Budapest, Hungary: Best Things to Do in 72 Hours

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Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - City views from Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill in Budapest.

Whether on a river cruise or exploring Europe on your own, Budapest, Hungary is an exciting city to visit. Admiring historic sites, soaking in thermal baths, perusing museums, and pedaling along the Danube River are among the many things to do in Budapest, Hungary. On my first visit to the capital city of Hungary,  Budapest was the starting point for our AmaWaterways Melodies of the Danube River cruise. I enjoyed it so much that three months later my daughter, Christina, and I spent three days in Budapest before a Christmas market river cruise along the Danube with Viking Cruises. While on the cruise, we had an additional two days in Budapest, which gave us several days to explore Hungary’s beautiful capital city.

Read More: AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review

Where is Budapest, Hungary

Budapest straddles the Danube River in Central Europe. Hillside Buda is located on the west bank while modern Pest is on the east bank. They’re connected by the historic 19th-century Chain Bridge, completed in 1849. It was the first bridge to span the Danube River. Additional bridges, the Elisabeth Bridge, Liberty Bridge, and Margaret Bridge also connect Buda and Pest.

Good public transportation makes it easy to get around Budapest. However, I recommend taking a guided tour with a local to learn more about the city, and for insider tips on shopping and dining. On sightseeing tours, you’ll visit top attractions while learning about Hungary’s  19th-century architecture and the dark history of the Soviet and Nazi regimes.

Budapest at night is stunning. The majestic Hungarian Parliament Building and bridges are illuminated, casting a golden glow to the city.

Read More: Viking River Cruise from Budapest

Language and Cuisine

Both Hungarian and English are spoken in Budapest. But just note that in Hungary, the letter “s” is pronounced as “sh.” So the correct pronunciation for Budapest is Budapesht.

Hungarian cuisine is delicious and typically seasoned with paprika, a spice made from ground, dried red peppers. Hungary is a foodie haven with traditional dishes that include goulash (a beef stew) and chicken paprikash. Pair your meal with Hungarian wine and a shot of  Pálinka (fruit brandy).

SheBuysTravel Tip: Buy the Budapest Card for free admission and discounts to top attractions. Christina and I used our Budapest cards at museums, thermal baths, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and for free public transportation. The cards can be bought online, at the airport, and the information center in Varoshaza Park.  

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - St. Stephen’s Basilica is a top attraction in Budapest.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is a top attraction in Budapest. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Admire St. Stephen’s Basilica

Located in the heart of Pest, St. Stephen’s Basilica took 50 years to build and was completed in 1905. Named after Hungary’s first king, St. Stephen’s is the largest church in Budapest. The Roman Catholic church was built in the neoclassical style and features two large bell towers. The interior glass paintings and mosaics are so colorful, complex, and detailed that it’s almost hard to take it all in.  Fortunately, there’s no rush. Take your time walking or sitting in a chair to admire the artwork.

Admission tickets are sold across the street. Show your Budapest card for a discount. During the Christmas holidays, one of Budapest’s largest Christmas markets takes place just outside the cathedral.

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - Enjoy panoramic views of Budapest from the Ferris wheel.
Enjoy panoramic views of Budapest from the Ferris wheel. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Ride the Ferris Wheel of Budapest

For incredible panoramic views of the city, hop on the Ferris Wheel of Budapest. It’s located in Erzsebet Square, a short walking distance from St. Stephen’s Basilica. The ride is about 10 minutes as the wheel turns three times.

Visit Dohany Street Synagogue

Europe’s largest synagogue is here in Budapest. It consists of an ornately decorated interior, a museum, and a memorial garden that features a weeping willow Tree of Life sculpture. Also known as the Great Synagogue, the Moorish-style structure was built in 1859 and seats 3,000 people. The attached Hungarian Jewish Museum contains religious relics, a Holocaust Room, and historical exhibitions.

The synagogue is also the meeting place for sightseeing tours of the Jewish Quarter.

Explore the Jewish Quarter

Still, home to a large Jewish community, the historic area also attracts tourists to its boutiques, galleries, cafes, and ruin bars (funky pubs situated in old buildings). Szimpla Kert, which started the ruin bars or ruin pubs trend, is an integral part of the Jewish Quarter’s vibrant nightlife.

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - Heroes’ Square is a historical monument in Budapest.
Heroes’ Square is a historical monument in Budapest. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Learn About Heroes’ Square

Built in 1896, Heroes’ Square is a site of historical significance. The square and the Millenary Monument are dedicated to those who lost their lives while fighting for Hungary’s independence. Statues that represent seven Magyar chieftains (the founders of Hungary) are situated at the base of the column, which is topped with the Archangel Gabriel. Behind the column are matching colonnades with 14 statues of royalty and other prominent figures in Hungary’s history.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you visit during winter, you can take a spin on the large ice skating rink across the street.

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - The Hungarian Parliament Building is illuminated at night.
The Hungarian Parliament Building is illuminated at night. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Visit the Hungarian Parliament Building

Dominating the left bank of the Danube River,  the neo-gothic-style Hungarian Parliament is Budapest’s most famous building. Built by a thousand workers between 1885 and 1902, the building has 24 towers with arcades and high windows. While the Hungarian National Assembly still meets here, the Parliament is open to the public for guided walking tours. Whether seen from land or a river boat, the Hungarian Parliament Building is a majestic sight, especially at night when it’s illuminated.

Tour the Hungarian State Opera House

Take in an opera or a 60-minute guided tour of the neo-Renaissance-style Hungarian State Opera House. Learn about music and 19th-century architecture as you peruse the lounge area, plush boxes, and posh auditorium.

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - View of Matthias Church in Castle Hill.
View of Matthias Church in Castle Hill. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Visit Castle Hill

The castle district is a must-see part of Budapest. On my first visit, we climbed a series of stairs and then rode a funicular up Castle Hill to the Castle District, on the Buda side. On my second visit, we rode a tour bus straight to the top. Castle District is home to Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. The city views from Fisherman’s Bastion are spectacular and provide an aerial view of the Hungarian Parliament Building and the Danube River. Visit Castle Hill Monday – Saturday. Matthias Church is not open to the public on Sundays.

Take a peek inside Matthias Church, adorned with historical motifs. Also situated in the Castle District is Buda Castle, housing the Budapest History Museum, which traces events from Roman times. The Castle District is a great place to shop for paprika, locally made handicrafts, decorative items, and traditional sweets in charming boutiques.  

SheBuysTravel Tip: Visit Castle Hill Monday – Saturday. Matthias Church is not open for tours on Sundays.

Enjoy Views From Fisherman’s Bastion

Located in the historic district of Castle Hill, Fisherman’s Bastion is a neo-Gothic terrace that offers spectacular views of the city and Matthias Church. It was designed and built in 1905 by Frigyes Schulek, the same architect who built the adjacent Matthias Church.  Fisherman’s Bastion is named after the local fishermen who lived below in the Víziváros (Water Town) neighborhood between Castle Hill and the Danube.

SheBuysTravel Tip: While there’s a fee to climb up the bastion, there’s easy access to the terrace that is free.

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - Evening soak in Szechenyi Bath House.
Evening soak in Szechenyi Bath House. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Soak in Thermal Baths

Budapest has numerous thermal springs due to its location on a fault line. So it’s no surprise that thermal bathhouses are among the best things to do in Budapest. The following top three each offer a different experience, so if time permits, it’s fun to try all three: popular Szechenyi, historic Rudas (recommended to me by locals), and upscale Gellért Baths. They each have restrooms, showers, and lockers.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Bring your own towel and be sure to wear flip-flops or water shoes.

Szechenyi Baths

Located in City Park, this popular Neo-Baroque-style palace with a copper dome houses three large outdoor pools and 15 indoor pools of varying sizes. It opened in 1913.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Use your Budapest card for a discount. The women’s locker areas get crowded. For fewer crowds and more privacy, use the lockers at the far end.

Gellért Baths

Established in 1918, the Gellért Bath House is part of the Hotel Gellért in Buda and offers massages.

Rudas Bath House

While on an AmaWaterways river cruise, we were docked between Rudas and Gellért bath houses. The young woman in reception said her favorite was the traditional Rudas Turkish bathhouse, which was built in the 1500s. I appreciated her advice and enjoyed the five mineral pools varying in temperature from cool to warm situated under a large Ottoman dome. In contrast to this historic Turkish bath, the facility houses a modern swimming pool, and a large hot tub overlooking the Danube River.

Hike Gellért Hill (hidden gem)

Overlooking the Danube River, Gellért Hill offers panoramic views of the city.  Ride a bus or hike to the top for spectacular city views. Also situated at the top is the Liberty Statue, commemorating Hungary’s liberation from Nazi Germany. Start the walk from the Rudas thermal bath house.

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - Paprika and honey are among the many products sold at the Great Market Hall.
Paprika and honey are among the many products sold at the Great Market Hall. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Shop at Great Market Hall

The Great Market Hall, also called the Central Market Hall, is near the waterfront on the Pest side of Budapest. If you’re docked here on a river cruise, it’s a short walk to the market, where you can find all sorts of traditional (and seasonal) products and food like stuffed cabbage, sausages, and chimney cakes. It’s a fun place to shop for gifts and souvenirs.

Tour House of Terror

Walking along today’s peaceful, tree-lined Andrássy Avenue, it’s hard to imagine the atrocities that took place inside Andrássy Avenue 60 in the 20th century. But a tour through the well-designed, multi-level House of Terror museum reveals Hungary’s dark period in the 1940s -1950s. The building was the former headquarters for the Arrow Cross (Hungarian Nazis) during World War II and communist Hungary’s secret police between 1945 and 1956. Exhibits are informative and chilling, and include a slow-moving elevator to the basement where victims were tortured and killed.

Notice Shoes on the Danube Bank

Along one side of the Danube are 60 pairs of iron shoes set into the concrete of the Danube River. The shoes serve as a memorial and a monument to the Hungarian Jews who were shot and thrown into the icy Danube River by the members of the Arrow Cross Party in 1944 and 1945.

Relax on Margaret Island

Named after Margit, the daughter of a 13th-century king, Margaret Island is a place of respite between Buda and Pest. There are no permanent residents but there’s a park that’s open to the public.

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - Ferdinand Monarchy’s goulash soup with meat and vegetables seasoned with paprika.
Ferdinand Monarchy’s goulash soup with meat and vegetables seasoned with paprika. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Dine in Budapest

Budapest is a foodie’s delight with an assortment of restaurants. On our first evening in Budapest, my daughter googled restaurants and Ferdinand Monarchy popped up with great reviews. The food and service were impeccable.

The following evening we ate dinner at Cafe Vian, a cozy restaurant that serves French Hungarian cuisine. We ordered chicken paprikash and the Hungarian Country Plate (ham, sausage, salami, cheese, eggs, tomatoes, and paprika). A very tasty and traditional Hungarian meal.

Guide to 72 Hours in Budapest - The Corinthia Hotel has a central location near public transit and major attractions in Budapest.
The Corinthia Hotel has a central location near public transit and major attractions in Budapest. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Stay at the Corinthia Hotel

The historic Corinthia Hotel is centrally located on the Pest side of Budapest. From the luxury hotel, Christina and I walked to restaurants and many major attractions like the Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and House of Terror.

Mimi Slawoff Avatar
Native Angeleno and seasoned travel journalist Mimi Slawoff writes for numerous print and digital publications. She is also the author of Oldest Los Angeles (Reedy Press, 2022). A lifelong world traveler, Mimi is an award-winning journalist who writes about outdoor adventures, cruises, Europe and cultural activities. Mimi has three grown kids and lives with her husband and their dog, Maya, in Los Angeles.
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