Budapest is a city that everybody seems to love.
The Hungarian capital is by no means a “secret gem”. It’s a major port for cruise ships, a go-to destination for traveling Europe on a budget, and a favorite base among digital nomads. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll likely find photos of the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Parliament. Ask anyone who’s been to Budapest and they’ll tell you all about the ruin bars and the bustling nightlife scene. Budapest is a vibrant city with just the right mix of historic sights and a cosmopolitan vibe, earning its place among the top cities to visit in Europe.
And yet, there’s a lot to discover in this city. Despite all the hype, I was amazed at how much more I ended up liking Budapest. The pictures and the stories just don’t do the city justice – it’s a place you really must experience to get why everybody raves about it so much.
If you’re heading to Central Europe, let me echo what all those who have gone before me have said: you must add Budapest to your itinerary. While there’s a lot to discover in this city that even a week’s stay or two won’t fully uncover, here are my best recommendations on what to do in Budapest in 3 exciting days.
Little Holidays Guide to Budapest, Hungary
- How to spend 3 days in Budapest
- Map – essential landmarks in Budapest
- Best things to do in Budapest
- Where to eat and drink
- Planning your trip
- Beyond Budapest – exploring Central Europe
Here’s a quick overview of the best things to do for 3 days in Budapest. You’ll find detailed guides on how to visit these landmarks below, as well as a Google map that you can follow.
Day 1 – There’s a reason Budapest is popular with tourists – the city is gorgeous! On your first day in Budapest, visit the classic landmarks – the Danube boardwalk, Chain Bridge, Budapest Castle, and Fisherman’s Bastion. Then trek up the Citadel for a gorgeous sunset view of the city before relaxing in an indoor bath or enjoying a hearty Hungarian meal.
Day 2 – Now it’s time to get to know Budapest beyond the obvious sights. A walk around District 5 will bring you to the magnificent St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Parliament – but also to some of the best local eats and markets. Indulge in lángos, Wiener schnitzel, and Kolbice, and more of the sinfully sumptuous Hungarian eats.
Day 3 – On your last day, walk along the glitzy Andrassy street all the way to Heroes Square. Check out the Museum of Fine Arts, walk around the Vajdahunyad Castle grounds, and if you’re visiting in the winter, go skating in Europe’s largest ice-skating rink. End your holiday on a high note with a concert, a cruise, or a fancy dinner.
Tell us: What are you most excited about your trip to Budapest?
Budapest’s landmarks and sights are spread out across the city, but it’s easy to get around. The city is extremely walkable and served by all kinds of public transportation. I added all my top recommended sights, restaurants, shops, and hotels in this Google map so you can get around the city easily on your own.
Day 1 – explore Budapest’s historic landmarks and scenic viewpoints
Start the day with brunch
Start your holiday in Budapest by exploring the city’s grand, historical landmarks. To get into the mood – and also to fill up and prepare for the walk ahead – have brunch at one of the city’s most iconic cafes – Café Gerbeaud.
The 160-year old café is an institution in Budapest. They serve delicious meals and a wide array of traditional Hungarian desserts. It gets packed by noon, so brunch (around 10-11 am) is the best time to go.
From Café Gerbeaud, make your way to the Danube.
Cross the Chain Bridge to the Castle District
Walking straight to the Danube from Café Gerbeaud, you’ll see the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to your right. The suspension bridge spans across the River Danube and connects Buda and Pest, previously two separate cities that up to now maintain different personalities.
The Chain Bridge was opened in 1849 and was the first permanent bridge in Budapest. At the time, it was the suspension bridge with the second-largest span in the world and was regarded as one of the modern world’s engineering wonders. It was blown up in 1945 by retreating German forces during the Siege of Budapest in World War 2 but was rebuilt and reopened in 1949.
Cross the Chain Bridge and make your way to the Castle District. You can ride the funicular or take a series of elevators and escalators to the top of the hill.
Take in the breathtaking views from the Budapest Castle Hill
Walk around the Budapest Castle Hill to see the Baroque houses, Habsburg monuments, and the Buda Castle. Razed and rebuilt over many centuries, the castle is now home to the Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum. All the other buildings around it are of different ages – Baroque houses and Gothic arches line the cobbled paths, as well as private homes that date back all the way from the 14th century.
The Fisherman’s Bastion is right next door to the castle, and its turrets and terraces frame the city below beautifully. The Matthias Church is also worth a peek as it’s one of the oldest buildings in Buda and a symbol of the city’s rich past.
Take the afternoon to explore the Castle District. If you’d like to know more about Buda’s history and architecture, join a walking tour.
Sunset at the Citadella
An hour or two before the sunset, start your trek to the Citadella, a fortification on top of the Gellért Hill where you can get the best views of the city. It’s a moderate trek with lots of steps – and a breathtaking view at the end.
Stay until after sunset and wait for the city to light up for the night. If you’re serious about taking gorgeous city shots, make sure to bring a tripod.
(If you love taking photos, you should join a night photography tour of Budapest – scroll down for a recap of our experience.)
End the day relaxing, Budapest-style
When in Budapest, don’t miss experiencing the city’s relaxing thermal spas.
Right at the foot of the Gellért Hill is the Gellért Thermal Bath. Relax inside the gorgeous Art Nouveau complex and dip into the hill’s mineral hot springs. They have saunas and plunge pools, an open-air swimming pool if you’re visiting during the warm months, a Finnish sauna, and masseuse services. It’s the perfect end to your first day.
Day 2 – a taste of Budapest’s best local eats and markets
Now it’s time to indulge in Budapest’s best street food bites. But don’t worry about all that calories – you’ll be working them off as you walk around Budapest’s bustling district 5.
Start with a Budapest classic
Start your day in Retró Lángos Büfé (see the Google map for location) with a sumptuous brunch of lángos, a deep-fried flatbread eaten warm and traditionally topped with sour cream, cheese, and garlic. You can go crazy and top it with more stuff, but I’d recommend that you pace yourself and make room for other Hungarian eats. A word of advice, though, this place is popular with the locals so it fills up pretty fast. Grab a table if you can but be prepared to enjoy your lángos standing up.
Take in the view from St. Stephen’s Basilica
After that heavy brunch, you might want to give yourself some time to digest. Head over to St. Stephen’s Basilica, a Roman Catholic basilica named in honor of Stephen, the first king of Hungary. If you’re up for it, go up the look-out in the cupola for a fantastic view of the city.
More bites from the Hold Street Market
Once you’ve had your fill of Budapest’s views, head to the Hold Street Market to continue your street food adventures. This food market is better than the popular Central Market Hall, as there are fewer people and they have fantastic food!
Once you enter the Hold Street Market, make a beeline for Buja Disznó(k), a stall on the market’s second level where they make the best pork cutlet in the city. Have it with potato salad but try to share it with your travel buddies because the servings are enormous. If you’re craving for sausages, though, head to Kobe, also on the second level, and get a handful of sausages in crunchy bread cones.
Don’t leave the Hold Street Market without stopping by The Great Hungarian Butcher Shop and getting a couple of Pick salamis and sausages.
The Hungarian Parliament
From the Hold Street Market, the Hungarian Parliament is a short walk away. If you’d like to explore more of this iconic building, guided tours are available.
Now that you’ve seen both sides of the Danube, it’s time to get on the water. End the day with a Danube river cruise.
Day 3 – see the city’s glitz (and grit)
On your last day, go beyond the city’s castle and downtown districts to discover more of its glitz and grit.
Amble along Andrassy
Starting from the Erzsébet Square, walk along the glamorous Andrassy Avenue all the way to the Heroes Square. Andrassy is more than your average high-end shopping boulevard – it’s a World Heritage Site lined with Neo-Renaissance mansions and townhouses, as well as notable buildings like the State Opera House.
Don’t stay within Andrassy, though. Weave in and out the side streets to see the vibrant murals and ruin bars of District 7.
At the end of Andrassy Avenue is the Heroes Square, one of the major squares in Budapest and home to the Millennium Monument. The Museum of Fine Arts is also nearby.
If you’re visiting in the winter, you can go skating in Europe’s largest ice-skating rink. If you haven’t had a chance to go on a thermal spa yet, schedule an afternoon at the Széchenyi Spa.
The Vajdahunyad Castle lies just beyond the Heroes Square. The castle was built in 1896 as part of the Millennial Exhibition to represent features of Hungary’s 1000-year-old architectural history.
After a day exploring this side of the city, head back to the downtown district on the Metro Line 1 – the oldest rapid transit rail line on the European mainland.
Budapest at night
The fun does not stop with the sunset in Budapest. Here are some amazing things to do in Budapest at night.
One of the highlights of our trip was joining a night photography tour. I was amazed by how great my night pictures turned out.
Miklós, our guide, was super knowledgeable and passionate about both Budapest and photography. He brought us to the city’s best night photography spots, all the while giving great tips on how to compose amazing photos, play around with our camera settings, and post-process our pictures.
He also gives interesting historical trivia about Budapest, plus you can combine your photo tour with a food walk as we did. If you only have a day or two in Budapest, make sure to get in touch with Miklós.
Check out the ruin bars
Ruin bars, like the popular Szimpla Kert, are the center of Budapest’s nightlife scene. These are basically abandoned buildings turned into bars where people go for cheap beer, quirky décor, and a laid-back evening.
You can discover Budapest’s best bars by joining this fine wines and ruin bars tour.
Budapest is definitely a city for food lovers. We found ourselves munching all day – beginning with brunch in beautiful cafes, street food in the downtown district, exquisite desserts that are almost too pretty to eat, and traditional cuisine for dinner. Here are our top picks.
- For brunch, check out: Café Gerbeaud, STIKA Budapest, and Mazel Tov
- Street food: Retró Lángos Büfé and the Hold Street Market
- Desserts: Desszert Neked and Gelarto Rosa
- Traditional cuisine: Gettó Gulyás, Frici Papa, and Bock Bizstro
Flying – You can check flights to Budapest here. From Budapest airport, you can get to your hotel in the city center by public transportation, taxis, or private transfers.
If you’re going by bus from the Budapest airport, you can take either Bus 200E then take metro line M3 from Nagyvárad tér station to the city center, or take Bus 100E which goes directly from the airport to Deák Ferenc tér in the city center. You can find details of costs, stops, and timetables here.
You can also go by taxi to the city center. Make reservations at the Főtaxi booths located at the exits at Terminals 2A and 2B and avoid non-regulated taxi services.
For more comfort and convenience, though, it’s best to book a private transfer from the airport to the city center.
By train or bus – If you’re coming from nearby cities, you can look for bus or train connections to Budapest.
Budapest’s landmarks and sights are spread out across the city, but it’s easy to get around. I added all the top-recommended sights, restaurants, shops, and hotels in the Google map above so you can get around the city easily on your own.
Public transportation – You can get around Budapest using various modes of public transport – from the metro to trams and buses. You can buy tickets from subway stations and vending machines which you then need to validate when getting on board. You can buy single tickets (HUF 350/EUR 1) or a discounted book of 10 tickets (HUF 3,000/EUR 9.5).
You can use the BKK Trip Planner or Google map to find your routes.
Useful passes – Alternatively, you can get the Budapest City Card for unlimited rides around the city, free walking tours, as well as free entry and discounts to museums, restaurants, and attractions. Another quirky but nonetheless fun way to get to the main sights is by going on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.
Note on taxis – Be careful when riding a taxi as some drivers are known to charge tourists more than they should. Avoid taxis that are marked “Freelancer” and go for taxis from the following companies (links to their app): Főtaxi, City Taxi, and Taxify. You can see the company logos printed on the door and the taxi sign.
Renting a car – Hungary and its neighboring countries are excellent road trip destinations. After exploring Budapest for a couple of days, get a rental car to explore outside the city.
Best areas to stay in Budapest
If you want to explore Budapest’s cultural and historical highlights easily, stay in the Downtown District (Belváros/5th District). You’ll be in the same neighborhood as some of the city’s essential historical landmarks, with shopping areas, street food spots, and restaurants within walking distance. D8 Hotel is a great choice and a comfortable and convenient base, especially if you’re visiting for the first time.
If you’re looking forward to a holiday of sightseeing, dining, and relaxing (and want to steer clear of the city’s nightlife and busy areas), stay in the Castle District (Várkerület/1st District). You’ll be near the Budapest Castle Complex and will get to enjoy amazing views of the city. It’s great for sightseeing during the day, but also calm and quiet at night. Hotel Clark offers fantastic views and is an excellent base for experiencing a more refined side of Budapest.
If you’re here for the fun and parties, stay in the Jewish Quarter (Erzsébetváros/7th District). This is the city’s lively nightlife district where you’ll find ruin bars, hip cafes, and cool brunch places, and the Corinthia Hotel is the perfect place to come home to after a day of serious sightseeing or a wild night out.
If you’re looking for more unique accommodation options (in an artsy part of the city or a residential neighborhood perhaps?), you can find a comprehensive guide to Budapest’s coolest neighborhoods and best hotels here.
Top tips for travel to Budapest
Language/s spoken: Hungarian, English
Money: Hungarian forint (HUF 1,000 ~ EUR 3 ~ USD 3.5) – You can pay with Euros in a lot of establishments but the rates are not good, so it’s better to change to forints. If you’re withdrawing money from an ATM, avoid the Euronet ones that you’ll find all over the city – their exchange rates are terrible. Use ATMs in banks instead (see Google map for some banks in convenient locations).
If you have a borderless card like TransferWise, you can withdraw from most major Hungarian banks’ ATMs for free – convert your currency to HUF on your app first, then withdraw quickly and hassle-free.
- Accommodations – A stay for two in a luxurious hotel (like Hotel Clark) can cost up to EUR 200/night. A beautiful, mid-range hotel in a central location (like D8 Hotel) can cost around EUR 120/night. You can also find budget hostels (like the Hive), which will only set you back around EUR 10 for a bed per night.
- Food – You can spend EUR 80 upwards for a nice dinner for two in a lovely restaurant like Bock Bizstro, or around EUR 15-30 in a homey restaurant like Frici Papa.
Tipping: Tipping is not expected, but 10-15% of the bill is appreciated. Some restaurants add a service charge to the total bill, in which case you don’t need to leave extra.
Weather and best times to go: The coldest months are from December to February, with temperatures of -3 to 5°C. Winter is a great time to visit Budapest if you like Christmas markets and ice skating – the city is home to Europe’s largest ice-skating rink. July and August are the warmest months (from 15-26°C) with also the longest days. If you like warm, sunny weather, visit from June to August. If you want to avoid crowds, go from February to May and September to November.
Hop over to Hungary’s neighboring country for a taste of another majestic Central European capital. You’ll have your fill of beautiful architecture, art and music, and dynamic coffee culture.
Salzburg is another must-visit in Central Europe. With a beautiful Baroque old town, rich art and cultural traditions, and beautiful surrounding countryside, there’s a lot you can do in a short stay.
Complete your Central European itinerary with a trip to Prague, where you’ll find a fairytale-like old town, impressive architecture, and great beer.
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I hope this guide helps you plan your holiday to Budapest. If you need more information, get in touch, and I’ll help you out! Happy travels to Hungary!
First published – 12 May 2019
Last updated – 14 February 2020 – added and updated trip-planning information