Packed with iconic sights, an incredible history and a lively nightlife, Budapest, Hungary certainly knows how to entertain its guests! Whether you’re a nature lover or admirer of architecture, there to marvel at monuments or partying the night away, on a low budget or seeking a luxury escape, you can find what suits your style in Budapest. We think the city is worthy of more than just three days, but our Budapest 3-Day Itinerary is designed for the visitor who is short on time, but wants to maximize Budapest sightseeing and experiences.
Budapest, as a city, is an extremely affordable destination. However, as we started our research into what to see and do, we quickly realized how easily we could bust our budget. Almost every tourist attraction charges an entry fee – some upwards of nearly $20 USD. We set our budget at $75 total per day for our 11 day stay, so we had to get a little creative to discover things to do in Budapest on a budget.
The first thing we had to do was cross off a few of the pricy activities. Paying $18 each to tour the Parliament Building just didn’t fit into our budget. We also eliminated entrance into Matthias Church ($4.50) and the Great Synagogue ($9) – and, since we’re not museum people, we crossed all of those off our list, too. Once we whittled it down to what we actually wanted to see and do, we researched affordable alternatives to the mainstream tourist offerings.
Budapest is a big city. It is full of iconic sights, bridges and interesting neighborhoods – and a lot of walking in between. There are a plethora of cafes to get us going in the morning and bars that keep us out late at night. After spending a week in Budapest sightseeing from Castle Hill to Gellert Hill to City Park, we needed a day of relaxation – and, go figure, Budapest has that, too. We planned a day full of affordable experiences in Budapest that included a trip to one of Budapest’s thermal baths, a night out at the Opera, an evening stroll along the Danube River, dinner with a view of the shimmering Parliament Building and a night cap with the locals.
friend – noun \’frend\ : a person who you like and enjoy being with
We expand that definition to more specifically include: 1. a person who travels from the United States to Hungary to join you on your travels; 2. a person you randomly met five months prior at a bar in Spain and reconnect with in Budapest; 3. a person who is friends with your friend and, as a native Hungarian, spends the day showing you their capital city and local neighborhood.
According to the highly rated Jetsetting Fools Dictionary (first edition) definition, we had three friends converge in Budapest for a day of exploration and good times. Our party of five included Eric, a lifelong friend from the States, Rebekah, an American teaching English in the Hungarian countryside and Xenia, a native Hungarian who had recently moved to Budapest and two Jetsetting Fools.
Northeast from Budapest’s city center is a 302 acre enclave of green space, simply named City Park. The origins of the park date back to the 13th century, however, it wasn’t until the early 19th century that it became a public park. It is often cited as the first public park in the world. Much of the grounds were gussied up for Hungary’s millennium celebration in 1896. Besides the many paths that weave through Budapest’s City Park, there are also museums, a castle, thermal baths, ponds and many, many monuments.
After exploring Budapest’s iconic sights and Castle Hill sights, we ventured further south along the Danube River to Gellert Hill, the tallest hill in central Budapest at 771 feet. The hill is named for Bishop Gellert, a monk who was brought to Hungary in the year 1000 by King Istvan to aid in converting people to Christianity. According to legend, a group of those opposing that plan captured Gellert, sealed him in a barrel and rolled him down the hill to his death.
Rather than a plethora of sights to see, there are only a few tourist attractions on Gellert Hill: Cave Church, Liberty Statue, the Citadel and panoramic views. The sights are connected by hiking paths shrouded in trees, which offer a touch of nature in the heart of the city. The Gellert Thermal Baths are at the base of the hill and many statues are found along the paths. The hill is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Banks of the Danube River.
Our second day of discovering Budapest, we headed to the west side of the river (the Buda side) to explore the palace, church and other Castle Hill sights. Once we were across Chain Bridge, we immediately ascended a set of shaded stairs to Parade Square, which sits between the Royal Palace and Matthias Church.
Castle Hill Sights: Holy Trinity Square & Matthias Church
We worked our way north past a local market and down the open and colorful street to Holy Trinity Square. In the center is a column dating from 1713 and, to our right, the Matthias Church. Not the original church that stood here 800 years ago (as it has been rebuilt, updated and changed several times over the centuries), it is a fantastic display of typical Hungarian style. The rooftop garners all the attention with designed tiles and several Gothic spires.
When we think of Budapest, what comes to mind are images of the massive parliament building, the towering cathedral, and Chain Bridge that spans the Danube River and connects Buda to Pest. Even though we have 11 days to discover the city, our first mission was to see these four iconic Budapest sights.
Iconic Budapest Sights: Parliament
As we rounded the corner into Kossuth Square and got our first glimpse of Parliament, I literally stopped in my tracks. The colossal building was much larger than I anticipated it being. It stretches 879 feet along the bank of the Danube River. Built from 1885 to 1904, it was inaugurated in 1896 for the country’s 1000th year celebration. The Gothic design features spires, statues, arches and a dome that soars 96 meters, in honor of the country’s birth date, 896.