the distance of Budapest.
Margaret Island in the distance

Located on the Danube River, between Buda and Pest, verdant Margaret Island is a tranquil getaway within the city.

Shaded pedestrian promenades navigate around manicured parkland with many areas to explore:

Musical Fountain

The musical fountain on Margaret Island is one of the 25 free and fun things to do in Budapest.
Musical Fountain

Margaret Island has a fun and refreshing musical fountain with shows on the hour from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. The fountain dances, spraying water high up in sync with varied musical accompaniment. After nightfall, spectacular light shows entertain as photos are projected on a special water curtain, portraying Hungarian iconography.

Each summer the set list is revamped, and includes current international hits, timeless Hungarian tunes, songs for kids and classical pieces. Bring your beloved and steal a kiss when Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ comes on.

During the summer the free and fun Musical Fountain is a must see and do destination in Budapest.

Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens have been recently renovated on Margaret Island. This serene green space is filled with lush greenery and meandering walkways. The koi pond in the center of the gardens has a few bronze statues and lotus blossoms as well as a small waterfall. It is a lovely place to sit and reflect or enjoy a picnic.

Ruins on Margaret Island

Margaret Islands colorful gardens
Margaret Island Gardens

Set in a peaceful, wooded pak in the middle of the island there are a few ruins. The first are of a 13th-century Franciscan Monastery and the second of a 13th -century Dominican Convent. There is not much left of these ruins, but they are pleasant to walk through if you are already on the island.

Summertime brings pop-up bars and restaurants, as well as live music to Margaret Island. There is also a flat, cushy 5.3 km jogging track encircling the island.

City Park

Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park is a great free and fun thing to see and do in Budapest.
Vajdahunyad Castle

This is an English style and largest city park in Budapest that had strange beginnings. Prior to the 18th century the area was a swamp and at times was used for hunting by noblemen. In the 18th century the Emperor ordered trees to be planted and created one of the first public parks in the world.

City Park with the artificial city lake
City Park with Artificial Lake

On one end of the park is the Vajdahunyad Castle, which now houses the Museum of Agriculture and on the other is the Heroes’ Square. The park has a small lake and many trails to wonder and experience.

Sunset on a Bridge

Liberty Bridge in Budapest is a great place to watch the sunset.
Liberty Bridge

The Liberty Bridge is a local and tourist gathering place for the daily sunset. Even though bridge notices clearly state that there is no climbing onto the bridge, many seem to do it. Usually they are there with a “beverage” of choice in hand. No one seems to mind.

It is a fabulous place to see the sun disappear over Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church. The sights are beautiful on their own but seeing the sky turn stunning shades of pink and purple makes for a lovely stop. 

Chain bridge as seen from Buda Castle.
Chain Bridge

If you are uncomfortable sitting on the bridge, the Pest Quay is a good alternative to watch the sunset as is the Chain Bridge.

Museums

Kunsthalle - Museum of Fine Arts
Museum of Fine Arts

Museums are free for ALL on Hungarian national holidays:

Museum of Fine Arts : free visits on March 15th; August 20th and October 23rd
Hungarian National Gallery, Buda Castle: free visits on March 15th; August 20th and October 23rd
Hungarian National Museum: free visits on March 15th; August 20th and October 23rd
Museum of Hungarian Agriculture: free visits on March 15th; August 20th and October 23rd

Free for EU citizens under 26:

Hungarian National Gallery: every 3rd Saturday of the month for visitors under 26 and for children (under 18) accompanied by two close relatives
Museum of Fine Arts: Every third Saturday of each month visitors under 26 and children under 18 with max. two accompanying adults National Museum: every 3rd Saturday of the month for visitors under 26 and for children (under 18) accompanied by two close relatives Military Museum: last Sunday of every month for visitors under 26 and for children (under 18) accompanied by two close relatives

Check with the tourist office or your hostel’s reception for a full list as the website and links for most of these museums change frequently.

Galleries

Cafe's in the Jewish District among many galleries
Cafe’s in the Jewish District

There are numerous free art galleries scattered throughout the city. Each catering to the unique tastes of their patrons which include paintings, photographs and sculptures.

Art Market Budapest

This international art fair was established in 2011. It is dubbed one of the most free and fun things to do in Budapest which we sadly missed. The dates for the fair are October 3rd – 6th, 2019. The goal of the fair is to bring together both established and emerging artists into the limelight.

Telep Art Gallery

Found inside a cafe/bar this gallery is the epicenter for the Budapest underground art scene and focuses on emerging Hungarian artists. The second floor has a vintage and designer clothing store.

This link has numerous other exhibits for 2019. Take a look at the pricing as some of them are free.

Great Market Hall

Great Market Hall is a free and fun thing to see and do in Budapest
Great Market Hall

The Great Market Hall was built in 1897 and is also referred to as the Central Market Hall (there are other markets throughout Budapest so don’t get confused). If you love fresh goods, people watching, shopping, photo opportunities or just sightseeing in amazing places, this is a great place to visit.

We stumbled upon it as we were running from a torrential rain storm. It was dry and lovely inside. Many of the stalls offer something free to taste and prices for goods and very fresh produce seemed reasonable.

There are also guided tours with tastings but these start at 20 Euros per person.

Shoes on the Danube

Shoes on the Danube – Photo by Mika on Unsplash

The Shoes on the Danube is a memorial created on the east bank of the Danube River by film director Can Togay with sculptor Gyula Pauer to honor the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during WWII.

They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away by the current. The memorial represents their shoes left behind on the bank.

This is a great place to sit and reflect. Some folks take advantage of the cooling effect of the water and choose the steps for sunbathing purposes or to have a picnic.

Visit Szentendre Village

Szentendre is a picturesque town on the Danube River approximately 30 min by bus or train north of Budapest. It’s known for its baroque architecture, churches, colorful houses and narrow, cobblestone streets.

The main square, Fő Tér, and the alleyways around it are lined with art galleries, museums and shops. Just off the square, the 18th-century Greek Orthodox Blagovestenska Church has elaborate decor and an ornate partition screen.

Winter – Skating Rinks

Winter Skating in Budapest – Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

During the winter there are many free skating rinks available to the public. The Óbuda, Main Square Skating Rink is open usually between the end of November and beginning of March, daily between 8:00 a.m. and 10 p.m. If you do not have your own ice skates, you can rent them there.

It is part of the Obuda Program Series, offering free concerts, puppet shows, handicrafts and cookie making sessions.

Volunteer at Noah’s Ark

Masha petting a Hungarian Komodor dog
Hungarian Komodor

Noah’s Ark Animal Shelter Foundation is the largest animal shelter in Hungary. It has been actively rescuing abandoned, tortured and abused animals since 1992. The shelter provides a home for approximately 1000 animals: dogs, cats, goats, sheep, emus, rabbits, guinea pigs, hens, ducks, geese, wild boars, raccoons, horses, red deer, pigeons, turtles, cattle, crows, foxes and martens. They all live in the 5 hectare area.

On Saturday’s they welcome volunteers to come and help with the dogs. It is a wonderful way to give back and spend some time with some of the most grateful and loving pets.

We truly fell in love with Budapest. During our time there we barely spent any money! I hope you can take advantage of our 25 free and fun things to see and do in Budapest. If you have found others or have comments, please drop us a line so that we can keep adding to the list or revising it.

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5 Comments

  1. Hay guys – you saw more in Budapest then we did a couple of years ago – and I am Hungarian. If you get a chance to see Szeged there is a historic village with ancient buildings and a circlerama depicting their old kings. I think it’s called: Ópusztaszer Heritage Park (NE of Szeged). Enjoy the rest of your trip in other eastern lands once inside the Magyar Empire.

    1. Thanks so much, Joe! Yeah, we totally fell in love with Budapest. It is a very special place as far as big cities go.

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