Regardless of whether you’re flying in or arrive by train, as soon as you hit the ground in Budapest, you’ll know that you’re in a special place. At the intersection of Eastern and Western Europe, the city is often labeled as an up-and-coming Berlin, but that only tells half the story. Budapest has an enigmatic culture that’s completely its own and a short 72 hours probably won’t do justice to a city that’s currently enjoying a modern-day Renaissance. Still, with that being said, here’s how to make your most of 3 days in Budapest.
First things first – get checked into your bed/room at Maverick Lodges. Clean, comfortable, and a cut above bargain-basement backpacker beds, this place has been going strong for nearly a decade and they’ve clearly found a combo hostel/private formula that works. Eschewing typical bunks for singles gives a sense of space that few hostels can match and you’ll appreciate the grandeur of the impressive building. All basic (and some luxury) amenity boxes are checked and the knowledgeable staff can point you in the right direction no matter what you’re looking for.
Yes, it may be a bit touristy, but that doesn’t mean Buda Castle and the surrounding area isn’t a great way to spend a late morning or early afternoon. Go during the week to avoid the weekend crowds and pack a snack or light lunch. Choose between a series of zig-zagging paths (stay fit) or a funicular that takes you directly to the top (lazy). We strongly recommend the former. Atop the hill, take in the best possible views of the city and wander to find hidden nooks and crannies.
DIY Ruin Bar Pub Crawl
When it comes to nightlife, Budapest is known far and wide for its ruin bars – eclectic, funky drinking spots in the former Jewish district. What started out as a creative way to use abandoned space has become the norm and now there are a plethora of pubs of varying quality between Rakoczi and Kiraly streets, making it the perfect place for an impromptu or planned pub crawl. In addition to the infamous Szimpla that started it all, be sure to check out indie Vittula, speakeasy Lampas, or the merged Fogo shaz/Instant club.
Alternative Walking Tour
If the Castle Hill area is the stoic, outward face of Budapest, then the Walking Tour by Alternative Budapest is a 3-hour glimpse into the beating heart of the city’s culture. A solid value at €18, this tour hits hidden street art locations, co-working spaces, and local artist studios to give you an inside look at the day-to-day life of Budapest creatives. The tour runs thrice weekly in the off season and every day from mid-spring to mid-fall.
For daytime eating, it doesn’t get much more authentic in the center than Kadar Etkezde. Traditional, stick-to-your-ribs Hungarian fare is the order of the day, every day and you’ll certainly be full when you leave. FYI – the bread and water on the table are not free and the waitress will ask at the end of the meal how much you consumed.
While Budapest may not be Berlin’s match in terms of experimental art and music numbers, there’s no denying the quality of the local music scene and A38, the city’s premier venue for 15 years. Home to both Hungarian and international performances, this converted Ukrainian boat (seriously!) is THE place for electronic, avant garde, rock, and jazz concerts. Check their current schedule here – https://www.a38.hu/en/programs.
Hungarian, it’s not. That being said, this might just be some of the best Bangladeshi cuisine you’ll find west of the Ganges. Tucked into a tiny matchbox of a restaurant, the original on Akacfa utca (another location has opened on Dob utca) seats maybe a dozen, but you’ll exchange knowing looks with the other diners once you’ve tasted the food. Get the Spicy Jhal Goru – you came here to sweat, right?
Not That Kind of Spa
If you’ve done any research at all about Budapest, then you’ve probably heard about Gellert, Szechenyi, and other spas. Trust us and skip the high prices for a lukewarm, thermal bath. However, if you want to see one of these grand spas in a different light, there is another option. With a reputation for hedonism and debauchery, the not-so-cleverly titled Sparty at Szechenyi has become a backpacker rite of passage where the outdoor pool areas transform into an electrifying club.
In Budapest, 72 hours is just a tease and you may quickly find your initial 3 days turning into a week or more as you dig deeper and deeper into the culture. It will never be the next Berlin, but maybe it’s already become something better – the only Budapest.