Chain Bridge at night.

When it comes to traveling, some of us might not have the luxury of spending many days in one place. Whether it’s due to rushed planning or limited vacation time off from work, it can be hectic trying to research and cram in as much as possible into sightseeing a city or country. In the end, it might be exhausting, and it perhaps could detract you from enjoying your adventure away from home.

Having been inspired by the many Internet articles (one of the most-famous including the New York Times’ “36 Hours in…” segment) that showcase ideal itineraries in a set destination, I’d thought that I would also start a similar series on this blog to offer some of my own suggestions of things to do, see, and eat in well-renown cities in the world.

What makes my series different from the others online would be the fact that I’m by no means a professional traveler (e.g. no sponsors, all-paid resorts, etc.), and that what I will suggest are based on my own personal experiences having visited a certain place at least twice, in order to ensure a more-comprehensive outlook on the city itself.

Many online articles in the same vein also tend to cater towards mid-to-upper class travelers who can actually afford hotels and fine-dining restaurants, which I assume many people in their 20’s, even 30’s, can’t have. That’s why I’m catering this series to the budget-friendly, backpack-traveler nomad who doesn’t mind staying in hostels, taking overnight buses, or eating at hole-in-the-wall joints while still getting a fulfilling experience in traveling. This one’s for you, folks! ____________________________________________________________________________________________

With that said, I’ll be starting off with the dazzling Hungarian capital of Budapest (visited April 2016, January 2018). Along with other cities like Prague or Krakow, Budapest makes up what I believe to be the “Central European trifecta,” in that such places are full of beautiful sights, hearty food, and wild nightlife, all the while being very affordable to visit. It’s no wonder, then, that so many college students and young backpackers hit these spots, as their youthfulness adds to the lively charm of such places in Central Europe.

You could spend days, even weeks, taking your time exploring Budapest: there are so many good pubs, restaurants, and music scenes that are worth seeing like a local, along with the magnificent architecture on both the Buda and Pest sides. However, for a traveler who’s coming for the first time (and doesn’t have much time otherwise), an honest 72 hours in town is more than enough to see the main sights, check out a couple of bars, and enjoy a good meal. Here’s a day-to-day itinerary of what you could do to maximize your stay in the so-called “Pearl of the Danube”:

Day 1

9 a.m.- 11:30 a.m. 

Rise and shine! Time to grab a pastry from the nearest bakery or get a quick bite in your hostel before setting off for the Buda side of town. Hilly and with an air of Hapsburg imperialism (as history was for the once-isolated part of town), Buda is quieter than Pest, but it still offers tourist draws to keep one busy for at least half of the day.

Depending on where you’re staying, there’s the option of taking the metro from Pest to Buda: get off at Batthyány tér (M2) to catch the view of the iconic Parliament right across the Danube. Of course, don’t miss the opportunity for photos!

The Parliament.

After you make it to the Fisherman’s Bastion, the Buda fortress, stop to take in the view of Pest before entering Matthias Church (admission fee: 1000 HUF, or about 3€ or $3.50 USD). Take in the breathtaking nave, and climb to the second floor for a panoramic view of the entire church.

Fisherman’s Bastion.

Next stop is Buda Castle itself. Today, it houses two museums (Hungarian National Gallery and Budapest History Museum). Unless you’re into museums, I would say you could skip the visit and just take a stroll through its courtyard, which is quite pretty. It also happens to be on the way to the Citadella, located on Gellért Hill and offers stunning views of both Buda and Pest. The climb up might be a bit cumbersome, but the reward at the top is definitely worth it.

View of Buda and Pest from the Citadella.

11:30 a.m.- 2:30 p.m.

Head down the Citadella to cross the bustling Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd) back into Pest. You will soon hit Central Market Hall, a gorgeous, neo-Gothic indoor market that’s the oldest in Budapest. Dating back to the late 19th century, it’s packed with stalls of fresh produce, slow-cooked dishes, and plenty of strong spirits (including the traditional pálinka).

Inside Central Market Hall.

You can choose to grab a bite to eat inside Central Market Hall, or you can also head to my favorite spot in Budapest for the best, home-cooked Hungarian meal. Situated close to the Parliament, Hungarikum Bisztro is beyond perfection when it comes to excellent food, a cozy atmosphere, and impeccable service. While it might be somewhat of a splurge for the budget-conscious traveler (6300 HUF, or about 20€/$21 USD), you really can’t beat a hearty three-course meal with a complementary shot of pálinka in the end!

Pork loin with cabbage dumplings.

Spend the afternoon at the Parliament, where you can pay 2400 HUF (7,50€/$8.50 USD) as a EU citizen, or 6000 HUF (18€/$21 USD) as a non-EU citizen, to visit inside. It’s a short tour, but you get to see the wonderful halls and rooms inside that I’d say it’s worth the visit. Head south to St. Stephen’s Basilica to admire the interior as well.

Inside the Parliament.

3:00 p.m.- 8:30 p.m.

Head back to take a siesta to prepare for the long night out!

9:00 p.m.- 3:00 a.m.

Head back out in the evening to check out the night scene. Much of the fun happens in the 7th district (Erzsébetváros), where you can enjoy drinks, dancing, and overall a crazy night out in ruin pubs like Szimpla Kert, Fogasház, or Instant. Enjoy yourself, party hard, and be safe!

Day 2

12:00 p.m.

Sleep in! Eventually, make your way over to Heroes’ Square to admire the columns that feature the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars before popping over to Vajdahunyad Castle, a Dracula-esque castle that was built back in 1896 to represent the 1000-year anniversary of the founding of the country. While not very big, it’s worth a quick stroll through the courtyard.

Heroes Square.

The Budapest experience wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Széchenyi Thermal Bath, the largest thermal bath in Europe and a must-see while in the city. Grab a hearty lángos (massive fried dough treat) afterwards and return to the hostel for a siesta. You’d just spent the previous day running all over town, and Day 2 is to rest up for more adventures the next day.

At the Szechenyi Thermal baths.

Day 3

9:00 a.m.

Catch the local bus to Szentendre, a small, charming town just 30 minutes outside by bus. Spend a half day just wandering the colorful, cobblestone streets; the main square (“Fő Tér“) is where everything comes together, so there’s no way you can get lost in town! Definitely check out the myriad of souvenir stores selling handcraft puzzle boxes, gorgeous pottery, and even the famous Hungarian spice, paprika!

Main square.

12:00 p.m.

By noon, you have the option of catching another bus to Esztergom, another quaint town west of the country. Originally the Hungarian capital from the 10th to 13th centuries, it offers picturesque streets, along with the towering basilica and Castle Hill, upon which you get amazing views of town. My personal favorite is the Mária Valéria bridge, which actually connects the town with Štúrovo in Slovakia. To say that you crossed the bridge over to another country is pretty neat!

Basilica in Esztergom.

Another option is to return to Budapest to visit the Dohány Street Synagogue, the largest synagogue in all of Europe. I personally never got around to going inside, but it’s certain that paying the admission fee to enter is a worthwhile experience.

4:00 p.m.- 7:00 p.m.

Depending when you visit Budapest (in the winter or summer), head over to the Buda side to catch the sunset over the Parliament. Do not pass up the opportunity to see the Széchenyi Chain Bridge light up in all of its glory, and cross back to the Pest side to stroll along the quay and stumble upon the Shoes on the Danube Bank monument, which is a cluster of metallic shoes dedicated to the Jews who were killed during WWII.

Shoes on the Danube Bank monument.

Considering that it’s your last night out in town, it’s a matter of going big, or going home. Enjoy drinks at Morrison’s 2, a ruin pub, before heading to the nightlife at Instant to dance the night away…just make sure you make your flight back the next day!

…and that’s Budapest in 72 hours! Although by no means a comprehensive list of everything to see or do in the city, it’s a good starting point for any first-time visitors, and hopefully, it gives them a reason to return some day for more fun and adventure.

More on this series to come soon!


— Rebecca

16 thoughts on “72 Hours in Budapest: What to See and Do

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