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The ultimate Budapest itinerary for first-time visitors

Pest shopping street

I’ve been to Budapest twice now, and my two itineraries could not have been more different. One was a family trip, heavy on the sightseeing and light on the urban culture. The second was a solo trip dedicated to exploring the city’s culinary scene and photo spots, with a little bit of nightlife education thrown in there, too!

Between the two trips, I finally feel like I’ve seen a good portion of what this Eastern European gem has to offer, and I’ve put the best of each together into one ultimate Budapest itinerary! Read on to see how I’d structure a three-day while hitting all the highlights.

Buda houses
Chain Bridge Lion sculpture

THE ULTIMATE BUDAPEST ITINERARY FOR FIRST-TIME VISITORS

DAY 1

Welcome to Budapest! First thing’s first: Drop your stuff off at your hotel, and if you’re staying on the Buda side, admire the view across the river, where the stunning Hungarian Parliament building sits on the banks of the sparkling Danube. (I highly recommend staying in Buda for this reason—I could gaze out the window at Parliament for hours!)

Keep the day going strong by walking over to a pair of Buda’s other architectural treasures, Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. If you’re staying at the Hilton Budapest, one of my favorite hotels of all time, you’ll be just around the corner! Admire the colorful tiled zigzags on the roof of the church and find a perch to take it all in at Fisherman’s Bastion. Afterward, roam the quaint streets of Buda, popping into little shops as you go!

Budapest itinerary - Matthias Church
Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman's Bastion

Eventually, make your way down toward the famous Chain Bridge and cross to Pest, where you’ll find MÁK Bistro, open for lunch Tuesday through Friday. Take advantage of the restaurant’s three-course business lunch special and enjoy sampling contemporary Hungarian cuisine with a Scandinavian twist. 

My favorite way to orient myself to a new city is to take a free walking tour, and Budapest has a great one. It currently leaves at 2:30 from the Budapest Eye on Erzsébet square, but check the website, as the meeting place may move once construction wraps up on Vörösmarty square! The tour will lead you several famous landmarks in Pest and eventually back across the river to Buda Castle. Once it wraps up, head back to your hotel to relax for a bit before finding a homey place for dinner close by (and don’t forget to try the Hungarian wine!).

Pest building
Budapest itinerary - Ferris wheel
Monument with four statues
Gresham Palace lobby

DAY 2

Start the day off by visiting Budapest bathhouse, a quintessential experience when visiting this city (it’s been a bath capital for centuries!) I highly recommend the gorgeous, Neo-Baroque Széchenyi Thermal Baths, one of Europe’s largest spa complexes. It’s got both indoor and outdoor bathing options at various temperatures, so don’t worry if the weather isn’t ideal! For tips on visiting Széchenyi, check out this post.

After you’ve headed home to shower and change, hit Stand25 Bisztró for lunch. It’s a casual spot, tucked inside a Hold Street Market, but the chefs don’t mess around with quality! Don’t forget to check out the rest of the food hall’s offerings before you leave.
Budapest itinerary - Szechenyi Thermal Baths Budapest bathhouse
Budapest itinerary - Budapest food hall
In the afternoon, visit Budapest’s Jewish quarter, home to some beautiful historic synagogues. If you only pop into one, make it the Dohány Street Synagogue, which ranks as Europe’s largest. If you need an afternoon pick-me-up, grab a coffee at Dorado Café and take it with you as you explore the rest of the Jewish quarter. This part of the city is teeming with hip design shops, street art and more.
Land at Mazel Tov, a lively Israeli spot with serious Instagram potential, for dinner, and order a round from the restaurant’s playful list of cocktails. Once dinner has wrapped up, hit one (or more!) of Budapest’s famous ruin pubs, housed in formerly dilapidated buildings. 
Synagogue exterior

DAY 3

Take it easy on your last morning in town, especially if it was a late night out! When you’re ready, cross the river once again to Pest for a tour of the Parliament building, which should last no more than an hour. 
Parliament
Foodies shouldn’t miss the opportunity to dine at Borkonyha Winekitchen, which serves up a tasting menu of modern Hungarian cuisine an old-world setting. Take a couple hours for a long lunch that concludes with a seemingly endless array of dessert offerings!
Budapest itinerary - Borkonyha Winekitchen risotto
Borkonyha Winekitchen pumpkin
Budapest itinerary - Borkonyha Winekitchen interior
Spend the rest of the day checking off whatever else is on your Budapest list, be it the monuments at Heroes Square, another bathhouse such as Gellért, a museum, or, if the weather’s nice, a cruise on the Danube. 

For more on Budapest, check out this recap of my most recent trip, my thoughts on the Hilton Budapest and my review of the Széchenyi thermal baths!

Have you been to Budapest? Anything from your Budapest itinerary that I missed? Let me know in the comments! >>

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