Luxury travel in Budapest comes at a very low price at the Hungarian State Opera House.
Who doesn't want to add a little bit of luxury to their lives? Budapest may just be the perfect destination for opulence, romance, and grandeur, all on an affordable budget. During our visit, we discovered a destination that loves chocolate, wine, and fine living as much as paprika and goulash, and all at a much more economical price point than Western Europe. I'll count that as a travel win any day!
There's so much in Budapest that will sweep you off your feet but the Hungarian State Opera House may just be the finest embodiment of luxurious living. Here are three bargain priced ways to elevate your travels that will have you singing a sweet song!
For quick trips, explore the exterior.
If you're extremely pressed for time or money, a short excursion to examine the exterior of the Hungarian State Opera House makes for a relaxing stop. The 130 year old limestone, neo-Renaissance building has gorgeous archways and doorways, outdoor sculpture, and plenty of photo opportunities. The neighbouring buildings are similarly attractive - if somewhat less grand - and there's abundant lovely trees and cafes, making it a nice area for strolling around in search of coffee.
The Opera House is just a short walk from the aptly named Opera metro stop. Let's pause for a moment to share a few words of wisdom about the Budapest Metro.... We found it easy to use, clean, safe, and convenient for getting around the city. But it's one of those systems where you have to validate your tickets before boarding the train. And there's no mercy for befuddled tourists who get caught with non-validated tickets! Consider yourself warned.
(What does "validate" mean? You're going to look for the orange boxes that are placed at the entrance to the metro line. You stick your paper ticket in the slot, you hear a soft noise as its validated and your stamped ticket will come back out. When in doubt, hang back and watch a local do it.)
There are also several tickets to choose from. A "transfer" ticket is great for long journeys where you have to change trains or take the metro and a bus. A cheaper "single" ticket is good for one ride on public transit that's in a straight line (like riding one route of the metro or bus). And most affordable of all, a "short section" metro ticket is good for a ride of three stops or less along a single line of the metro. It's great that there are different tickets at different price points for different needs. But the system does require a bit of advance planning. If you want a bit more flexibility, the Budapest City Card includes unlimited free public transit along with all the usual discounted attractions.
For true opera fans, take a backstage tour.
Who gets to command an opera house? Perhaps a world class soprano or an aristocrat? Or maybe your favourite friendly blogging team! Ryan and I were thrilled to be granted the honor of a private tour of the Hungarian State Opera House.
Modeled on the Opera Visit program that is open to the public on a daily basis, we learned about the stunning architecture and art behind this beautiful building, as well as the Opera House's role in the community. Did you know (spoiler alert!) that the Hungarian State Opera House is renowned for its children's program and that it is one of the only opera houses in the world that has seen its funding increased (because it's just that darn invaluable to the community)?
With gold leaf, expansive marble, beautiful grand staircases, and hand painted frescoes, it contains every possible grandeur you can imagine. It's as sumptuous and luxurious as your heart can dream of and it's the perfect place to visit if you want to feel like royalty (while keeping your budget intact.) Tours are available daily in English and several times a week in other language - see the schedule here.
Savvy spenders, take in a performance.
Why simply see something when you can experience it? This has been our strategy ever since our trip to Sydney, Australia, when "bad tickets" (ie the cheapest seats in the back) to a production at the Sydney Opera House were less expensive than the tour. We got a small taste of the interior and had a great night at the theatre, all for one low price. And in Budapest, the same approach may just work for you.
It's hard to predict the cost of future performances, but I feel confident saying that there are always tickets that are surprisingly affordable. Senior discounts, student discounts, same-day last minute discounts, dress rehearsal or preview discounts, even matinee discounts - there's a huge array of options. (And, if you're really savvy, you might be able to combine a few discounts to save even more!) A night at the opera sounds like a very fancy occasion, but it doesn't necessarily cost any more than a night at the movie theater.
The Hungarian State Opera House runs an Opera for Everyone program, in which a limited number of the already affordable student, senior, and family tickets are available for astonishingly low rates (sometimes as little as 300 forints -about 1 Euro). This doesn't apply to all performances at all times, but it's worth checking the Opera House's Social Responsibility page to learn (and save!) more.
If you've been traveling for some time and living out of your backpack, or perhaps your trip generally focuses on very casual activities, you might have a moment of panic about not having an opera-ready wardrobe. What - there's no tuxedo or evening gown in that carry on bag? Outrageous! Never fear. The opera is a much more relaxed experience than most people imagine and, especially at previews and matinees, the vibe is decidedly casual. If you can scrounge up an iron to give your least-casual outfit a thorough pressing, you should be good to go.
If you're planning a trip to Budapest in the near future, please note: At present, the Hungarian State Opera House is not hosting performances until 2019 in order to accommodate renovations. During the course of the 2018 season, the Erkel Theatre will be the opera's temporary home (and the same suggestions about tracking down frugal tickets apply!) But the Opera Visit program remains open - and you might just get a sneak peak at some of the refurbishments before they're unveiled.
Budapest is the perfect bucket list destination.
A night at the opera isn't for everyone - but it is on a lot of travel bucket lists. It just seems like such a European thing to do! But whether you're a music fan, in pursuit of a classic travel moment, or you just like a savvy bargain and a unique experience, Budapest should be on your list and a visit to the Hungarian State Opera House is not to be missed.
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Our time in Budapest was facilitated by the local tourist board and we thank them for their support. All research, writing, and opinions are our own.