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A couple of weeks ago, I spontaneously booked a trip to Budapest after seeing some stunning photos of the city. I hadn’t been to Hungary before and I was eager to explore the capital city! And oh my – it was amazing! Budapest has so much to offer and is filled with the most amazing buildings, tasty cuisine and the friendliest people. This 4 day Budapest itinerary shows you exactly what we did during our time in Budapest and will hopefully convince you to visit this not-so-hidden gem in Eastern Europe, too.
The Ultimate Four Days in Budapest
Hungary’s capital actually consists of two cities, Buda and Pest. They were completely independent until they merged together in 1873. The Danube River divides the two parts of Budapest but multiple bridges connect them (including the famous Chain Bridge and Liberty Bridge). Budapest makes for a perfect city trip with its magical, picturesque buildings, thermal bathhouses, tasty dishes and friendly people. Four days in Budapest gives you the opportunity to see all the city’s highlights alongside some hidden gems and time to chill in the city’s hot spring spas. I hope this itinerary gives you a good idea of what you can do in Budapest and how to fill a midweek in this beautiful city.
Day 1 in Budapest
We spent our first day in Budapest seeing some of the main highlights in the Buda part of the city. Because we stayed in Pest, we started by crossing the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge, that connects the two parts of the city on either side of the Danube River. This bridge was actually the first bridge to connect Buda and Pest, playing an important role in the history of the city. It took almost 10 years to construct! But apart from the history this bridge carries, the way it looks is maybe even more impressive.
After crossing the Chain Bridge, you’re right in front of the next sight: Buda Castle District. From the bridge, you can walk towards the Buda Hill Funicular. Rather than climbing up the hill yourself, you can take the funicular to the top for 1,200 Ft per person for a single ticket. I’d recommend buying a single ticket and walking down. The ride itself only takes about 45 seconds, but you get a lovely view over the river and the chain bridge. Plus, it’s pretty cool to ride a funicular that has been in operating since 1870.
Once you arrive at the top of Buda Hill, you’re right next to Buda Castle. This almost 800-year-old castle is one of the main highlights of the city. You’ll get a stunning view over Budapest from the castle hill too. When exploring Buda Castle, you can choose to visit the Castle Museum, but we decided to just wander around the complex instead. Strolling around the castle gives you the opportunity for some great photos 😉
About 10 minutes on foot from Buda Castle, you can find one of my absolute favourite sights in Budapest: Fisherman’s Bastion. If you think Buda Castle looks like a fairytale, get ready for this spot. It actually feels and looks like it’s stolen straight out of a fairytale book. Even though it may seem older, the bastion was only built just over 100 years ago to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state. The magical look was inspired by an early medieval architecture style that was popular when the first Hungarian king ruled the state.
Behind Fisherman’s Bastion, you will find the gorgeous Matthias Church. It has been serving the city since 1015 and was founded by the first Hungarian King. It was this type of architecture that inspired Fisherman’s Bastion, and you can easily see the resemblance. The neo-gothic features really make this church stand out, it’s unlike any church I’ve visited before.
It’s then time to head back over across the Chain Bridge to Pest. Even though we’ve already seen the Parliament Building from Fisherman’s Bastion, a building as beautiful as this deserves a closer look. On the way towards it, make sure to stop at the Shoes on the Danube Bank. This memorial honours the memory of the Jews who were killed during the Second World War in Budapest. They were ordered to take off their shoes before they were shot. It’s not easy to see monuments like this, but I think it’s important that we remember the victims of the war. We need to learn from it so something like this will never happen again.
It doesn’t take much to notice how incredibly gorgeous Budapest’s Parliament Building is. It may be one of the most impressive buildings I’ve ever seen. Just like the Fisherman’s Bastion, the building was constructed to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Hungary. The building has 691 rooms and contains 20 km (!!!) of stairs. You can book a guided tour through the building to see the main entrance hall, the House of Lords and some of the Hungarian Crown Jewels.
Day 2 in Budapest
We started our second day in Budapest visiting the Dohany Street Synagogue. Located in the Jewish Quarter, this beautiful synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe and the second-largest in the world. It costs 4000 Ft to enter and it includes a tour of the synagogue (available in different languages). The entree ticket also includes entree to the Hungarian Jewish Museum which is located on the side of the synagogue. Make sure to check out the Tree of Life memorial in the courtyard. 30.000 Names of Holocaust victims can be found on the leaves of the tree.
Because the synagogue is located in the Jewish Quarter, you can take some time afterwards to explore this neighbourhood. It’s filled with beautiful street art, murals and tons of coffee shops. We really enjoyed walking around this area just to enjoy all the buildings and pieces of art.
When you’re done exploring the Jewish Quarter, head over to the Central Market Hall. In this beautifully restored neo-gothic market hall, you can find tons of vendors selling food, souvenirs and other Hungarian products. On the top floor, you can buy hot dishes to eat as well. I did think it was a bit crowded on the top floor, which is why we decided to not eat here – but walking through it was a lot of fun! Especially with all the Christmas decorations, that made this stunning hall even more beautiful.
Just a few meters from the Market Hall stands the Liberty Bridge. Walking across it brings you back to the Buda side of the city. Personally, it’s my favourite bridge in Budapest due to its pretty appearance. It’s the shortest bridge in Budapest and it was the first bridge to be repaired after the damage that had been done to the city during WWII. By crossing the bridge, you get to Gellert Square.
Budapest isn’t nicknamed “City of Spas” for no reason. With a booming 125 natural springs in the city, it’s to no one’s surprise the city has turned itself into a hotspot for thermal baths. (See what I did there? HOT…spot…?) The natural water is filled with natural minerals which supposedly have medicinal and healing powers. You basically can’t visit Budapest for four days and not visit one of the many thermal baths in the city!
We decided to start our spa adventures at Gellert Thermal Bath. It’s one of the most popular ones in the city and it’s one of the baths in the city that’s mixed (no separation between male and female). Entry to the baths sits around 6000-6600 Ft for the entire day. Because it was so affordable compared to my home country, we also decided to book in a 20-minute massage. Oh, the luxury! The 20-minute massage cost us 7400 Ft per person and was absolutely fantastic. I felt so relaxed after spending our afternoon here!
Fully relaxed from your spa afternoon, it’s time to hit the town 😉 Budapest’s famous Ruin Bars are on the evening itinerary. Heading back towards the Jewish Quarter, you can find these funky bars. The ruin bars are located in old buildings (the ruins). This is where all the cool kids hang. One of the most popular ones is Szimpla Kert, where you can drink, dance and meet other travellers and locals!
Day 3 in Budapest
On day three, we start back at Gellert Hill on the Buda side of the river. You’re going to have to do some walking today, so be prepared 😉 Start by making your way to the Gerard of Csanád Monument. It’s a beautiful memorial to celebrate the first Bishop of Csanád in Hungary. It also acts as a good resting stop while climbing Gellert Hill.
Walking all the way to the top may take a little effort, but the view at the Liberty Statue is worth it! This is probably the best view you’ll get of the city (if you… visit on a day without mist unlike yours truly).
In the afternoon, you should consider visiting one of Budapest’s best museums. I’d recommend to either go to the House of Terror or the Hungary National Museum. The House of Terror is completely focussed on the historic regimes (fascist and communist regime) and their practices. It’s definitely not easy to take all of it in, so for those who want something a bit lighter, I’d recommend going to the National Museum instead. In the Hungary National Museum, you will find the best of Hungary’s history, art and archaeology. Either of these makes for a great afternoon activity.
Another highlight you cannot miss when in Budapest is St. Stephen Basilica. This beautiful building is the largest church in Budapest and an iconic sight on the Budapest skyline. It also houses one of Hungary’s most sacred treasures, the mummified hand of Hungary’s first king (Saint Stephen), after who the church is named. It’s free to visit the basilica, but you can book a guided tour for some more information.
If you’re visiting Budapest in the winter, you can also find a big part of Budapest’s Christmas Market on the square in front of St. Stephen Basilica. Filled with stalls selling handmade crafts, mulled wine and Hungarian delicacies, it’s a great place to end your day.
Day 4 in Budapest
The last day of this 4 day Budapest itinerary starts at Heroes’ Square. This UNESCO world heritage site was constructed in 1896 and is one of Budapest’s most impressive squares. It celebrates 900 years of Hungary’s best kings and military leaders. You can also find the Tomb of the unknown soldier at this square.
After walking through Heroes’ Square, you’ll find yourself in Budapest’s City Park. If you’re visiting Budapest in winter (like we did), you get the chance to skate on Europe’s largest and oldest ice rink. It was first opened in 1870. During the summer, this part of the park is filled with water to create a lovely pond.
When in the city park, stop by the beautiful Vajdahunyad Castle. I absolutely ADORED this castle and the stunning vicinity. Some people don’t like this castle as much as it’s a lot younger than it appears (and some call it fake), but I still enjoyed visiting this picturesque place a lot. Despite its design, the castle is only just over 100 years old. It was designed to show different architectural styles that Hungary had seen over the last 1000 years, turning it into some sort of fairytale castle. You can also visit the Hungarian Agricultural Museum when you’re near the castle grounds.
In the afternoon, we headed towards our last stop of this Budapest trip: Szechenyi Thermal Baths. When in Budapest, especially during the winter months, trying more than one bathhouse is something I’d highly recommend. When you’re in Budapest for four days, you may as well enjoy some quality time at these amazing thermal baths. Szechenyi Thermal Baths are by far the most popular and famous baths in the city. It was built in 1913 and gets its water from two natural hot springs. The water is filled with natural minerals and is the biggest thermal bathhouse in Europe (with 15 indoor baths, 3 outdoor pools and 10 saunas). Entree for a full day sits between 5800 Ft – 6500 Ft (depending on what day you’re visiting and if you want a cabin or locker). Personally, I liked this spa even better than Gellert Baths because of the awesome outdoor pools!
Where to stay in Budapest
During our four days in Budapest, we stayed in the 7th district of Budapest called “Erzsébetváros“. It’s located in the Pest side of the city and known for its historic Jewish Quarter. We decided to stay in this part of Budapest because it’s very central and close to pretty much any sight that we planned to see.
Instead of staying in a hotel, we decided to book an Airbnb for this trip. Because we were staying for 5 nights, we wanted to have some more space compared to a hotel room. The Airbnb we chose was really great, perfect for 5 nights. It was very affordable too and having a whole apartment for ourselves was ideal for a city trip like this. (Plus, look at the apartment! It’s so stylish!)
You can find the apartment we stayed at here. If you’re planning on staying here too, make sure to create an account through this link to receive £34 off your first booking.
Where to eat in Budapest
When in Hungary, there are so many delicious dishes you should try. Goulash, paprikash, strudel, langos… Here are some restaurants/cafes that we really enjoyed during our trip!
Pub for sale
Across the street from the Market Hall, you can find Pub for Sale. Even though the name may be a little confusing (the pub isn’t actually for sale), it’s a perfect place to stop for lunch. Even though the food itself is already a good enough reason to visit, the decor is why this spot is a must-visit. Pub for Sale allows visitors to leave their own personal advertisements on the walls, which has given the restaurant such a unique look. You’re also allowed to leave a message on their wall/ceiling!
Address: Vámház krt. 2, 1053 Hungary
NOTE: this is a cash-only restaurant!
The smell of freshly baked strudel welcomes you to this lovely little coffee house. They have tons of different flavours to try and I really enjoyed their coffee too. It’s a perfect place to sit down for a while and enjoy one of Hungary’s favourite dishes.
Address: Kertész u. 22, 1073 Hungary
You may have seen this one in my Prague itinerary, where they are called trdelnik. The Chimney Cake actually originates from Hungary, which is why they can be found all across Budapest. We’ve seen them in quite a few flavours, but my favourite remains cinnamon sugar.
AVOID New York Cafe
When doing research on my trip to Budapest, almost every article I read recommended New York Cafe. Even though it is supposedly the prettiest cafe in Europe, we left before we even ordered food. I hate having to speak negatively about a place on my website, but after seeing so many recommendations about this place, I feel like I need to share my thoughts on it.
Yes, the cafe is pretty. The decor makes me understand why so many bloggers/Instagrammers recommend this place. But really? There aren’t many seats in the main hall (where you can find all the pretty Instagram photos), so big chance that you’ll be seated someplace else. The chairs look and feel cheap, as do the glass tables. They just don’t fit in with the “fancy” atmosphere. Especially for the extortionate prices they ask for their dishes. 9000 Ft (€30) for a breakfast buffet? 3000 Ft (€10) for 3 fried eggs? 2250 Ft (€8,50) for a CAPPUCCINO? That’s actually insane! Especially if you compare that to the prices of other cafes in Budapest, that’s just outrages.
To me, it just felt like a huge tourist trap. You can read Teaspoon of Adventure’s post about her experience in the New York Cafe here.
Budapest Travel Tips
Of course, it’s good to know what sights to see and how to see the most of the city in a timely manner – but what else do you need to know before going to Budapest? In this section, I share some Budapest 101 tips to make your trip even easier and less stressful.
Money & Language
The currency in Hungary is the Hungarian Forint (HUF/Ft). The exchange rate sits around:
€1 = 335 Ft
$1 = 300 Ft
£1 = 395 Ft
It’s good custom to leave between 10-15% as a tip when eating at a restaurant. Usually, a service charge is already included so you don’t have to leave anything extra – but make sure to double check. If you want to know how much we spent on our entire trip, check out my Budapest budget breakdown post.
As for the language, Hungarian is classed as one of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers. It won’t come to a surprise to many locals if you don’t know any Hungarian. You’ll be fine with English, as many Hungarians speak English too. It’s always fun and good custom to learn a few Hungarian words/sentences.
- Szia: Hello (when greeting one person)
- Sziasztok: Hello (when greeting more than one person)
- Yes/No: Igen/Nem
- Köszi: Thanks
- Elnézést: Excuse me
Is the Budapest Card worth it?
When travelling, you want to make it budget-friendly when possible, right? You may have heard of the Budapest Card when doing research for your trip and wonder if it’s worth the money. Will it pay itself back in the end? For this specific itinerary, I would NOT get a Budapest Card.
For 96 hours (4 days), it would cost you €52.99 per person. And even though you do get free access to some places (and a little discount on some others), it doesn’t really pay itself back. You can also use public transport with the Budapest Card, but you should be fine buying a 10 pack for public transport (which costs only 3000 Ft/€9).
What to pack?
Packing obviously depends on the time of year, but there are a few things that you should bring to Budapest all year round:
- Slippers: Not every thermal spa requires you to wear slippers, but in some it’s obligatory. Save yourself the hassle (and money) paying for overprices slippers at the bathhouses themselves by bringing a cheap pair with you. Plus, it’s a lot more hygienic wear slippers at these places anyway.
- Bath towel: Same as for the slippers, it’s best to bring an extra towel to use at the thermal baths. You can rent them, but they will cost you around 2000-4000 Ft (prices vary depending on the different baths).
- Swimming cap: If you’re planning on swimming in one of the pools at the thermal baths, you need to take a swimming cap. You don’t have to wear one if you only want to use the thermal baths, though.
- Comfortable shoes: With many cobblestoned streets, Budapest requires you to bring some comfortable shoes! You’d be surprised how many miles you’ll make when visiting this city for four days.
How to get to Budapest?
The easiest way to get to Budapest is by plane. From the city’s international airport, there are multiple ways to get to Budapest. You can book an airport transfer or use a taxi, but they tend to get pretty expensive. It’s much cheaper (and not that much harder) to use public transport instead. The airport shuttle bus (100E) costs 900 Ft and takes about 45-60 minutes to get you to the middle of Budapest.
How to get around Budapest?
I’m not gonna lie, Budapest turned out to be a lot bigger than I expected! Even though you can try and see the city on foot, it’s good to know how public transport works in cause you’re sick of walking (we were after a couple of days). There are many busses, metros and trams to get around the city. You can buy a single ticket (or a 10-pack of single tickets) at newsstands or at metro stations. Make sure to validate your ticket by ticket-puncher on the trams/busses or at the metro station. Alternatively, you can buy a one-day, three-day, or seven-day ticket to use public transport as much as you want.