Divided in two by the beautiful banks of the River Danube, Budapest is one of Central Europe’s most enticing city break destinations. A 3-day weekend in Budapest is the perfect length of time to experience the Hungarian capital’s eclectic history, culture, and cuisine, but you’ll find there’s never enough time to truly appreciate all that this great Central European city has to offer.
Budapest has an ancient history dating back to the Romans, while the city’s architecture recalls successive Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and communist eras, which all left an undeniable mark on the skyline. Learn more as you enjoy a walking tour of the city, crossing back and forth over the Danube to visit historic sites like Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and the monstrous Hungarian Parliament Building on either side of the river.
Downtown Pest is perfect for walking, while the funicular can whisk you to the lofty heights of Castle Hill for stunning views over the capital. This is a year-round destination, too, and in the summer, you can enjoy the city in its greatest light, making the most of Budapest’s famous outdoor thermal baths before sipping cold beers on a rooftop terrace. In winter, the streets are icy cold, but Christmas cheer is rampant, as Budapest’s main squares are overrun with market stalls and festive celebrations.
If you’re planning a trip to Hungary’s exciting capital city, then keep reading as we provide you with our perfect weekend itinerary. Here’s how to spend 3 days in Budapest!
If you’re still deciding where to stay then make sure to check out our article on the best boutique hotels in Budapest!
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How to Spend a Weekend in Budapest, Hungary
Getting Around Budapest
Budapest is Hungary’s capital and largest city, with sights, restaurants, and hotels spread across both banks of the River Danube. The first thing to understand when you’re getting around Budapest is that the Hungarian capital is, effectively, two cities in one.
On the eastern side of the river is Pest a largely flat, downtown area that was, for centuries, an independent city. Opposite Pest, on the western side of the River Danube, is Buda. Historically, Buda was home to the ruling elite, who built their homes and palaces on the steep and rocky crags of Castle Hill. The two cities merged into one when they were connected by the Szechenyi Chain Bridge in the mid-19th century, and since 1873 they’ve officially been known together as Budapest.
This means that the city is still divided into two distinct central zones, Buda and Pest, but luckily, they’re well connected by Budapest’s integrated public transport system. This mass transport system is easily the best way to get around Budapest, and it consists of a mixture of trams, buses, overground trains, and a subway system.
You can purchase single journey tickets for just 350 HUF (approximately 1 USD), while discounts apply for bulk purchases. Tickets can be purchased from machines at subway, train, and bus stations, or you can use the handy BudapestGO app to buy tickets and plan journeys.
Remember to validate your tickets before every journey, or you will be fined by the ticket inspectors. There are validation machines at all stations, or you can use the app to scan the QR codes as you embark. Given you’ll be spending 3 days in Budapest, you could also purchase a 72-hour Budapest travel card, which provides unlimited journeys across the city.
If you need to make your way to the airport, we recommend catching bus 100E from Deak Ferenc Ter, a central square in downtown Budapest that’s well connected to the rest of the city. If public transport isn’t your style, then you’ll find ride-hailing apps like Uber and Bolt are another cost-effective way to get around.
Budapest Weekend Itinerary – Day 1
Your 3-day Budapest vacation begins on the Buda side of the River Danube, where you can delve into the city’s regal history before enjoying supreme views of the Hungarian capital.
Castle Hill Funicular
Located on the western bank of the river, your day is centered around Castle Hill, atop which Hungarian rulers, royals, nobles, and elites have long built their homes, castles, and palaces. Castle Hill towers above Pest and the best way to reach the top is by riding the Castle Hill Funicular starting at Adam Clark Square, close to the Buda end of the Szechenyi Chain Bridge.
Castle Hill Funicular began taking passengers to the top of the hill in 1870, and the traditional wooden carriages you’ll be riding look to have seemingly changed little since their first outing. Within minutes, though, you’ll be whisked 100 meters upwards, where you’ll alight a short stroll away from Buda Castle.
Buda Castle is at the heart of the Buda Castle District, and you’ll love strolling around this historic part of the city on foot. Take some time to appreciate the unique mixture of medieval and baroque architecture, the oldest of which dates back to the 13th century, before joining a tour of Buda Castle to learn more about this impressive fortification’s long history.
As you’re guided around the castle, you’ll discover how the first Hungarian royals built their first residence here in the 13th century. Most of the beautiful baroque architecture you see today, though, was built during the 18th century, when the need for fortifications diminished and a desire for aesthetics prevailed.
The Austro-Hungarians added to the splendor before Buda Castle was almost entirely destroyed during World War II. The area was rebuilt, though, and is now one of Budapest’s most recognizable attractions.
Hungarian National Museum
You might want to take some more time after your guided tour of Buda Castle to explore the Hungarian National Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery, both of which have a permanent home within the palatial walls.
Hungarian National Gallery
By now, though, we expect you’re going to be hungry, but before heading to lunch, we recommend waiting outside the castle’s entrance to catch the Changing of the Guard.
Castle Hill is home to many of Budapest’s best upmarket restaurants, and we suggest making your way to the Pest-Buda Bistro for a taste of the local cuisine. The Pest-Buda Bistro is located in St Matthias Square, where you’ll also find Matthias Church.
This marvelous Christian church was founded by the first king of Hungary in the 11th century AD and was where successive Hungarian kings were crowned ever after. After having a quick peek inside the church, your next stop is Fisherman’s Bastion.
Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the most famous sights in Budapest, although you’ll soon find that the view of the city is just as enthralling as the Neo-Romanesque architecture. Fisherman’s Bastion is a unique lookout terrace built in the 1900s, and over a century later, tourists are still drawn in droves by the beautiful panorama across the River Danube.
After admiring the views, it’s time to continue your afternoon on Castle Hill with a visit to the Hospital in the Rock. This intriguing museum is found on the site of an old hospital that was built into the caverns and caves below Castle Hill.
Hospital in the Rock
The hospital was built in preparation for World War II and treated thousands of wounded soldiers during the Siege of Budapest (1944-45). After the war, the hospital was converted into a nuclear fallout shelter and remained top secret until the fall of the communist regime in the 1990s.
When you emerge from the Hospital in the Rock, the afternoon will be drawing to a close. There’s one last stop to make, and you can either walk or take a tram from Castle Hill to Gellert Hill. Atop Gellert Hill, which is a half-hour walk away from Buda Castle, you’ll find the Citadella, another fortification built to defend Budapest.
You’re not here for the history, though, but for the exceptional views across the city, the best of which you’ll find by the iconic Liberty Statue.
You can watch the sunset over Szechenyi Chain Bridge from Gellert Hill before making your way to Downtown Budapest for dinner. You’re spoiled for choice when choosing where to dine on your first night in the city, but can we suggest booking a table at Getto Gulyas? This simple diner is known for its home-cooked Hungarian classics, with some even saying that they serve the best Goulash in Budapest.
Budapest Weekend Itinerary – Day 2
Your weekend in Budapest continues with a walking tour of Downtown Budapest (or “Pest”) to kick off your second day in the city. Day 2 is focused on the opposite bank of the River Danube, and after a lazy morning, you can make your way to Elisabeth Square, where one of our favorite free walking tours begins in earnest at 10:30 am.
We recommend the daily tour of Downtown Budapest run by Trip to Budapest, but there are many more tour operators offering similar walking tours in the city, with a similar itinerary (although check the starting location, as this differs). We love the free walking tour model, as you only pay what you feel the experience was worth at the end of the tour!
St Stephen’s Basilica
From Elisabeth Square, you’ll be guided to St Stephen’s Basilica while your guide tells you the riveting tale of Budapest’s history. St Stephen’s Basilica is named after Hungary’s first king, Stephen, who reigned around one thousand years ago.
From this beautiful Christian church, you’ll move to Archduke Joseph Square, where you’ll learn more about the Habsburg dynasty that ruled both Austria and Hungary until the end of the First World War.
Vorosmarty Square and Danube Promenade
The tour lasts around two hours, during which time you’ll see all of Downtown Budapest’s major pedestrian areas, including Vorosmarty Square and the Danube Promenade. You’ll also have a chance to pop into Gerbeaud Cafe, one of the oldest and most prestigious art deco-style bistros in Budapest, for a quick coffee and cake.
Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Szechenyi Chain Bridge
After visiting major landmarks, like the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Szechenyi Chain Bridge, you’ll learn about the darker history of Budapest with a stop at the Shoe Memorial.
This moving memorial consists of bronze shoes lining the riverbank, a testament to the city’s Jewish population who were murdered during World War II.
Hungarian National Parliament
From the Shoe Memorial, you’ll then visit the Hungarian National Parliament, an oversized but glorious building that’s one of the largest and most spectacular works of architecture in Europe. If you prefer not to take a guided tour, then simply use the Downtown Budapest itinerary we’ve laid out above to plan your second day in the city!
Hungarian State Opera House
There’s still more walking to do in the afternoon, as your next stop is a stroll along Andrassy Avenue, Budapest’s most iconic boulevard. We suggest taking the metro or tram to the Hungarian State Opera House, located at the start of Andrassy Avenue.
Budapest’s public transport system is a sight in itself. The yellow trams are an iconic symbol of the city, with many routes being traversed by decades-old wagons and cars dating to the communist era. The subway is the second-oldest underground train network in the world (the only older underground train network is in London), and the line that stops along Andrassy Avenue still features antique cars and carriages.
House of Terror
From The Hungarian State Opera House, you can then stroll along Andrassy Avenue toward your next stop, the ominously-named House of Terror. Located within a nondescript Austro-Hungarian-style townhouse, the House of Terror was once the headquarters of Hungary’s feared secret police, first during the right-wing era of World War II and again during the communist era that followed. Now, it’s not only a museum but a warning from history, as the House of Terror shows the perils and pains of dictatorships in all their guises.
It’s going to be late afternoon now, but don’t worry because it’s almost time to enjoy Budapest’s ultimate relaxation experience. Jump back on the metro and ride it a few stops to Heroe’s Square (or you can carry on walking along Andrassy Avenue), admire this commemorative national monument, and then stroll through City Park until you reach the entrance to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
Szechenyi Thermal Baths
Even if you only did one thing during your weekend in Budapest, it would have to be a thermal bath experience. The city is built atop a vast network of hot springs, and since the Roman era, locals and tourists alike have been soaking in the rich, natural mineral waters.
The Szechenyi Thermal Baths are the largest and most visited baths in Budapest, and they’ve been open since 1913. You’ll love the art deco-style of the baths and the mixture of indoor and outdoor swimming and bathing pools that you can move freely between as you like. There are saunas, steam rooms, hot pools, and cold plunge pools, and you can even order a few beers, wines, or cocktails to enjoy on the outdoor terraces.
Street Food Karavan
Enjoy a steamy spa session at the baths, then head back into Downtown Budapest for dinner. We suggest visiting Street Food Karavan, a laid-back venue offering an impressive range of dishes in a street food style (think burgers, curries, Hungarian Langos, shawarmas, and much more).
Next door to Street Food Karavan is Szimpla Kert, the original Budapest “Ruin Bar.” Ruin Bars are unique to Budapest, having developed among the many abandoned apartment blocks and run-down buildings that were common following the fall of communism.
Szimpla Kert was the original Ruin Bar, and it’s since grown into Budapest’s most fascinating nightlife spot. Get ready for beers, cocktails, and live music as you enjoy a raucous second night in Budapest!
Budapest Weekend Itinerary – Day 3
If you spent last night at Szimpla Kert, then we expect you’re ready for a big Budapest brunch to begin day three. There are many excellent brunch spots in the city, including Szimply Breakfast and Brunch and Cirkusz Cafe. Both of these options are located in the Jewish Quarter, which will be the focal point of your third morning in Budapest.
You might already be familiar with Budapest’s Jewish Quarter (which is officially part of District VII) because this is also where the best Ruin Bars are found (including Szimpla Kert). Although it’s now Budapest’s nightlife district, the Jewish Quarter looks much different during the day. We suggest joining a Jewish Quarter Walking Tour to learn more about the area’s fascinating, but heartfelt, history.
For centuries, the Jewish Quarter was home to Budapest’s thriving Jewish community. There were an estimated 200,000 Jewish inhabitants in the city prior to World War II, but few survived the conflict. You’ll have seen the Shoe Memorial on day 2 of your Budapest itinerary, and today, you’ll learn how the Jewish Quarter was turned into an infamous ghetto for Budapest’s Jewish inhabitants.
But you’ll also hear about the local heroes who tried to save their neighbors before visiting the Tree of Life Memorial and seeing the Dohany Street Synagogue, which still remains the largest synagogue in Europe. It’s a moving tour, but one that’s punctuated with contemporary stops at street art murals and Ruin Bars, where you’ll see the modern side of the Jewish Quarter.
Great Market Hall
After exploring the Jewish Quarter, hop on a tram and make your way across Downtown Budapest toward your next stop, the colorful Great Market Hall. We hope you’re hungry after your walking tour because the Great Market Hall is where you’ll find the best local eats (and drinks) in the city.
You’ll be awed by the sheer scale of the Great Market Hall as soon as you walk through the entrance. Dating back to 1897, the Great Market Hall is the largest marketplace in the Hungarian capital, with a vast neo-gothic frame housing three enormous floors packed with stalls, shops, cafes, and restaurants.
If you’re overwhelmed, then you can always book a food tour of the Great Market Hall to find the best eats. If not, then it’s time to get exploring (and eating!).
On the first floor (ground floor), you’ll find stalls serving up local specialties, including the famous paprika spices, Hungarian wines and palinka, and smoked sausages. The lower level is where the locals go for vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy products, while the top floor is reserved for cafes and restaurants serving up hearty portions of Goulash, Fisherman’s Soup, and other local favorites. The market is open until 6 pm, but don’t stay too late if you still have the energy for one more late afternoon/early evening activity.
A 10-minute walk over the River Danube brings you to the Gellert Baths, where you can enjoy one last session bathing in Budapest’s thermal waters. The Gellert Baths are smaller but also less visited than the Szechenyi Thermal Baths the day before, while some would say that the Art Nouveau interiors are also much more beautiful. The baths are open until 7 pm, after which you can head out for a few drinks at a Ruin Bar or head back for an early night.
If you’re still hungry after eating your way around the Great Market Hall, then you can try out Mazel Tov, Kiosk, or Costes for some delightful cuisine.
What to do if you have more than 3 days in Budapest
If you’ve got longer than 3 days in Budapest, then we’ve got plenty more recommendations for you:
On the outskirts of Budapest, you’ll find a curious open-air museum that’s become the final resting place for communist-era statues toppled in the 1990s. The museum offers an intriguing insight into the communist regime that gripped Hungary for decades, and you’ll find all sorts of socialist-style statues and monuments on display (including Stalin’s Boots).
Communist Walking Tour
If you’re fascinated by Budapest’s communist history, then you can sign up for a communist walking tour of the city. Led by locals who lived through the communist regime, you’ll learn about everything from the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 to the dawn of the capitalist era.
In the middle of the River Danube, you’ll find Margaret Island. Home to thermal baths, walking trails, and summer music festivals, the island offers a pleasant escape from the city.
Rather than strolling along the River Danube, why not take a cruise along the waterway? Options range from short sightseeing cruises to long day trips upriver or even multi-day excursions to cities like Bratislava and Vienna.
Day trip to Visegrad
Follow the River Danube north, and you’ll come to Visegrad, a beautiful castle town that was once the former seat of Hungarian royalty.
We hope you enjoy your weekend trip to Budapest, Hungary! Should we add something else to our 3-day Budapest Itinerary? Let us know in the comments.
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