Wondering What to Do in Budapest in 3 Days? Read on!
Lots of travellers ask themselves “whats a good amount of time to spend in Budapest?” Of course, that’s a really great question that’s hard to answer. That’s partially because there’s so much to do and see and also because one traveller to the next is going to have such diverse needs and interests.
We were there for five days but worked for two of them and so we really only had 3 days to explore the city. So, we’re going to tell you exactly how to see Budapest in three days by describing what we did to give you sightseeing tips, some great food tips, and tips for great coffee places.
Budapest is actually a place Eric visited back in 2015 when he went on his epic Europe Trip itinerary through 13 cities. He was happy to return with Lisa so that they could discover it together! If you’re new to Penguin and Pia, it’s fun to note that Eric has Hungarian ties so visiting Hungary is always a little extra special. Eventually, we’d love to write the perfect Budapest itinerary for 2 days, 5 days, and even 7 days! For now, we’ll walk you through what we did, and even provide you a sample Budapest Itinerary for 3 days at the bottom. Ready? Here’s how you spend three perfect days in Budapest!
Where to Stay in Budapest
While we’re not going to cover the topic in-depth in this article, we won’t leave you completely hanging. Before we dive in, it’s important to note that Budapest is officially split into Buda, which is the hilly west side of the Danube and Pest, the flatter east side of the Danube. We’ll refer to these sides in this post for reference but sometimes we’ll just say “Budapest” to refer to the city as a whole!
That said, we stayed in an Airbnb in Pest that was close to Budapest Keleti train station in a neighbourhood north of the main centre. We really liked how quiet the neighbourhood was – it felt like that’s where normal people live! However, there are also lots of great hostels and hotels in Budapest that are sure to suit everyone’s budgets and needs.
If you’re looking for hostels and hotels in Budapest, we’ve got you covered. Our post on 9 of the most unique hostels in Europe mentions Maverick Lodge Hostel which is quite nice so you can certainly check that out. Our post on the ultimate Europe itinerary talks about the Budapest party hostels if that’s what you’re looking for.
As for hotels, we’d recommend Hotel Papillon which is located on the Buda side of Budapest just to the north of the Parliament building. Check out the prices Hotel Papillon here. The other highly-rated hotel is Walk Inn Váci 78 located right in the heart of Pest. We actually walked by a few times and now that we’ve looked at the photos, Lisa has basically fallen in love with it and wants to stay there next time we’re in the city! Check here to see the photos and prices of Wall Inn Váci 78!
What to Do in Budapest in 3 Days
Let’s start off with the things that you can do and see in Budapest. Below is a mix of some of the top attractions, monuments, buildings, and activities. We did a healthy mix of a few of them and so we’ll tell you which ones in no particular order.
If you’re in Budapest for 72 hours you might consider buying a Budapest Card. This handy pass gets you on all public transportation and offers you discounts of 10-50% on over 100 attractions, entrance fees, food places, etc. We didn’t need it since we love walking and generally seek out free activities but it’s definitely worth checking out if you want a quick and easy way to discover things for cheaper without the added hassle of buying a ticket for the metro or bus again and again. Get your Budapest Card here!
Visit the Buda Castle Complex on Buda Hill
Dating back to 1265, the Buda Castle complex cannot be missed when you’re in Budapest. No, literally – you can’t miss it since the iconic dome of the Royal Palace atop Buda hill can be seen from many places in the city! The Castle used to house the Kings right up until 1918. Today, you can visit the castle grounds for free, but there are many museums, galleries, and other exhibits that you can buy tickets for once you’re up there.
To get up there, you can take one of the many walking paths, a shuttle bus, or the famous funicular cable car that glides passengers right up to the castle grounds. A funicular ticket can be expensive – but worth it for the iconic experience.
Enjoy the Thermal Baths
Budapest is known for its thermal baths that are scattered around the city. If you didn’t know that – well, now you do. It’s a great city for engaging in the tradition of going for a dip to relax, de-stress, and unwind. Since there are so many around the city – with some being more famous and busier than others, here’s a brief breakdown of the main ones that you can visit.
- Széchenyi Medicinal Baths – Many would consider Széchenyi the “main” thermal bath in Budapest. This massive complex of indoor and outdoor pools was built in 1913 and holds the title of the largest thermal bath in Europe. If you know that you want to take a dip at Széchenyi when you visit, consider buying your entrance ticket beforehand to skip the line.
- Rudas Baths – First built in 1550 during the Ottoman rule in Budapest, the beautiful baths have gotten a few additions and upgrades like a rooftop pool and saunas in recent years. Have a look at Rudas Baths here.
- Gellért Baths – The famous Art Nouveau baths were built in 1918 and overlook the Danube from Buda. Connected to the hotel complex by the same name, Gellért has been letting visitors soak in the rich medicinal waters for a century. We’ll mention this below, but staying at the Gellért Hotel allows you free admission to the baths. If you’re confident Gellért is for you, grab a full day ticket beforehand for Gellért and secure a locker or changing cabin.
Take a Boat Cruise on the Danube
The River Danube continues to play a huge role in shaping Central and Eastern Europe. So, it’s only fitting that you see Budapest from the water! A river cruise is a great way to do this. Eric actually did a night cruise back in 2015 and even though it was raining a bit – discovering Budapest from the water was a very cool experience.
There are lots of different companies that leave from along the river’s edge close to the Chain Bridge so you can just show up and book something or you can book in advance. Here’s a ticket for a night cruise that gets you a free cocktail included! This one is very similar to the one Eric did.
Visit the Fishermen’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion is another one of those super beautiful and famous landmarks that we just didn’t get the chance to check out. Probably named after the guild of fishermen who used to live in an area under the walls in Buda on the banks of the Danube.
Technically part of the Castle complex, the Bastion was originally built in 1985 as part of Hungary’s 1,000-year anniversary celebrations. The Bastion was badly damaged in World War II and has since been rebuilt and restored more than once. To visit, some viewing areas are free while others are paid entrance. You can find those breakdowns here.
Visit the Parliament Building
The Parliament Building in Budapest is stunning with a rich history. Built starting in 1885, the building was inaugurated for the 1000 year anniversary celebrations and actually completed in 1905. The outcome was well worth the wait! The Gothic Revival style of the building makes it stand out on the banks of the Danube for all to see. Fun Fact: During the Communist years, there was a red star placed atop the main dome. The star was removed in 1990 when Hungary broke from the USSR.
We walked around the outside because the weather was so nice and snapped lots of photos. If you’d like a guided tour of the Parliament Building to check our the Royal Jewels, the Royal Crown, and other pieces of Hungarian history – then book this highly-rated “skip the line” tour of the Hungarian Parliament that comes in many languages with a real live guide!
Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica was built in 1905 and serves as an active place of worship for the Hungarian people. Current building regulations in Budapest state that no building can be built taller than the high point of the Basilica. Interestingly enough, the tallest point of the Hungarian Parliament stands at the exact same height. You can go inside for free – but you’ll have to watch for when there is mass taking place. A small donation is encouraged, but not required.
If you want the amazing views, you can buy a ticket for a small fee and climb (or take a lift partially up) to the top of the dome to snap breathtaking photos of the surrounding city. The Basilica also has live performances by the famous organist – and you can attend an organ performance concert in the Basilica. The sound, the architecture and the ambiance make this a highly recommended experience! Check out the Organ Performance at St. Stephen’s Basilica here.
See Heroes’ Square
Located in the northeast end of Pest on the edge of City Park, Heroes Square stands as the largest square in the city. Funny enough, it was close to our Airbnb and we didn’t even get a chance to go and check it out! The square was first built in 1896 to commemorate the 1,000 anniversary of Hungary (the Magyar tribes settling there). As time went on, important political and historical figureheads were included – and you’ll even find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier located here. The central pillar has the statue of Archangel Gabriel and the seven chieftains of the original Magyar tribes.
We were told to check it out twice: once during the day, and once on the evening when it’s all lit up! The square is connected to the Andrássy Avenue which makes for a great stroll into the centre of Pest.
Walk Along the Danube + See “Shoes on the Danube Bank” Memorial
If the weather outside is nice, you can simply go for a long stroll down the riverbank of the Danube. There are lots of sidewalks and pathway available for a stroll in either direction towards the other bridges that cross the river.
A main sight to check out is the “Shoes on the Danube Bank” memorial which is exactly like it sounds. Along the Danube, you’ll find a variety of iron shoes that are cemented into the sidewalk. Created by sculptor Gyula Pauer, the shoes are meant to remember the 3,500 Hungarian civilians, many of them Jews, who were shot into the river by the ruling Arrow Cross militia (a Fascist arm of the German Nazi Party) between 1944 and 1945.
As the horror goes: Civilians were ushered to the edge of the Danube and ordered to take off their shoes before being shot. The sixty pairs of shoes seen today are meant to represent the shoes left behind by their owners. It’s an interesting and moving display that always has a small crowd around it. Some of the shoes often have flowers in them. Because it’s important to remember and acknowledge history, we feel that the shoes on the Danube Bank shouldn’t be missed!
Walk Across the Chain Bridge
As one of the most iconic landmarks in Budapest (and bridge structures in all of Europe), you have to walk across the Chain Bridge. Opened in 1849, this bridge has been connecting Buda and Pest for decades. The bridge crossing was actually completely demolished during World War II but was rebuilt in the years after. It’s a very popular route to get to the Castle, so it’s not like you have to go out of your way to walk across the bridge. You’ll get really great photographs – and be sure to say hello the guardian lions that are mounted at each end of the bridge!
Climb Gellért Hill
Aside from the amazing views of Budapest, Gellért Hill is famous because of its place in history. The hill is named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to his death from the hill in the 11th century. Yeah – he was placed in a barrel and rolled down the hill during the Pagan rebellion. During World War II, the Soviets used the hill as a strategic point when they retook the city. That’s why you’ll find the Liberty Statue – a monument which was erected by the Soviets to commemorate their victory in liberating Budapest.
Aside from that, the hill is home to the Citadel which was built in the 1800s has since been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can go inside if you want to see more of it.
If you want to see all that, you can expect a long walk up to the top, but there are lots of different paths that wind through the green parkland. If you’re lucky, you might even see wildlife – apparently, there are lots of hedgehogs! Gellért Hill is also home to the famous Gellért Hotel, and the Gellért Baths which are connected to the complex (we chatted about these above). Helpful Reminder: If you stay at the Gellért Hotel, you get free entrance to the baths! Check out the prices for the Danubius Gellért Hotel.
The Budapest Eye + Walk Váci Street
If you’re wandering the Inner City in Pest, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble upon the Budapest Eye in Erzsébet Square. For 3 turns of the 65 metre tall eye, it’s 9 euro for adults and 5 euro for children. Worth the views when the city if all lit up at night!
Close by to the Eye, you’ll find the start of Váci Street – the famous pedestrian mall that runs the length of the Inner city. Lined with numerous shops, stalls, and seasonal pop-ups for Easter and Christmas, it’s a great stroll if you want to feel like you’re in all the action. Some might consider it “touristy” but like any other pedestrian mall, you’ll find a mix of locals and visitors going about their business!
Great Cafés in Budapest
We actually went to three cafés while we were there, but one was the chain called California Coffee Company. There are a few locations around the city. It’s okay for a simple tea or coffee, but we wouldn’t recommend it otherwise.
There is one location right beside St. Stephen’s Basilica and we made the mistake of getting a quick snack there after visiting a different location the day before and having a good experience. The bagel and cake we had had to have been there from the day before because they were hard as a rock. But, of course – this location gets so many tourists that frankly they don’t care if the wraps, bagels, cakes, etc are fresh. People will buy them. Not a great experience overall – but live and learn! The other two cafes we went to, however, were absolutely fantastic and helped make our short time in Budapest memorable.
My Little Melbourne Coffee
Went here to get a drink as we’ve been in the area and heard that it was supposed to be good. We got our standard orders – which for Lisa means a Cappuccino and for Eric a Flat White. They also had really good looking cakes in the window – one of them being a chocolate cake (Lisa remembers because she really wanted a slice). But since we’ve just had lunch and were still quite full we didn’t get any – we’ll try that when we return.
We had gone out for a few hours with the intention of getting some work done if we found a coffee shop so we did have our laptops with us. Because there were other people working there as well, we figured it was fine and we actually wrote a blog post while we were there!
That said, the café is quite small so you might need a little bit of luck to get an open table depending on the time of day. We were there in the early afternoon and didn’t have any problems. Also, the coffee was great.
Address: Madách Imre út 3
One morning, we walked from our Airbnb in the North part of the city into the center and decided that we needed a coffee. So we ended up at Madal Cafe. After doing the research to provide you with the address to make it easy for you, we realized that there are actually three locations scattered around the city. We went to the one close to the Astoria metro stop.
Madal was great. It’s located in a very central part of the city, but enough out of the touristy centre that it feels a little more natural. The cafe is opposite to the University library so it was very popular among students, but there were also lots of other people catching up over good coffee.
They offer fancy filter coffees if you want to try infused coffees. It was good, but Lisa has to admit that sometimes she prefers a standard black coffee. We also had banana bread which was really tasty! The cafe itself is quite large – there is seating on two floors, but depending on the time of day it can get very busy with students. We enjoyed the vibe (lots of people studying, some just chatting with their friends) – so if you’re looking for a good place for a coffee we would definitely recommend Madal.
Address: Hollán Ernő u. 3
Great Lunch & Dinner Spots in Budapest
While you’re in Budapest you’ll, of course, have to eat as well. We cooked a few times, but went out the other times – we visited Pad Thai Wok Bar and Belvárosi Disznótoros for lunch and Paprika Vendéglő for dinner. Of course, there are SOO many more restaurants in Budapest, but we would recommend the three we tried to travellers asking for advice. If you want to read about some more awesome restaurants in Budapest, you can check out a Budapest guest post by our food blogger friend Jess over at Pinchables! The photos look delicious – just saying!
Pad Thai Wok Bar
Getting Asian noodles was based on the fact that we really love noodles. On this day, we also wanted something quick and relatively cheap for lunch. Since Pad Thai is one of our favourites anyway, the decision was easy. It was also very close to Madal Café where we went in the morning so that made the decision easy. However, as you walk around the city, you’ll see Pad Thai Wok Bar at different locations so just choose one that works for you. Apparently, it’s a local chain – or at least, that’s what we read.
We both got the Pad Thai with Chicken which was really, really good! Just be careful when you order – they’ll ask you a whole bunch of questions like “Would you like peanuts? Would you like this freshly pressed lemonade?” and all these cost extra. We said no to most of them so the meal was relatively cheap – but know that it can add up quickly if you add the extras!
Wok Bar seemed to be a popular lunch spot as it was quite crowded but we didn’t have to wait long at all. After you order and pay, you get a receipt with a number. Then you just wait until the food with that number shows up at the front on a tray ready for you to grab.
Address: Papnövelde u. 10.
For a traditional Eastern European lunch, this is the place to check out! It is, of course, also close to Madal Cafe and the Pad Thai Wok Bar. Eric noticed it the day before and really wanted to try it out so we came back. Great decision! You should know that this location is a “standing room only” kind of place that seems to be very popular for lunch among locals. The menu above the counter was in Hungarian only which made it a bit intimidating originally. We were able to order in English just fine.
Eric got a wiener schnitzel with rice which he really enjoyed while Lisa got a HUGE plate of pasta. Both meals were absolutely delicious. Overall, we paid approximately 7.00 Euro for both plates of food which makes those huge portions for 3.50 Euro a plate a really good deal.
As far as we know, there are other locations across the city. The logo is a pig with a chef’s hat and a meat fork so you might see it as you walk through the city. For more information, check out the TripAdvisor page.
Address: Karolyi Utca 17
On our first evening in Budapest, we decided to splurge a bit and go for traditional Hungarian if we could find a place that had room and was close to our Airbnb in the north end of the city. After a quick Google search, we found out about Paprika Vendéglő. This ended up being a great decision.
The place isn’t that small but it’s apparently advisable to have a reservation for evenings, weekends, or larger groups since it’s so popular. Inside, you find this traditional wooden interior that feels like the inside of a log cabin. It’s an “old style” that feels authentic and warm which adds to the experience. The nice part is that it’s a mix of locals and tourist alike. The atmosphere is “a place where there’s good food and people don’t really care about who is there, as long as you’re enjoying”.
Eric had chicken paprikash, while Lisa had goulash. Both were very good! For dessert, we shared this hazelnut mousse thing that was so big we had trouble finishing it. Let’s just say that the portions were very large and well worth the trip over there! Here’s the website if you want to learn more.
Address: Dózsa György út 72
A Quick Budapest Itinerary – 3 Days
Now that we’ve given you lots of ideas of what to do, what to see, and where to eat, we wanted to give you a quick breakdown of a possible Budapest Itinerary for 3 Days. We gave consideration for distances to walk between and what do to in order to make sure you don’t backtrack and/or understand what you’ve already seen to piece it all together in Budapest!
Day 1 – Sightseeing and Exploring Day
- Morning: Walk through the Old Town down Váci Street towards St. Stephen’s Basilica (go inside).
- Afternoon: Have lunch at a Pad Wok nearby. Cross the Chain Bridge and up to explore the Buda Castle complex.
- Evening: Grab dinner. Book your night cruise on the Danube and enjoy the city by night.
Day 2 – Relaxing Day
- Morning: Head for a coffee and walk to City Park to enjoy the air and visit the Visit Heroes Square.
- Afternoon: Have a light lunch and go for a relaxing dip at the famous Széchenyi thermal baths.
- Evening: Grab your Hungarian Dinner at Paprika Vendéglő then stroll down Andrássy Avenue. This is not negotiable!
Day 3 – Exploring and Hiking Day
- Morning: Start off at the Hungarian Parliament Building. Take a 45-minute tour, then walk the Danube Promenade passing the “Shoes on the Danube Bank”.
- Afternoon: Eat lunch Belvárosi Disznótoros, cross the Danube at Elisabeth Bridge, and hike up Gellért Hill to the Citadel and the Liberty Statue.
- Catch the 100e bus back to the Airport and fly home to tell everyone about what a great adventure you had in Budapest!
And there you have it – what to do in Budapest in 3 days. What do you think? Did we cover your favourties or did we leave anything out? We’d definitely recommend the food places we went to – they were so delicious. Writing this article just makes us want to go back to Budapest because it’s clear that while we saw lots, there’s just so much that the city has to offer visitors. Let us know what you think and please let us know of any “hidden gems” if you’ve got them in the comments below!
As always, Happy Hungarian Waddlin’,