That dream European vacation can often seem tantalizing out of reach, particularly for frugal travelers who aren’t interested in breaking the bank. Yet even though some of the staples of Europe like Paris, London and Rome can be extremely costly to visit, options like Prague, Istanbul, and Athens offer stunning visuals and cultural flavor without the incredible credit card bills at the end of the trip. In the same boat, Budapest, Hungary is not only one of the most enchanting European destinations but is also an all-out bargain, making it one of the best options for anyone hoping to see a bit of Europe on a budget. Here are four reasons to give Budapest a shot if you’re putting together that long-awaited European vacation:
The buildings of Budapest are known to inspire even those with only limited historical interest or knowledge, as the history of the Hungarian capital is written in the many different styles of buildings throughout the city. While relatively newer masterpieces like the neo-Gothic Parliament building – completed in 1902 – is a hub for tourists for a reason, the city’s immaculate Royal Palace in the Castle District dates back to the 14th century and gives visitors the full spectrum of the city’s rich history. The Hungarian State Opera House is also known to be a marvel even for opera novices and walking over the Danube via the Szechenyi Chain Bridge offers another tremendous glimpse of the river-hugging city. Another popular site, the Dohány utca Synagogue, is also one of the largest Jewish temples of Europe and a major attraction on its own. Considering the city has been heavily influenced by the Romans, the Ottomans, and Renaissance architects, the result is a layered journey through the depths of Hungarian history.
Getting to Budapest is a bit of a long flight from the U.S., but it’s also an incredibly easy journey from the other mainstays of Europe via rail, bus, boat or short plane ride. For those looking to check out Vienna as well, Budapest is less than three hours down the train tracks and is dramatically less expensive than its counterpart on the Danube River, offering a chance to cut the bill after visiting the famously expensive Austrian capital. A favorite travel option is also to catch the Danube hydrofoil, which offers a relaxing five-hour journey down the river that comes with some breathtaking scenery on the way to Budapest. Although a very popular option, travelers who book the hydrofoil well in advance might end up with one of the best parts of the vacation before even seeing Budapest’s famous landmarks. As one of the biggest European capitals, Budapest’s airport can also be a launch point to get anywhere else in Europe and there are plenty of options for return flights.
One of the biggest downsides to seeing Budapest is that you probably won’t rack up that many frequent flyer miles, which tends to be OK for those looking to escape an incredibly expensive vacation. Similar to Prague, food prices are very low compared with other nearby countries, allowing travelers to seek out some high-quality local cuisine for a fraction of what it might cost in Switzerland or Austria. Don’t expect to spend a lot on hotels either, particularly if you’re willing to get out of the main city center near the river. By heading a little inland, visitors can find tremendous value while still remaining close to the key features of the city, and the adventurous types hoping to stay in a hostel have plenty of options to keep the bill even lower. Unlike many other major European cities, inspecting the landmarks also won’t dent your wallet too much either, although it does cost about $2 to visit the stunning 96-foot high observation deck at the top of the famous St. Stephen's Basilica.
One thing you don’t find too often stateside is a thermal spa that leads into a nightclub, one of the more unique features of Budapest. In fact, Budapest has been considered the “City of Spas” for more than 80 years and the natural thermal waters have been a highlight of the region since the days of the Roman Empire. Thanks to more than a dozen popular public baths and plenty of private ones in some of the top hotels in the city, having a relaxing spa day after perusing the city’s iconic features has become a very popular option. There is also a thriving and multi-faceted food culture at the heart of the city as well, allowing visitors to sample a wide range of different meat-based stews, cold soups, and stuffed cabbage rolls as well as popular local delicacies like Gundle crepes. Thanks to the diverse set of options for sightseeing coupled with bargain-level prices, Budapest is both an enchanting destination for travelers of all ages and easily one of the best values in Europe.
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