One of the stunning European cities, Budapest has been attracting travelers for decades. The capital city of Hungary is laced with tons of history, UNESCO heritage sites, ruin bars and it is also gastronomic heaven! We visited Budapest for a couple of days and have written 2 days in Budapest trip itinerary. This post is all about spending one day in Budapest and ticking off the city’s finest highlights!
One Day in Budapest – Top Things to do in Budapest in a day
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Before we begin our itinerary, here are some important things to know before your trip.
Travel Documents for Visiting Budapest Hungary
Budapest is the capital city of Hungary and it belongs to the Schengen zone of countries. If you belong to one of the non-visa exempt countries, then you will have to apply for a Schengen visa ahead of time, before arriving in Budapest. Learn all about the Schengen visa and how to successfully apply for one.
Citizens of the US and Canada can travel visa-free for up to 90 days for personal or tourism reasons. After 2021, passport holders of the US and Canada will have to apply for an online travel authorization prior to arriving in Budapest, called the ETIAS. ETIAS takes minutes to be filled out online and a confirmation will be sent via email.
No visa or online authorization is required for citizens with a European Union passport.
Don’t forget to apply and insured your trip to Budapest with travel insurance. We always insure our trip against flight cancellations and delays including medical emergencies. You can insure your trip for less than $4 USD a day. Get insurance quotes below
Official Currency of Hungary
The official currency is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). Euros are widely accepted. (1 EURO = 300 HUF approx). Please keep cash with yourself at all times. Most shops and restaurants don’t have card machines.
Best time to visit Budapest
Budapest is lovely all year round for different reasons. Summer months are from June to August and the weather is warm and beautiful. Expect showers or rains occasionally. During this time, Budapest is busy and most of the sightseeing areas will be crowded.
Winter in Budapest is from December to February. The temperature drops down to – 3 degrees Celsius with snow. It is not as COLD as some places in North America. But it is a good time to visit as there are fewer crowds and hotels are cheaper.
Christmas festivities are in full swing around this time. However certain tourist attractions might be closed in winter.
We visited Budapest in March, which is considered a shoulder season. So from March to May and then September to November are offseasons in Budapest and you can easily score a good flight and hotel deal.
Keep in mind, rains are normal during this time of year and in Budapest. So pack accordingly.
Things to pack for one day in Budapest
Here are some of the packing items that you MUST take to Budapest for a great trip.
- Rain Jacket – Rains are common in Budapest. Carry a waterproof jacket. > Buy a lightweight jacket for HER and HIM here.
- Comfortable Walking shoes – Carry comfortable walking shoes as you explore the city’s highlights. > Buy cute walking shoe
- Universal adapter– Buy your adapter here to charge electronics overseas
- Converter – If you are carrying hairdryers and shavers, you might need a voltage converter. > Buy yours here
- Anti-theft day pack or handbag – A cut-proof day-pack or purse to carry your essentials.> Buy here click for the backpack AND here for the handbag.
SHOP TRAVEL GEAR FOR EUROPE
MIRROR-LESS CAMERA // CLEAR POUCH // ANTI THEFT BACKPACK // SUN-GLASS // UNIVERSAL ADAPTER // EYE MASK // PASSPORT HOLDER // WALKING SHOE // HEADPHONES // WATERPROOF JACKET (TRENCH COAT) // CHARGING CABLES // PACKING CUBES // ANTI THEFT PURSE // NECK PILLOW
Budapest Sightseeing Card – one day in Budapest
Budapest City Card is a good way to save money in Budapest for transportation. It includes free rides in their public transport buses as well as an entry to the Lukács Thermal Bath (one of the popular thermal baths and spas in Budapest).
You can also save up to 50% in local bars and restaurants. Book your 24 hour Budapest card here.
Arriving in Budapest
We arrived in Budapest from Prague via road. It is actually quite easy to explore all the central European countries via road. Read about our 2-week itinerary to Central Europe.
If you are flying to Budapest, you will arrive at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (previously called the Budapest Ferihegy International Airport or Ferihegy).
You can get from Budapest Airport to the city center by a number of ways. The Budapest Airport shuttle will take you to the city in 30 minutes, and will cost around EUR 30-35 ($38-40 USD approx.). The train will get you in 35- 45 minutes, and you will have to pay EUR 3 (less than 4 USD) for a one-way trip. If you prefer an airport transfer, you can book one here
Start your day at Hungary’s finest and the most iconic monument – the Hungarian Parliament building. The Hungarian Parliament is a beautiful Gothic revival architecture building. As the name suggests, this is the seat of the Hungarian government.
Inside the Hungarian Parliament building, you will find two identical halls – one for governance (office) and the other for visitors. If you take the guided tour, you will take the stairway to reach the visitor hall. The stairway is decorated with ornamental designs and is covered with frescoes on the ceiling. The Parliament building has 691 rooms.
The dome occupies a height of 96 metres, making it one of the tallest buildings in Budapest along with the St Stephens Basilica. The number 96 is important in Hungary as it marks the nation’s millennium in 1896 as well as the conquest of the Kingdom in 896. Inside the building, you will see statues of Hungarian rulers, Transylvanian leaders, and other famous military figures.
Guided tours of 45 minutes to an hour are available to explore the parliament building interiors and learn about their history. Book your guided tour to the Hungarian Parliament here.
Danube River and Shoes On The Danube Memorial
After a tour and exploration of the Hungarian Parliament, head down to the river Danube banks. Not only the city of Budapest, but three other capital cities – Vienna, Bratislava, and Belgrade share the same historic river. It is the second-largest river in the European continent and flows through 10 countries!
River Danube had witnessed many demonstrations, trials, and tribulations and memorable stories since time immemorial.
As you walk down the river banks, you will come across a memorial known as the Danube Shoe memorial or the Shoes on the Danube promenade. The history of this memorial site can be traced back to 1944-45 when the Arrow Cross military shot Budapest Jews.
In this mayhem, many people jumped into the river Danube to escape the atrocities, leaving behind their shoes. Some survived and some never made it to the other side.
The memorial consist of 60 pairs of shoes created in exact size and shape/style and installed by film director Can Togay and the sculptor, Gyula Pauer. The shoes are made out of iron.
Budapest and its neighbouring cities speak volume of the amazing tenacity of the people and sometimes untold miseries of the communist regime.
River Danube is one of the picturesque sights in Budapest. This capital city is split into 2 parts – Buda and Pest. Buda is more central and expensive as compared to the outer city of Pest. Over the river, you will see stunning bridges that add a prized garland to the city.
There are about fourteen bridges built over the river Danube in Budapest, connecting Buda with Pest. Of them, seven are the most notable – Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Elizabeth Bridge, Margaret Bridge, Arpad Bridge, Liberty Bridge, Petofi Bridge, Racokzi Bridge.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the oldest of them all. You can walk across the bridges or can admire them from the Buda Castle district, when we visit that, in the afternoon.
Walking tour: Book a walking tour of Buda and Pest
Dohány Street Synagogue and ruin bars
Keeping the theme of history, after the river Danube, let’s head to the Dohány Street Synagogue. The Dohány Street Synagogue is also known as the Great Synagogue and is a historical site. The synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859 and is a site of Neolog Judaism learning.
The synagogue was built in the Moorish Revival style, with the decoration inspired by Islamic and medieval Spain styles of art. The Dohány Street Synagogue complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the graveyard, the Memorial, and the Jewish Museum.
The synagogue complex carries Holocaust scars as the Jews were sheltered near the Budapest ghetto, located near the synagogue. Many died in the ghetto from hunger and cold during the winter of 1945 (Second World War) and were buried in the courtyard of the synagogue (the cemetery).
The Dohany Street Synagogue is the largest synagogue in Europe. We highly recommend taking a guided tour of the synagogue to understand Hungary’s history. Book a guided tour here.
Located very close to the Dohany Synagogue are the ruin bars of Budapest. It is quite a tourist hot spot as you can get cheap beer/coffee or any drink and an amazing ambiance at these local bars, situated in ruined buildings.
Szimpla Kert was the first ruin bar established here. It was set up in a dilapidated building with an attempt to serve clients with affordable alcohol. Thereafter many more ruin bars sprung up and are quite popular. You can wander through the maze of ruin bars or stop for a drink and lunch.
Explore Buda Castle District
After a quick break, get ready to explore the Buda Castle district. It will take you 30 minutes to walk in order to reach the Buda Castle from the Jewish Synagogue or a 13-minute drive.
The Buda Castle district is a listed UNESCO world heritage site alongside some of the other popular attractions like the Hungarian Parliament, Heroes Square, St Mathias Church, and the Szechenyi Chain Bridge.
The Buda Castle district – site complex consists of a few of the sightseeing attractions of Budapest. If you are pressed for time, then head to the Buda Castle and explore the St Matthias Church, Buda Castle, Budapest History Museum, and the Fisherman’s Bastion. There are options for food (restaurants and cafes) and souvenir shopping at the Buda Castle district. Book a guided walking tour of the Buda Castle District
The main complex of the Buda Castle district starts the St Matthias Church. The church was built in 1015 in Romanesque style. The Roman Catholic Church is characterized by beautiful red and orange diamond-patterned tiles. Entry to the church for mass is free.
In and around the St Matthias Church, you will see a neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque terrace in white. That is the Fisherman’s Bastion. The Fisherman’s Bastion is marked by seven towers and from any of these towers, you can view the river Danube and the bridges, Gellert Hill and of course, the beautiful Hungarian Parliament. The seven pillars signify the seven Magyar tribes that settled here in 895.
In the centre of the complex between the Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion is a bronze statue of Stephen I of Hungary.
Next head to the center of the Castle district – the Buda Castle itself. The Buda Castle is located at a hilltop and had served as the seat of Hungarian monarchs since the 13th century. This castle is also known as the Royal Palace or the Royal Castle.
Since its inception, it had undergone many renovations and changes. At one point, when Hungary was part of the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty, Maria Theresia gave the castle to nuns during the Second World War.
As the castle is located on a hilltop, you can either hike up or take a funicular.
Located within the Buda Castle is the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. Definitely pay a visit to the Budapest History Museum, where you will see exhibitions and displays portraying the life and stories of Hungarians over the years.
Entry to the Budapest History Museum is free with the Budapest card. Without the card, there is an entry fee of HUF 2400.
Hungarian National Gallery located here is an art gallery.
Exploring the whole of the district should take you 2-3+ hours, with the museum visit. Fisherman’s Bastion and the St Matthias Church will be quick (you can skip the church interiors if you don’t have enough time), but save the majority of time for the castle and museums for sure.
Heroes Square and Budapest City Park
Our second last stop for the day is Heroes Square or the Hosok Tere. Heroes Square is an important landmark square located in the centre of Budapest. The memorial square has played an important role in shaping the Hungarian history.
It has been the site of many rallies, demonstrations, and gatherings including the reburial of Imre Nagy, the leader of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 (who fought against the Soviet-backed government).
At the square, you will find a stunning pedestal display of Seven chieftains of the Magyars and other heroes who dedicated their life, work, and sacrifices for the Hungarians.
Heroes Square is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Entry to the square is completely free and it is open 24 x 7.
Located very close to Heroes Square is the beautiful green urban space called the Budapest City Park. The city park is a sprawling 302 acres of green space and historical buildings. This park also houses some of Hungary’s tourist attractions like the Szechenyi thermal bath spa.
Budapest City Park can be traced back to the 13th century when it was a green meadow and forested area. It had undergone many changes and added structures to form and exist in the way it does today.
The Heroes Square that you visited earlier is part of the City Park. In front of the square, you must have seen beautiful red-roofed/tiled buildings and they are the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art – all part of the City Park.
The millennium of Hungary occurred in 1896 here at the Budapest City Park and the Vajdahunyad Castle was set up to commemorate the historic event. Take some time to wander through the park in the evening.
Relax in the evening at Szechenyi thermal bath spa
As mentioned the Széchenyi Thermal Bath Spa is located in the same complex. You can take a thermal water dip at the oldest spa in town. Szechenyi thermal bath spa was built in 1913 and the Neo-baroque palace was specifically built for hosting Széchenyi Thermal Baths as Hungary has been the country of baths (and Budapest the City of Baths) for many centuries.
The thermal baths have medicinal natural hot spring waters in the 18 pools. It receives mineral and medicinal properties from the 2 thermal plants nearby. The Thermal Baths also have 10 saunas/steam cabins, several massage therapies, facial treatments, etc. Charges are additional for services.
It is open from 06:00 am to 10:00 pm. Book your entry to the Szechenyi thermal bath spa here
Other notable baths include – Gellért Baths, Király Baths, Lukacs Baths, Rudas Baths. This is one of the must-do items in Budapest. These baths have medicinal properties, other than being of relaxation and entertainment value.
Other Fun Things to do in Budapest
Here is a list of some other FUN things to do in Budapest in one day. You can swap them out for the listed itinerary items.
1. Danube Dinner Cruise
Switch Szechenyi thermal spa for a dinner cruise on the Danube river. We highly recommend a dinner cruise by the Danube if you have additional time on your hands or prefer a romantic cruise instead. This definitely topped my list of must-dos when I visited Budapest and was not disappointed.
Dinner cruises are widely available and it can fit any budget and style. But you will have to experience it – don’t pass this cruise as cliche or being too touristy! You won’t regret the stunning night views of the city which only a cruise or a ride on the Danube can provide. Read about our Danube Dinner Cruise Experience
2. Eat and Drink Local – Goulash and Tokaji
Hungarian delicacies are spicy and full of flavor. Goulash is a popular item in most of Central Europe. It is a stew of meat and vegetables, seasoned with paprika and other spices. You can make goulash at home too, there are tons of recipes available online. But do give it a try when in Hungary.
Goulash is also eaten in other parts of Europe and is customized to their region based on the availability of spices and taste.
Tokaji wine is the name of the sweet/white wine from the Tokaj wine region in Hungary and Slovakia. Nowadays, there are different versions available for tokaji wine, not all wines are sweet or white. Historically Tokaji was a white wine from the region of Tokaj in the Kingdom of Hungary.
Here are some of the food items/dishes to try in Budapest: Chicken paprikash (Chicken Paprika), Töltött káposzta (Stuffed cabbage), Lángos (fried bread dough), Chimney cake (Transylvanian specialty, famous as Hungary’s oldest pastry), Winter salami.
3.Drink Coffee from an Offbeat Place (old or history related)
Budapest is such a historical place that you can enter any cafe or hotel and you will be in a living history space. We went in to have coffee at New York Hotel Cafe, this space has been through world wars and the interior of the cafe is mind-blowing
New York Cafe is just one option. But there are many other awesome breakfast and brunch places in Budapest like – Ruszwurm – the Oldest Cafe in Budapest, Café Gerbeaud, Central Cafe.
4.Central Market – Shop-Hop
Shop with locals or buy some traditional Hungarian souvenirs at Central Market Hall. Top souvenirs to buy include – crystals, embroidered items, paprika, Lace Items, Rubiks Cube, Painted Wood Souvenirs (pencils, toys), hair accessories, etc
5. Go see an Opera
The opera house in Budapest is one of the most beautiful Neo-Renaissance buildings in Europe. Enjoy an incredible performance at one of the opera houses, you won’t be disappointed. Some opera houses have day tours as well for the building and it showcases its historical importance.
Where to stay in Budapest for a day?
Here is a list of hotels that we recommend for your Budapest 2 day itinerary –
Budget to Mid Range Hotels in Budapest
- Ibis Styles Budapest Hotel – This hotel is located in the Pest area. We stayed in this hotel and had an amazing stay.
- New hotel rooms, clean and pretty
- Located very close to the New York Cafe
- They have a restaurant, a souvenir store, and a bar
- Book your stay here
Mid to Luxury Range Hotels in Budapest
- Boutique Hotel Victoria Budapest – Located in the old historic town of Budapest (Buda area), this hotel offers great views of the Buda Castle and the Danube River
- Located very close to most of the tourist’s areas like – Hungarian Parliament, Chain Bridge, Danube River, Matthias Church
- The hotel is rated as one of the best in Budapest. The hotel also offers complimentary tea in their lovely restaurant
- Stay here for amazing views. The hotel also offers spa and sauna services
- Book your stay at the Boutique Hotel Victoria
- Hilton Budapest – This Hilton hotel is located in an amazing area – in the heart of UNESCO world heritage site
- Located 15 minutes from the centre of Pest, with easy access to most tourist areas including Buda Castle
- In their ICON restaurant, you can savor Hungarian cuisines, whilst enjoying breathtaking views
- Book your stay here Hilton Budapest
- Corinthia Hotel Budapest – Corinthia Hotel is a 5 star rated hotel.
- The hotel has a spa and a multi-cuisine restaurant
- Best value for money – by staying in the heart of the city
- Book this hotel today
We had an amazing stay in Budapest Hungary. We are sure you will too!
Additional Resources for planning your trip to Budapest and Europe in general
- Europe 101 – Our introductory guide to planning a trip to Europe.
- European Bucket list – Epic 101 Europe travel ideas
- Europe Itinerary Samples – Want to make the most of your visit to Europe? Get the list of 27 itinerary samples
- Visiting Europe in winter – Here are some of the best traveler picks.
- Warm places in Europe? – Here are the warmest places to visit in Europe from December through March.
- Shoes for Europe (for her): Best walking shoes for women for Europe
- Boots for European winter (Female edition): Top boots to wear in European winters
- Find the best places to take a selfie in Budapest
- Learn why Budapest is one of the most stunning Central European Destination
- Read about the unique ruin pubs in Budapest Hungary
- Get more Itinerary Inspiration – 2 days in Prague Czech Republic
- Get more Itinerary Inspiration – 2 days in Vienna Austria
- Get more Itinerary Inspiration – 5 days in Munich Germany
- Find more things to do in Budapest
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