10 free things to do in Budapest to enjoy priceless experiences
Photo : Norbert Juhász/We Love Budapest
04/5/2017, 5:12 PM●7-minute article
From lighthearted vagabonds to upscale holidaymakers to long-term residents, people from all walks of life want to make the most of their stay in Budapest. Regardless of our backgrounds, everyone has one thing in common: we all appreciate free things to do. Luckily, the Magyar metropolis has an exciting mix of attractions that provide priceless experiences without costing a single forint, including visiting major landmarks that have no entry charge, prowling great galleries gratis, or attending complimentary concerts at Budapest’s ruin bars, among many other amazing no-budget activities.
Admire Hungary’s most revered relic at St. Stephen’s Basilica
One of the city’s key landmarks gracefully towers above downtown’s Szent István Square, where a monumental dome crowns a stunning shrine. Entry to St. Stephen’s Basilica is free of charge – except during special concert events – and everyone who visits this elaborately ornate church can admire a rich collection of remarkable artworks, the building’s celestial stained-glass windows, and the immense pipe organ that fills the entire building with stimulating sounds. However, the country’s most sacred relic, the mummified Holy Right Hand of Hungary’s founding king St. Stephen, is also housed here in a glass showcase found in a chamber behind the altar, and anyone can view this fascinating millennium-old appendage for no charge during a Basilica visit.
The sprawling parkland of Margaret Island is free to visit anytime, and this green oasis of the city is complete with various sites that are open for anyone without having to pay an entry fee, including a fascinating Japanese garden, playgrounds, and numerous sports facilities, such as a five-kilometer rubberized running track and an outdoor gym. However, one of the park’s most spectacular attractions is an illuminated musical fountain that plays popular songs at the top of every hour from 11am through 9pm – and during the melodious sessions, high-rising aqua jets create rhythmic formations in sync with the music. The fountain operates from May 1st through October 31st.
The movement to promote a healthy lifestyle is experiencing a renaissance in the Magyar metropolis, and ever-more farmers’ markets are popping up at unexpected locations citywide, offering organic, non-processed, and natural foodstuffs to city dwellers. Week after week, local producers gather at many of the city’s hippest hangouts to sell their goods, and they oftentimes offer free samples to marketgoers who can happily feast on a mix of treats during just one market visit, including slivers of scrumptious homemade cakes, dabs of creamy vegan dips, tastes of piquant truffles, chunks of succulent cheeses, splotches of sweet marmalade, or even nibbles of smoked ham and sausages. Farmers’ markets are happening every Saturday at Czakó Kert, and every Sunday at Szimpla and Élesztő, while on one Sunday every month, Anker’t transforms into a vegan food festival.
Most of the museums in Budapest require visitors to pay entry fees – except on the national holidays of March 15th, August 20th, and October 23rd, when some museums offer free entry – but the Hungarian capital has lots of art galleries that cost nothing to enter. From classic canvases that Hungary’s most revered painters used to express emotions in centuries past to surreal installations by contemporary artists from Budapest and beyond, many types of art styles can be admired in these mini-museums that offer inspiring cultural escapades. There are entire thoroughfares in both Buda and Pest that are lined with a selection of charming art galleries, including Falk Miksa Street in District V and Bartók Béla Avenue in Buda’s District XI.
Feel serenity at the Hopp Ferenc Museum’s Oriental garden
Hidden in plain sight on Budapest’s Andrássy Avenue, a slice of Asian culture is encapsulated at the Hopp Ferenc Museum, where temporary exhibitions provide insight into centuries-old Asiatic artworks. While visitors must pay to view the collection inside the building, the museum’s recently refurbished Oriental garden is open all year round and is free to visit on an ordinary day, when no special program is organized in the courtyard. Featuring a restored Jain shrine from India, a statue of Brahma, and a Moon Gate from South China, a visit to this sedate spot is a spirit-lifting jaunt, where anyone can take a few moments to themselves and break out from buzzing city life for awhile.
Attend free concerts in ruin pubs and at open-mic nights
Budapest’s revered ruin bars – including the guidebook-superstar Szimpla, the unpretentious ELLÁTÓház, or the recently merged Fogas Házand Instant clubs – offer free entry to guests, and evenings inside these dilapidated hangouts are often enhanced with concert programs of local and international musicians. Thanks to an initiative that supports talented performers from around the world, every week from Sunday to Friday open-mic nights spice up the scene at many of the city’s popular locales, where anyone can stand in the spotlight for a few minutes while performing music, comedy, or poetry on stage, with no two events ever being the same. For the detailed schedule of these programs, visit the Budapest Open Mic Facebook page.
Named after Kincsem – one of Hungary’s most successful thoroughbred race horses – Budapest’s premier horse racecourse is a sprawling circuit close to the city center, where those who enjoy equine sports can cheer on the steeds and jockeys amid adrenaline-boosting settings. While attending some of the grand events and shows organized at this vast parkland may set you back a few hundred forints, ordinarily we don’t have to pay to see a race here, so visitors can instead spend the cash that they saved on the entrance fee on betting on a stallion, or simply sit back and enjoy the spectacle for free. Kincsem Park is easily accessible from downtown Budapest; just take metro line 2 to Örs Vezér Square, where you need to switch to bus line 100 that takes passengers by the track.
The Hungarian capital boasts many monumental sights for visitors to discover, and even those who live in the city always find attractions that shine anew after a thorough refurbishment or after being improved with a fresh addition. Luckily, many of the city’s postcard-superstar landmarks cost nothing to see – even inside – including several churches like St. Stephen’s Basilica, while numerous sites are popular destinations for their panorama, history, or architecture. Among these attractions, you can leave your wallet behind before paying a visit to the statuesque monument at Heroes’ Square, to the cobblestoned Castle Districtand its panoramic Fishermen’s Bastion, to the Citadel atop Gellért Hill surrounded by sweeping city vistas, or to any of the city’s beautiful bridges connecting Buda and Pest.
The easiest way to explore Budapest is by signing up for a sightseeing program with a trained guide that takes groups around major Budapest landmarks. Guided excursions are organized by many tour companies that take visitors on buses, boats, or on foot in front of several city sights, but free walking tours are your best bet if you are navigating Budapest without a deep pocket. Free Budapest Walking Tours offers complimentary strolls multiple times a day to key sights, while during thematic tours, groups are provided with glimpses into Budapest’s communist past or into the secrets of the city’s Jewish Quarter – and additionally, Free Budapest Tours also organizes similar expeditions around town. However, if you take one of these tours and found the excursion worthwhile, your tour guide will certainly appreciate any tip you can offer.
Happening at downtown Budapest’s popular jazz hangout – a club that houses a concert hall, a bar, and a restaurant – complimentary performances entertain jazz aficionados during the free jam-session events that animate weekday and weekend nights. On Mondays, young musicians of the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music present joyful jam sessions, while on each Wednesday a different trio of talented performers is in charge to provide good vibes. The weekend jam nights are filled with astonishing performers, when renowned Hungarian musicians create random formations and play true bebop to entertain the Budapest Jazz Club audience. Other venues that often offer free music performances include A38 and Pótkulcs.