With so many different fun and exciting things to do in Budapest it can be hard to experience everything the city has to offer if you’re only visiting for a few days.
For those who aren’t able to spend that much time exploring Hungary’s beautiful capital city here’s a helpful tip that will make sure you’re able to make the most of your time – Use the Budapest Card.
I’m not usually a fan of using the tourist cards that cities in Europe offer but I found the Budapest Card to offer something a little different than what you’ll tend to find in cities like Prague, Vienna, Warsaw or anywhere else on the popular Central European backpacking routes.
From free public transportation access to free entry to both mainstream and off-the-beaten-path attractions the Budapest Card is something you should definitely consider if you’re only going to spend one, two or just three days in Budapest.
Let me give you a quick primer on what the Budapest Card is and then I’ll go into my personal experience using the card, which uses the relevant slogan “Key to the City”.
What is the Budapest Card?
The Budapest Card is a tourist card that gives its users free access to a handful of different attractions around the city as well as discounts to many more attractions, restaurants and other tourist-based things to do.
Users can take advantage of free admission to one of the thermal baths in Budapest as well as participate in two different guided city walking tours without any extra charges.
With the card you will also get free access to the public transportation in Budapest and that includes the bus, tram, metro, cogwheel, scheduled ferry boats and suburban rail lines.
It comes in three different options depending on the length of your stay. You can choose from a one, two or three day pass and each of them offer the same benefits.
The museums where you get free admission to are:
- The Budapest History Museum
- Kiscelli Museum
- The Hungarian National Gallery
- The Hungarian National Museum
- The Aquincum Museum and Ruins
- Vasarely Museum
The thermal bath where you will get free access to is the Lukas Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool. This isn’t the most popular one but these baths offer a more in-depth and unique look at local culture and they’re favored by many of the city residents.
Along with free admission to the museums I previously mentioned you also get a discount of anywhere between 10% to 50% of the entry cost or related fees for more than 100 different services throughout the city. This includes additional thermal baths, popular tourist sites and attractions, churches, other popular museums, sightseeing tours, Danube River cruises and more.
- One Day Card: 4,900 HUF
- Two Day Card: 7,900 HUF
- Three Day Card: 9,900 HUF
For a more in-depth look at what you get with the Budapest Card and a list of all the attractions you get a discount at you will want to check out their website.
Where Can You Buy the Budapest Card?
There are a few places around the city that you can buy the card but keep in mind that you can also buy it online here.
The best place to buy the Budapest Card is one of the three Tourist Info Points located in the city:
- 1052 Sütő str 2.
- Hősök tere, 1146 Budapest, Olof Palme ave 5
- Liszt Ferenc International Airport Budapest Terminal 2A and 2B
You can also buy the card at many of the Budapest Metro ticket offices. You can find a list of the offices is selling the card here
How to Use the Budapest Card
After you pick up the card it’s a straightforward process on what you need to do to validate and start using it.
On the back of the card you will need to fill out your name, the date from which you want the card countdown to start and the time. What I mean by countdown is that if you get the one day, two day or three day card you only have that many days to use it and the countdown of these days starts from the date and time that you add to the back of the card.
Once the card is filled out you can begin using it.
Be sure to carry your identification with you, such as your passport, because if you’re using the card for public transportation or for some of the attractions you will be required to identify yourself.
Simply show the card when you are entering a museum, visiting a restaurant, going on a walking tour or boarding public transportation and you will be given the necessary tickets or information that you need.
My Experience with the Budapest Card
I had been to Budapest before but I wasn’t in the city very long and I didn’t get a chance to thoroughly explore all of the best things that Budapest had to offer. I was looking forward to using the card and checking out all of the top sights and interesting museums.
The Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum
I picked up the Budapest Card from the Tourist Office downtown and I filled it out right away so that I can begin using it. I immediately boarded a tram and made my way to the Buda Castle where some of the museums and galleries were that I wanted to check out.
My first stop was the Hungarian National Gallery, which is the national art museum and where you’ll find some of the best pieces of artwork from Hungarian artists.
Inside the gallery I was pleased to find an enormous collection of Renaissance, medieval, Gothic and Baroque pieces of art as well as many sculptures, wooden altars and statues from the past couple hundred years of Hungarian history.
Many famous Hungarian artists have their work on display here and each room is full of incredible and inspiring art. Whether you’re into modern paintings or medieval wooden hand-carved religious altars there is something for every art lover here at the Hungarian National Gallery.
I also love the fact that the gallery was located in the Buda Castle and it was an enjoyable experience to walk through the high ceilinged halls and take in the panoramic views from the dome at the top.
Afterwards I made my way to the Budapest History Museum, which is located right beside the National Gallery and is still in the Buda Castle. At this museum you’ll find a range of exhibits and artifacts dating from the Medieval era in Budapest all the way to modern times.
The Museum is also full of the furniture, tapestries and other pieces of the Buda Castle’s history as well as many pictures and other exhibits of the history of Budapest itself.
There are many different interactive exhibits so you won’t have to spend your time there just looking and reading, you can get a more hands-on experience while still learning more about the history of the city.
The Budapest History Museum is really nicely laid out and there is so much information there to read that after spending 4 hours walking around my brain was full and I decided to call it a day.
If you love art and history then I definitely recommend checking out both the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery. With the Budapest Card there is free entry and you’ll only have to pay a small fee to take photos at the History Museum.
Roman Ruins and a Walking Tour
On the second day I decided to head to the Aquincum Museum. It’s a bit far from the city center but since public transportation is free with the Budapest Card it didn’t cost me anything to get there.
The Aquincum museum is essentially a showcase of the old Roman city, Aquincum, that now lies in ruins at the edge of Budapest. Since around 41AD there have been people living in the vicinity of Aquincum and over time it was built up as the home of more than 40,000 people.
An interesting fact is that Marcus Aurelius is said to have finished his famous book Mediations here while enjoying some of the healing properties of the thermal baths throughout the ancient city.
The entire area is covered with ruins and there are many signs that explain what you’re looking at while providing a short history of the city itself. At the entrance to the grounds is a brand new museum and there are a few different Roman houses and structures that have been completely rebuilt to look like they did thousands of years ago.
It’s no Pompeii but the ruins at Aquincum are some of the most impressive and best preserved in all of Europe. There are still ruins that are being dug up and discovered to this day and a short walk around the neighborhood reveals even more ruins hidden among highways and apartment blocks.
The ruins were bigger than I thought and I spent a few hours here wandering around and taking in all the ancient history. Across the street from the Aquincum museum is the old Roman amphitheatre so don’t forget to check that out if you visit.
After leaving the ruins I took advantage of one of the free walking tours on the Pest side of the city. It was very straightforward and I only had to show up and present my card to get on the tour.
The tour guide was very knowledgeable and the tour itself visited many of the popular tourist attractions and famous historic sights in the city. If you’re visiting and looking for one of the best free walking tours in Budapest then I suggest getting a Budapest Card and taking advantage of either of the tours offered for free with the card.
At the end of the day I hopped back onto the metro to make my way back to my AirBnb apartment and being able to use the card was a lot easier than having to worry about buying transportation tickets and having to validate them.
The Hungarian National Museum and a Cafe
On the third day with the card I decided to head to the Hungarian National Museum and then take advantage of a discount at one of the cafes. I wanted to visit all of the best museums in Budapest with the card since I felt they offered a great way to spend my time in the city while learning more about Hungarian culture and history.
The National Museum wasn’t as big as the other two museums but it was full of interesting exhibits related to all parts of Hungary’s history. There was armor and weapons used by past kings, furniture from the homes of old counts and oligarchs, interesting and historical artifacts and my favorite thing of all was the very piano that Beethoven used.
The National Museum is laid out in a way that you start at the earliest time period in history and then make your way through the museum into more modern times. It ends with a few exhibits from World War 2 and the Communist rule over Hungary.
The Communist exhibit was great because there are some life-size statues of Stalin, Lenin and even the finger from the old Lenin statue that the people of Budapest tore down in displeasure of the dictatorial ruling system.
After leaving the museum I headed to the Kurtoskalacs Coffee Shop. Kurtoskalacs, or chimney cake, is a famous Hungarian pastry and one of my favorite baked specialities in all of Europe. At the Coffee Shop I was able to get 20% off with the Budapest Card so my cinnamon Kurtoskalacs was extra enjoyable.
With so many cafes and restaurants offering discounts using the Budapest card it was hard to pick the right one but I think I made a great choice with the Kurtoskalacs Coffee Shop. I highly recommend you check it out if you’re looking to enjoy a Hungarian traditional speciality!
I ended up walking around the Old Town before hopping on a tram to get back to my accommodation. It was a long three days in Budapest with the Budapest Card and, while I wanted to spend more time exploring the city, I needed to continue onward on my European backpacking adventure.
Is the Budapest Card Worth It?
Yes, the Budapest Card is completely worth it.
Not only do you get free and discounted entry to many different museums and attractions but the free use of public transportation is just the icing on the cake.
If you’re interested in museums, popular tourist attractions, history, and you don’t want to waste time on your trip buying tickets and fiddling with metro passes then the Budapest Card is perfect for you.
Many of the attractions, such as the Aquincum museum, I wouldn’t have even visited if it wasn’t for the Budapest Card. Not only did it improve my time in Budapest but it made it a lot easier to explore the city and get around.
Final Thoughts and Recommendation
I recommend the Budapest Card if you’re only going to be in the city for three days or less and you still want to check out some of its best museums and attractions while enjoying some additional savings at many different cafes and restaurants.
It’s also a hassle having to buy metro tickets and validate them when you’re visiting a new place so with the Budapest Card you’ll avoid any of that trouble and you can just spend your time enjoying the city.
One thing I want to mention is that many of the museums require you to pay an additional fee to take photographs. It’s usually a small fee but I think that this cost should be included in the price of the card itself. Keep that in mind when you’re visiting some of the attractions.