Visiting Budapest and wondering what to do in just 3 days? Find out everything to see, do, and eat here!
When I backpacked through central Europe I added Budapest to my itinerary almost as an afterthought. I saw post after post of travelers trekking from Prague to Vienna to Budapest, so I figured I may as well check it out and add another country to my country count. On that trip, I visited Prague, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, and rounded it off with Budapest.
Let me tell you: Budapest was wonderful. The people are so friendly, there’s so much to see & do, the history is captivating (and, frankly, underrepresented in American schools), and English is spoken more frequently than in western Europe. I think Budapest is the most interesting city I’ve visited in Europe and if it’s not on your bucket list, you need to add it.
Planning to visit Hungary and wondering what to do in Budapest in 3 days? Find out in this complete guide!
Where to Stay in Budapest
Budapest is a very walkable city with easy-to-use public transportation. However, if you’re only spending 3 days in Budapest, it’s important to stay somewhere central!
Budapest is split into two sides: the Buda side, on the west side of the river, and the Pest side on the east side. Buda Castle is located on the Buda side, but most of what Budapest offers is on the Pest side:
My recommendation? Stay somewhere between the Hungarian Parliament Building and Central Market Hall.
Any of the four hotels below are great options. Bonus, they represent all sorts of budgets!
Hotel Collect – Adults Only
Hotel Rum Budapest
Anantara New York Palace Budapest
Mystery Hotel Budapest
Day 1 in Budapest
This 3-day itinerary for Budapest is pretty jam-packed. If you don’t want to be super busy, feel free to trim out the activities that are less exciting to you. However, all of them are legitimately awesome – so if you have the energy, I recommend all of them!
Take a free walking tour
My opinion is every trip should start with a free walking tour. It gives you a quick, cheap introduction to a city. Even better, I find they usually are filled with excellent tips for places to eat and check out.
Any decent free walking tour will cover most of the sites in Day 1, so you’ll be able to see all the major sites and learn about them, too!
Walk the Chain Bridge
The Chain Bridge connects the Buda side with the Pest side (hence the name Budapest). There’s a walking path that’s safely isolated from vehicle traffic, so crossing the bridge is something you can’t miss. There’s a funicular on the Buda side to take you up the hill towards Buda Castle!
Go to Buda Castle & stick around for the Changing of the Guards
The grounds of Buda Castle are huge and beautiful. On the top of every hour, you can catch the elaborate Changing of the Guards routine. It’s a really unique and theatrical experience and definitely worth sticking around for.
Explore the area around Buda Castle, including Fisherman’s Bastion and Dracula’s Labyrinth
Part of what I consider the Buda Castle campus, Fisherman’s Bastion is the structure overlooking the Danube. Walk around and explore the lovely structures and views that exist on Buda Hill. When you’re done exploring near the castle and the Bastion, continue down a bit and check out the Labyrinth. Buda Hill has a natural cave system underneath and in this labyrinth, Vlad Tepes (aka Count Dracula!) was housed as a prisoner!
You read that right. Dracula was real, and he was imprisoned underneath Buda Castle.
Taste Hungarian wine at the Faust Wine Cellar
Faust Wine Cellar is built into the cave system underneath Buda Hill and offers wonderful, but unpretentious, wine tastings. The space is cozy so reservations are a must.
I tasted 8 glasses of wine (not samples, but full glasses) along with cheese scones for 35 EUR. Not bad, really!
Get recommendations for dining from Faust and have a low-key evening
Locals know all the best places to eat & drink. Ask both your walking tour guide and the waiter at Faust Wine Cellar for some recommendations. Enjoy a low-key evening (trust me, you’ll be tired after the walking tour!). Tomorrow, you’re going to be busy.
Day 2 in Budapest
Enjoy breakfast, either at your hotel or near it, and trek back towards Buda Castle. You are going to start your day off with a super unique museum.
Trust me, I’m not a “museum person”, but this museum is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
Go to the Hospital in the Rock museum in Buda Hill
Connected to the Buda Hill cave system is my favorite museum, EVER, called the Hospital in the Rock.
This isn’t a museum that you just wander around but rather a guided tour. This facility served as an underground hospital first and the tour focuses on the facility during the Siege of Budapest between Hitler and the Soviets. You’ll learn about the conditions the patients faced and how the nursing staff dealt with the terrible conditions. After WWII the hospital transitioned to a nuclear bunker and the tour covers that history as well. Completely fascinating!
You’re going to want reservations. Because this is a guided tour, you can’t just go in and wander at your own pace.
Enjoy the annual Hungarian birthday cake
Yes, Hungary has an annual national cake. Yes, you need to try it. And you should probably try the cakes from the years prior, too.
This tradition has been around since 2007 and each cake sounds better than the last. The 2019 cake sounds extra delicious: raspberries, white chocolate cream, ganache, lemon, and basil. Yum!
Tour the Hungarian Parliament Building
After enjoying the museum, head towards the Pest side of the Danube to check out the gorgeous Hungarian Parliament Building.
The Parliament Building is unbelievable on the outside and just as gorgeous inside. The history is especially interesting given their Communist history. I won’t spoil it for you, but the tour is worthwhile.
See the Shoes on the Danube Bank
Just on the Danube adjacent to the Parliament Building is the Shoes on the Danube Bank memorial. Very rarely does a memorial installation bring me to tears, but this one did. The shoes honor the Jews who were killed in Budapest during WWII. The Arrow Cross militia would force Jews to take their shoes off, line the Danube, and await being shot. So many Jews were killed on the Danube during WWII that it was eventually called “the Jewish cemetery.”
By now, you’ll have spent some time learning about Hungary and the terror that both the Nazis and Soviets brought to the region. Reflect on everything that you have learned and what these shoes represent. It’s hard not to get emotional here.
Take a wine tour of the Etyek wine region
After stopping by such a sobering memorial, you may want to unwind and have a relaxing evening.
The best way to do that? A tour of the Etyek wine region.
This tour is fantastic. Transport from your hotel, stops at 3 vineyards, dinner, & dessert are included in the price. At each winery we had 3 or 4 full glasses of wine and one winery offered us a wine that they were working on. I think I had 12 glasses! On top of that they gave us a shot of palinka. I should’ve had a monumental hangover but I surprisingly didn’t – thank you sulfate-free wine.
The dinner we had was a roasted duck with some veggies and a delightful sweet onion compote. Honestly, I don’t remember much… remember, I had like 13 drinks. But it was delicious and the tour was so fun.
This tour is in one of my top-5 travel experiences, ever. I can’t recommend it enough.
Day 3 in Budapest
Because the Etyek wine tour is so generous, you will want to start your day off with relaxing. Luckily, Budapest has lots of options for world-class relaxation!
Ride the Budapest Metro
Quick, easy, and cheap – but most interestingly, the Yellow Line is the oldest operating Metro in continental Europe! The Yellow Line will get you near your day’s activities today.
Start your morning at the thermal baths
Looking for a restorative morning? Go check out some of the many thermal baths in Budapest.
Pack your swimsuit because the thermal baths of Budapest are not to be missed. The biggest and most popular is Szechenyi, but there are many more. There are internal and outdoor baths with waters of varying temperatures but all the water is warm.
The baths are known to be healing, so this is a great place to nurse whatever hangover you may have. Even if you aren’t hungover, they are worth a visit.
If you’re looking for a party, check out the parties at Szechenyi! I haven’t done it, but knowing Budapest culture, it’s probably a lot of fun.
I recommend renting a cabin instead of a locker – I think the extra cost is worth the privacy and comfort.
Explore Vajdahunyad Castle & Heroes Square
Exit the thermal bath and enjoy the beautiful park right outside the door. Even better, it has a lovely castle that you can explore, too! It’s worth a stroll if you’re looking to get away from some of the hustle and bustle. I sat on a bench for a couple hours and read. I was lucky: it was autumn so the air was slightly crisp and the leaves were just changing.
This is the perfect place to re-enter society after a relaxing morning at the thermal baths.
After enjoying the castle and the park, head to Heroes Square.
Take the Metro to the House of Terror
Like I said above, I’m not a museum person, but the House of Terror is gripping. The museum details the chilling reign of both the Hungarian Nazis and the Soviets in Hungary. It was so wicked that I frankly left with an upset stomach. It’s a must-see, but be warned, it’s haunting.
Check out St. Stephen’s Basilica
If you’re into churches, this one is beautiful. If you’re sick of touring churches, it’s still worth a stroll by. Especially at dusk 🙂 This is a quick pit-stop – next, you’re going to go shopping!
Shop at the Great Market Hall
You could easily spend a few hours here. I wandered around too full to enjoy the food but I bought basically all my souvenirs here, as well as my entire family’s Christmas gifts. Be sure to check out vendors selling ceramics – Hungary is famous for their ceramic crafts!
Eat some kind of paprika dish (like chicken paprikash!)
Hungarians love paprika. Like seriously, love it. Variants of paprika exist that you won’t find likely anywhere else. Chicken paprikash is the most popular dish, as far as I can tell.
There will be all sorts of delicious local foods at the Great Market Hall. If chicken paprikash is available, definitely get that.
Take a nighttime river boat tour
Budapest is absolutely gorgeous at night. Enjoy a peaceful river cruise and take in the sights from the Danube. You cannot leave Budapest without having done a nighttime river boat tour.
Enjoy your last night in Budapest with a drink at the ruin pubs
Ruin pubs are quicky, semi-rundown dives almost reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland. Szimpla Kert is the OG ruin pub so you obviously have to check it out.
There’s no better way to end your 3 days in Budapest. The ruin pubs are super unique to Budapest and will serve as a great nightcap.
If you’re looking for a group to hang with, check out a ruin pub crawl!
Say “cheers” in Hungarian while drinking pálinka
You can’t visit a ruin pub without saying cheers!
Hungarian is a crazy language and “cheers” happens to be my favorite Hungarian word (Admittedly, I only know three: thank you, peach, and cheers).
Egészségére. The locals tell me it vaguely sounds like “I guess she can drive” which actually helps me pronounce it. “Eh-geh-shuh-geh-druh” is how I pronounce it which is probably only about 75% right, but at least I tried.
It’s extra fun when mixed with palinka. This is basically Hungarian moonshine (although they call it brandy). It’s strong!
And it’ll be more fun to say in the ruin pub.
1 thought on “What to do in Budapest in 3 Days (don’t visit without this list!)”
As a long time traveler to my favorite city of Budapest, I think your itinerary is brilliant! There are a few things on your list I’ll try next time.