October is a fantastic time to visit Budapest! This is one of the best European capitals to visit if you adore fine architecture, culture, and great food. It’s a city that’s remarkably easy to navigate. Budapest not only has a superb public transportation system; it is a walker’s paradise. The main streets are clean, wide, and well-lit. Best of all, the cars stop if they see you using a crosswalk.
However, one of the best reasons to see this beautiful city in October is that the bulk of tourists have left. What does this mean for you? It means you’ve got access to the city’s most popular attractions, without the crowds.
Furthermore, Budapest in October is very friendly on the wallet. (I found a room at the base of the Castle District for under $39 a night.)
Looking for another reason to make it a fall getaway? The weather is FANTASTIC. Temperatures during the day ranged between 75-80 Fahrenheit, with delightfully crisp evenings.
And if you’re going to try famous Hungarian specialties, such as goulash or seafood stews, they taste especially good in cooler weather.
Here are a few low-cost, high-value activities I highly recommend if you’re planning an October trip to Budapest.
Visit Margaret Island (Free)
What sets Margaret Island apart is that the famous Danube River flows on either side of it. It is an ISLAND on one of the world’s most iconic rivers. Why take a touristy river cruise when you can enjoy a local gem that has far better views? Simply stop at a midpoint on the Margot Hid (Margaret Bridge), walk down the pathway, and enjoy this beautiful getaway.
Margaret Island is a very popular recreational area for locals. You are guaranteed to see lots of families and athletes here on the weekend. One of the major focal points is the musical fountain. Seeing the fountain dance in perfect synchronization to “Let it Go” – sung in Hungarian – will leave you grinning from ear to ear.
If you have good balance, find a way to get to the waterline. If you are willing to get creative, you can walk on rock and sand to the furthest point for an unforgettable look at the Parliament building.
Check Out Fisherman’s Bastian (Free)
The Fisherman’s Bastion were constructed as lookout towers during the 19th century. Interestingly, the towers were never designed with the city’s defense in mind. But the architects had the right idea! The “lookout” towers provide jaw-dropping panoramic views of the Danube and opposite shoreline. Come here at night, when the place is gorgeously lit.
And come here again in the morning, before 8:30 a.m. In October, you’ll have the place all to yourself.
Stroll the Castle District (Free)
The Castle District has many popular attractions, including the Royal Palace, Hungarian National Gallery, and Changing of the Guards ceremonies. This area is noticeably more hilly than across the river, and requires an uphill climb to visit.
Hence, there’s a funicular for those who are mobility-impaired, or prefer not to walk.
Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica (2000 HUF/$5.50)
The Basilica is dedicated to St. Stephen, the first King of Hungary. The Basilica contains a relic of the saint-king’s hand, with a note that the hand has had an “adventurous fate” and been transported to many countries before being returned to Budapest August 19, 1945.
You need to purchase tickets to visit the stunning Basilica. (Exceptions are available, such as if you are a religious leader, however documentation is required.) Generally speaking, I don’t like paying to go inside a place of worship. However, I do appreciate that it costs a great deal to maintain a church and provide services.
Walk Across Budapest’s Széchenyi Chain Bridge
In 1849, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge became the first permanent bridge to cross the Danube. It connects Buda with Pest.
Timing is everything when it comes to crossing this bridge. I had the happy fortune of crossing it fairly early in the morning. At 8:15 a.m., there were perhaps a handful of pedestrians on there.
I crossed the bridge again in the afternoon, and it was packed. So many people were taking selfies that it took almost three times as long to cross.
Listen to a Classical Concert Inside a Church (€30)
St. Matthias church hosts concerts every Friday in October at 7:00 p.m. The prices vary by category: VIP, ‘A’, and ‘B’. Naturally, the first two categories are seated in the pews closest to the musicians. However, you are guaranteed a wonderful experience no matter where you are seated.
It is so easy to access classical music online that I wondered whether the €30 for ‘B’ seats would be worth it. The answer is a resounding YES!
Hearing a string orchestra play the classics live while you are in an ancient place of worship will transport you to a very happy and serene place.
See the Shoes on the Danube Bank (Free)
The best monuments are those that provoke an emotional response and have you thinking long after you’ve left. The Shoes on the Danube Bank has the power to leave you in goosebumps and rip at your heart. The 60 pairs of iron shoes lining the river bank pay tribute to the site where, between 1944 and 1945, Jews were shot, their bodies thrown into the Danube.
Given the atrocities that recently took place in Israel, this monument has new significance. There were many people lining the banks the afternoon I visited to reflect and pay respect.
There’s something very profound about the artist’s choice to use shoes. Each set, whether they be high heels, worker boots, or tiny children’s shoes, reflects such individuality. It’s impossible to look at the shoes and not try to imagine the person who wore them.
Stroll the Area Around Budapest City Garden (Free)
Although buses and trains run regularly from city center, I decided to walk. The Budapest City Garden consists of over 300 acres of wonderfully landscaped space.
The park has gorgeous views of Vajdahunyad Castle. Those who are feeling adventurous can take a (tethered) Hot Air Balloon ride for a special overview of the city. Feeling hungry? You can find plenty of vendors selling traditional Hungarian pastries, pretzels, and mulled wine.
It’s also a phenomenal place for a quiet stroll.
I was curious as to why so many people photographed an area outside the park consisting of bone-dry concrete. It took me a few seconds to realize what that space will become in a few short months: a winter outdoor ice-skating park. It was first opened in 1870, and remains one of Europe’s largest ice-skating parks.
Visit Heroes Square (Free)
Heroes Square, or Hősök tere, is neighbors to City Park and two fine art museums. Construction began in 1896 to commemorate the 1000 year anniversary of the state of Hungary.
It is a popular place to visit to see enormous tributes to key figures throughout Hungary’s history. In the center is the Memorial Stone to Heroes, which is dedicated “To the memory of the heroes who gave their lives for the freedom of our people and our national independence.”
Savor Authentic Hungarian Cuisine
Hungarian food is hearty and very filling. For breakfast or a snack, consider traditional pastries filled with cherries, sesame seed, or cherries and cheese.
You’ll be able to find Hungarian goulash at almost every restaurant. However, one of the tastiest things I tried in Budapest was a traditional seafood soup made with carp, which thoughtfully had two tiny slivers of green pepper on a side plate. I’m so glad it I got to taste a sliver first, because that pepper is HOT HOT HOT!
Hungary’s most famous in-house alcohol is pálinka. Hungarians are so proud of this spirit that in 2008, they protected it under the Pálinka Act. WATCH OUT – it contains between 38-70% alcohol! I’ve tried the pear and plum flavors. However, it’s so overwhelming powerful that I’ll be honest: my eyes water, and I cannot taste the fruit inside.
Iconic Budapest Activity I Did NOT Try: Széchenyi Thermal Baths
The Széchenyi thermal baths are world famous. And if the building that the indoor baths are housed in is any indication, they are the pinnacle of glamor. Sadly, the outdoor thermal baths were undergoing maintenance the day I went. Ultimately, I decided to skip it.
I’m not a prude about social bathing. I’ve happily gone to many a thermal outdoor bath in Japan. Onsen are awesome! However, I have to be pragmatic. I just finished a 500 mile walking pilgrimage with family on the Via Francigena. There is NO SPACE in my backpack for anything that is not essential. Hence, I did not pack a swimsuit.
Beyond not having a swimsuit, the ticket entry price seemed a little high. (Friday entries cost 8700 HUF, or $23.58.) Since I would have also needed to rent a bathing suit and purchase flip flops to get inside, the final cost to soak in a bath would have exceeded what I was willing to spend.
Thankfully, my room comes with a hot shower!
If You Go Tips
I explored Budapest alone during both day and night, and felt very safe. Just be mindful of your surroundings, and exercise common sense.
- The official currency is the Hungarian forint. However, many places quote figures in both the forint and Euro. Much to my surprise, the ATMs charge a 13% mark-up fee for withdrawals.
- Although the street pastries are delicious, there are no prices displayed at any of the tables. I asked two vendors about three kilometers apart how much the same item cost, and got two very different answers. If you are worried about being quoted a ‘tourist’ price, it’s best to get the pastries from a specialty store or restaurant.
- Most postcards showcase the Danube at night. I can certainly appreciate why. Budapest looks magnificent at night, when the city absolutely oozes glamor, romance and mystery. However, I found that tourists don’t start heading out until around 9 a.m. If you explore the city before then, you’ll have it almost to yourself. ☺️
Here’s wishing you a safe and very happy adventure!