For a few years now, mom and I have been going on an annual city trip together. On one of those trips, we spent four days in Budapest, Hungary. I've mapped out our Budapest itinerary as accurately as I could below and added some information on things we didn't do, but could interest you, near the places we visited.
I hope this will help you figure out what to do in Budapest on your own trip there.
- What to do in Budapest: 4-day itinerary
- Day 1: Erzsébetváros neighborhood
- Day 2: Budapest Castle Hill and the Belváros and Lipótváros neighborhoods
- Day 3: Józsefváros, Ferencváros and Margerit Island
- Day 4: Andrássy Út and the city park
- The Budapest baths
- Cafes and restaurants in Budapest
- The Budapest City Card
- Tours and other activities in Budapest
- Getting around Budapest
- Where to stay in Budapest
- How to get to Budapest
- How many days to spend in in Budapest?
- What currency is used in Budapest?
- Is Budapest expensive?
- When to visit Budapest?
- Don't forget travel insurance
- Books about Budapest
What to do in Budapest: 4-day itinerary
Day 1: Erzsébetváros neighborhood
Because our hotel was located in the Erzsébetváros neighborhood and it was already noon when we arrived, we decided to stick to that area on our first day in Budapest and simply wander its streets, getting a first impression of the city.
While Erzsébetváros is mostly known for its cafes and shops, it also has some sights and monuments. We stopped at two in particular.
1. The Great Synagogue with the Jewish Historical Museum
We stumbled upon the Great Synagogue at the start of our walk and decided to visit it as the building already seemed so impressive from the outside. It was no surprised when we later learned that it's the biggest synagogue in Europe and thus one of the things to see in Budapest.
It's worth a visit for the building alone, but inside you also learn about the history of Jews in Hungary and when we were there, there was also a nice photo exhibition of contemporary Jews living in Budapest.
An entry ticket for adults costs 4000 HUF at the time of writing but you get a discount if you have the Budapest City Card, which we did.
If you prefer, it's also possible to visit the synagogue with a guide.
2. The Central Market Hall
The Central Market Hall (Nagy Vásárcsarnok) is partly an actual market, with stands on the ground floor selling fish, mea, vegetables and other foods; and partly a tourist market hall with souvernir shops and a few food stands on the upper floor.
It's fun to walk through though you need to be a bit patient on the upper floor as the hallways are narrow and it can get quite busy. The building itself, from the outside, is a Budapest must-see simply because it's pretty impressive.
Day 2: Budapest Castle Hill and the Belváros and Lipótváros neighborhoods
1. Castle Hill
The second day of our Budapest trip, we headed to what's probably Budapest's most popular sight: Castle Hill. We crossed the famous Chain Bridge from Pest to Buda and as mom didn't fancy the walk up, we took a little train that brought us up the hill and dropped us in the middle of all the sights.
There's also a lift but that wasn't working that day and with our Budapest Card, the ride was free.
Once up the hill, you can visit
- the Buda Palace and its museums
- the Hungarian National Museum or Magyar Nemzeti Galéria
- the Matthias Fountain and the Matthias Church
- the Historical Budapest Museum
- the National Széchényi Library
- the Sandor Palace
- an excavation site
- a former military headquarters
- the cave hospital Sziklakórház
- the Mary Magdalene church
- the Koller Galéria
- the Museum of Music History
- the famous Fisherman's Bastion
Mom and I didn't enter any of these buildings as the weather was, in our opinion, too nice to be inside. Once the little train had dropped us off, we strolled from sight to sight, enjoying the views of the Danube river and Pest.
By the way, if you want to, you can also do this at night on a History & Myths Evening Walking Tour!
I suggest you look up some of these sights in advance and decide which ones you want to visit properly and which ones you just want to see from the outside. The way we did it, we saw Castle Hill in a morning, but if you also want to visit some museums, a day might not even be enough.
Also, take into account that you'll probably only visit this side of the river for Castle Hill and the Gellért Hill (see below) so that it's best to group activities here together in a day or two. Either way, I do recommend going at least to Castle Hill when you visit Budapest; The views alone are worth it.
2. Gellért Hill
Gellért Hill is a typical sight to combine with Castle Hill. You can walk from one to the other, but don't underestimate the walk up Gellért Hill.
On Gellért Hill, you can find:
- a cave church
- the Citadella
- the Budapest Statue of Liberty
- the Hotel Gellért and the Gellért Thermal Baths (get skip-the-line entrance here)
Despite having read the views up there are amazing, we decided not to hike up Gellért Hill. I know, I know. Maybe it's a must-do in Budapest and maybe I'll do it on a next trip to Budapest, but there were still plenty of other things we wanted to see and taking into account that mom is not a big fan of hiking uphill, we decided to skip this.
Instead, we went to…
3. Belváros and Lipótváros neighborhoods
These neighborhoods are home to the magnificent Hungarian Parliament, the Gresham Palace, a bunch of historical monuments and quite a bit of open space in comparison to the other areas in Pest that we visited. Again, the weather was nice so we kept our explorations outdoors and simply wandered the streets.
That really is the best way to explore Budapest, by the way.
If you want to see the parliament on the inside, it is possible to do so on a tour. If you go, you'll be visiting the third-largest parliament building in the world!
Day 3: Józsefváros, Ferencváros and Margerit Island
While you can cross the Margit Híd Bridge from Lipótváros to the Margit Island, we decided to visit the island a bit differently. We spent the first part of our day in the neighborhoods of Józsefváros and Ferencváros, walking down south from Bálana, the “whale building”, all the way until we reached the Statue Garden, the Palace of Arts and the Ludwig Museum.
From there, we took the water bus to Margit Island. The price was included in our Budapest Card and as the trip lasted about an hour, going up the Danube River, it basically meant we got a free mini-river cruise.
You could say Margit Island is Budapest's green heart. It's a large park with a fountain, a rose garden, a swimming pool, an excavation site, a theater, a little chapel, a water tower and some terraces.
We got off the water bus at the south end of Margit Island and enjoyed a drink and walking in the shade of the trees to the north side, where we caught the bus that brought us back to the mainland.
If you would like to take a proper cruise on the Danube, there is this daytime cruise that includes two drinks and an audio guide.
For something a little more special consider doing a dinner cruise with live music.
Day 4: Andrássy Út and the city park
Our hotel was actually located on Andrássy Út, the main (although not that spectacular) Budapest shopping street that leads all the way to the city park. As we had a flight back in the late afternoon, we decided to spend our last day strolling by the shops in the streets surrounding Andrássy Út and walk all the way to the city park.
Now, that walk was a bit far (25 minutes or so) but I did enjoy it as the closer you get to the park, the prettier the houses along the street become. You're also walking along a lane and not just on the sidewalk.
In the city park, you can rent small boats and water bicycles for some fun on the pond, have a drink on the terrace of the Robinson cafe (not that great, though) or crash and relax a bit on the grass.
If you're not up for the walk back, just take the subway. There's a station inside the park.
I wouldn't say the park is one of the places to visit in Budapest, but if you have the time or simply want to chill for an afternoon, it's a good place to go and easy to get to.
The Budapest baths
I know that visiting a bath is one of the top things to do in Budapest but with the time we had, it really wasn't a priority for us. I have to say I also prefer walking around to soaking in some water with a bunch of other people :-D So I'm sorry I can't give any advice on what the best spa in Budapest is yet, but I hope the above helps you determine what to see in Budapest on your own trip there.
Cafes and restaurants in Budapest
1. Lunch at Vintage Garden
Mom and I had lunch here twice because it was super close to our hotel and because we liked it so much. Vintage Garden is a fun restaurant with a lovely terrace in the back full of fake Japanese cherry trees.
I know that probably sounds awful, but I promise it's not. Think pink and white all around.
The food here was good as was the service and the portions were perfect. There's free WiFi and while you can order dessert at the restaurant, Vintage Garden also has an ice cream and pastries shop next door for when you're craving something specific.
Read more reviews here.
2. Dinner at Bistro Fine
Bistro Fine was the restaurant attached to our hotel. We ended up dining here twice. The first time simply because it got great reviews and we wanted to try it, the second because when we got out to go for dinner, it was pouring and we preferred not to get soaked :D
The menu here is not that extensive, but it does have a bit of everything. If I recall correctly, I had wok noodles one night and risotto the next. You can sit inside or outside and when you're a guest of the hotel, you can ask to have the bill put on your room bill.
Read more reviews here.
3. Ice cream at Neked
We'd spotted Neked when we headed out for our first walk and came back to it at the end of that day for some ice cream to keep us full before dinner. Because you know, #dessert first. This place has a wide range of ice cream flavors, macaroons, and other sweets and also offers fresh fruit juice.
It was bright and cool inside – the perfect place to take a break after an afternoon of walking around.
Read more reviews here.
4. Smoothie at Hütte Café Terrace
Hütte Café Terrace lies in the middle of Szabadsag téror “Liberty Square”. It's a fun place to stop for a coffee or a smoothie and do some people watching. We didn't eat here, but the salads I saw other people have did look good.
Read more reviews here.
5. Smoothie at Hippie Island
I had the best smoothie at Hippie Island on Margit Island. It was huge and the setting was just perfect – a big wooden terrace overlooking the river. There weren't a lot of people when we were there, but it looked like the perfect place to hang on a summer night.
Read more reviews here.
6. Budapest Pub Crawl
No, I didn't take my mom on a pub crawl, but this is one of the things you can do in Budapest if you're interested in checking out the local night scene. This pub crawl with VIP club access gets good reviews.
The Budapest City Card
If you plan on using public transportation a lot and/or want to visit a lot of sights and museums around Budapest, it might be worth getting the Budapest City Card. This card is available for a duration of 24 up to 120 hours and gives you unlimited use of the Budapest public transportation system in that time frame.
It also gives you free access to the city's most important museums as well as discounts on 100+ other sights and activities, such as boat tours and hammam visits, as well as on tickets to Budapest events and restaurants and a free guided tour of Buda and Pest. The card also includes a Budapest tourist map and public transportation maps.
Lastly, you can have the Budapest city pass delivered straight to your hotel so you don't have to worry about getting to a tourist information center to pick it up.
Interested? You can order your Budapest City Card here.
Tours and other activities in Budapest
I hope the above has given you a good idea of things to do in Budapest on your city trip there. If you're looking for more guided tours, activities and skip-the-line entry to Budapest sites, check out GetYourGuide. They have a wide selection of sightseeing and other activities around Budapest on offer. Thanks to their rating system, it's easy to find the best tours in Budapest.
Getting around Budapest
We took the bus once, the water bus once, the tram once, and the metro once. Other than that, we walked everything. While Budapest is very walkable, I do have to say that you won't constantly see interesting things. Yes, there's beautiful architecture, but sometimes we were just walking for 15-20 minutes to get to the next sight without seeing anything really noteworthy.
If you want to get a quick overview of the most important Budapest attractions and don't feel like walking everywhere, go Budapest sightseeing from the hop-on/hop-off bus. You can get a ticket for one day, two days or three days.
Another option is this funny floating bus tour.
Where to stay in Budapest
We spent three nights at the lovely and centrally located 4-star Hotel Moments Budapest. All rooms there have flatscreen tv's, private bathrooms with free toiletries. Our room also had a desk and a large wardrobe.
The hotel has its own fitness and spa area (free) where you can book massages at an extra cost.
In the morning, you can enjoy the elaborate breakfast buffet and throughout the day there's free tea, coffee, and water available in the lounge area.
WiFi is free in all areas of the hotel and for those who didn't bring their laptop or who need to print something, there's a room with a few desktops and printers that can be used free of charge.
Most importantly, the beds were great. No wonder this hotel is ranked #2 of all hotels in Budapest on TripAdvisor!
If Hotel Moments isn't your thing, I've researched some other places to stay for you that come highly recommended:
Luxury: Aria Hotel Budapest by Library Hotel Collection
The 5-star Aria Hotel Budapest is located in the center of Pest. It has a rooftop bar that offers views of the city, a gym, and a spa with a swimming pool, sauna, and hammam. All the rooms and suites are designed according to four different music styles and equipped with air conditioning, a hyper-modern multi-media installation, a Nespresso machine, and an iPad. Bathrobes, slippers, and toiletries are provided in the bathrooms with bathtub and walk-in shower.
Each day, guests can enjoy complimentary bottled water, WiFi, and a delicious breakfast buffet. Free tea, coffee, fruits, and cookies are provided throughout the day and if that's not enough, you can always join the complimentary cheese and wine tasting in the afternoon.
This hotel is ranked #1 of all hotels in Budapest on TripAdvisor.
Boutique: D8 Hotel
The 3-star D8-hotel lies just 400 meters from the famous Chain Bridge. It has a communal lounge area and bar where guests can enjoy breakfast in the morning. All rooms are soundproof and WiFi is complimentary.
Budget: Downtown Oasis
The Downtown Oasis Hostel is located in the center of Pest, just 300 meters from metro station Astoria. Most of the rooms have an en suite bathroom, some have a shared bathroom. Guests can use the free WiFi, as well as the fully-equipped kitchen and communal lounge area. Breakfast costs extra.
Apartment: Lovag Apartman
The Lovag Apartman lies in the center of Pest, walking distance from many of the sights. It consists of a living room, bedroom, fully-equipped kitchen with a dining corner, and a bathroom with a shower. Previous guests rave about how clean and comfortable the apartment is and how welcoming and helpful the host.
If you're looking for more apartment options, check out Airbnb. While I use Booking for hotels, I always check Airbnb for apartments as they have such a large selection.
If you found this post helpful, please consider booking your next Airbnb through my link. I'll earn a small commission while the price for you stays exactly the same. Income like this helps me travel independently and create new content.
How to get to Budapest
By train from Vienna
I actually traveled the other way around, from Budapest to Vienna, as the connection between these two cities is great and a lot of people combine them into a bigger trip. While you can book tickets for Hungarian trains, I recommend you book an Austrian train.
A single ticket can cost as low as €19 for the 2 h 45 mins trip if you book well in advance and the trains are much more modern and comfortable.
Budapest has its own international airport, which we flew into and my mom also flew out of. I know you can take the bus and then the metro to get from the airport to the city center, but we made it easy on ourselves and booked a shuttle ahead.
If you'd like to do the same, you can book one here.
Still need to look for flights? Skyscanner shows you all of your options.
How many days to spend in in Budapest?
For our first trip there, we found four days to be perfect. Even though we didn't do absolutely everything, we did do a lot and we feel like we got a proper first impression of the city. Of course, you can always go as long or as short as you want to, but for a first city trip, I would recommend three or four days depending on when your arrival and departure time. That way, you'll manage to cover a lot of the most important places to see in Budapest.
If you decide to spend only one day in Budapest, I highly recommend you plan what you want to do so that you don't waste time running from one side of the city to the other. Then again, that's somthing I'd always recommend you do :-)
What currency is used in Budapest?
Good to know is that you can't pay in euros in Budapest. You need to pay in Hungaria Forint (HUF). However, credit and debet cards are wildly accepted and I think we only paid in cash once or twice.
Is Budapest expensive?
We didn't feel like it was expensive but neither was it super cheap. Perhaps that's because we didn't really look for the small local places and ate out in things that just looked good.
Food and drink prices were definitely lower than here in Belgium but not as low as in, for example, Gdansk in Poland. Of course, Budapest is a lot bigger than Gdansk and a capital as well.
When to visit Budapest?
I've only gone once, in May, and I felt that visiting Budapest in spring was great because it was warm enough to wear a dress or shorts and I only needed a light cardigan in the evening. It also wasn't that busy as the high season hadn't started yet.
It did rain briefly twice or so but those were clearly heat rains, over as quickly as they'd come.
Don't forget travel insurance
No matter how well you plan your trip to Budapest, something unpleasant yet out of your control can always happen. A reservation can get canceled, you can get sick or you can drop and break that new camera. In all of these cases, good travel insurance has you covered.
I've had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I'm covered for every trip I go on but if you travel just a few times a year, you can get insured for each trip separately too.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
Books about Budapest
If you want to read up about the city before your Budapest vacation, these books are a great place to start:
Rick Steves Budapest contains self-guided walks as well as advice on restaurants, hotels and what to see depending on the length of your stay. All the information is presented through storytelling rather than a dry listing of things and contains plenty of details and useful insights. This book also contains a Budapest map.
Kaffeehaus is a book for my fellow sweetteeth. It contains 150 recipes for typical desserts from Vienna, Prague and, of course, Budapest. But it's more than just a cookbook. Chef Rodgers takes you to the iconic cafes in these cities, adding context and history to these treats by providing background stories. And the photographs? They're drool-worthy.
The Bridge at Andau is the historical account of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and how it was quickly ended by the Russians. However, a small bridge in Andau, on the border with Austria, provided an escape route for many Hungarians over the course of several weeks. This book is the stirring, thrilling, and dramatic story of a flicker of light in a dark moment in history.
And if you like a bit of fiction, check these out:
- Budapest Romance tells the story of Manhattan businesswoman Kati who finds a slower pace of life in Budapest thanks to the Dutchman Jan. The two fall in love, but can they keep their romance going outside the bubble of Budapest, despite the distance between them, a family tragedy and several misunderstandings? Read to find out.
- One day in Budapest tells the story of what could happen if Eastern Europe continues to embrace right-wing politics. It's a fictional thriller rooted in historical facts.
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