Budapest is the perfect combination of rich history, old European charm, and great nightlife. If you're looking for a place to relax and unwind, or explore and find adventure, you'll fall in love. We spent 4 days in this Eastern European town and it left quite the impression.

Here's my essential Budapest travel guide.

Budapest is somehow filled with ancient treasures – like Roman baths, and hip and fun “ruin pubs.” These might have lines that stretch down the streets with people clambering to get in.

Whether you're after history, beautiful scenery, or want a more budget-friendly Europe trip, this is the place to be. But I urge you to go now. Budapest is still somewhat undiscovered, so you'll get the place to yourself and uncover hidden gems along the way.

What to do in Budapest:

Below you can find a map of all the places discussed in this post:

The city is divided by the Danube river: east is Pest and west is Buda. The two sides are VERY different. Which makes it fun. Take your time to explore both sides.

What to do in Pest:

Pest is the flat, more urban commercial half of Budapest. There is lots to see and do here so make sure to spend a good amount of your time here. We had 4 days in the city but I think you could easily fit the highlights of Budapest in about 3 days.
Chain Bridge – The bridge crossing the Danube is absolutely stunning and well worth a glance and picture opportunity. In addition to Will Smith dancing the “Keke” on it, the Chain Bridge also happens to be the first permanent bridge built across the Danube in Hungary.

Ride public transportation – Budapest has a great metro line that will take you all around the city. Some stations for the metro are very deep underground because it was built as a bomb shelter. Also, ride the bright yellow trams throughout the city.

Hungarian Parliament Building – This incredible building flanks the Danube and stands proudly with ornate details. Inside, you'll find a beautiful interior and the oldest crown in the world!

I had so much fun with my friend and fellow blogger Taylor traipsing around this city.

Shoes on the Danube – This memorial commemorates those that were killed during WWII. People (mostly Jews) were rounded up, told to strip down, and a firing squad shot them on the banks of the Danube. A chilling reminder that while this city is beautiful and thriving, it went through some very rough times.

House of Terror Museum – Budapest has a harrowing story of being part of the problem during the Nazi times. In 1944, when they were occupied the Hungarians themselves rounded up and collected 400,000 people on their own in less than 6 months to be sent to concentration camps. After the Nazis left they had new problems during Communist occupation. The secret police finally left in 1991 but were never brought to justice. This moving museums describes life, death, and escapes from those times.

Heroes’ Square – Surrounded by museums, this square honors Hungary's important historical figures.

Walk Andrassy boulevard – Locals like to think of this as the Champs Elysees or Broadway. Great shopping street.

St. Stephen’s Basilica – It's hard to miss the incredible basilica. It's named after St. Stephen, the first Hungarian king, whose right hand now lays proudly displayed in the church.

New York Café – This is a gorgeous, Instagram worthy cafe. Pro tip: you can go in and take pictures without having to actually spend money on overpriced coffee.

The Jewish Quarter – We explored the area here and took a tour of the synagogue – the second largest in the world. The tour was very interesting, although our guide was a bit distracted, and we did learn some very interesting history. Tickets aren't cheap (about 4,000 Hungarian, which is about $14) but include a tour, museum, and synagogue entrance. The museum shares holidays and life cycles from the Jewish culture. One of the most moving aspects was the “weeping willow tree” with the names of Hungarian Jews killed during the Holocaust inscribed on each metal leaf.

Great Market Hall –  If you're wanting some of the tastiest and most inexpensive food in Budapest, look no further. The Langos I ordered here (a traditional Hungarian dish which is fried dough topped with a sour cream like spread, shredded cheese, and onions. You can also add more veggies and meat if you'd like) was one of the best I've ever had.

Thermal baths – Can you really go to Budapest if you haven't been to the baths?! I think not. The most famous one is Szechenyi baths (there are 2 dozen but this is the most accessible). They sit on a thin crust of thermal springs so lots of hot water flows into the pools.
After 2,000 years of practice (the Romans were here!) they have the art of lounging by the pool down to a science. They are open year round and cost about 1,000 Hungarian (bring a towel to avoid more costs!).
Ruin pubs – The coolest bars in town and a staple of Budapest's nightlife. Converted from old buildings they are strewn with knick knacks, funky lights, and great vibes. Szimpla Kert is the most famous but Instant (though it will take you a while to get in if it's busy) is very up and coming.

What to do in Buda:

This is a smaller and quieter area with nice restaurants and a great view of the city.

Buda Castle & Fisherman’s Bastion – One of my favorite places in Budapest, now, an Instagram famous spot. It's designed neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style and situated on Castle Hill.

P.S. You can also get a fantastic view of Parliament all lit up at night.

Matthias Church – This opulent church is just outside of Fisherman's Bastion. With a gilded interior in Neo-gothic style, and a 500-year-old statue of Mary it's is worth a look around and inside.

Gellért Hil –  A great place to get a view of Budapest. There's also a bath close by called Gellert as well.

Other things to do:

Boat tour at night – there is no better way to see the city than on a boat tour at night. I get chills thinking about the Parliament all lit up as I sipped a watered down cocktail.

Check out boat cruises here.

Bike Margaret island – We crossed the bridge and took the footpath down to the island. Here, we rented bikes and enjoyed moseying through a more quiet and serene side of the city. Make sure to stick your feet in the fountain (if weather permits) and watch the fountain show.

Walking tour –  I love a good walking tour and this city did not disappoint. Ours lasted about 2 and a half hours and I really loved learning the deep, dark, and interesting history of Budapest.

Where to Stay:

We stayed on the Pest side, within walking distance of Fisherman's Bastion. We used AirBnb this trip and I have to say… I think I'm getting tired of AirBnb. As I travel so much, I find I really like staying in hotels more (flexible check in/out, doors usually work, small things like that.) I suggest checking out some great places here. Staying here was a great place to explore the city.

Budapest facts:

In 1896 Hungarians celebrated 1,000 year anniversary of the country's founding and put lots of effort into the city, including adding the metro line. That's why important monuments have 96 steps and domes are 96 meters.

Both Parliament and St Stephen's Basilica are 96 meters high. Why? Because church and state are equal. But in communism times a 5-meter star was added in Parliament, now it's gone.

Please, avoid taking the funicular ride up. It's not that far a walk or a cab ride is MUCH cheaper. It's just a tourist scam!

You can go see the traditional dancing from the “Roma”, they put on nightly shows which is a great way to experience their traditions and culture.

Souvenirs to buy: Paprika! They are crazy for it and it's used in almost every dish.

Once the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Budapest remains an incredible city. I suggest spending at least 3 days here to immerse yourself in all Budapest has to offer.