Budapest is the perfect destination for a short city break. In three days, you can tick off the main highlights that make Budapest unique, without tiring yourself out. This itinerary will take you around the most beautiful and interesting parts of the city including St. Stephen's Basilica, the historic Castle District, and thermal baths.
Most of the destinations each day can be accessed on foot or easily with public transportation. There’s plenty of room for flexibility if you have something else you’d rather see, and there room to add in more sights if you feel so inclined.
Budapest Travel Tips
A little preparation can go a long way, so make the most of Budapest with these tips:
- Get a transport pass. You can get a three-day pass from one of the purple ticket machines in metro stations, and most tram or bus stops, or from the kiosks in the metro stations. These will give you unlimited transport for 72 hours across the city.
- Download a map onto your phone. You can download Google maps for Budapest and run it when you’re offline, so you always know where you are.
- Wear good, comfy shoes. Since you’ll be walking and standing a lot, make sure you bring a pair of shoes you feel comfortable in.
- Bring a bathing suit. Bringing your swimwear may not seem obvious for a city break in landlocked Central Europe. However, you must visit at least one Budapest thermal bath while you’re here.
- Keep some cash on you. Some bars and cafes only accept cash, so keep enough on you for when you can’t pay by card. Also, many ATMs in the Jewish Quarter and City Center—the EuroNet ones—charge very high fees and give you a poor exchange rate. Avoid them at all costs.
Day 1: Morning
8 a.m.: Begin day one at the stunning, light-flooded, 19th-century Central Market Hall. It can get crowded later in the day, so come early to take in the sights and smells of local produce before it fills up. Even if you don’t buy any dried paprika or cured sausages, you can still get your camera out to snap some mouthwatering shots.
10 a.m.: Take the number 2 tram to Széchenyi István tér. Snap a few photos of the Chain Bridge before turning down Zrínyi utca to St. Stephen’s Basilica. The Basilica is one of Budapest’s most popular sites, admired for its opulent interior and the curious mummified hand of St. Stephen, the king-turned-saint who founded the Hungarian state. But the real highlight is the viewing platform surrounding the dome with 360-degree views over downtown Pest.
Day 1: Afternoon
Noon: The good news is there’s plenty of great dining options around the Basilica. If you’re in the mood to sit down and be wined and dined, farm-to-table Zeller Bistro won’t disappoint. But if you want something quick and informal, head to the Downtown Market on Hold Street for the Séf Utcája gourmet street food court.
3 p.m.: Wander over to the Hungarian Parliament and take the hour-long guided tour through its ornate gold-lined corridors. Afterward, head down to the Danube Banks to the poignant "Shoes on the Danube Bank" memorial. It commemorates the Jews who were shot into the river during World War II.
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: If you’re feeling spendy, book at table at one of Budapest's Michelin-starred restaurants like Onyx or Costes Downtown. Alternatively, explore the streets surrounding St. Stephen's Basilica for restaurants catering to a variety of budgets and tastes.
9 p.m.: Enjoy a few drinks on one of the nearby rooftop bars, like the Aria Hotel’s High Note Bar.
Day 2: Morning
9 a.m.: Fisherman’s Bastion is perhaps the number one photo spot in the city, and at peak times this 19th-century neo-Gothic monument can get very crowded. If you time your visit for the opening though, you’ll get lovely light and more breathing room. Make sure you head to the upper observation deck to catch amazing views of the Danube.
10 a.m.: Once you’ve taken a few photos, head to Hospital in the Rock for a tour into this subterranean museum. You’ll be transported back in time to a former underground military hospital that was in operation during World War II and the 1956 Revolution. An exciting part of this museum is the old nuclear bunker that was fully prepared during the Cold War.
Day 2: Afternoon & Evening
12:30 p.m.: Fortuna Street offers great options for a quality lunch, with places like Pierrot, 21 Magyar Vendéglő, and the Pest-Buda Bistro. There is also Baltazár Grill on nearby Kapisztrán Square. For dessert, go to Ruszwurm, the oldest cafe and confectionery in the city, or Rétesvár for a hole-in-the-wall strudel place.
2 p.m.: Walk to the Royal Palace of Buda Castle for a few hours at one of the museums. Art lovers should visit the Hungarian National Gallery for a journey through Hungarian art history. If you’re interested in the history of the castle, a visit to the Budapest History Museum is a must. Although this museum covers the history of the city, the most interesting part is getting to explore the rooms once belonging to the Renaissance part of the castle.
7 p.m.: Escape the crowds in the vibrant Buda neighborhood of Lágymányos, lined with fin de siecle buildings, trendy restaurants, and bars. Grab dinner in Hadik, Kelet, or Vegan Love and enjoy a few drinks in Gdansk, Szatyor, or Béla.
Day 3: Morning
7 a.m.: You can’t leave Budapest without trying one of the famous thermal baths, If you come early in the morning, you can skip the crowds at the Széchenyi Baths. Take a simple soak in the healing thermal waters and admire the beautiful architecture while charging up for the day ahead. It’s the absolute best way to start the day.
10 a.m.: After the baths, explore the surrounding City Park. Stroll through the grounds of Vajdahunyad Castle, a 19th-century “castle” drawing from various architectural styles in the region. The castle is also home to the Museum of Agriculture, which is worth a visit before heading to Heroes’ Square, a monumental plaza encircled by colonnades and statues of Hungarian kings.
Day 3: Afternoon
12:30 p.m.: Although Gundel is pricey—it has hosted world leaders after all—they do offer a moderately priced lunch menu that’s a great value for such an iconic culinary institution. Alternatively, you can try neighboring Bagolyvár for great Hungarian food or Városliget Café and Bar for views of the lake and Vajdahunyad Castle.
2 p.m.: The Museum of Fine Arts on Heroes’ Square is worth exploring for a few hours. If you’re interested in archaeology, descend into the basement for their extensive Egypt, Greece, and Roman collections. Art lovers should explore the first floor for works by masters like Raphael, El Greco, and Titian. Don’t miss the Romanesque Hall which is covered head to toe in Medieval inspired frescoes that only opened to the public for the first time in 75 years in 2018.
Day 3: Evening
6 p.m.: Take metro 1 to Opera and turn right as you come out and head into the Jewish Quarter. Make a bee-line to Kazinczy Street, passing the art nouveau Kazinczy Street Synagogue and trendy ruin bars. There, you’ll have plenty of options for dinner, like Kőleves Vendéglő or the Karavan street food court. Head over to Szimpla Kert for evening drinks to see Budapest’s most famous ruin bar in action.