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3 Days in Budapest? Don’t Miss These Sites, Activities, and Foods!

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I spent 3 days in Budapest in May 2017, and this dream city turned out to be everything I hoped for and more.

Budapest is an enchanting city with a rich and tragic history. It has seen the rise and fall of many rules, from the Austro-Hungarian empire (of which it served as the capital alongside Vienna) to the Nazi regime of WWII to its post-war Communist rule. The Pearl of the Danube will capture your heart and break it at the same time.

*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission if you decide to buy through them, at no extra cost to you!*

Before you visit, I strongly urge you to learn more about Budapest’s complicated past.

If you’re looking for things to do in Budapest, as well as where to stay and what to eat while you’re there, read on. I’ve crafted a 3-day Budapest itinerary you can use. Of course, customize it based on your interests!


3 Days in Budapest - Itinerary of Things to Do, See, and Eat

Where to Stay in Budapest

When deciding where to stay in Budapest, you need to understand the basics of how Budapest is divided. Budapest is really two cities divided by the Danube River: Buda to the west of the Danube and Pest to the right. Buda is up on a hill (Castle Hill) with, you guessed it, a castle (plus St. Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion). It is the hoity-toity area of Budapest and very expensive. Pest, on the other hand, is mostly flat and is the hip, trendy area with all the nightlife. It is also a cheaper area.

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    I highly recommend staying on the Pest side. We stayed along the fashion street Vaci Utca in this AMAZING Airbnb. I highly recommend it. The host was amazing and a great tour guide and source of information. And if you stretch out of this Airbnb’s window at just the right angle, you could catch a glimpse of the Danube!

    Foods to Try in Budapest

    I believe the best way to explore a city is with your taste buds. So during your 3 days in Budapest, be sure to try these traditional Hungarian foods!

    3 Days in Budapest - Foods to Try in Budapest
    They handed out these nifty food guides at the end of my Budapest free walking tour. Just another reason to go on one! ??
    • Túró Rudi candy bars. Get the hazelnut flavor! You can find these in pretty much any grocery store or supermarket in Budapest.
    • Langos. Pronounced LONG-gohsh. Deep fried dough traditionally topped with sour cream and shredded cheese. Also referred to as the “communist pizza.”
      3 days in Budapest - Langos closeup
      Langos with sour cream and shredded cheese
    • Goulash. Goulash (pronounced GOO-yawsh) is probably the most famous Hungarian dish (despite it being shared with its neighboring countries, but I digress).
      3 days in budapest - beef goulash at Frici Papa
      Beef goulash with noodles at Frici Papa

    Drinks to Try in Budapest

    3 Days in Budapest - What to Drink

    Okay, so the only thing I tried that’s on this list was palinka, and all I can say is it tasted like fire. (I’m not a drinker, so I just tried a sip of my friend’s.) Palinka is a fruit brandy that is a traditional Hungarian drink. It has an alcohol content ranging from 37% to 86% so try it responsibly!

    Restaurants to Try in Budapest

    These are the restaurants I tried in Budapest and really enjoyed:

    • Frici papa kifőzdéjeDrop everything and eat here! This came from a recommendation from a local (our walking tour guide), and it was the BEST meal we had in Budapest and possibly the best meal we had in our entire 2-week Europe tour. On top of that, it was CHEAP.  Here’s what we ordered:
      •  Rántott sajt (fried cheese)
      • Vörösboros marhapörkölt (famous goulash! Beef with red wine)
      • Nokedli (noodle) – Not the noodle you’re thinking, though. This is also known as Spätzle or Hungarian Dumpling. It’s a chewy, lumpy egg noodle. Tastes DELICIOUS! You eat it with the goulash.
      • Király palacsinta – We ordered this for dessert. It’s basically a crepe with chocolate sauce, vanilla sauce, and whipped cream on top. It wasn’t that good though, so I wouldn’t recommend ordering it.
      • Vilmoskörte Pálinka  – Ah, pálinka, the national alcoholic drink of Hungary. We ordered it just to try it. It is a very strong fruit brandy.
      • Total Cost: 4230 HUF ($16.14 USD!)
    • Retro Langos. This is a sketchy looking food stand on the side of the street—but trust me, it’s where the locals go for a late-night langos snack! There is outdoor seating in front of it. It’s open till very late at night. Get the classic: Sour cream and cheese!
      • Retro Langos Address:
        Budapest, Podmaniczky Frigyes tér 4, 1054 Hungary
    • Panineria. This is RIGHT by the House of Terror, so it’s a great place to stop by after your tour. They serve sandwiches.
      • Panineria Address:
        Budapest, Andrássy út 52, 1062 Hungary
      • What I ordered: Cheesy chicken wrap and a bottle of water
      • Cost: 1860 HUF ($7.10 USD)

    3 days in Budapest - Panineria cheesy chicken wrap

    • Gelarto RosaLocated RIGHT in front of the beautiful St. Stephen’s Basilica, this is the cutest little rose-shaped gelato place. And yes, it tastes DELICIOUS. On a hot afternoon, stop by and grab yourself a rose gelato and stroll along the area in front of the basilica. Fun fact: When you’re facing the basilica, that simplistic building to your left is a classic example of the utilitarian architecture used during Communist rule. It stands in stark contrast to the neoclassical architecture of the basilica.

    3 days in Budapest - Gelarto Rosa rose gelato cone

    A Sample 3-Day Budapest Itinerary

    Day 1 in Budapest

    For your first of your 3 days in Budapest, I recommend you immediately go on the free walking tour to get your bearings. The information you’ll get on your tour will also lay the foundation for your understanding of Budapest’s history and culture.

    • 9 a.m. – Start your day with breakfast at Gerlóczy CaféThis brasserie is a little slice of Paris in the heart of Budapest. Sit outside on the patio and people watch as you sip your latte and enjoy your breakfast. I ordered the Salami omelet with tomato and basil, and it was good. But my friend ordered the Viennese sizzling sausage and it looked even better!
    • 10:30 a.m. – Go on a Budapest Free Walking Tour.

      3 days in budapest - free walking tour walking up to Castle Hill
      Hiking up to Castle Hill with our Budapest Free Walking Tour guide

      The meeting point of our tour was within walking distance of the Gerlóczy Café—perfect! While I normally disdain tours, I highly recommend the free walking tour because you will gain such valuable information as well as a layout of the land. At the end of the tour, be sure to tip your tour guide. You’ll also be able to ask them any questions you’d like. Thanks to our tour guide, we were able to find the BEST Hungarian restaurant in Budapest and the best place to try langos. The tour lasts about 3 hours, and yes, there is a lot of walking, including up a steep hill to get to the top of Buda Hill.

    • 1:30 p.m. – Tour St. Matthias Church.
      3 days in Budapest - St. Matthias Church tiled roof
      This is the BEAUTIFUL tiled-roof church in Budapest that you will definitely recognize from photos. It’s at the top of Buda Hill by the Fisherman’s Bastion. This is exactly where your Budapest free walking tour will end, so it’s a great time to go on a tour of the church.

      • Tourists may visit St. Matthias Church at these hours:
        • Mon-Fri: 9 am – 5 pm
          Sat: 9 am – 1 pm
          Sun: 1 pm – 5pm
      • Adults: HUF 1,500 ($5.32USD, approximately)
        Students (with ID): HUF 1,000
        Seniors (60+ with ID): HUF 1,000
        Family (2 Adults + 1 Child): HUF 3,500
        Of course, if you are entering the church to pray or attend mass, it is free of charge.
    • 3:30 p.m. Walk back across the bridge to Pest to get a late lunch/early dinner at Frici Papa. See the restaurant section above for more info on what to order.
    • Go to ruin bar Anker’t. 
      3 days in Budapest - Ankert ruin bar
      Entering Anker’t ruin bar in Budapest

      I’m sure that in your research of Budapest you’ve heard allll about the ruin bars or ruin pubs or whatever. Basically, they’re bars built inside of old, abandoned buildings. For example, this super hip “ruin bar” called Anker’t is in an abandoned building, but it is far from looking abandoned. It was super sleek and crowded. I didn’t actually stay or drink anything. Just wanted to check out a ruin bar. Then I went to stuff my face with langos. See the next point.

    • Grab some langos at Retro Langos food stand.
      3 days in Budapest - Retro Langos food stand in Budapest
      Walk from Ankert to Retro Langos for the BEST langos in Budapest! Okay, so it’s the ONLY langos in Budapest that I tried, but I had it on good word from a local (my walking tour guide) and it tasted amazing, so let’s go with that. While Retro Langos has some intricate combinations, I recommend going with the classic sour cream and cheese. Fun fact: Langos is endearingly and wryly referred to as “communist pizza.” Why? Because they say under communist rule, people were so poor they couldn’t afford all the ingredients of a traditional pizza, hence why langos is made simply of dough, sour cream, and shredded cheese.3 days in Budapest - Retro Langos menu

    Day 2 in Budapest

    On your second day in Budapest, I recommend you start diving into its rich, and sometimes sad, past.

    • 8 a.m. – Start your day with breakfast at the famous and opulent New York CafeThis was on my list of things I wanted to see in Budapest, but sadly, we didn’t get to it. But check out photos of it online and you’ll see why it’s worth a visit. It’s a work of art inside!
    • 9:30 a.m. – Learn about terror regimes at the House of Terror. Okay, so this might be an abrupt transition from the opulent New York Cafe. The House of Terror Museum (Terror Haza) commemorates the two terror regimes that once ruled over Hungary: fascism under the Arrow Cross Party and communism under the AVH (the State Protection Authority, AKA secret police). In fact, the building in which the museum is housed is where both the Arrow Cross Party and AVH captured and tortured people. Allow at least two hours here. I strongly recommend chipping in a little extra for the audio tour guide. This helped me immensely to understand what I was looking at. Yes, the things you learn here are sad and disturbing, but I am extremely sensitive and didn’t find it to be too disturbing. There is nothing overly graphic or sensational. I thought the museum was put together really well, and I am glad I went.
    • 12 p.m. noon – Eat lunch at Panineria
    • 1:30 p.m. – Visit Memento ParkThis is an open-air museum with statues from Hungary’s former Communist period. As the website states, the park is not about Communism, but about its fall. Because it’s so far from the city center, I didn’t make it there, but I REALLY wish I had. It turns out there is a bus that goes directly from downtown Budapest to Memento Park, so you really have no excuse!
    • 3 p.m. – Visit the church in a cave at Gellert Hill. This Catholic Church is built into a cave on Gellert Hill regularly hosts visitors and celebrates masses. I couldn’t find much reliable information on when these masses are held, though, so it’s best to go in person and check any signage. I’m really disappointed I didn’t have a chance to visit this cave church!In line with the House of Terror and Memento Park visits, this cave church also plays a part in Hungary’s communist past. During WWII, the Pauline monks here gave shelter to refugees, and as a result, many of these monks were captured and executed by the communist government, which also sealed off the church with a thick concrete wall. In 1991, the church was reopened and returned to the Paulines.
    • Go on a joy ride on the ferry. 3 days in Budapest - view of the Parliament Building from the ferry ride
      Save your Forint (Hungarian currency) and take the cheap Danube cruise (AKA the commuter ferry)! To do this, take the tram and get off at the Árpád Híd stop. Then, walk to the Népfürdö Utca stop which is along the banks of the river. Get on the #12 ferry headed SOUTHBOUND. Get off after you pass the Parliament building (stop is called Petöfi Tér). This ferry is ONLY free to BKK pass holders on WEEKDAYS, not weekends. You just show your pass to the attendant as you board the ferry.
    • See the Shoes on the Danube. Located on the east side of the Danube, just south of the Parliament Building, this simple memorial is for the approximately 20,000 Jews who were shot along the Danube during the Arrow Cross Party’s rule. According to Atlas Obscura:

      “The victims were forced to remove their shoes at gunpoint (shoes being a valuable commodity during World War II) and face their executioner before they were shot without mercy, falling over the edge to be washed away by the freezing waters.”

    • Walk across the Chain Bridge at sunset. After paying your respects at the Shoes on the Danube memorial, walk south along the Danube until you reach the famous Chain Bridge. Depending on the time of year that you’re visiting Budapest, you might make it right at sunset. In fact, plan ahead and check when the sun sets during your visit. Walk across the bridge before sunset. It’s SOOO romantic, even if you’re a solo traveler.I saw this couple holding hands like this while crossing the Chain Bridge and I’m not crying, you’re crying. ❤
      3 days in budapest - couple holding hands crossing the Chain Bridge
    • Grab a drink and dinner at a restaurant overlooking the Chain Bridge.
      3 days in Budapest - Dubarry restaurant aperol spritz
      I went to Dubarry restaurant and ordered an aperol spritz to sip as I took in the sights of the Danube at night. It has a view of the Chain Bridge and Buda Castle! The night we were there, there were also musicians serenading us. ?

    Day 3 in Budapest

    • 8 a.m. – Get breakfast at Zoska.
      3 days in Budapest - Zoska coffee shop
      This quaint cafe is Instagram-worthy and located on a charming street, across from a park. The walls are covered in post-it note messages from travelers from around the world. Add yours! This is definitely the type of cafe where you can lounge around, sipping a latte while scrawling in your journal.

      • Zoska Address: 
        Ferenczy István utca 28.
        Budapest, Hungary 1053
      • Hours:
        Monday-Saturday 7 a.m.-7 p.m.
        CLOSED Sundays
      • What I ordered:
        The pear and goat cheese scrambled eggs and a latte
      • Cost: 1780 HUF ($6.79 USD)
    • 9 a.m. – Stroll over to this antique bookshop around the corner. 
      3 days in Budapest - antique book store
      This is a great place to buy a literary souvenir from Hungary. Sure, you won’t be able to read it (unless you read Hungarian), but it’s a great conversation starter when you place it on your coffee table back home.
    • 10 a.m. – Tour St. Stephen’s BasilicaStop in for a prayer and/or to admire the neoclassical architecture. And here’s a quirky thing you can do: Go to the Chapel of the Holy Right Hand where St. Stephen’s (the former king of Hungary) incorruptible hand is located. You have to put a coin inside the box to light up the box where the hand is. You can wait around for someone else to do it and take a peek!
      • Tourists are able to visit St. Stephen’s Basilica free of charge during these hours:
        • Monday-Friday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

          Saturday: 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

          Sunday: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

    • 11 a.m. – Grab dessert at Gelarto Rosa. It’ll likely be hot at this point. Why not grab a rose-shaped gelato to enjoy while strolling around?
    • 12 p.m. noon – Eat lunch at the Great Market Hall.3 days in Budapest - Great Market HallEnjoy perusing the numerous food stands in the Great Market Hall. This is also THE place to buy that famous Hungarian Paprika for souvenirs. You’ll see them EVERYWHERE here.The Great Market Hall is three levels. The basement has seafood sellers, the first floor is where the souvenirs and foods are sold, and the second floor is where cooked, prepared foods are (restaurant stands). Enjoy lunch up here!
    • 1:30 p.m. – Spend half the day at the Szechenyi thermal baths. Budapest is famous for its thermal baths, of which there are many. But I think the most visually pleasing and highly rated one is the Szechenyi Baths. We went to see the building, but we didn’t actually pay to go inside the baths. If we’d had more time, I would have allotted an entire afternoon to relaxing here before getting dinner.
      • Szechenyi Baths Hours
        • The Szechenyi Baths are open Monday-Friday.
        • Outdoor Pools: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
        • Indoor Thermal Pools: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
        • Steam cabins and Saunas: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.
        • Bath Tours (15 min): 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
    • 6 p.m. – Eat dinner at nearby Gundel Etterem. This is probably the most famous restaurant in Budapest, and it’s walking distance from Szechenyi Baths so I HAD to include it. Be warned it’s pricey for Hungary (think $20-$30USD per dish). You can check out the menu here. If you’re on a budget, it’s best that you head back into the central part of Budapest (and away from the baths) for cheaper prices.
    • 8 p.m. Experience Whiskers Cat Pub. If you love cats, you have to see this cat pub in Budapest. I was walking along and spotted its sign, ran inside, and was allowed to pet the cats in the upstairs room.
    • Optional: Enjoy a show at the opera house. Right now, there is A Streetcar Named Desire ballet at the opera house. I would go if I were there, but obviously, seeing an opera would be cool too. Most shows are at 6 or 7 p.m, though there are occasionally daytime ones.

    Other Budapest Tips/Questions

    How commonly is English spoken in Budapest?

    Before coming to Budapest, I learned basic phrases like “thank you” and “hello.” Hungarian is widely regarded as one of the most difficult languages to learn, particularly among European languages. Hungarians know this. We actually had zero difficulties getting around Budapest even though we spoke English. In fact, I think everyone I encountered spoke English.

    Be prepared for sticker shock (in the best way possible).

    The hilarious thing about traveling around Budapest is that Hungary’s currency, the Forint (HUF), is very weak compared to the U.S. dollar. This resulted in things like:

    “Okay, ma’am, that’ll be 7,500.”

    Me: WHAT???

    *Does calculations and finds out 3,500 HUF is only $12 USD.*

    So if you’re from the U.S. at least, you’ll find that Budapest is SO CHEAP.

    You NEED to see Budapest both during the day and at night.

    It’s such a different experience! More specifically, I mean the views along the Danube. They don’t call Budapest the Pearl of the Danube for nothing!

    Buda castle by day

    3 days in budapest - Buda Castle by day

    Buda castle by night

    3 days in Budapest - Buda Castle by night

    Hungarian Parliament building by day…

    3 days in budapest - Parliament building by day

    Hungarian Parliament building by night…

    3 days in Budapest - Parliament Building by night

    Is Budapest Safe?

    I was traveling with two other women, and while we did have an incident at the Budapest train station where a guy wouldn’t leave us alone, we found Budapest to be very welcoming. We walked around at night and didn’t run into any issues.

    Which books about Budapest should I read before my trip?

    Personally, I read this irreverent book about Eastern Europe before heading to Budapest.

    These books are also highly rated (and I always recommend anything by Rick Steves!):

    Enjoy Your 3 Days in Budapest!

    You’re going to love Budapest. I would love to return and spend at least a month there. I hope these Budapest travel tips were helpful. Enjoy your trip!

    Want to see my full Eastern Europe itinerary? Click here to get more ideas for your trip!