3 days in Budapest itinerary – a full guide to what to do in Budapest in 3 days (in the summer and the winter).
Budapest is an outstandingly beautiful city with more than 20 centuries of history. The first settlement on this territory dates before the 1st century AD (built by Celts). However, if you look for the city on a map dated before 1873, you won’t find it. Before that time this capital city simply didn’t exist. It was formed as a union of three smaller cities Buda, Óbuda and Pest during the Habsburg rule.
How long to spend in Budapest
How long to stay in Budapest? Are 3 days in Budapest enough?
Actually, you’ll need 2 full days to see the most famous attractions. If you have three days take a day trip or experience the city off the beaten path.
The capital of Hungary is an extremely beautiful city, similar to Vienna. However it’s much cheaper, so if you have the chance, spend 3 nights in Budapest.
I spent almost 4 days in the city, exploring not only the main attractions but also some less popular sites. Also, I took a day trip to Gödöllő Palace, the favourite place of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. I really loved the city and I can’t wait to visit it again for the Christmas markets in December (it’s on my list).
It’s an excellent hotel with a great location (the nearest metro station is less than 5min walk).
A 4-star boutique hotel with a superb location near Chain Bridge.
A 4-star luxury hotel at a walking distance to main sites and good restaurants.
Great studio apartments with all the essentials opposite to St. Stephen’s Basilica.
Find more awesome places in where to stay in Budapest.
How to save money on your Budapest itinerary
See the best of Budapest in 3 days and save a lot of money with the Budapest City Card.
The City Card includes:
- unlimited free public transport
- 13 free museums, including the museums housed in Buda Castle
- 2 free guided walking tours (for Buda and Pest)
- free entry to Lukács Thermal Bath
- 10-50% discount to over 100 places, attractions and restaurants
By using City Card (€44 for 3 days) you will save €35.
- 2 guided walking tours ~ €20
- Buda Castle museums ~ €12
- Entry to Lukács Thermal Bath ~ €12
- card for 72 hours (public transport) ~ €35
Total without the card – €79, with it – €44
Total savings €35
3 days in Budapest itinerary
How to spend three days in Budapest? What are the must-see sites? Follow this 3-day guide to Budapest to get an excellent first experience of the city. Find a map of this 3-day itinerary here.
Day 1: Gresham Palace, Chain Bridge, Buda Castle, Holy Trinity Column, Matthias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion
Day 2: Shoes on the Danube Promenade, Hungarian Parliament Building, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungarian State Opera House, Heroes’ Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, evening cruise
Day 3: Szechenyi Spa Baths, Dohány Street Synagogue, Budapest Zoo
Day 1 – Explore Buda
Buda is located on the west bank of the Danube river. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary in the Middle Ages.
Morning – Tour the Buda Castle
08:30 AM – 09:30 AM
Start your Budapest itinerary with breakfast at Cserpes Tejivó or À la Maison Grand. Cserpes Tejivó is a great place for a quick bite. They offer cold and hot sandwiches, pastries and a wide variety of yoghurts. À la Maison Grand is a breakfast restaurant that serves classical egg-snacks, pancakes, waffles and amazing coffee.
09:30 AM – 09:45 AM
Gresham Palace (Gresham palota) is an outstanding building in Art Nouveau style. It was built in 1906 to serve as an office building for Gresham Life Assurance Company. Nowadays it’s a luxury five-star hotel.
09:45 AM – 10:00 AM
Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) is named after Count István Széchenyi who proposed its construction. Yet, it’s mostly known as Chain Bridge, because of the huge iron chains that hold it.
Chain Bridge was the first permanent construction that connected Pest and Buda across the river Danube. During World War II, it was blown up by the Germans, only its pillars remained intact. After the war, it was rebuilt in its original form.
At the end of the bridge at Buda side is the Zero Kilometre – an oval-shaped stone. It marks the place from where all the main roads in Hungary are measured.
10:15 AM – 12:30 PM
The easiest way to get to Castle Hill, where is Buda Castle, is by using the castle funicular. The ride is short (about 2-3 min) and the ticket costs 1,200 HUF (~4 EUR). It’s possible to walk to the top of the hill but prepare for a little hike.
Buda Castle with its marvellous architecture and breathtaking views over Pest is a must. However, keep in mind that the castle no longer functions as one, but it’s a complex of museums. Over the centuries Buda Castle has been extended, destroyed and rebuilt many times.
King Béla IV built the first royal residence on the Castle Hill in the 13th century. At the beginning of the 15th century, King Sigismund significantly enlarged the palace. Later King Matthias Corvinus and his wife Beatrice of Naples rebuilt it in a Renaissance style.
Nowadays only fragments from this Renaissance building can be seen. The medieval palace was completely destroyed during the Great Siege of 1686 when Buda was freed from the Turks. Later the Habsburgs restored the castle to its previous beauty.
Today, the castle houses the History Museum, the National Gallery and the National Library. In the History Museum, you can see a modest selection of restored rooms from the medieval palace, including the Royal Chapel and the Gothic Hall.
The Sándor Palace (Sándor-palota) is located next to Buda Castle. It is the official residence of the President of the Republic of Hungary. Don’t miss the changing of the guards (it’s every hour by the hour).
12:30 PM – 02:30 PM
Stop for a lunch at Horváth Étterem or Ramazuri Bistronomy. Ramazuri Bistronomy serves modern Hungarian cuisine, while Horváth Étterem offers authentic Hungarian food.
Afternoon – Visit the Fisherman’s Bastion
Holy Trinity Column
02:30 PM – 02:45 PM
This Baroque monument (Szentháromság Szobor) was erected in 1716–1754 in honour of God and to celebrate the end of the plague epidemic.
02:45 PM – 04:00 PM
With its colourful diamond shape roof and white stone in Gothic style, Mátyás-templom is a real pleasure for the eyes. It is named after King Matthias, whose two royal weddings were held here.
There is an entrance fee to visit the church. The fee includes entry to the church’s museum where you can see an exhibition of religious relics and replicas of the Hungarian crown jewels.
04:00 PM – 05:00 PM
Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) looks like it came out from a fairytale. It was built at the end of the 19th century at the site of an old rampart, that was defended by the guild of fishermen during the Middle Ages. The white stone construction represents a viewing terrace with many stairs and paths. Its seven towers symbolize the seven Magyar tribes that settled in 896 in this area.
Many of its balconies are free to enter, but for the upper towers, there is an entrance fee.
Finish the day with a dinner at Alabárdos Étterem or Halászbástya Restaurant. Halászbástya Restaurant is located in the Fisherman’s Bastion and has some of the most awesome views of the city. Alabárdos Étterem is a traditional restaurant with fine cuisine and an extensive Hungarian wine list.
Day 2 – Explore Pest
Pest is located on the east bank of Danube River. Most of the landmarks are within this area.
Morning – Admire the Hungarian Parliament Building
08:30 AM – 09:30 AM
Start the second day of the itinerary for 3 days in Budapest with breakfast at Espresso Embassy or 9BAR.
Shoes on the Danube Promenade
09:30 AM – 09:45 AM
Shoes on the Danube Promenade is a memorial, dedicated to the murdered Jews by the fascist Arrow Cross militiamen. The Arrow Cross Party ruled Hungary from 15 October 1944 to 28 March 1945. During this dreadful rule ten to fifteen thousand people, mostly Jews, were murdered. In addition, more than 80 000 were deported to death camps.
Many Jews were executed by being shot on the edge of the banks of the Danube. Before every execution, the Jews had to take off their shoes as they were considered valuable belongings at the time. The 60 pairs of iron shoes look so real that you can feel the horror of this inhumanity that took place here.
The easiest way to get to the memorial is by coming from Chain Bridge towards the Parliament building.
Hungarian Parliament Building
10:00 AM – 10:30 AM
The Hungarian Parliament building (Országház) is the city’s most unique landmark. This structure in the Gothic Revival style is the third largest Parliament building in the world. During its construction, 40 million bricks and 40 kilograms of gold were used.
The Hungarian Parliament building is the tallest building in the city along with St.Stephen’s Basilica. Both of them are 96 metres high. The number signifies the year 896 AD in which the Hungarians settled in the region.
Today the government uses a small part of the building.
The latter includes the main entrance stairs and hall, one of the lobbies, the old House of Lords and the Hungarian Crown Jewels.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
10:45 AM – 12:00 PM
St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in the capital of Hungary. Szent István-bazilika is dedicated to Saint Stephen I, the first King of Hungary. His mummified right hand is kept in a glass case in a side chapel.
The church’s dome is 96 metres high – equal to the height of the Hungarian Parliament Building. This equation symbolises the balance between the spiritual and the worldly. You can reach the dome by elevator or by climbing the 364 stairs.
There is no fee to enter the church, but a small donation is required at the entrance.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is a popular location for classical concerts.
12:00 PM – 02:00 PM
For lunch stop at Meatology or Meat & Sauce. Meat & Sauce offers some mouth-watering sandwiches, while Meatology – delicious steaks and burgers.
Afternoon – See the Dracula Castle (the Hungarian version)
Hungarian State Opera House
02:00 PM – 02:15 PM
Hungarian State Opera House has the 3rd best acoustics in Europe (after the Palais Garnier in Paris and La Scala in Milan). This richly decorated building in neo-Renaissance style is opened to the public in the 19th century.
02:45 PM – 03:15 PM
Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) is one of the most beautiful city’s squares. You can reach it by taking the underground (M1 line), which is the oldest underground line in continental Europe.
03:30 PM – 04:30 PM
The Vajdahunyad Castle is like a thousand years old but in fact, it’s relatively new construction. It was built for the city’s millennium exhibition in 1896. To achieve its extraordinary appearance, the architect Ignác Alpár combined a few different styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. Yet, he was mostly inspired by the Dracula’s Castle – the Hunyad Castle in Transylvania (nowadays Romania). Since 1907 Vajdahunyad vára houses the Agricultural Museum of Hungary.
There is a statue of Anonymus in the castle’s courtyard. Anonymus was a chronicler of a Hungarian king (probably Béla III) during the 12th century, but his true identity was unknown.
The City Park, right next to Vajdahunyad Castle, is a great spot for a picnic with your loved one.
Finish the day with a dinner at Városliget Café or Paprika Étterem. Both restaurants offer traditional Hungarian cuisine.
Take an evening cruise
The city is absolutely stunning at night.
Day 3 – Off the beaten path and day trips
On the third day of your Budapest itinerary get away from the main tourist area and explore some attraction off the beaten path. Another option is to take a day trip to Gödöllő Palace or taste some artisan Hungarian wines on a wine tasting day tour.
Szechenyi Spa Baths
Budapest isn’t called the City of Spas for nothing. Szechenyi Spa Baths are the most popular baths. They feature more than 15 pools with natural hot spring water.
The second most liked baths are Gellért Spa Baths.
Tour the city in a different way
See the city’s most famous statues
There are numerous statues all over the city. In this respect, Budapest resembles Prague.
The Little Princess
The Little Princess with Buda Castle as a background is one of the most famous statues. Its creator, László Marton, was inspired by his daughter to model the statue. She used to pretend to be a princess, wearing a bathrobe and a crown made of newspapers.
Monument to Imre Nagy
Imre Nagy was a Hungarian communist politician and Prime Minister of Hungary (two times). He was executed in 1958 during the Hungarian Revolution against the Soviet-imposed policies.
Dohány Street Synagogue
Dohany Street Synagogue (Dohány utcai zsinagóga) is the largest synagogue in Europe. It’s also known as the Great Synagogue or Tabakgasse Synagogue. This building in Moorish style has a marvellous interior. The entrance fee includes a free tour. Inside the synagogue, men have to wear a small skullcap (you’ll receive one at the entrance).
There are also a Jewish museum and a Heroes’ Temple on the site. In the backyard of the temple, you’ll find a Jewish cemetery and a Holocaust memorial. The memorial, that represents a steel weeping willow, is deeply moving. The names of thousands of Hungarian Jews, brutally murdered during the WWII, are engraved on the leaves. There are also blank leaves dedicated to the unknown victims of the Nazi regime.
Labyrinth of Buda Castle
Labyrinth of Buda Castle deserves a visit only if you’re a real fan of Dracula. Vlad III, the Prince of Wallachia (known as Dracula) was kept imprisoned here. You can see the cage where he was held and tortured for years.
To find out more about Vlad Dracula and the blood countess, Elizabeth Báthory, take this dark history and vampire walking tour.
Hospital in the Rock
Labyrinth of Buda Castle is not the only option to explore the underground tunnels on Castle Hill. The Hospital in the Rock is a museum hidden in the caverns under the Buda Castle. The place used to be a hospital and a bomb shelter during the WWII. Later it became a nuclear bunker. You can visit it only with a guided tour.
If you are looking for truly awesome views of Budapest, Gellért Hill is the place to go. This hill features the best panoramic view of the city. There is a fortress on the top of the hill dating from the Habsburg rule.
The easiest way to get to Gellért Hill is by taking a Budapest sightseeing tour.
This is not the typical church that you used to see. It’s a unique place housed in a natural cave. The entrance fee includes an English audio guide.
Discover the city’s longest cave system
Experience the longest natural cave beneath the city’s streets and discover the source of the hot springs in a Budapest caving experience.
This zoo (Budapesti Állatkert) is one of the oldest in the world. You can see the animals from a very close distance and even touch some of them. My favourite thing is the animal petting area where you can caress or feed goats and sheep.
House of Terror
Terror Háza Múzeum represents the two terror regimes that Hungarian people had to face – the Nazi and the following Soviet regime. The Arrow Cross Party and State Protection Authority used the building as headquarters. They tortured, interrogated and killed people in the basement cells.
Museum of Applied Arts
Museum of Applied Arts occupies an Art Nouveau building with a unique architecture. Even if you don’t visit the Iparművészeti Múzeum, the architecture itself worth a look.
The Kerepesi Cemetery (Kerepesi úti temető) is one of the oldest cemeteries in Hungary. Although it’s out of the city centre, you can easily reach it by underground. The cemetery is an eternal resting place for many famous Hungarians. The park is very peaceful and romantic with long silent alleys and beautifully ornate graves and tombs. Nowadays the cemetery is closed for new burials.
November the 1st is called “All Saint’s Day” in Hungary. If you visit the cemetery on this day you will find the graves covered with flowers and candles.
The Tropicarium is inside the Campona Shopping Center on the city’s outskirts. It is a long trip from the city centre, but if you are interested in sea life don’t skip it. The Tropicarium features a water tunnel and a great variety of fishes and animals living in the tropical rainforest.
Memento Park is an open-air museum that features statues and sculptures from the Communist period in Hungary. You can see huge statues of Lenin, Marx as well as several Hungarian Communist leaders.
Explore the rest of Hungary
3 days in Budapest in winter
If you’re visiting the city in the winter, follow the first and second day of this Budapest travel itinerary. For the third day – relax at the hot springs at Szechenyi Spa Baths and tour the Christmas markets. The hot baths are one of the best places to visit in December, especially on a cold winter day.
Getting around Budapest
The easiest way to get around Budapest is by using the underground. There are 4 metro lines. M1, M2 and M3 meet at Deák Ferenc tér in the city centre.
You can also take a floating bus tour that will show you the most popular landmarks.
As I was staying in the city centre, I used the single ticket option and a 24-hour travelcard for one of the days. The 24-hour card is valid for an unlimited number of trips within the administrative boundaries of Budapest. No validation is required, unlike the single ticket that has to be validated at the start of your journey.
The trams are also an excellent option to get around the city, especially tram number 2. Its route covers the most iconic places along the riverside on Pest.
How to get from Budapest Airport to the city centre
Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD) is located only 16km away from the city centre. There are several options to get from the airport to the city centre:
- The easiest one is to book a private transfer directly to your hotel. I love Welcome Pickups because they are always on time and very helpful.
- Take bus 200E from Terminal 2 to the Kőbánya-Kispest metro terminal. From there take metro line M3 towards Újpest Központ to reach the city centre.
- Take bus 200E (daytime) or 900 (nighttime) from Terminal 2 to Ferihegy train station. From there take a train to Nyugati railway station. For the train ride, you can use the Budapest travel card, 24, 72-hour or weekly passes.
- Take bus 100E from the airport to Deák tér for a direct connection to the city centre. You’ll need a special ticket for this one (900 HUF).