Last Updated: May 23, 2019
The George Ezra song has already popped into my head as I start typing this and I suspect it’s going to be on loop throughout. I’m not sure how much tourism it’s brought to Budapest, but it sure was enough to get me to visit this capital of Hungary.
I’ve been to many European cities, but there’s just something about Budapest that’s kept me hooked. I’ve now visited three times and I can safely say that I wouldn’t mind going again.
It’s got everything you could want for a great holiday: history, culture, excellent nightlife, convenient transport, beautiful sights and affordable food. If you need any more convincing, here’s everything you can do on a 4D3N trip to Budapest:
Before I jump straight in, here’s something you should know: Budapest is actually split into Buda and Pest; two sides separated by the Danube, Europe’s second longest river. It’s recommended that you book accommodation on the Pest side because that’s where most of the hostels, hotels, bars and restaurants are situated.
Just to clear this up as well, there’s no Grand Budapest Hotel — sadly, that one’s fictional. The Corinthia Hotel Budapest comes pretty close in comparison though.
Both sides of Budapest are linked by several grand bridges and the most famous one (and the first) is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Built in 1849, the bridge suffered heavy damage in World War Two and was rebuilt and reopened in 1949.
It brings pedestrians from Pest right to the foot of Buda Castle, and that’s conveniently next on the itinerary.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge: Széchenyi Lánchíd, 1051 Budapest, Hungary
Another thing about Budapest is that there are loads of opportunities for walking, so pack some comfy shoes. Buda Castle sits on Buda hill and it’s about a 10-minute walk up if you walk relatively quickly.
The good thing about choosing to walk up is that it’s free and you’ll get to enjoy some great views along the way of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in its entirety.
If you’d rather not do any form of exercise, you can always get bus 16 from Deák Square in central Pest. That will bring you up to Diaz Tér which is right next to Buda Castle.
Another fun way to get up would be to take the Funicular Railway which is a 19th-century cable car. It goes up the side of Buda Hill and the entrance is near the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Adam Clark Square).
This way up also offers excellent panoramic views of the Pest side and you can opt for a return ticket to go back down as well. The timetable isn’t fixed but the cable cars run every five to 10 minutes.
Prices: HUF 1,000 (Single ticket, adult), HUF 1,700 (Return ticket, adult)
Budapest Castle Hill Funicular: Near Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Buda side | Opening Hours: 7.30am – 10pm (Daily), Closed on certain Mondays throughout the year for maintenance | Website
The whole area is called the Buda Castle District and you’re free to walk around outside or pay to enter the gallery and museum.
Buda Castle: Szent György tér 2, 1014 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm (National Gallery, Tue – Sun), 10am – 6pm (Budapest History Museum, 1 March – 31 October, Tue – Sun) & 10am – 4pm (1 November – 28 February, Tue – Sun), Closed on Mon | Website
The best free thing to do while you’re up here is to just soak in the sweeping views of Budapest.
You’ll get a clear picture of the bridges linking the two sides as well as an impressive view of the Danube. In the distance, you’ll also be able to see the Parliament Building, and if you’d like a closer view, just walk over to the nearby Fisherman’s Bastion.
You might as well tick off most of the things to see on the Buda side while you’re on the hill, and it’s a short walk from Buda Castle to the medieval-looking Fisherman’s Bastion.
The historic structure features Gothic architecture and also offers amazing views of Budapest. Seven turrets represent the seven Hungarian tribes who founded the country way, way back in 895. It was protected by the guild of fishermen in the Middle Ages, hence the name.
Located right in front of the bastion is the breathtaking Matthias Church which is also worth a visit. The church functioned as a coronation church for Hungarian kings for centuries but was also at one point turned into a mosque for over 150 years by the Ottoman Turks.
It’s now a Catholic Church with stunning architecture and an even more beautiful interior.
Prices: Free entry to the area to enjoy the views, HUF 1,800 (Adult) to enter Matthias Church
Fisherman’s Bastion: Szentháromság tér, 1014 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 9am – 11pm (Daily) | Website
Matthias Church: Szentháromság tér 2, 1014 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm (Mon – Fri), 9am – 1pm (Sat), 1pm – 5pm (Sun) | Website
Round up a long and tiring day on the Buda side by scoring a seat with a view at one of the restaurants or cafes in the area. Panoramia Cafe is naturally overpriced but worth it for a drink and a gorgeous view of the Parliament Building.
Panoramia Cafe: Szentháromság tér, 1014 Budapest, Hungary | Tel: +36 30 474 2287 | Website
Wake up bright and early the next day and make your way to the Great Market Hall (aka Central Market Hall). I don’t know what I expected, but after entering the hall, I could see why they call it “Great” — it’s HUGE.
The market is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest and boasts three floors of stalls selling all sorts of goods.
From fruits to vegetables, meats like salamis, pickles, fish, Hungarian paprika, wines and souvenirs, you can stock up on whatever you need to buy here. Hot food is also sold on the upper floors, so you can even grab breakfast or lunch.
Great Market Hall: Vámház krt. 1 – 3, 1093 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 6am – 5pm (Mon), 6am – 6pm (Tue – Fri), 6am – 3pm (Sat), Closed on Sun | Website
Yay, more walking! If you’re feeling up to it, brave the hike up Gellért Hill, which is another must-do when in Budapest.
The 235-metre high hill overlooks the Danube and can be accessed from the Elizabeth Bridge on the Buda side, or from the Gellért Hotel (steeper route). You can also get a bus or a taxi up but that’s boring. It was named after Saint Gerard who was sadly thrown to death from the hill (ouch).
At the top is a Citadella, a fortress that was built by the Habsburgs in 1849. There’s also Budapest’s version of the Statue of Liberty which can be seen from all parts of the city. The statue was erected during the Communist era but since it has become a prominent symbol, it was not removed, unlike other Communist icons.
Danubius Hotel Gellért: Szent Gellért tér 2, 1114 Budapest, Hungary
This seems like something pretty random to include but I was utterly rewarded for hiking up and down. I found this unique-looking play area hidden on the hill (look for wooden signs that point to ‘csúszdák’).
I know it’s meant for children but my friends and I still had a pretty good time. With slides of differing lengths built into the hillside and trampolines built into the ground, it was a great place to unleash my inner child.
Get back to your hotel and rest up/freshen up before a night on the town. Food options are aplenty but I recommend heading to Karaván, which is located on Budapest’s busy party street, Kazinczy utca.
Street Food Karaván: Kazinczy u. 18, 1075 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 11am – 11pm (Sun to Wed), 11.30am – 1am (Thu – Sat) | Website
Conveniently located right next to Karaván is your final stop for the night — the famous Szimpla Kert. This ruin pub is the most popular of several in Budapest.
What’s a ruin pub? Despite looking (and sounding old), ruin pubs came about only in the 2000s when young Hungarians started looking for new spots to drink at. They bought up abandoned buildings and filled them with any furnishings they could scavenge alongside artwork from local artists.
The resulting setting and atmosphere is unique to Budapest, and the eclectic-ness of it all makes for a night to remember. You can also get food here or shisha and just spend the night low-key partying.
Szimpla Kert: Budapest, Kazinczy u. 14, 1075 Hungary | Opening Hours: 12noon – 4am (Mon – Sat), 9am – 4am (Sun) | Website
As if remembering which side’s Buda and which side’s Pest isn’t confusing enough sometimes, there’s a small island in the middle of the Danube that you can visit.
Margaret Island is a huge, green recreational space that is only served by bus 26 from Nyugati station and the 4/6 tram route.
It’s a great spot for a picnic when the sun’s out, but just remember to get food to bring over because you’re unlikely to find much on the island. There’s also a lido, a petting zoo, a musical fountain and a Japanese garden in the area, and you can hire bicycles to explore it.
This is one of the most interesting things I did in Budapest purely because it was in such a cool setting. The Széchenyi Thermal Baths are a hit with tourists and for good reason — the facility offers 18 natural hot spring pools, 10 saunas/steam cabins as well as massage therapy, facial treatments and more.
The thermal springs are supposed to be medicinal (enriched with calcium, magnesium and hydrogen carbonate) and a soak is calming all year round. The temperatures in the various pools vary and you’re not supposed to stay in the hottest one for more than 20 minutes at a time for health reasons.
Remember to pack a swimsuit and some flip flops so you don’t have to buy any when you’re there. If you’re not keen to visit in the day, you can also check out the club nights (called SPArty, lol) hosted at the baths where yes, you can party in your swimsuit.
Prices: From HUF 4,900
If you’re done at the baths, it’s a very short walk to another notable monument in Hungary called Heroes’ Square. The wide space and various structures will make you feel very small as you wander around.
The Millennium Monument right in the middle of the square honours the 1000-year-old history of the Magyar tribes (Hungarian clans). The statues of the seven chiefs of said tribes can be found in the square as well.
Heroes’ Square: Hősök tere, 1146 Budapest, Hungary
Hungarian food admittedly isn’t as diverse as compared to what we’re used to, and relies heavily on paprika. So if you don’t like paprika, well, there’s always salad. The most popular Hungarian dish (and one of the national dishes) is goulash, which is a stew of meat and vegetables.
Gettó Gulyás serves one of the better versions in the city alongside other dishes based on traditional Hungarian recipes. Try the goulash when you’re there, or go for the signature Beef Cheeks Stew In Red Wine With Homemade Egg Barley (HUF 2,350) which is a form of Pörkölt, an old-fashioned Hungarian stew dish.
Gettó Gulyás: Wesselényi u. 18, 1077 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 12noon – 11pm (Sun – Thu), 12noon – 12midnight (Fri & Sat) | Website
Modern-day Budapest is all about unique settings and quirky nightlife venues, and if you’re game for a clubbing experience, Instant/Fogas is your best bet.
Instant (a popular ruin pub) fairly recently joined forces with another ruin pub called Fogas Ház and moved to a new venue to create a multi-concept club hotspot. Located right next to one another, you’ll be spoilt for choice with interestingly decorated dance floors and different genres of music.
Instant/Fogas: Akácfa utca 49-51, 1075 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 7pm – 6am (Daily) | Website
Dedicate your last day in Budapest to exploring what I think is the most interesting part of the city. The Jewish district (which you would’ve already unknowingly visited), is the smallest in Budapest but offers the most buzz.
There’s always something going on and the streets are filled with amazing street art created by the local community. Given Budapest’s past, the area is also full of the historical remains of the Jewish community that once occupied the district, and you can visit the synagogues to learn more.
There are three synagogues in the Jewish district, but the Dohány Street Synagogue (aka Great Synagogue) is the most famous one. It’s the largest synagogue in Europe and can seat over 3,000 people.
The interior is breathtaking and there’s also a memorial garden, cemetery and museum on the premises where you can learn more about the Holocaust and the Budapest Ghetto that used to exist in the area.
It’s best to visit on a tour, and you can easily find one online that best suits your budget and itinerary.
Dohány Street Synagogue (Great Synagogue): Dohány u. 2, 1074 Budapest, Hungary
If you’re in the Jewish district, you absolutely must stop for lunch at Mazel Tov. The popular eatery is filled with greenery and fairy lights, creating a bright and ethereal atmosphere.
The menu here focuses on modern Mediterranean and Israeli fusion food and I highly recommend the Shawarma Grill Plate (HUF 2,590) with chicken thigh fillet marinated in secret spices.
Every grill plate order also comes with traditional matbucha salad, beetroot salad, parsley tahina and fresh grilled pita topped with parsley and pomegranate seeds.
Mazel Tov: Akácfa u. 47, 1072 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 12noon – 1am (Mon – Wed), 12noon – 2am (Thu – Sat), 10am – 1am (Sun) | Website
St Stephen’s Basilica stands out in Budapest as the largest church and is dedicated to Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen. It can accommodate roughly 8,500 people and also houses a sacred treasure — the king’s mummified right hand.
Stay in the area after visiting the church and relax at one of the many terraced cafes to people-watch over a cuppa.
Price: Free Entry, but it’s customary to pay HUF 200 as donation
St. Stephen’s Basilica: Szent István tér 1, 1051 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 9am – 5pm (Mon – Fri), 9am – 1pm (Sat), 1pm – 5pm (Sun) | Website
If you fancy a snack instead, head over to the nearby Retró Lángos Büfé to indulge in the best langos in the city. Langos is a Hungarian speciality and comprises deep-fried dough with a variety of toppings.
The small eatery only offers a few tables for customers and is pretty much always busy, so just grab one to go. Opt for the traditional langos that’s topped with sour cream and grated cheese. Trust me, it works.
Retró Lángos Büfé: Bajcsy Zsilinszky ut, near Arany Janos utca metro station, 1051 Budapest, Hungary | Opening Hours: 9am – 2am (Mon & Tue), 9am – 4am (Wed & Thu), 9am – 6am (Fri & Sat), 9.30am – 2am (Sun) | Website
You’ve seen this from the Fisherman’s Bastion but it’s even more impressive up close. The Hungarian Parliament Building has survived two World Wars, several revolutions and has stood the test of time.
The Gothic Revival-style architecture is fitting of the building’s purpose and visitors can learn more about its history as well as explore the Main Staircase, the Old Upper House Hall and the Lounge while on tour.
Hungarian Parliament Building: Kossuth Lajos tér 1 – 3, 1055 Budapest, Hungary
Just a few minutes’ walk away from the Parliament Building is a moving memorial that all tourists in Budapest should visit. The Shoes on the Danube were placed to remember the Budapest Jews who were mercilessly shot by Arrow Cross militiamen between 1944 and 1945.
The memorial consists of 60 pairs of shoes sculpted out of iron, representing those that the victims had to take off and leave by the bank as they were lined up and shot into the Danube River. Shoes were considered valuable belongings at the time.
Shoes on the Danube: Id. Antall József rkp., 1054 Budapest, Hungary
It’s incredible how Budapest has integrated so much of its history into its tourism, and I’m sure you’ll see why you’ll want to return. Since you’ve come all this way to Europe though, it would be a shame to miss out visiting some of the other neighbouring cities/countries.
Hop on a train from the old-school Budapest Keleti Railway Station and within a few hours, you could be in Bratislava or Vienna. Adventure awaits!
Budapest Keleti Railway Station: Kerepesi út 2/6, District VIII, 1087 Budapest, Hungary