Budapest is one of Europe’s most enigmatic cities. It has glorious architecture, a fascinating history which has seen it rule an empire and been ruled by others, and a tourism scene which runs the whole gamut of class. If you are planning a visit to Budapest, for a long weekend then you should check out our 3 day Budapest itinerary with a 72 hour Budapest Card.
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Budapest, the Pearl of the Danube, is a city of two halves, literally. The wide Danube River splits the city into Buda on one bank and Pest on the other. Budapest has a history that can be traced back to ancient Celtic and Roman times. It witnessed the rise and fall of empires, from the Magyars establishing the Hungarian Kingdom in the 9th century to the Habsburg Empire in the 16th.
The Budapest Card
First things first, get hold of a Budapest Card. These are wonderful value and provide free or discounted entrance to attractions all over the city. As well as this, it gives you free public transport across Budapest for the length of the card. For 3 days in Budapest, you’ll want to pick up a 72 hour Budapest Card. There are a couple of types:
- 72 Hour Budapest Card – This includes free public transport, free walking tours, free entry to St Lukacs Baths, free entry to 20 museums, discounted entry to lots more museums and discounts at restaurants, in some shops and for some tours.
- 72 Hour Budapest Card Plus – This includes everything above plus a free door to door transfer to and from the airport, a free river cruise, a free return on the Buda funicular and free entrance to the gorgeous Matthias Church in Buda.
Breakfast at the New York Cafe
Wake up early and make your way to Blaha Lujza tér metro station. Just steps from here is the most stunning cafe in Budapest, and quite possibly the whole of Europe. New York Cafe. This spot first opened in 1894 and from the stunning wrought iron entrance to the neo-renaissance balconies, frescoes and columns, it hasn’t changed. The place is visually stunning.
Now, the food here doesn’t come cheap. You are definitely paying for the ambience and surroundings. However, if you are savvy, getting a decent breakfast for 24 euros all in is possible. Splitting a three-tier Italian Breakfast gives you two or three pastries, a fruit salad, two thick slices of toast, butter and preserves, fresh pressed orange juice and coffee, tea or hot chocolate. Considering the orange juice is €10.50 and the cappuccino is €10, you’ll see what great value that offer is. (Cocktails are only €1-2 euros more than a coffee so have at it).
After breakfast, you are welcome to wander around and see the balconies and white room up close. Don’t be shy, just take yourselves on a little walk. Later in the day, the queue is huge and these areas are cordoned off so breakfast is the best option.
Underground Railway Museum
Hop on the M2 line to Deák Ferenc tér and within the metro station, you will find the first of our fun little museum stop.s As you are travelling on the metro, it is worth learning a little about it. Budapest has the second oldest underground railway network in Europe (after London). This small museum has lovely old carriages and discusses the history of the city and how it was intertwined with its metro transport.
From here, you are going to take the oldest line M1 Hősök Tere. You will see what this line was like when it opened with beautifully renovated and preserved stations. They remind us of the NY subway but in miniature and wonderfully clean.
Marvel at Heroes Square
Heroes Square is a large open area, defined by the huge crescent of statues, the Millennium Monument. The 14 statues within the Millennuim Monumen include Hungary’s rulers including King Stephen. Atop the large column is Angel Gabriel holding the crown of St. Stephen’s Crown, also known as the Crown of Hungary. At the bottom are the seven chieftains of the Magyars. These were the leaders of the seven tribes back in 896 AD. The square’s statues were constructed to commemorate 1000 years of Hungary (hence the Millennium moniker). Over its 120 year history, Heroe’s Square has been host to protests, celebrations and many, many tour groups.
Wonder at World Class Art at the Museums
On either side of Heroes Square, you will find two huge art museums. The Museum of Fine Art is on the north west flank, with the Kunsthalle on the south east. With just 3 days in Budapest, we suggest just visiting one, and we believe the superior visit is the Fine Arts Museum. Not only do they have beautiful pieces from across the globe, but the building itself is amazing. You will be asked to store bags in the lockers downstairs before heading into the museum so make sure your phone is charged up before you go, ensuring you don’t need to carry any extra bits in your hands. Don’t miss the Egyptian art between galleries full of wonderful old masters including Monet and Rodin.
Sample Some Spirits at the Palinka Museum
Palinka is the fire water that originated in the Carpathian Mountains. You will find it in Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Czechia and in many different flavours. The thing they all share in common, however, is the throat-stripping strength of the liquor. (Can you tell I am a wimp?). There is a small museum dedicated to the drink in Budapest and you will get free entry with the Budapest Card. This includes a look around the two room exhibitions (guided or not) and a small glass of the clear drink. It’s a nice stop off on the way to the rest of your evening. The museum is downstairs at a bar so don’t get confused or put off, you are in the right place.
Spend a Night at the Opera
Budapest’s opera scene is top notch. The Hungarian State Opera House puts on world class opera and ballet almost every night of the year at a fraction of the cost you might be used to. If you are prepared to stand, you can get tickets for less than €5 which is unheard of in London, Paris or New York. You can even get a seat for £10 so let your culture vulture fly!
Alternatively, you can also take guided tours of the building in the daytime which are really interesting. This allows a glimpse of the sumptuous and scandalous smoking corridor and of course the gorgeous gold and red auditorium.
Take a Dip in a Beautiful Bath
Budapest is built on a fault line and this has an abundance of natural hot water springs. Around these springs, beautiful public baths were created and now the city has some true beauties, the perfect place to ease your weary muscles and recuperate before another day of sightseeing.
As part of your Budapest Card, you are given free entry to the Lukács Thermal Bath and Swimming Pool. If you are focused on making the most of your card then head down there. However, we particularly love:
- Széchenyi Thermal Bath – The gorgeous yellow baroque building of Széchenyi Thermal Bath is matched not by the opulent statues and neoclassical interiors. This bath was built in the early 1900s but feels like it comes from the 1700s. It’s a real delight.
- Gellert Baths – Connected to the Gellert Hotel, the art nouveau Gellert Baths is a world away from Széchenyi despite being built in the same decade. It is a wonderful mix of early 20th century design (warm wood and white tiling) but still has some lovely classical flourishes. Little statues and fountains surprise visitors and in the main pool, every column is different.
- Rudas Baths – The original Rudas baths have been here for almost 500 years but an expansion and refurbishment in 2014 has given it a huge selling point, a bath that looks out over the River Danube. if you don’t fancy a morning dip, check out its two other unique offerings. The baths are open from 22:00 – 04:00 for nighttime bathing and on Friday nights you can hire it exclusively for one hour at around £60 per person. (Perfect proposal time).
Take your lovely relaxed body to the foot of Buda Hill, opposite Széchenyi Chain Bridge and grab a ticket for the cutest little funicular to the top of the hill. Sure you can walk but if you are saving money, it makes sense to catch it up rather than down. The funicular was opened in 1870 and still operates in the same way (although it has been rebuilt due to damage in WWII). It was actually the second funicular anywhere in Europe
Up the hill, you will find the large Buda Castle Quarter. It looks like a fine baroque town but there has been a fortress here since the 1200s. Most of what you can see dates from the mid-1700s.
Budapest History Museum / Castle Museum
The Budapest History Museum, also known as the Castle Museum, both houses a history museum about Budapest and is itself party to an intriguing history. The palace that it once was found itself stripped out and thoroughly communist-ified during their 40 year rule. Inside you can delve into the old foundations and chapels (all that remains of the original buildings) and trace the history of Hungary from Ancient times to the modern day. The most interesting gallery is that dedicated to the story of Budapest which isn’t just told chronologically, but in a series of themed areas. The museum is included with Budapest Card.
Fisherman’s Bastion & Matthias Church
If you have seen any social media featuring Budapest, you’ve seen Fisherman’s Bastion. This Neo-Romanesque fortification was built around the 1700s walls and has been lovingly preserved for over 100 years. Its fairytale towers and stone arches abound on Instagram (yes, I’m guilty of it too) but that is a far cry from the fishermen it is named under. It is said that it was guarded by fishermen that lived below it in Watertown. The panoramic views from here are magnificent, across the river to the huge parliament and domes of the city Here you will also find Matthias Church. As well as its gorgeous Gothic exterior, it has a rich interior full of carvings and artwork.
More Views from Magdalene Church Tower
Keep walking east for about ten minutes and you will come to the small but tall, Magdalene Church. (This is sometimes called Buda Tower). Climbing the tower is free with the Budapest Card and is the reason we recommend getting that funicular UP rather than down the hill. Climbing the 170s steps to the top gives some excellent views
Take the Funicular back down the hill and then catch tram 16, 178, 210 or 216 to Széchenyi István tér.
Sunset by The Danube
Take a Spin on the Ferris Wheel of Budapest
If you just can’t enough views, or just fancy a sit down with a twist, then hop on Budapest Óriáskereke in the middle of Elizabeth Square. A ticket is 3900 HUF but for 6600HUF you can sag priority boarding and a glass of sparkling wine. It is an eight minute ride, which is a good amount of time for a glass of bubbles!
Enjoy Beverages on a Boat at Pontoon Bar
There are a few boat bars n the Danube but Pontoon is the most famous. Here you will find big drinks (you will be served a double unless you specify otherwise), banging music, a cool crowd and a gorgeous view of the sun setting along the Danube.
Discover Hungarian Delicacies on a Food Tour
If you are only in Budapest for three days then it is hard to try everything delicious the city has to offer. If you fancy giving it a good go then you will want to book onto a food tour. There are a few on offer but the best company in Budapest (and the first to offer food tours) has to be Taste Hungary. Their passionate guides are almost as obsessed with food as their founders. They offer plenty of tasting including whole wine flights but the Budapest Culinary & Wine Walk is the best overview and a lovely way to spend your third morning. Arrive hungry as you will easily get enough food for breakfast and lunch.
The group takes a wander through the Central Market with a few tasters en route. From here you are guided through some of the oldest streets in Budapest. Traditional liqueurs and lunch are provided but make sure you leave room for dessert as there are more stops after this. Some of the highlights are:
- Langos – Hungarian pizza
- BBQ lunch with lashings of goulash
- Cake…ah the cake
A Haunting History at The Holocaust Memorial Centre
This is not an easy visit but this dark period of time was so impactful on the city that it is an important one. There is a permanent exhibition that explains both the Nazi and homegrown fascist threat to the Jewish population in Hungary. It is very interactive so you can take a long time going really in-depth if you want. The institution is one of the only places in the world dedicated solely to Holocaust research so there are lots of first person accounts and it is the most affecting holocaust exhibition we have seen.
Shoes on the Danube Bank
Hop on tram 23, 28 or 2 at Zsil Utca and enjoy the views along the river bank to Széchenyi István tér. Here, disembark for another little dose of dark history.
The Shoes on the Danube Bank is a simple but very poignant memorial. It marks the awful moment in WWII when thousands of Jews were shot along the banks of the Danube River. There are 60 pairs of shoes, symbolizing the shoes that the victims were forced to remove before being executed. The variety is probably the most harrowing aspect, with men’s shoes, women’s shoes and small children’s shoes represented.
Marvel at the Hungarian Parliament
Keep walking north and you will pass the huge and imposing Hungarian Parliament. This huge, exceedingly grand building smacks of empire, which is no surprise as it was one half of the Austro-Hungarian seat of power. It has a whopping 691 rooms inside its neo-gothic halls. It is possible to visit a few of these on a 45 minute visit, guided by an audioguide or a human one. You’ll catch a glimpse of the beautiful grand staircases and golden Dome Hall as well as the CHamber of Peers where the business of parliament still goes on.
Explore Margaret Island
Make your way to the halfway point of Margit Bridge and down to Margaret Island. This large park (2.5 km by 500m) is a fun place to relax or laugh yourselves silly on some sort of strange transport.
- Rent Something Fun – Available for rent is a weird and wonderful variety of wheeled vehicles. Most of these, from regular bikes to quad cycles and covered tricycles are powered by pedalling but there are also electric golf buggies.
- Enjoy the Japanese Garden – An unusual find in Budapest, this neat little garden was created in the 1970s and is a little slice of zen in the city.
- Walk the Water Tower – Fancy climbing another tower for another view? Of course you do when it’s included with your Budapest Card! You’ll get super 360s views to both sides of the rver.This is only open in summer.
- Take in a Show – Just next to the water tower is the seasonal outdoor theatre. There is a show here every night in summer most of which are musical performances.
- Stop and Smell the Roses – There is a pretty rose garden with some beautifully fragrant blooms. It is fun running around and sticking your nose in the different varieties.
- Take a Swim – On Margaret Island, you will find both another hot spring bath, Palatinus Baths and the Hajos Alfred Swimming Pool Complex. This has eight pools all dedicated to the sport of swimming, including diving pools, an Olympic size lap pool and somewhere for water polo too!
- Grab a Drink – There are a few cool bars on Margaret Island but the coolest of all is Hippie Island. It’s relaxed seating, great music and bright colours scream summer.
- Watch the Fountain – The music fountain may not be playing music all day but it still shoots water in the most hypotonic patterns. Catch it playing music once an hour for the proper show.
Take a Boat on the Danube
Sightseeing along the Danube is a really relaxing way to spend an hour or two. Budapest has an abundance of boat tours, some serve dinner, some provide traditional music and some get you a little bit tipsy. These bottomless sailings are a really fun sightseeing tour which is honestly, only loosely to do with the commentary that cuts into the music every so often. There were nibbles to buy but the most basic of these boat trips is generous with the bubbly! It is easy to