Budapest – the best and cheapest capital in Europe for a weekend trip

The Basics

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is a beautiful, historic city straddling the Danube River in Central Europe. Although it has kept its own currency (the Hungarian Forint), it is part of the EU, so most European citizens (and some others) do not need a visa to visit. The rate of pounds to Forints has been on the increase for some time and is seeing a two-year high right now. So, it’s cheaper to visit at the moment, though it may not stay that way! Top tip: although you can pay with euros in a lot of places, you’re much better off using the local currency whenever you can, as the value is much better.

Travel

The cost of hotels and airfare has gone down from last year – if you time it right, you can find return flights for as little as £40 at the moment. It only takes around 2 and a half hours from Manchester or London, and there are plenty of direct flights from major airports. Not too bad when you consider that the train to London from Manchester takes just a little less than that, and costs at least twice as much. Hotels are certainly cheaper than our capital, too, with budget hotel rooms coming in at around £20-35 a night, and fancier establishments at £70- 105. Though these prices do depend somewhat on the season, they’re still generally cheaper than your standard Premier Inn!

Food

Budapest is known as one of the food capitals of Europe for a reason! We’ve all heard of Goulash, right? It’s the Hungarian dish that’s probably the best known, but there is so much more to the foody scene in Budapest. The city offers street food, local eateries, cooking classes, culinary tours and even Michelin-starred restaurants. There is also a market entirely dedicated to food (The Great Market Hall) in which you can find pretty much anything your heart (or stomach) desires. As well as the Gulyás (Goulash), get your teeth into Töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage), Halászlé (Fisherman’s soup) and Sült kolbász (fried sausage). Budapest also has a big café culture, so there are plenty of opportunities for tasty coffees and pastries.

Food at a good, cheap “fast-food” place (no, we are not talking about McDonalds) will cost around £2-3 a meal, gyros (the Hungarian take on the original Greek version of our well-known kebab) about £1.35, while a meal at a high end Michelin-starred restaurant will set you back between £11 and £30 (say whaaat?!)

Drink

Although Hungary isn’t particularly known for its beer, microbreweries are on the increase and craft beers are starting to abound. Beer is cheap – around £1 for a mug of draught beer or 50p per small bottle in the shops – and those who are interested can attend a Craft Beer Walk (though we can’t guarantee you’ll be walking by the end of it…). On the other hand, one thing Hungary is known for is its vineyards. Okay, maybe not so much on the UK scene, but trust me, try the wine! A good quality glass should cost around £1.50 – not too much to pay for an introduction into your new favourite tipple, is it?

Another fantastic part of Budapest’s drinking culture are the “ruin pubs” – essentially, they’ve repurposed derelict old buildings into cheap and (shabby) chic drinking establishments. They can be anywhere from old abandoned cinemas to empty car parks, and depending on the place, often eerie but very cool. They are a huge hit for any weekender. Not sure where to start? Join a Tipsy Budapest Tour!

Things to do

The best things in life are free, right? Well, so are the best sights in Budapest. It is one of the most historic places in Europe, having been home to humans since the Stone Age, and it shows. Both the beautiful Danube River on which it the city is situated, and the Buda Castle, are UNESCO heritage sites. There are plenty of amazing things to see just walking around. The buildings are a huge variety of Roman, Gothic and Turkish styles, fantastic to look at even if you’re not an architecture geek. A boat trip on the Danube is one of the best ways to see the sights in their full glory. A cruise plus a buffet lunch or dinner and live music is usually around £20-30.

Another of the big draws are the thermal spas/hot springs, with more than a thousand throughout the city. Budapest has a bathing culture that goes back to Roman times. Thermal baths are a lovely way to relax after a long day on your feet exploring the city. They aren’t just hot water though – there are tons of different styles of bath to discover, from the original Turkish bathhouses, through Neo-Baroque, to Art Nouveau extravaganzas – all said to have healing properties. There are indoor and outdoor options, so you can temper your experience depending on how brave you feel (and whether temperatures are reaching below freezing!). On weekends throughout the summer, pool parties are held at some of the biggest ones.

Who doesn’t love a festival? Hungary certainly does – there are festivals for everything! Wine, beer, food, cheese, chocolate, dance, jazz… you name it. Find out what’s coming up and get down there mingling with the locals. It’s a great chance to try out authentic local cuisines and pass times, and maybe even make some new friends. And don’t forget the legendary Christmas Markets! Last Christmas they decorated every tram with thousands of fairy lights. Why can’t we do that?

If you’re interested in Hungary’s history, take a look at The House of Terror, which has a series of haunting exhibits showing Hungary’s relationship with Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Visit Memento Park, home to 40 statues discarded by the former-socialist world, the Great Synagogue and the Royal Palace. If none of that is your thing, you can even play live Escape the Room games!

Visit!

Last but not least, the best thing about a place is usually its people. Budapest was voted most welcoming European city in 2014, which is something you just can’t put a price on. So if we’ve not convinced you by now that Budapest is somewhere to at least consider putting on your holiday to-do list, I’m not sure what will. You’ve got food, drink, culture, history, charm and relaxation, all on a budget. Now you just need to plan carefully to make sure you can fit it all in…

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