Budapest is probably not the first place you think when planning a trip to Europe. However, its a value for money destination with lots to offer history and food lovers. In my opinion, planning a 3 day trip to Budapest is the ideal amount of time to get a feel for the city if its all you can spare in your itinerary. Budapest is often overlooked in favour of well-loved neighbours like Prague and Krakow, but it shouldn’t be. The Hungarian capital boasts an diverse array of architecture, a vibrant nightlife and a photogenic skyline.
In this post I will outline details of where I stayed, what I did and what things cost as of July 2022.
Note: The flights, accommodation and activities mentioned in this post were NOT sponsored/discounted/gifted. Prices for certain things may have changed since the time I took this trip, so please only use this as a guide to help you set your own savings target.
FIRST IT’S TIME FOR A BRIEF PPG (PANDA’S PROGRESSIVE GEOGRAPHY) LESSON!
In 895 the Magyars came to the land- they were horsemen from Asia. These people would later be called the Hungarians. By 1000 AD the Kingdom of Hungary was born. It was a Christian Kingdom and ruled for many centuries fighting off the Ottoman Empire from expanding into Europe. Later the kingdom would become part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire.
After losing World War I, the empire had collapsed and Hungary shrunk significantly. Hungary sided with the Axis powers, and ultimately ended up undergoing a period of political turmoil and a loss of land.Hungary sided with Germany during World War II, but then tried to switch sides later. They ended up becoming a communist country under the power of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union fell in 1990 Hungary had its first free elections and started a free market economy. In 2004 it became a part of the European Union.
Hungary is a landlocked country in Central Europe and is bordered by Slovakia to the north, Ukraine and Romania to the east, Serbia and Croatia to the south, Slovenia to the southwest and Austria to the west. It makes a perfect add on if you’re visiting any o f the neighbouring countries.
When should I visit?
The best time to visit Budapest will be down to your personal preference. March-May and September-November are widely considered to be some of the best months to visit Budapest, due to a fine balance of better weather and lesser tourists.
Unless you cannot avoid it, try to stay away from visiting Budapest in summer. I did my 3 day trip to Budapest in July 2022 and the heatwave affected our plans, making us feel lethargic and unable to do everything we wanted to.
What to do about money?
Card payments are accepted everywhere in the city, even for very small amounts. You only need to ensure that your bank allows you to transact in Hungary and what the associated fees are. If you need cash, use ATM machines at reputable banks in Budapest like Budapest Bank and Erste Bank. Do not use Euronet ATMs or anything not connected to a legitimate bank as there are a lot of scams going on. I suggest sticking to card payments.
How to get around Budapest?
Central Budapest has one of the best transportation systems in Europe, including metro, bus and tram, some of which run all night. The Go Budapest app needs to be downloaded onto your phone and then you can purchase a ticket or pass with your credit card online. Then you just show the driver your tickets when boarding a bus/tram or scan it at the metro stations. I purchased a 72 hour pass for 4150HUF.
Where to Stay?
For our 3 day trip to Budapest, Expat Bee & I chose to stay at the Hilton Budapest which was absolutely beautiful. Its actually a beautiful converted 13th century Dominican church. The service offered here was exceptional and it had a lovely view. However, the location was less than ideal considering all the things we wanted to do and we often were at the mercy of only 1-2 buses that would stop nearby. While Hilton Budapest was near to Fisherman’s Bastion, it wasn’t ideal to be on the top of a steep hill during a heatwave. Personally I would stay on the Pest side for a first trip to Budapest- its closer to far more sites.
DAY BY DAY ITINERARY
Stop 1: Fisherman’s Bastion
Probably the most picturesque place in all of Budapest and thus, deserves to be your first spot. I strongly recommend getting there before 8am. I know it’s early but the morning light is the best for photos and the area gets jam packed after 9am. Something worth noting is that there is an entrance fee if you visit between 9am and 5pm. But the area is always open so you can visit at any time.
It’s a beautiful spot to admire the city of Budapest as well as take some wonderful photos. Situated in the Holy Trinity Square, this building is world-famous for its turrets and spires. The panoramic views from the terraces are the best in the city.
If you have some time- and its open- you could also visit Matthias Church. It is the most visited and most popular Roman Catholic church in Budapest. Apparently its seven-hundred-year-old history also serves as a symbol of the capital’s rich historic past. But since I was at Fisherman’s Bastion so early, the church was not open when I visited.
Stop 2: Breakfast at Home of Franziska
A cozy cafe within walking distance of Fisherman’s Bastion where you can enjoy a range of breakfast options from the signature Morning Bowl, to the special waffle perfect for sharing. They also serve a tasty, mango lemonade (which you should definitely not miss!).
Stop 3: Visit Hungarian Parliament
Bordering the Danube River, Hungary’s incredible Parliament building is known as one of the most beautiful in the world. It’s definitely worth a stroll past.
If you’d like to take a tour inside the building, you’ll need to book a tour at least a few days in advance (and possibly more if you travel during the summer).
If you’d rather not fork over the Forint during your 3 day trip to Budapest, admiring the building up close from the outside is definitely still worth stopping by.
As you pass by, look out for the walls with the bullet holes. You will find a staircase leading underground which leads to an exhibition about the 1956 Hungarian Uprising against Soviet rule. The exhibition is based mainly around photographs and video clips along with soundbites from survivors of the event. Understanding a country means understanding its history so I think it is important to learn about such things. Plus, the exhibition is small and free.
Stop 4: Shoes on the Danube
As you walk away from Parliament towards the banks of the river Danube, you will find the Shoes on the River Danube memorial.
These shoes are cast in bronze and symbolize the Jewish lives that were lost during WW2. They were lined up on the side of the river and had to remove their shoes as shoes were a valuable asset at the time. They were then shot by the military. It is a sobering site but I liked how Budapest does not shy away from its dark history.
Stop 5: Dinner- But don’t do what we did
Every blogger and their grandma recommends New York Cafe as THE place to get a meal in Budapest. I found this place lacking in every aspect- the food was tasteless, the service was terrible and everything was incredibly overpriced. I personally don’t think its worth visiting at all; the decor is pretty but nothing to include on your itinerary.
Stop 6: Drinks at Szimpla Kert
According to locals, one of the must do’s for a 3 day trip to Budapest is to visit a ruin bar. Ruin Bars are erected within disused warehouse-style buildings, and are decorated with an array of weird and wonderful furniture, objects and seating. Szimpla Kert is the most famous one in Budapest.They make for an atmospheric and uniquely Hungarian experience so try to stop by one even if you’re not a big drinker.
Stop 1: Szechenyi Thermal Baths
Put on your swimsuit and head to these famed thermal baths as part of your 3 day trip to Budapest. Built in 1913 with 18 pools, Szechenyi Thermal Baths is one of the largest natural hot springs in Europe. There’s around 18 pools here of varying sizes and temperatures from 23 degrees to 40 degrees!
Now if you want to snap some pretty pictures- and please do because the exterior of these baths is gorgeous- I recommend starting your day here. They open at 7am and after 9am, it starts getting full. If you do visit early in the morning, it will just be you and the elderly Hungarian folk of Budapest.
Take a towel and take flip flops! I suggest buying a ticket online from the official website, to avoid queues and check updated prices.
Cost: 7100HUF for a weekday and 7600HUF for a weekend
Stop 2: Brunch at Horizont Cafe
Probably my favourite breakfast spot in Budapest! This small cafe serves up plenty of deliciousness. Whether it’s blue cheese waflini, salmon and veggie bagel or raspberry cruffin–consider this place an essential component of where to get your day off to a tasty start.
Stop 3: Museum of Terror
This is one for history enthusiasts. We wanted to learn more about the history of the Hungarian people and the two terror regimes that they have survived.
And so we found ourselves at House of Terror also known as Terror Házá Múzeum.
I recommend getting the audio guide and then spending 2 hours going through the rooms of building used to terrorise and torture people. It is a sobering experience but one you will remember, and you will start to understand the history of Hungary.
Photos are technically not allowed here hence why I do not have many to post!
Stop 4: Dinner at Fatal Erram
Another great foodie find! Mouth-watering spicy dishes, rich stews and sauces, hearty soups and yummy desserts are all on offer at the unpretentious Fatal Restaurant. One thing I loved about this place was that it offered vegetarian options of traditional dishes to diversify the menu and be more inclusive. I strongly recommend the mushroom goulash and the fish soup. Be warned that two people can easily share one portion of food.
Stop 5: Sunset drinks at The Duchess Rooftop Bar
To end off an educational and long day, I recommend choosing one of Budapest’s many rooftop bars to unwind in. Be warned that if you’re in town on a weekend, you need to make a reservation well in advance because locals book these out especially in summer. We ended up at The Duchess- which wasn’t my first pick- but it did have a beautiful view.
Stop 1: Gellert Thermal Baths
Again, I recommend starting your day with a nice relaxing soak at another thermal bath. This one is slightly different from Szechenyi because it’s focused mainly on the indoor pools. The building embodies the art deco style with brilliant colors and intricate, geometric patterns.
There is a lap pool in the center of the building where a swim cap is compulsory here, but not in the rest of the baths. We found solace in a room with stunning inlaid tiles and mosaic patterns. The pools were hot but the surroundings were stunning. Eventually though, we ended up making our way to the outdoor pool to cool down.
Something to note is that Gellert is extremely confusing so you have to wander around for a bit until you can discover all the pools. I would book tickets online from the official website and just like the other thermal baths in the city, take your flip flops and a towel.
Cost: 7100HUF for a weekday and 7600HUF for a weekend
Stop 2: Breakfast at Lion’s Locker
We found this hidden gem while trying to find a breakfast spot open on a Saturday morning. Almost everything was booked out but thankfully, we snagged a table here. They have a small menu but what we ate was tasty. The Hungarian breakfast was a winner and I enjoyed the lemonade.
Stop 4: Souvenir Shopping
The area around Lion’s Locker had a lot of souvenir shops if you were looking to make a purchase. If you aren’t interested in doing any shopping, the Dohany synagogue is nearby but make sure you’re dressed modestly.
Stop 5: Budapest Cat Cafe
The best way to experience the fluff without the fuss! It was my first time visiting a cat cafe so I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. This cat cafe features three floors all subtly decorated in a cat theme. Note that this cat cafe does not force the cats to do anything to entertain you. There is no guarantee that the cats will come up to you, let you pet them or play with you. This is because the cafe respects their wellbeing.
Cost: You pay for what you drink/eat.
While most might add the bright lights of Paris, Rome, Berlin, Amsterdam or Barcelona to the itinerary of their next European adventure, there are plenty of less popular destinations for those looking to get off the the main tourist track. Hungary’s extraordinary capital, Budapest, is one such city, filled with historic sites, gothic architecture, exquisite culinary delights and a captivating culture ready to be explored. Don’t miss out on this underrated gem when visiting Europe!
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Have you visited Budapest before? Or have I inspired you to take a 3 day trip to Budapest? Let me know in the comments below!