How to navigate Budapest in 3 days

Budapest | Nicole Navigates

If you’re not bored of hearing it already (because it was ALL OVER my social media), Josh took me on a surprise trip last month to Budapest!

And when I say surprise trip, I literally had no bloody clue that we were going. What I thought was a few days in London for a “family wedding” turned out to be 3 wonderful days in the Hungarian capital city.

As we woke at 4am, Josh blurted out that we were not going to London as he handed me my passport. Very confused and still half asleep thinking this was a dream, I open up my passport and find flight tickets to Budapest - I gasped, I kept saying “NO WE’RE NOT!” and I cried. A lot.

He planned the trip SO well and made sure we had plenty of time to explore, as Budapest was as new of a city to him as it was to me. So we wanted to make sure we did EVERYTHING.

As I usually love researching a new place before visiting to ensure I’ve ticked off all the major sight-seeing attractions, I obviously didn’t get much time to do this - but considering how I had no idea and was able to do my research on the way to the airport and thanks to all the blog posts and suggestions from Katie Jane Collins, we were able to navigate the city extremely well and managed to fit pretty much everything.

So I’m going to show you how you can do the same within 72 hours, which I believe is the perfect amount of time to explore. Whether you have a partner that sweeps you off your feet and does the same as mine, or you are actually planning on going, here is what we did:

Budapest | Nicole Navigates
Budapest | Nicole Navigates

Day one

Standard arrive at London Luton Airport around 6am and after passing security, we go straight to Frankie and Bennie’s for a celebratory breakfast (with alcohol, ofcourse) before boarding our 8:30am flight. We manage to arrive at Budapest airport for 12.30pm.

Josh managed to pre-arrange an airport transfer for us to get to our hotel, which took roughly 40 minutes to travel to. Along the way, we were treated to our first sightings of Budapest, including the famous Budapest bridge separating the two sides.

We stayed at the Aquincum Hotel, which is a short 20-minute tram ride from the city centre. Despite this, our hotel was truly magnificent and one of the plushest hotels I’ve stayed at - Josh really went all out!

It had a very cosy and spacious deluxe room for the pair of us, swimming pool’s and thermal baths to relax in (so good after walking around in the cold) and I swear to god, the COMFIEST bed I’ve ever slept in at a hotel abroad.

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Day 2

As day 2 was SO BIG, I’m going to not waffle on and just get straight to the point of where we went and what we did:

Vajdahunyad Castle

Our first stop was exploring Vajahunyad Castle, which was probably the most picturesque and most romantic castle I’ve ever seen. It was giving me all the Beauty and the Beast vibes and it’s a lovely stroll. We picked up some Mulled Wine, sat on the bench admiring the view of the castle and climbed the top to get an even more epic view. It’s hard to miss and it’s just around the corner from Heroes Square.

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Heroes Square

Speaking of Heroes Square, just around the corner on the left, you will find the bridge that walks across City Park Ice Rink towards Heroes Square. It's one of the major squares in the city and features the iconic statue complex featuring the seven chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian leaders, plus the Memorial Stone of Heroes.

It's a worthwhile visit, it's full of tourists taking photos in front of the statues and it's central to everywhere else in the city. Plus, get a view of all the people skating on the ice from the bridge - it's a great photo spot!

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Fashion Street

If you're heading to Budapest for a big shopping weekend, Budapest is the place to go and Fashion Street is the heart of shopping in the city. It is one of Budapest's most beautiful cities and contains all your high-end fashion favourites as well as recognisable big chain restaurants.

This is where we found the Hard Rock Cafe, which we couldn't resist going in for a big burger as we were really hungry after all the walking!

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Central Market Hall

This is the place to go for all your street market, fresh produce and shopping needs - all under one big roof!

It was built WAY BACK in 1897 and is the most beautiful and largest of all the Budapest Market Hall's. It's a 5-minute walk from the centre, hence it's name, plus the volume of trade that happens here on a daily basis is INSANE.

You can pick up a Sweet Lagos or a sweet pancake from the street food stalls available upstairs, which I also mention in my cheap food guide:

Read more: How to eat cheap in Budapest.

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Liberty Bridge

As Liberty Bridge is literally right next to Central Market Hall, we took a leisurely stroll across the bridge and took lots of photos of the view.

Liberty Bridge is the third southernmost public road bridge in Budapest, is located on the south side of the city and was built between 1894 to 1896.

We walked across the bridge to get to the other side to Buda Castle.

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Buda Castle

This was well worth the long ol' walk up the stairs and hill, so be prepared if you're thinking of visiting and wear appropriate footwear!

Buda Castle is a MUST visit when in Budapest. It's a historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian Kings in Budapest and is part of the Budapest World Heritage site, so it's a piece of culture that is worth the climb.

Once you get up, not only do you get an insight to some Hungarian history, which is fascinating, but the further up you go, the better your view gets - the view of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge is breathtakingly gorgeous!

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Thermal Bath's back at our hotel

After 8 hours of walking, we were ready to head back to our hotel to warm up in the thermal baths. I can't tell you how wonderful it was to be able to do that after walking around in minus 1-degree temperature.

It was also a great way to wind down and relax. I highly recommend (if you can) to book a hotel that has it's own thermal bath as it really was a saviour.

Ruin Bars

After a bit of time out relaxing, we headed back out for a night out on the town and the thing that was on our minds was finding a Ruin Bar.

The Ruin Bars were highly recommended to me when I was searching for things to do. The bars are all built on ruins of abandoned buildings ranging from courtyards, churches and even graveyards.

They range in size and are scattered all across Budapest. During our evening, we visited two very different Ruin Bars: Anker't and Szimpla Kert.

Anker't is one of the smaller Ruin Bars, but it has such a trendy, urban vibe to it that's very laid back and was ideal for a quiet drink sat by the big glass window's looking out towards the courtyard - we said how perfect it would be to come here during the summer.

Szimpla Kert is probably the biggest and most well known of the Ruin Bars for it's lively nightlife and eye-capturing details in every corner. Like literally. I couldn't keep my eyes off all the things inside. From photo booths, random objects hanging from ceilings, LOTS of bars and booze and a room for everyone.

We only stayed here for a while as it was very crowded and by this point, our 20-year-old selves had enough and wanted to go home to bed - but I can definitely see how it's a great night out if you're going to Budapest for that type of weekend.

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Day 3

Day 3 was our final full day in Budapest and just as crazy, so once again, here is what we got up to in order of where we visited:

Breakfast at Bistro a Table

We got up early to see if we could find a cute, convenient cafe near St Stephen's Basilica, as we were on the way there, for breakfast. We stumbled upon Bistro a Table and it looked like the ideal, quiet spot.

I mention more of what we got up to in my cheap food guide, but what we had was enough to fill us up ready for another day of exploring.

St Stephen's Basilica

We had already seen the Basilica at night time on our first night, but we wanted to return to see it in its full glory in daylight and to see whether we were up for climbing the top.

St Stephen's Basilica is a Roman Catholic Basilica and it is named after and to honour the first King of Hungary.  It's only 5 euros to go up to the top of the building and whether you decide to challenge yourself to the stairs or take the lift, either way, the view is worth going up for.

Budapest | Nicole Navigates
Budapest | Nicole Navigates
Budapest | Nicole Navigates

Shoes on the Danube Bank

A really interesting bit of history that is well worth visiting.

On our way back from St Stephen's Basilica, we walked up towards the Scéchenyi Chain bridge and made a right on the bank to see a bunch of sculpted shoes on the edge.

The shoes on the Danube bank is to represent and honour the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during the World War II.

It's quite a daunting thing to witness once you look into the backstory of it, but it's still a nice piece of history to look at.

However, I really disrespect and disagree with tourists who take photos of themselves next to the shoes with a big grin on their faces. I think this is totally disrespectful and shouldn't be done in my opinion. I believe it has the same sentimental value and should be treated in respect just like the Berlin Wall and the 911 Memorial.

Rant over. But highly recommend you to take a look!

Fishermans Bastion

Another lot of walking, a bus and even more walking later, we managed to head to Fisherman's Bastion, which looked like a place we couldn't miss after I saw photos on Katie Jane Collins' Instagram feed. Again, there's a lot of walking and climbing to get up there, but it's so worth it because Fisherman's Bastion is like entering a whole new village!

It's a neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque styled neighbourhood situated on the Buda bank of the Danube on the Castle Hill of Budapest. It's got lots of areas to explore, different views from different angles and even has a Starbucks if you get thirsty!

Budapest | Nicole Navigates
Budapest | Nicole Navigates

Széchenyi Thermal Bath and Beer Spa

These two things were easily the highlight of our trip and if I had to choose two things to go back to Budapest for, it would be these two.

We knew we had to go to one of the big Thermal baths in Budapest, so when researching, the Széchenyi Thermal Bath's were top of the list. As it was our last day, we wanted to spend the majority of the afternoon here.

However, we were SO underprepared and know for next time to be more prepared. You pay around 40 euros for two to get in, but you also have to pay for robes and towels when you were there. To us, this seemed far too expensive, so luckily we brought our own towels from the hotel room, but we wished we had brought the robes from our hotel room too, as once you got out of the thermal baths to walk around, it was BLOODY FREEZING!

However, despite this, the thermal baths themselves were a dream. So relaxing, so hot and the weirdest experience I've ever had.

Personally, I recommend both of the outside thermal baths as I believe you get the full experience. However, we both didn't like the look of the inside thermal baths at all.

They were overcrowded, they looked green and there was a horrid drainage smell coming from them. So we played it safe and stayed in the outdoor ones.

Budapest | Nicole Navigates
Budapest | Nicole Navigates
Budapest | Nicole Navigates

But as we were spontaneously walking around the thermal baths inside, we kept seeing signs for a Beer Spa. Safe to say, we were very intrigued so we went to explore and see what it was all about.

Turns out, the Beer Spa is a little hidden away spa inside the Széchenyi Thermal Bath's where you can actually sit in tubs of two that contain the ingredients that make beer. Literally. You sit in beer and drink unlimited beer by a tap next to you.

Obviously, we went for it!

Bear in mind, it's an extra 25 euros each for a two-person tub for 45 minutes, but honestly, it's an experience which you're not going to get often - so go for it!

We only had to wait 10 minutes for our bath to be ready and once it was ready, the lady was kind enough to share what each ingredient would do to our skin and kindly showed us how it all worked.

Next to us, was a big tap with two beer glasses which we could fill up ourselves and we even got garlic bread as a snack!

It was one of the craziest and coolest experiences I've had and after 5 beers, I was tipsy and ready to go back to the hotel!

Budapest | Nicole Navigates
Budapest | Nicole Navigates

Things to consider

Here are a few quick tips to consider when going to Budapest:

Travel

Getting around Budapest was probably the easiest city to navigate compared to other European cities I’ve visited. Usually, the language barrier and/or the system is confusing, but Budapest’s public transport was so easy to understand.

We got ourselves both 72-hour travel passes for 10 euros each which included travel on bus, tram and trains - all we did was show our tickets to whoever was guarding the stations and that was it!

Food

As I have mentioned a few times, I have done a blog post on this, but the food was incredibly cheap out there. I wish we visited more foodie spots, but as this was such a spontaneous trip on my part, I was happy with just going with the flow! But whether you’re mission is to visit all the instagrammable foodie spots, or you’re just looking for food wherever you won’t be caught short of budget or taste.

Safety

They always say to be cautious when you're wandering around European cities, especially big capital cities. But honestly, we didn't feel at all unsafe and didn't feel like we were in any risk of trouble.

Obviously, still make sure you're safe and you keep an eye on your stuff, but I didn't have any worries whilst out there.

Budapest | Nicole Navigates

After we staggered home from the beer spa, we went back to our hotel, had a nap, went back out for dinner which you can find on my Cheap Eats Guide and that was pretty much our trip in a nutshell in Budapest!

I feel within the days we were there, we managed to fit so much stuff in and I got to see everything that I wanted to see, considering I had NO clue that we were going.

Josh did a brilliant job in surprising me and did an event brilliant job in actually planning the trip from the hotel, to the transfer and he actually was more in the lead when it came to deciding what we were doing. It was nice to take a step back and let someone else plan the trip.

He did bloody good!

If you are considering a trip to Budapest this year, or if you have got a trip planned, I hope this guide is useful to you and you pick up some new places to go and see.

Tweet me if you have any questions and I will try my best to help!

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Budapest | Nicole Navigates

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