Budapest is full of charm and beauty, which can be accredited to the immense diversity of cultural influences, including Hungarian, Roman, Jewish, and the Ottoman Empire. The architecture in Budapest spans from buildings constructed during medeival times to newer buildings designed in the 20th century. Walking around the streets feels like you just stepped out of a time machine, and are exploring the different eras of Budapest. The eccentric city is so special because of the variety between history, relaxation, and nightlife, and during your 72 hours, you’ll be able to uncover a little of everything.
We can’t forget about the fact that Budapest is known as the Spa Capital of the World for its thermal baths and spas in beautiful ornate buildings, offering a luxurious, relaxing experience that isn’t often found in capital cities. Escape the hustle and bustle of Budapest and curate your own spa itinerary. If you’re only looking for a spa getaway, feel free to take note of our favourite thermal baths in Budapest and plan your relaxing trip!
Know Before You Go
Budapest is built along both sides of the Danube River. One side is calmer and more residential and is home to a majority of the thermal baths in Budapest, as well as great attractions like the Buda Castle. This side of the river is referred to as ‘Buda’ by the locals. The ‘Pest’ side of the river is home to lively neighbourhoods, lots of great shopping and restaurants, and eclectic nightlife. Keep this in mind when choosing which side of the river to stay at during your trip, and what type of vibe you’re looking for in the city. Throughout this itinerary, both sides of the river will be referred to by their respective local names, Buda and Pest.
The Budapest Ferenc Liszt Airport is an international airport that almost all major European airlines fly to, including budget airlines like RyanAir, Wizz Air, Jet2, and easyJet. The airport is about a 30 minute drive into the city centre by taxi, or you can book a Flibco that leaves from the airport to the city centre for €9, and also takes 30 minutes.
It is also possible to reach Budapest by train from many major European cities, such as Prague, Munich, Bratislava, and Vienna.
Budapest has a well-built up public transport system, including trams, the metro, and buses that travel through the city and the outskirts. There are 4 metro lines that cross both the Buda and Pest side of the city, making it interconnected easily. The metros run every 2 to 5 minutes, between 4:30-23:00 every day. There are over 40 tram lines that run throughout the historic centre, every 5 to 10 minutes, from 4:30-23:00. As for transportation by bus, there are over 200 bus lines, and 37 night lines.The regular buses go from 4:30-23:50, and then from 23:50-4:30, the night buses will be running. Maps of the metro, trams, and bus schedules are readily available online, in the stations, and often using the transport function on Google or Apple Maps, you’ll find the exact line of either tram, metro, or bus that is the quickest mode of transportation to reach your final destination.
Driving or Taxis:
Budapest is a bit difficult to drive in, as there are plenty of traffic jams on major roads, bumpy roads, and it can be difficult to find parking. That being said, it is doable to rent a car, but it is probably less convenient than taking taxis or public transport.
There isn’t Uber in Budapest, but they do use Bolt, an Estonian brand that offers rideshares just like Uber. Otherwise, there are plenty of taxi services throughout the city that are easy to come across.
Budapest has a range of all four seasons, with January being the coldest month, July being the hottest month, and the wettest month being May. Budapest is a great location to visit any time of the year, but there is a lot of walking around to be done in the city, so if you aren’t a fan of very hot weather or very cold weather, keep this into account while planning your trip to the city. The best months are in early fall, September and October, when the weather is not very cold, but not as hot as summer months.
Hungary’s official currency is Hungarian Forint (HUF) and you can take out cash from an ATM in this currency once you arrive in Budapest. Many stores in Budapest also accept Euros, but don’t rely on Euros as smaller stores may not accept them or cards. Make sure you have at least a bit of Hungarian Forint on hand with you during your visit, as it is ultimately the most convenient of the payment methods in Budapest.
Day 1: Buda Side - Castle Hill, Pest Riverside
On your first day in Budapest, explore the historic neighbourhood of Castle Hill, which offers some of the city’s most incredible viewpoints, and is one of the city’s highlights for travellers who are interested in Budapest’s history and architectural marvels. It's easy to spend the whole day on Castle Hill, with a wide variety of museums and thermal baths that will keep you busy. To finish off your day, cross over the river to the Pest side. The Pest Riverside is a beautiful spot to take a leisurely stroll and see some of Budapest’s most famous sights, either by foot or boat.
Where to Eat:
Pest-Buda Bistro: One of the oldest restaurants in Budapest dates back to the 1800s and serves all the classic Hungarian dishes. Try chicken paprikash or traditional Goulash soup.
Buda Castle was first built in the 13th century, and was used as a royal palace for Hungarian kings, and was accredited as one of the strongest fortresses in Europe. Buda Castle was occupied by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century, and unfortunately, much of the castle was heavily damaged during this time. Once the Hapsburg’s regained control of the castle, it was rebuilt and renovated, until it was destroyed once again during World War II due to bombing and shelling. After the war, the castle was rebuilt once again. As you can see, the castle has had quite a complex and difficult history, and it is amazing to see it in this day and age still standing, especially knowing the immense damage that the castle has sustained throughout time.
Buda Castle is one of Budapest’s most visited destinations and houses a variety of different museums and exhibitions. However, the buildings of the Buda Castle are home to two other museums, the Budapest History Museum, and the Hungarian National Gallery. So when visiting, keep in mind that to enter the former castle, you must go to at least one of the museums. If the museums aren’t of interest to you, it is still worth visiting to admire the exterior of the beautifully architected and historically significant castle.
Budapest History Museum
The Budapest History Museum is located in one of the buildings of the Buda Castle, and is a museum that is dedicated to Budapest’s history and culture. The museum focuses on plenty of important historical topics in the city, spanning from the Roman times to present day. The Budapest History Museum is also kid-friendly, with a variety of interactive experiences, such as a musical experience area.
In the basement of the Budapest History Museum, you’ll find ruins of the old Castle, which dates back to a castle that was built in the same site, before the Royal Palace was built. There are ruins of a chapel and a gothic hall, and they’re some of the most interesting displays at the museum. There are also a lot of objects of Hungarian origin and recreations of traditional Hungarian culture and a description of its significance to the formation of the city.
Hungarian National Gallery
Here at the Hungarian National Gallery, you’ll find the best of Hungarian artwork, and the most important collection of artwork in the city. If you love art, you’ll for sure be able to spend hours exploring this museum and its beautiful works. The museum contains art from different time periods ranging from medieval times to the modern days, and includes paintings, sculptures, and drawings.
The collections at the museum include some works from some iconic artists such as Hungarian artistic legends, Mihály Munkácsy and János Thorma, and other world-renowned artists from around Europe, including Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck, and Albrecht Durer. There are plenty of permanent collections at the museum, but make sure to check their website for any temporary exhibitions that may catch your interest!
Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the most photographed spots in the city, and rightfully so. The terrace offers panoramic views of Budapest and the Danube River. I came with my parents at night time after having dinner on the Buda side of the river, and the views were absolutely incredible. At night time, you’ll get the same views, just minus the swarming crowds trying to get the best Instagram pictures during the daytime. So if you don’t mind not having the best camera lighting, but the same incredible views of the city lit up at night, consider coming a bit later in the evening to have the spot to yourself.
The architecture at Fisherman’s Bastion is very unique as well, with white stones and arches that are characteristics of neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque styles. While most people head straight to look out the Fisherman’s Bastion’s arches, to catch a glimpse of the beautiful scenery, make sure to take a second to appreciate the beautiful architecture of the landmark itself.
One of the most remarkable landmarks in Budapest is Matthias Church, a Gothic church famous for having stunning stained glass windows. One thing we can guarantee about Matthias Church is, despite its gothic architecture, the church itself is very distinct when compared with other churches. As someone who has visited many churches throughout all of Europe, Matthias Church always sticks out as being one of the most memorable and individual churches on the whole continent. This can be attributed to its ornate decorations, intricate stone carvings, tall spires, and colourful tiled roof separate Matthias Church from others, making it unlike any church you’ve visited before.
The church named after the former Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus has been significant for the city, and has been historically important to the city for centuries, and it is arguably the most important church in the city.
Built-in the Ottoman-style, the Rudas Bath is surrounded by beautiful tile work and incredible architecture. This bath is one of the oldest in Budapest as well, and its origins date back to the 16th century. The warm thermal waters are thought of by locals to be healing, with therapeutic properties and a rich count of minerals in the water.
Spend time relaxing in the baths, exploring the beautiful indoor and outdoor pools, and appreciating the relaxing atmosphere. You can also relax in their steam rooms, saunas, or book a massage for an ultra-luxurious experience.
St. Gellért Spa & Thermal Baths
Another luxurious thermal bath located in Budapest, at St. Gellért Spa & Thermal Baths, you’ll find miraculous baths in the famous Hotel Gellért, which was built around the baths in the early 1900s, and has been a hotspot for travellers looking to enjoy the baths since then. The Art Nouveau style baths are quite different from some of the city's other baths architecture, which stem from times further back in history, and offer a different feel than the other baths.
A fun fact about the bath complex is that it used to be a hospital during the Middle Ages, as they thought that the water had healing properties! It’s incredible while bathing to realise how long these baths have had an impact on Hungarian life for years.
Lukacs Baths are loved by locals, and don’t get overrun by crowds like a lot of the other baths in the city. They are indoor/outdoor baths that are heated by the natural hot springs, and all of the pools and four saunas are available for guests at the basic entry price. An optional add-on of sauna world is available, which includes a lot of spa features such as five more saunas, an ice cooling pool, an igloo, and a heated Roman bench.
This is also a great option for travellers who are looking for a cheaper option, but would still like to visit the baths. For example, a weekday visit to Lukacs Baths costs about €10, or 4180 Hungarian Forints, compared to other famous baths that cost around double the price.
Finish your day crossing over the bridge and walking alongside the Pest Riverside. From here, you’ll be able to get views of some of the most iconic landmarks along the Danube, such as the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, one of the city’s most photographed spots that connects Buda to Pest. You’ll also get amazing views of the Parliament Building, one of the most recognisable buildings in the city, with striking architecture.
You also can book a dinner cruise that sets sail on the Danube River, offers live music, and the best city views. This is a great way to take in all of the city’s beauty at night, in a romantic, relaxed atmosphere, while enjoying a delicious 4 course meal.
Where to stay:
Budget-Friendly - Hotel Papillon
Tranquil surroundings and comfortable rooms located on the Buda side of the city.
Mid-Range - Buda Castle Hotel Budapest
Spacious, elegant rooms a short walk away from major attractions like Buda Castle and Matthias Church.
Live like a local and stay in a traditional Hungarian home on the Buda side of town.
Day 2: Jewish Quarter and Terézváros
The Jewish Quarter in Budapest, also known as Erzsébetváros, is one of the most eclectic neighbourhoods in Budapest with a rich Jewish history. Spend your second day on the Pest side of Budapest, learning about the neighbourhood’s history and exploring the area. Keep in mind, due to the invasion of Hungary by the Nazi’s during World War II, a lot of the history of the neighbourhood is a remembrance to the atrocities that occurred during the genocide. Heavy topics will be covered, but it is important to remember the victims, and the Jewish Quarter in Budapest does a great job at keeping their memory alive, as well as encouraging and celebrating the culture of Hungarian Jews.
For the second half of your day, you can head to the nearby Terézváros, which has some of the best shopping streets in the city, as well as iconic landmarks, and some of the best nightlife in the area, including the famous ruin bars.
Where to Eat:
Mazel Tov: Jewish culture makes up a big part of Budapest, especially in the Jewish Quarter, so try some modern takes on traditional Jewish cuisine at this trendy eatery.
Street Vendors: All over Budapest, you’ll find street vendors selling chimney cakes, or kürtőskalács, which is a must-try dessert in the city. Stop at any of the vendors along the streets to get a taste of this delicious and unique pastry.
The Great Synagogue, also known as the Dóhany Street Synagogue, is a beautiful and inspiring building that offers insight to the heritage of Hungarian Jews. It was founded in the 19th century, and survived both World Wars and the Holocaust, an incredible and inspiring resistance. The synagogue is no longer running as a synagogue, but rather as a museum that teaches about the history and culture of Hungarian Jews, and even occasionally a concert venue that features classical and Jewish music. It is known as one of the best concert halls in the city!
Be aware, while the museum has exhibits teaching about the history of the synagogue and the Jewish community in Hungary, there is also a large portion dedicated to the lives of the Jewish community in Hungary during the Holocaust. This can be very disturbing and hard to visit for a lot of people, but it is the true history of the city, and it is important that it is talked about. Just keep in mind that a lot of sensitive information will be shared, and to be respectful at all times during your visit.
Holocaust Memorial Center
This renovated synagogue is one of the toughest places to visit in Budapest, as it is a memorial and museum that commemorates the discrimination and killings of over half a million Hungarian Jews, Romani, homosexuals, and disabled people at the hands of the Nazis during World War II. The museum follows the terrible journey that started with stripping the Jewish community of their basic human rights, until the eventual genocide that occurred. Interestingly enough, the Holocaust Memorial Center was the first holocaust memorial in Central Europe that was founded by the government.
A unique feature of the Holocaust Memorial Center is the research centre that gives people the opportunity to search for family members that may have been in Budapest at the time, or add their family members to the list of names in the database.
Central Market Hall
Located about 15 minutes by foot from the Jewish Quarter, you’ll find the Central Market Hall. If you’re a foodie, set some time apart for the Central Market Hall. As someone who bases their trips around the culinary aspects of the destination, this market is one that sticks out to me when remembering some of the best gastronomic experiences I have had while travelling. Take your time and wander around the many stalls, and don’t forget to get all the paprika that you can carry in your luggage. The Hungarian paprika is the best quality, and there’s so many variations of it to choose from. I still regularly order the paprika paste that I found while shopping at the Central Market Hall from Amazon, although it costs me about 4 times the price I paid in Budapest!
There’s also a food hall in the central market which gets incredibly busy and crowded, but find a spot to grab some Hungarian goulash to go. Some of the best goulash I ate in Budapest was at this very market, and although I don’t know the stall, as we walked to the first one we saw serving goulash, I don’t think you can go wrong at the market.
Referred to as the Champs-Elysees of Budapest, the historic boulevard called Andrássy Avenue runs from Erzsébet Square to Heroes’ Square, and is a beautiful walk. Strolling along the avenue, you can delve into some shopping, and admire the lush greenery that lines the avenue. The street is known for its shopping and beautiful cafes, but it's worth a walk down even if you’re travelling on a budget and don’t have any extra cash or luggage space for shopping. That’s because the avenue itself is very beautiful and an iconic part of the city, and you’ll stumble across some historical buildings and homes during your visit.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest (equal to the Hungarian Parliament Building), and the largest church in Budapest. The impressive neoclassical building has become one of the most visited landmarks in the city, and is even used now for concerts. One of the best options when visiting St. Stephen’s Basilica is to climb the basilica to get impressive views of the rest of Budapest.
If you’re a classical music fan or interested in seeing a concert in an outstanding venue, come see a classical concert at the Basilica. You get to choose from 3 different concert sets, and 4 different seating categories depending on budget and your musical preferences. This is a great way to take in the breathtaking architecture of the Basilica, while also enjoying some beautiful music.
Terézváros Nightlife and Ruin Bars
Terézarvos is known for its nightlife, and if you’re looking for a night out, there’s a variety of interesting bars that you can check out in the area. Head to some of the ruin bars in the neighbourhood, like Instant, one of the most popular ruin bars in the city, and enjoy the lively atmosphere on its outdoor patio, the eclectic Fogas Ház, filled with quirky decorations, or Szimpla Kert, one of the largest and most famous ruin bars in the city that gets filled up on the weekends.
For those looking for more of a clubbing experience, A38 is a clubbing venue that is located on a boat docked on the Danube River, a truly unique vibe on a reconstructed ship.
Where to stay:
Budget-Friendly - Wombat’s City Hostel Budapest
A social hostel in the heart of the Térézváros district.
Mid-Range - Mamaison Hotel Andrassy Budapest
Located on the luxurious Andrassy Avenue, this hotel includes a beautifully decorated hotel lobby, cosy rooms, and an impeccable location.
Luxury - JACUZZI Basilica view
As the name implies, stay at this elegant apartment with a jacuzzi, and a patio offering views of St. Stephen’s Basilica.
Day 3: City Park and Danube Bank
On your third day, spend your day exploring City Park, a neighbourhood that is home to some of the most famous attractions in the city, such as Vajdahunyad Castle and the Széchenyi Thermal Bath. Afterwards, walk on over to the river bank, and visit Danube Bank, where you can dive deeper into the government, politics, and history of the city, and spend some time taking in the incredible scenery along the river one last time before your trip comes to an end.
Where to Eat:
Paprika Vendéglő: A traditional Hungarian restaurant in a rustic, cosy setting. Make a reservation as it fills up quickly, and is one of the best classic restaurants in the city. There isn’t a standout on the menu, as all the items are incredibly delicious, and you can’t go wrong no matter what you order.
Located in City Park, you’ll find one of the most enchanting places in Budapest. The Vajdahunyad Castle was built later than you may have imagined, in 1896, and was built to showcase the architectural evolution throughout the centuries in Hungary for the Millenial Exhibition, which celebrated 1000 years of Hungary. The eclectic palace combines styles from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, making it one of the most uniquely styled castles that you’ll come across.
The courtyard feels like you’re walking between different colourful buildings with huge contrasts in style, and it can even be hard to wrap your head around the fact that it is all one castle!
Budapest Zoo & Botanical Gardens
The Budapest Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the world, and is located in the city centre, right within the City Park. There are plenty of impressive species at the Budapest Zoo that you can visit, and it is a great spot to visit if you’re travelling with children, as they’ll be kept entertained by the fascinating abundance of animals. The zoo itself is enormous, and there is a ton to see and do that will keep you occupied for a few hours.
There are also a wide variety of plants that can be seen at the zoo, and the landscaping is beautiful when walking around. In recent years, the zoo has put a lot of effort into sustainability, and interestingly enough, the heat for the animals' enclosures comes from the thermal waters of the nearby Széchenyi Spa.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath
These are the largest medicinal baths in Budapest, and are probably the most photographed as well. It is located near the heart of City Park, and the healing hot springs have 18 separate pools that you can try out, including other spa features like saunas and steam rooms. The neo-Baroque and neo-Renaissance baths will leave you in awe as you admire the aesthetics of the city’s hotspot.
At night time, the iconic thermal spa turns into a party! This is one of the most unique nightlife opportunities on the continent. Imagine going partying at an iconic historical landmark, while also having access to the medicinal thermal baths? Book your ticket in advance, as it gets filled up quickly and enjoy the music while soaking up the spa culture of the city.
The iconic Heroes' Square is one of Budapest's major squares, located on one end of Andrássy Avenue, near the entrance of City Park. Its iconic Millenium Monument is the square’s claim to fame, which is an eye-catching monument that features statues of the seven chieftains who led the Hungarian Conquest, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It is a symbol of Hungarian nationalism and identity, and is important to the country’s history.
Heroes Square is a popular spot to walk around, sit and appreciate the monuments, fountains, and architecture, and gather with locals and tourists alike for events like festivals and concerts which take place.
Shoes on the Danube Bank
This memorial was built to honour the tragic story of the Hungarian Jews that were massacred along the riverbank during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes because at the time, shoes were very valuable and could be resold, and then they were massacred at the edge of the water. The shoes of the memorial represent the shoes that were left behind by the ones who lost their lives in the horrific events. Pay your respects and recognise the tragedies that underwent in the capital city at this heartbreaking memorial.
Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is arguably the most recognisable monument in Budapest. Without a doubt, this can be attributed to its beautiful Neo-Gothic architecture, built along the Danube River. The Hungarian Parliament Building is still in use today, including for a variety of important events and ceremonies, such as the inauguration of the President of Hungary, and is one of the largest legislative buildings in the world.
Once you are at the Parliament building, there is an opportunity to take a guided tour, which is the only way that you can visit the interior of the building. Tickets are available on the parliament’s website to buy in advance, or at the door.
Where to stay:
Budget-Friendly - Baroque Hostel & Coworking
Simply furnished, shared rooms in an optimal location, with spacious furnished living areas.
Modern rooms in a historical building, offering great breakfast and a charming hotel bar.
This hotel is housed in a historical building, and its name comes from the wide selection of in-house medical services with holistic healing programmes available for its guests.