Spread out over the romantic Danube River, Budapest is a city of beauty and contrasts. If this your first time in the Hungarian capital, get ready to have a blast! From the towering heights of Buda to the flat streets of Pest, the city’s rich cultural life, stunning architecture and memorable food scene will surely steal your heart. You could easily spend several weeks in Budapest, but if you are on a tight schedule, it is possible to see the highlights of Budapest in 3 days.
What You Can Do in Budapest in 3 Days
Budapest makes a perfect travel destination, whether is included in a longer European itinerary, or just a weekend getaway. There is so much to see and do in Budapest that it’s hard to know where to begin. Even though 3 days in Budapest may not seem like a lot of time, it’s actually enough to cover the city’s most talked about locations.
Day 1: Explore the Castle District
No matter where you are staying when visiting Budapest, the Castle District is the best place to start your 3 days in Budapest itinerary. The hill on which Buda sits –Castle Hill– is where you will find most of Budapest Old Town attractions: the Buda Castle, the Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church.
• Buda Castle
Also known as the Royal Palace, Buda Castle was once the residence of the Hungarian kings. The castle is now home the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the National Széchényi Library. Make sure to take a tour of the Castle and learn about its fascinating history. The National Gallery is also worth visiting, for its beautiful art collection.
• The Fisherman’s Bastion
The Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya, in Hungarian) is right next to the Buda Castle, in Trinity Square. The easily recognizable terrace of the bastion is one of Budapest most iconic sites. It’s hard not to stand in awe and enchantment with views of the city stretching before you! There is not much to do at the Fisherman’s Bastion, other than take pictures of the city from atop its terrace. If you want to take a coffee break, here is the best place to do it. You won’t find a better view than the one at the Fisherman’s Bastion.
• Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom) is located in Trinity Square, right next to the bastion. Matthias Church holds a special place in Hungarian history as it was was the coronation church for the Hungarian kings. This church is stunning! From the outside spires and gorgeous roof tiles, to the gorgeously painted interior, you can’t stop admiring the minute details. You need to pay to get inside, but it’s definitely worth it. Make sure you go up to the balcony for a closer look at the stained glass windows and more information about the design of the walls and tiles.
• The Labyrinth (Budavari Labirintus), is another interesting attraction in this area. The Labyrinth is a complex of caves and cellars that were created a long time ago as an effect of the hot water springs. Throughout the centuries, Budavari Labyrinths had many functions. It served as a shelter for the prehistoric men, a prison during medieval times and a hospital during World War II.
In 2011 the Labyrinth was suddenly closed. The police reportedly stormed the caves and evacuated large numbers of tourists without any explanation. They reopened the Labyrinth a few years later, but not as it was before. Most of the case are not accessible to the public anymore. Today visitors have access only to two of the caves. If you are interested in reading more about this story, you should refer to their official website.
Day 2: Explore the Heart of Downtown Budapest
• The Great Market Hall (Nagyvásárcsarnok)
Whether you have 1, 2, or 3 days in Budapest, this part of town is a must. You can start your day with a visit to the Great Market Hall, famous for its great variety of local foods. From fresh produce, to fish, smoked sausages, cold cuts and home-made baked goods, you can find everything your heart desires here! From here you can then stroll down the famous Vaci Street (Vaci utca). This long pedestrian street lined up with souvenir shops and mediocre restaurants is one of the most picturesque places in Budapest. At the opposite end of Vaci Street you’ll end up in the elegant Vörösmarty Square, where the famous Gerbeaud Café can be found.
• The Hungarian Parliament
The Hungarian Parliament –Budapest’s most beloved landmark– is your next objective for this day. From Vaci Street, the Parliament is accessible with Metro Line M2 (from Deák Ferenc station to the Kossuth Lajos Square station.) The Neo-Gothic style building was completed in 1902 and it is currently the largest and tallest building in Budapest. The main façade faces the Danube River, while the entrance is from the Kossuth Lajos square.
The interior of the building is as impressive as the exterior. Everywhere you look, you see carved wood work, stained glass, and grandiose marble staircases. The Parliament is home to the crown jewels and the Holy Crown of Hungary, which is on display in the central domed hall since January, 2000. There are guided tours in several languages when the National Assembly is not in session. The lines for visiting the Parliament are extremely long, especially during the summer months. Tours fill up very quickly, so you may have the surprise of not being able to get in after standing in line for over an hour. I strongly encourage you to book a tour in advance.
• St. Stephen Church (Szent István Bazilika) is just a short walk away from the Parliament. The church was erected in 1905 and was named in honor of King Stephen I, the first king of Hungary. This the city’s largest and most impressive church (it can hold 8,500 people). It is absolutely HUGE and really beautiful! The church gates are equally magnificent. Below the cupola there is a rich collection of late-19th-century Hungarian art: mosaics, altarpieces, and statues.The marble used in the construction is all from Hungary, except for Kins Stephen’s white statue in the sanctuary.
There is an elevator leading to the bell tower from where you have panoramic view of Budapest. The bell tower is open from April to October. There are guided tours of the chapel and the treasury, but during the worship services the entrance is free. The basilica is also very famous for its wonderful classical music concerts. If you are a classical music lover, you should try to attend one while in Budapest. In front of the entrance there is a beautifully paved square lined up with elegant restaurants and cafés. You can stop here for lunch or for a coffee break.
• The Great Synagogue on Dohany Street is the largest and most famous synagogue in all of Europe. To get there from St. Stephen Basilica you can simply walk for 10-15 minutes. To reach the Synagogue from anywhere else in Budapest take Metro Line M2 and get off at Astoria station.
The Great Synagogue in Budapest is not your typical Jewish temple. The onion shaped domes with gilded ornaments make it look like an oriental, Moorish building. If you ever visited a synagogue you probably remember they are generally quite simple and austere places of worship. But not this one.
On top of the synagogues you can see the stone tablets with the ten commandments and above the main entrance gate the inscription in Hebrew: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25,8). Inside the synagogue men have to wear a small skullcap called kipah or yarmulke (handed out at the entrance) and women have to have their shoulders covered.
• The Jewish Museum
Adjacent to the synagogue is the Jewish Museum which you can visit together with the synagogue. The museum features Jewish traditions, costumes, as well as a detailed history of the Hungarian Jews. Guided tours of the synagogue and the museum are available in several languages and I encourage you to book one. They are very informative and even entertaining. You’ll hear amusing stories and get some insight into Judaism.
Day 3: Visit the Upper Part of Budapest
Continue your 3 days in Budapest itinerary with a visit to the upper part of Budapest. Start your day in Heroes’ Square, which is situated between the Museum of Art, City Park and the Hall of Art, the Heroes’ Square is dominated by the Millennium Monument which features statues of the seven tribal leaders who founded Hungary in the 9th century.
• Vajdahunyad Castle
Just a few steps away from the Heroes’ Square you’ll find the Citi Park. The park is home to the fairytale Vajdahunyad Castle. Vajdahunyad is not a real castle, but a collection of replicas of the most famous medieval buildings in Hungary and Transylvania. In summer and fall there are music festivals and various gastronomic events on the castle grounds.
• Széchenyi Baths
In the afternoon, you can stop at Szechenyi Baths to experience Budapest’s oldest and most popular thermal bath. Its 18 pools are open every single day throughout the year. The Bath features both outdoor and indoor geothermal pools, saunas, a gym and massage therapy. The admission fee as well as the treatments are very affordable, so indulge in a few hours of relaxation.
The ornate architecture and interiors of Szecheni Baths is worth a visit even if you don’t plan to swim. During summer and fall, every Saturday night the bath stays open till 3 a.m. for a pool party.
• Dinner at Bagolyvar Restaurant
Close your 3 days in Budapest itinerary with dinner at Bagolyvár (the Owl’s Castle). This is one of the best restaurants in Budapest if you want to try authentic, Hungarian food. The Owl’s Castle has the same owner and shares a kitchen with the famous Gundel Etterem. That is a guarantee of the quality of food, but the prices at Bagolyvár are way more reasonable.
Where to Stay in Budapest
There are many places where you can stay in Budapest. From very reasonably priced apartments, to bed-and-breakfasts, hotel rooms, and hostels, there are accommodations for every taste and budget. To find the best deal and compare prices you should check TripAdvisor, which is also a good source if you want to read what other travelers have to say about these places. Another good option to keep in mind is VRBO – Vacation Rentals By Owner, also a great resource for affordable accommodations.