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The Best of: 3 Days in Budapest

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This post was updated in August 2018

Known as the Pearl of the Danube and the Paris of Eastern Europe, Budapest is a mecca for all kinds of travellers. Whether it be a couple on a multi-day European river cruise or young backpackers looking for a cheap place to party, the capital of Hungary has a little something for everyone to enjoy during their stay. And although I will admit that my visit to this eastern European gem wasn’t quite what I had hoped for, even I can agree that Budapest is a stunning city with a lot to offer. Here’s how to make the most out of 3 days in Budapest.

Getting To Budapest

No longer a backpacker’s secret, Budapest it becoming more and more popular as a tourist destination. As such there are a lot of options on how to arrive. Buses and trains are common and frequent from neighbouring countries. For longer distances night trains are a popular option, for example, I took a 10 hour one from Krakow, Poland. Another option is via a cruise ship or boat as the city is divided by the Danube. And, of course, Budapest has its own airport.

Getting Around Budapest

The first thing anyone will tell you about Budapest is not to take the taxis. They are unreliable, will rip you off, and can even be unsafe. If you do find yourself in desperate need of a taxi, call and request one ahead of time, do not hop into one off the street.

Budapest also has a good metro system made up of four lines that connect the major points of the city. Tickets can be purchased as singles, day, or multi-day passes from the machines in any of the stations (there is an English option) or from manned desks at the busier stops. Please keep an eye on your change, and if possible pay with smaller bills. I have heard stories from more than one traveller about being short-changed by the ticket sellers.

Walking is also an option, however, I wouldn’t depend entirely on this mode of transportation. Although many of the sights are within walking distance of each other the city is rather large and a couple metro rides will likely be necessary, especially if you want to make the most of your 3 days in Budapest. That being said, some of the main sights are with in walking distance and offer a scenic view of the city. Check out this self-guided walking tour of Budpest for some ideas.

Where To Stay for 3 Days in Budapest

As mentioned above, Budapest is a large city so if you want to stay as central as possible try to find accommodation close to the river. Budapest is also divided into two sectors by the Danube river: Buda (the castle side) and Pest. Based on my experience I would recommend staying on the Pest side as it has more attractions, restaurants, and nightlife options. If you are looking for recommendations, I would suggest the following:

Hostels: Wombats City Hostel Budapest, The Hive Party Hostel Budapest, or Flow Hostel

Mid-range hotels: Mercure Budapest Korona, Prestige Hotel Budapest, or Carlton Hotel Budapest

Luxury Hotels: The Four Seasons Budapest, Buddha Bar, or Aria Hotel Budapest

How to Spend 3 Days in Budapest


The Best Things to do in Budapest

There is no shortage of things to do in Budapest from the touristy sites to more local finds. That being said there are some definite must-sees. I suggest making sure you see the following during your 3 days in Budapest.

Hungarian Parliament

Arguably the most beautiful building in the city, the Hungarian Parliament is an enormous gothic structure on the Pest side of the Danube.  Visitors can pay a fee to enter the buildings where they will be able to see some of the incredible interiors for themselves including treasures such as the Holy Crown of Hungary. If your wallet doesn’t allow for the extra expense of going inside, the exterior is still worth seeing.


Shoes on the Danube memorial

Probably one of the most powerful memorials you will ever see, the Shoes on the Danube is a monument to honour the Jewish men and women who were forced to take off their shoes and line up on the river bank where they were shot to their death. The memorial is made up of 60 pairs of men’s and women’s cast iron shoes, many of which today are filled with flowers for remembrance, and a plaque reading “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow cross Militia men in 1944-45. Erected 16 April 2005.” The Shoes on the Danube memorial can be found about 300m south of the Hungarian Parliament on the banks of the Pest side of the Danube.

Shoes on the Danube

The Great Market Hall

As the largest indoor market of the city, the Great Market Hall is a fantastic place to pick up some authentic souvenirs, food items to take away, or a meal to enjoy. Located at the end of the pedestrian-only shopping street; Váci Utca, on the Pest side of the Liberty Bridge this market offers three levels filled with a number of stalls offering all types of goods. Vendors sell anything and everything from souvenir t-shirts and shot glasses, to Christmas ornaments, purses and traditional clothing, and all types of knick-knacks. Food vendors sell meat, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, while upstairs has a food-court-style area where visitors can try some local specialities such as goulash or lángos. The market is also a great place to pick up Hungarian souvenir favourites including paprika, Tokaji wine, and hand-painted eggs. Make sure to check the market hours ahead of time and note that it is not open on Sundays.

Inside the Grand Market

St. Stephen’s Basilica

Along with the Parliament, St. Stephen’s Basilica is one of the tallest buildings in Budapest and the city’s most important church. Popular for religious purposes and music concerts the Basilica also hosts an interesting relic: The holy right hand of St. Stephen himself. There is a nominal fee to see the relic (a button needs to be pushed to light it up) however as it is a popular attraction, chances are someone will have already paid and you can sneakily take a peek. St. Stephen’s Basilica is also on the Pest side of the river.

St. Stephen's

The Chain Bridge

The most photographed bridge in the city, the Chain bridge spans the river connecting both sides near Buda Castle. This suspension bridge, guarded by stone lions at each end, was the first bridge in Budapest to span the Danube. It is open to vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrian traffic.

The Chain Bridge

Buda Castle

Towering over the Danube on the Buda side, Buda Castle is another iconic landmark of the city. First built in 1265 this castle (also sometimes known as the Royal Palace) was added to, torn down, and rebuilt multiple times throughout history. It was last destroyed in 1944-45 by German Nazis. The reconstruction (possibly the biggest castle excavation in Europe) was completed in 1966. Today Buda castle in no longer a working palace, but is now home to museums and art. There are two ways to reach the castle which is located on the hill top. There is a funicular available for a fee, located at the base of the hill near the Chain Bridge, or you can climb the path leading up the hill. It is steep, but there are plenty of awesome photo opportunities of the Pest side if you need to take a break.

Buda Castle

Fisherman’s Bastion

Looking straight out of a fairytale, these quirky towers once served as the lookout and were guarded by the fisherman’s guild (hence the name). Today the Fisherman’s Bastion offers some of the best panoramic views over the Danube and across to the Pest side of the city. Walking around the base is free, however, there is a fee to climb up to the towers. Fisherman’s Bastion is located not too far from the Buda Castle on the Buda side.

Fisherman's Bastion

Gellert Hill

Also on the Buda side by the Liberty Bridge, Gellert hill is a 235m high hill offering incredible views of the city- but only worth visiting on a clear day. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating when I planned to visit so locals told me not to bother, but the view from the citadel at the top is said to be stunning. Be aware that it is a rather steep climb.

Gellert Hill by night

Margaret Island

Located in the middle of the Danube, Margaret Island can be reached by bridge or boat. Essentially a large park, Margaret Island is a popular recreational space for both tourists and locals alike. There are plenty of walking paths for walking, jogging, and cycling, as well as a few attractions including a small zoo, a musical fountain, the water tower which now serves as an exhibition hall, an athletics centre, and a water park.

The old Water Tower

Thermal Spas

Another nickname belonging to Budapest is ‘The City of Spas’ and there’s no doubting why with 15 public thermal baths located throughout both sides of the river. While most are co-ed and swimwear is required, some have gender only days where visitors are encouraged to go nude. The tradition of visiting the thermal baths is centuries old, but some of the bathhouses in the city have modernized themselves by having night parties with music and lights, or more playful options such as whirlpools and wave pools for children.

Each of the thermal spas is different so be sure to do your research ahead of time or visit the tourism offices for suggestions. The most popular suggestion for first-timers is the Széchenyi bath located up by Hero’s Square on the Pest side. Locals suggest this one because it has both indoor and outdoor pools and is one of the largest, not only in Budapest but in Europe. Visiting a thermal spa is an absolute must during your 3 days in Budapest, though based on my experience I would recommend finding someone to go with- it can be a little lonely on your own.

The outdoor pools

A River Cruise

There is no doubt that the best way to see the city is from the water, and a river cruise along the Danube is the perfect way to enjoy the cityscape. The cruises last about 1.5-2 hours and have an option commentary you can listen to through the headphones to learn more about both the Buda and Pest sides of the city. The cruise I took offered a complimentary beverage, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, during the first half and a free glass of lemonade during the second half. Depending on the time of the cruise there was also an option to get off at Margaret island for a bit and catch the next boat an hour or so later. Cruises are offered during the day and evening, although evening cruises are more expensive.  Dinner and lunch cruises are also available.

Insider tip: depending on the time of year you can get the best of both worlds.  I took the second last day cruise and took advantage of the chance to stop at Margaret Island. By the time I re-boarded the sun had set so I was able to see Budapest all lit up at night, without paying the additional night cruise fee.

I’ll be honest, the first time I visited Budapest, I didn’t really like it. However, having since been back (this time in the winter for the Christmas markets), I’ll admit that it has grown on me. Without a doubt, Budapest is a truly beautiful European city. Plus, with 3 days in Budapest, you’ll be able to see and do quite a bit.

Budapest is an awesome city to explore. Don't have much time? Don't worry! Here's how to make the most out of 3 days in Budapest. #Budapest #Hungary #Europe

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46 thoughts on “The Best of: 3 Days in Budapest

  1. Els

    I only spent 24 hours in Budapest, way too short of course, but managed the Szechenyi baths! Will definitely go back to explore the city more at ease!

  2. Dave Cole

    Great round-up of the Budapest sights and activities. I have been to Budapest a couple of times, but had not known about the Shoes on the Danube Memorial, which sounds like a very poignant tribute to the victims of that atrocity. It’s interesting that you have to watch your change with the metro workers. This is why I always learn the numbers in the language of the country to where I’m traveling – a few hours of study can make a big difference!

  3. lorrie

    amazing photos I think I like the parliament photo best, thank you for sharing the shoes on the Danube that was a moving picture

  4. Margherita @The Crowded Planet

    This is a perfectly times post! I’m planning to go to Budapest in September and I really needed a quick rundown of what is there to see and do. I have visited once before but I didn’t go to Margaret Island and didn’t do a river cruise because it was winter and bitterly cold! I can’t wait to go back and discover Budapest through your tips. I didn’t even know about shoes on the Danube!

  5. antonette - we12travel

    Although I studied tourism and should there for know, I had never heard of the shoes on the Danube before. Quite impressing, esp. because of the sad story behind it. It somehow reminds me of the chairs in Krakow, also a jew monument. If you ever make it over there, do check it out, it will leave you speechless.

      1. Edith Clark

        The Dohany Street Synagogue is magnificent and worth visiting.It is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second largest in the world.

  6. Chris Boothman

    Thanks for sharing such a great overview of Budapest! We recently just featured a picture of Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest on our Saturday Snaps feature on our site provided by a fellow traveler and that really encouraged me to want to visit this city.

    Now that I have read this post, it just increases my desire to explore the many amazing attractions. I am sure it would be poignant to see the shoes along the banks of the Danube and just ponder the history that is behind this story.

  7. Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy

    Great overview of Budapest – I’ve never been but after hearing so much about it this year, I really want to! I’ve never heard of the shoes on the Danube before but just seeing the pic is powerful, I couldn’t imagine being there.

    1. Post author

      Sounds like after your SE Asia adventures you should plan on to Europe and visit Budapest! The monument is absolutely incredible, but sadly as powerful as the photo is, it doesn’t do it justice. Definitely worth experiencing in person if you have the chance.

  8. Hannah

    I’ve never been there but always wanted to. It seems like such an interesting place, and Margaret Island looks beautiful. Thanks for the info!

  9. kami

    I’ve been 5 or more times in Budapest and while it’s undoubtedly beautiful I just don’t feel it… but I want to give it a proper chance again soon and I’m actually looking forward to rediscovering all the places you’ve mentioned above!

  10. Charles McCool

    I am currently in Budapeast, and looking for tips of more places to visit. It is a beautiful large city and we are enjoying walking around and exploring.

    Just wanted to point out that we took a taxi and it was half the estimated price we were advised it would be. Totally the opposite of the fears of ripoffs and cheats. In fact, if there were 3 or more persons, the taxi ride would be less expensive than public transport one time tickets.

    Happy travels.

    1. Hannah Logan Post author

      Well thats good news! Would be interesting to know if it’s one you just flagged down or if you accommodation arranged it and if there’s a difference. Enjoy Budapest!

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