Although three days in Budapest is nowhere near enough time to see everything it has to offer, it’s a perfect tantalising taster that’ll make you want to come back for more.
You can return to the city several times without seeing it all, but there are certain things that just shouldn’t be missed on your first trip. With this in mind, I’ve put together this three-day itinerary for first time visitors to Hungary’s capital, Budapest.
Budapest: Day 1
Start your exploration of the city by spending the day on the beautiful Buda side of the Danube.
Either take a slow climb up Castle Hill or cheat by paying a small fee and taking the historic Sikló funicular up to the top from the base of the beautiful Chain Bridge. From here you can wonder the open streets of the Var district, explore the Royal Palace – home to the Hungarian National Gallery – then head towards the beautiful Matyas Church and Fisherman’s Bastion, perhaps stopping off for an epic cream slice from renowned patisserie Ruszwurm.
After a quick lunch at one of the many restaurants in the area, head over to the Hospital in the Rock for a 45 minute tour through the tunnels of the old military hospital turned nuclear bunker, where you’ll learn more about the city’s tumultuous past.
Make your way back down to the riverside via Buda’s meandering side streets for a chance to visit some small local shops and cafes then stroll along the embankment towards the beautiful Gellert Baths for a chance to relax those tired feet.
Why not end the day by ordering an Uber to take you to Kehli. Although it’s not the most central place to eat, this highly recommended restaurant is a great place to try authentic local dishes whilst bands play traditional Hungarian tunes.
Budapest: Day 2
After an all you can eat breakfast at the decadent New York Café, walk off that food with a trip through the shopping district on your way to the Great Market Hall. Then hop on Tram 2, which has made its way into Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Tram Trips list down to the Parliament Building for a guided tour (be sure to book your slot at least several weeks in advance!).
From here stroll over to the beautiful St Stephen’s Basilica and go up the cupola for amazing views of the whole city. Next head to Four Seasons Gresham Palace for an amazing Hungarian-themed afternoon tea before taking a sunset river cruise that allows you to watch the city light up.
Finish your evening off with a visit to one of the city’s amazing ruin bars; abandoned warehouses that have been turned into unique bars, clubs, cafes and games rooms, decorated with upcylced junk and fairy lights galore. The must-visit ruin pub has to be Szimpla Kerts, plus if you’re peckish just up the road is Street Food Karavan, a kind of food court with carts offering a wide range of takeaway dishes.
Budapest: Day 3
You’ve squeezed in a lot, so for your last day in the city slow down the pace with a trip to the beautiful City Park where you can see the Vajdahunyad Castle.
After enjoying this wonderful green space, head over to unwind further in the city’s biggest thermal baths, Széchenyi. This amazing place has 16 different baths of varying temperatures as well as steam and sauna rooms and should not be missed. You can even play a game of chess while relaxing in the large outdoor pool – that’s if you can drag yourself away from standing under the hot water cascading from the baths’ fountains.
For your last meal in the city, head to Paprika, which overlooks the park. Here you can savour wonderful local dishes, including the mouth-watering garlic soup, but be sure to save yourself space for the beef goulash, as this is recommended as one of the best places to try it.
If you have time, why not end your trip with a return to the ruin pubs, taking the time to check out a few of the other venues before heading back to Szimpla Kerts for a final drink.