We have recently returned from a family trip to Budapest. It was our first visit to Hungary and we spent seven nights in Hungary’s capital! Budapest is gorgeous and has a wide juxtaposition of architectural styles and historical periods. While we enjoyed our time there immensely, we believe that the highlights of Budapest can be seen and experienced in 4-5 full days. If Budapest is on your European family vacation list (and it totally should be), here is our Four Days in Budapest Itinerary for Families.
Four Days in Budapest Itinerary for Families
A Brief History of Budapest
Modern day Budapest was once three cities; Buda, Pest, and Obuda. These three cities were unified in 1837 to become Budapest. Long ago Buda and Pest were once separated by the Danube and are now connected by the mighty (and beautiful) Chain Bridge. Obuda is the ancient center of Budapest which has ancient Roman origins. While in Budapest, we learned a little trick to help remember which side is which. Buda is the hilly side and Pest is the flat as a pancake side (P for pancake and for Pest helps us remember)! Modern Budapest is easily explored on foot.
Budapest has a long, dark, and complicated history that can most definitely be felt as you make your way around the city. You will enjoy and understand the city much more if you engage and learn a little about the history before and during your stay. Budapest has its own unique vibe, and we had fun trying to uncover the secrets and mysteries surrounding this beautiful and complicated city.
Day 1 Tips
There is quite a bit of walking this day and the terrain is rather hilly even though it is urban. Remember the Buda side is full of hills. Castle Hill is gorgeous and you could spend ALL day and more exploring this side of the city. You can easily catch a cab to Gellert Hill and then down to Buda Castle. We found the cabs to be very cheaply priced and reliable. Gellert Hill and the Buda Castle area gets SUPER busy with tour buses and river cruise ship guests in the middle of the day. So we suggest starting your day in the morning to help beat some of the crowds.
On top of Gellert Hill, you will find some of the best views in all of Budapest. Situated right at the peak of the hill is Budapest’s own version (well actually the communist version) of “lady liberty” who was erected by the Soviets in 1947 following WWII. Gellert Hill is a must. Not only will you get fantastic views and photo ops of the city below, you will also get a great insight into Communist Budapest.
A UNESCO world heritage site, Buda Castle is not to be missed. The massive royal palace was once home to the many Hungarian kings for over 7 thousand years. Most of the structure you will see was built in the mid 1700’s and is very much rendered in the Baroque style. However, the original palace was built in the late 1200’s and was occupied by the Ottomans in the middle ages. To get an overview of Budapest’s complicated history Buda Castle is a great place to start!
This beautiful church stands proudly in Buda’s Castle District. It is a worthy stop on any itinerary and should be seen. There is a small museum inside that often gets missed.
Fisherman’s Bastion is a lovely area behind Matthias church that is Neo-Romanesque in style. It was once a fish market and this is where the name possibly stemmed from. From Fisherman’s Bastion, there is a fantastic view of the Danube and the Pest side of the River, including the Parliament Building and the Chain Bridge. It is a great photo spot and an equally great place to take in a sunset.
Day Two Tips
The area between the Budapest Eye and the Parliament building is mainly pedestrian and is an incredibly pleasant walk. Sidewalk eateries and kodak moments abound. The Budapest Eye can get super hot in the summer, so if you are visiting during the summer months be sure to visit in the morning or evening. The evening is lovely because it lights up. We absolutely loved Liberty Square and navigating the historical powerhouse area with a local guide to get an insider’s view.
The Budapest Eye-
The large ferris wheel named the Budapest Eye is located in Erzebet Square in the city center. Do not expect the London Eye as this one is much smaller, but in our opinion, it is worth a ride and Beckham(age 4) thought it was great fun. He was so excited to ride. The Eye has 42 cabins and is 213 feet tall (65 meters). It is another fantastic way to get a bird’s eye view (especially if you don’t want to climb the stairs at St. Stephen’s) of lovely Budapest. It can accommodate up to 8 people per car. The evening we decided to ride, the line was really short and we only waited for a few minutes. It is a great activity to escape some of the heaviness of Budapest.
St. Stephen’s Basilica-
is Hungary’s largest church. It is possible to climb the steps to get up into the dome. There is a great view and photo opportunities from the lookout on the cupola. Outside the front of the church, there is a lovely square and this area is also a wonderful pedestrian only area with shops and many different cafes and restaurants. During our time in Budapest, we spent many memorable meals in this area as a family. Many of the restaurants have patio seating that is very enjoyable on a summer’s evening.
In our opinion, Liberty square is perhaps the most interesting insight into Budapest’s history in the last 100 years. Within a couple small blocks, resides the American Embassy, a Soviet sculpture memorializing the Soviet soldiers liberating Budapest from the Nazi’s, a Ronald Reagan statue, and a very controversial German Occupation Memorial. The juxtaposition of different paradigms and opinions is really fascinating. We suggest getting a local guide when visiting the square because the insight they can provide is priceless.
THIS is the gothic revival building that will immediately come to mind when you hear the word Budapest. Located Pest side of the river Danube, it is spectacular in the day and even more spectacular at night. Interior admission is by guided tour only. We recommend the interior tour highly. The tickets for the guided tour must be purchased well in advance as they sell out quickly. You can purchase your tickets by click on the link above. Tours are available in different languages and several different times are offered. We took our little one on the tour and he did great. There were several other children and most of the staff were very patient with them.
Day 3 Tips
Today is a little bit more scattered in terms of geography and themes than the other days but we always try mix up some of the more cultural heavy experiences with something fun and easy going. We suggest waking up and heading straight to the thermal baths right after opening. We just took a quick taxi to the baths and then hailed a cab for the ride back to our hotel. The baths are known for getting super busy with tourists in the middle of the day and we loved going there early where it was just us and the locals. Being able to observe the locals in their natural habitat was a hoot, haha!
After the baths, we suggest going back to your hotel, freshening up, taking a rest and then heading out for the rest of your day. We sandwiched one of the heaviest topics in between two activities that are on the lighter side (this trick especially helps with the little ones). The area of the Jewish Ghetto and the Synagogue is pretty intense and really disturbing. There is a fantastic monument where you are able to look through a metal map on the side of the street in the Jewish Quarter and gather insight into what happened to the Jewish population of Budapest during the Nazi Occupation.
In addition to the Jewish Quarter, is the Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial. This is a beautiful tribute to a horrible occurrence. The little shoes that resembled Beckhams hit home the hardest. While these areas are heavy in nature, they are well worth a visit and will give you a glimpse into Budapest’s history.
Then we finish out this day with our favorite activity in all of Budapest – A night time river cruise!
There are many thermal bathhouses around Budapest but Szechenyi is one of the largest (in all of Europe actually) and well known. This is where we decided to give it a go! Looking from the outside, you would never guess that behind those brightly colored yellow buildings is a sprawling complex of thermal pools. Bring your towel, sunscreen, swimsuit, and a sense of fun. We enjoyed ourselves immensely. Sit back and take it all in. This is a quintessential and cultural Hungarian experience. Szechenyi is located in the city park.
Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial-
Located on the Pest side of the Danube (just down from the Parliament Building, on your way toward the Chain Bridge) is a moving monument dedicated to the 3500 Hungarian Jews who were compelled to take off their shoes and were shot and killed while standing on the banks of the river. Various styles of mens, womens, and childrens, shoes are cast out of iron and stand as a grim reminder of some of the atrocities of WWII.
Jewish Ghetto Memorial/Dohany Street Synagogue-
Explore history on foot by walking through the Jewish Quarter and visit the Dohnay Street Synagogue. Do not miss the excellent map which gives an insight to the Jewish Ghetto set up during the mid 1940’s. It is a very heavy and disturbing topic but something that played a large role in Budapest’s history. We suggest if at all possible to take a guided tour when exploring this part of the city as there are many things that could be easily missed.
Watching the Sunset-
Watching the setting sun is a must do while in Budapest. We recommend watching it go down from the banks of the Danube, from Fisherman’s Bastion or from a boat on the river!! Wherever you decide to view it from, enjoy!
There are many “must-dos” while in Budapest, but seeing the city come alive at night from the water is a MUST, MUST, MUST do! It was our favorite thing we did while in Budapest as the city is spectacular after dark. Private boat tours are available for hire as well as group cruises. Either will delight!! We chose one that was an hour long and if we were to do it again would choose a boat tour that was a little longer. Oh my gosh, we were so sad when our hour long cruise was up. We could have enjoyed that view for much longer. We booked our cruise through mypersonalbudapest.com and loved every second of it!
Day Four Tips
Today takes you outside of the city center to visit Memento Park. (I know that some people don’t love Memento Park but as history buffs we loved it!) It is run down for sure but in our opinion something that should not be missed. Again, we hired a driver for the morning who took us out to the park and stayed there while we visited the communist statues. There is also a bus that you can take which goes out to the park everyday from the city center. If you google Memento Park Bus or ask your concierge you will find a plethora of information on it.
After Returning from Memento Park head down the famous Andrassy Avenue and take in all of the lovely side streets and flower lined corners. Reminiscent of Champs Elysee it is a lovely stroll with some wonderful attractions and museums. Our two favorites were the House of Terror Museum and the super kid friendly Miniversum Museum that delighted both Beckham and the adults.
During communist rule, the city was filled with statues supporting the regime. After the fall of communism the many symbolic statues were placed in an area called Memento Park, which is well outside of the city. 42 statues are contained within the park. It isn’t fancy or even well maintained but it is fascinating. There are English translations for the statues. It was well worth our time to go. We hired a private car to take our group of 7 out to the park and found that it cost us about the same as it would have taking the public transport. If taking a private car, allow about 3 hours total for this excursion. If the weather is hot, try and go in the morning. There is very little shade at the park.
It sounds like some kind of a freaky carnival ride. Carnival it is not, freaky it is! The museum highlights (or lowlights) the gruesome and troubled 20th century in Hungary. The museum focuses on the Fascist and Communist periods. The building in which the museum is housed was the former Nazi and Communist headquarters, and the basement was used for torture and murder. It is dark and depressing and a little overwhelming and confusing. If you are a history buff, you must visit. Allow yourself 2 hours here and make a commitment to yourself to mentally stay with it as it takes a lot of time to read and slowly make your way through the museum and through each successive room. They do have an audio guide which is helpful. Again, we believe it is worth the time although it may be too heavy for children. You be the judge.
This little “mini” Hungary museum was a total surprise! Honestly, the only reason why we went in was because Beckham saw the advertisement and was dying to go. As the parent, I really loved it myself. Once you walk in, it doesn’t look like anything special but spread through three rather big rooms is an entire mini world with electric trains running throughout. The children are able to climb up on the outside rim and control parts of the trains, lights, movements and even have some of the figures make sounds. The greatest part was the attention to detail and history. There are several communist sections of the “mini” Hungary and for the adults and older visitors, a complete history is given. This little mini world highlights Hungary’s greatest areas and most important events. In my opinion, if you have little children with you, this is a do not miss!
Notable Mention: Hungarian Opera House
We tried to visit the Opera House several times (once with a private guide) and each time we were not allowed to enter because a movie was being filmed inside the Opera House when we were there. (Apparently, lots of movies are filmed in Budapest.) So, we can’t tell you for sure if it is worth a visit or not because we didn’t actually get to experience it for ourselves. However, we have wonderful things about it and have heard that it is remarkable! If you end up visiting, you must let us know what you think!
Favorite Kid Experiences
I was surprised by how much Beckham loved Budapest! I found it to be really kid friendly. There are many parks in the main areas of the city (especially near the pedestrian areas on the Pest side) and it is easily navigated with a stroller. To help those little visitors of yours have the best experience we decided to put down Beckham’s do not miss list in Budapest.
- Play in the baths. Beckham thought the warm thermal baths were the best! We did get a few grumpy looks since he was one of the younger patrons by far, but overall people were gracious and not bothered by our little splashing fish.
- Play in the fountains in Liberty Square. There is a fantastic fountain here that is motion activated and many visitors (adults and children alike) hop through the fountain. On a particularly hot afternoon, we decided to put Becks in his swimsuit and let him go crazy. He thought it was the best!
- Miniversum – Without a doubt, if you have children you need to visit. It isn’t grand or opulent but well worth the money and time.
- Throw rocks and watch the boats from the top of the Chain Bridge
- Take a river cruise and admire all of the castles
Budapest was a city that at first glance, we were not sure how we felt about it. However, after a couple of days, we really grew to love it! It is totally unique and has a completely different vibe from anywhere else that we have been, and we couldn’t believe all that we learned and saw. As usual, let us know your thoughts and if you have visited Budapest and what you would put on your must-do list?
If you like this Budapest Itinerary, be sure to check out our 4 Days in Paris Itinerary.
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The Smith Fam