The best cities for travel don’t need a lot of work. If you find a city where simply walking the streets leaves you in awe, you know you’re in the right place. The capital of Hungary definitely fits the bill, old and magical as it is. If you have 2 days in Budapest or even 3 days in Budapest, it’s enough to catch the highlights without feeling too overwhelmed.
To help you achieve that, we’ve set up a step-by-step guide to help decide what’s good in town and how to maneuver around with ease. For a first time visit, a stay of three or four days would be ideal for most. That’s not to worry: if you’re short on time, the city is still more than worth your time.
The beige buildings with a hint of pastel make Budapest feel very East-European, while occasionally getting a whiff of Paris when turning the next corner. Add a few unique dishes like goulash or lángos and Hungary has it’s own feel not to be compared to others.
Besides being a very photogenic city, it’s filled with history and impressive architecture. These landmarks are very well-lit at night, making it a beautiful city to roam around at all hours of the day. There’s mystery to be found in underground caves, ruin bars and ancient churches. In short, Budapest doesn’t lack options for sightseeing. So where to start?
With this plan for 2 or 3 days in Budapest, we’ll make sure to take the hassle out of planning. Add and drop sights as you see fit, so that with this itinerary you can start your first time in Budapest off with a bang.
How to get around
Around 1,7 million people live in Budapest, making it one of the biggest in the European Union. Luckily, the public transport system in Budapest works great. It’s very easy to get around the city, especially by tram or metro. It’s not the most walkable city in Europe, compared to say, Amsterdam or Vienna, but it’s fine if you plan ahead. That’s what this Budapest itinerary is for! Don’t underestimate the size of this place.
Taxies are surprisingly expensive in the city. A trip from the airport will easily set you back around €30 for a half-hour taxi ride, but trips within the town aren’t much better. Know that Uber isn’t available in Hungary, but the app Bolt is a great alternative and works in the same fashion, taking credit cards or cash. You’ll see their bright yellow taxi’s cruise around all over town, so it’s never a long wait. Nonetheless, the cost will add up quickly.
Public transport is sometimes just as fast. Cute as they are with their yellow colors, we recommend taking a tram at least once during your 3 days in Budapest, even if it’s just for fun. You can get to nearly all sights and attractions with one of the four metro lines or the major tram lines number 2, 4 and 6. Tickets need to be bought beforehand.
If you don’t want the hassle of buying and validating every time, grab a Budapest travel card. These are available for use of 24, 48 or 72 hours and even longer. Not only does this give you unlimited use of public transport, but also free access to a ton of sights, including many museums, Buda Castle, the stunning Lukas Thermal Baths plus discount to many others.
Itinerary for 2 Days in Budapest
With this Budapest itinerary, let’s make sure you start off with a good base to build off. Would it be wise to spend more than 2 days in Budapest? Yes. Could you see a ton over the span of two days and still leave the city satisfied? Also yes.
Budapest consists of two parts, divided by the river: the Buda part and the Pest side. The highlights of Budapest are spread out on both sides, so you’ll undoubtedly visit both. You can remember where you are by realizing that Pest is big and flat, and its where the Parliament building is located. The Buda side is bumpy with all its hills.
In this Budapest itinerary we’ll go over all the places that are not to be missed in a convenient way. Don’t hop from one sight to another simply based on which spot is your top favorite – in a city this size, you’d waste precious times on transport.
For this reason, we made sure both schedules are planned in a way that will ensure you’re going around town in an efficient way, while still having a diverse mix of sights, relaxation and food stops. You can easily add or drop sights as you see fit.
Today starts on the Buda side and ends across the river in Pest. As early as you can, make your way to Fisherman’s Bastion. Dare we say, this is one of the most stunning viewpoints in all of Europe, so we beg you not to skip it. With fairy tale towers and panoramic views over Budapest and the Danube river, it’s relaxing to stroll around and take about a million photos. Really. It’s just that good.
It’s free to enter before 9AM, which is the best time to visit anyway. The lights are magical at the crack of dawn and ideal to catch that perfect balcony photo without twenty other people in it. Group tours start gathering as early as 8 o’clock and it is truly worth the early alarm.
Just behind you is the very unique Matthias Church. Once used for coronations by Hungarian kings, the inside is moody and beautiful, but the roof is the real attraction. Marvel at the tile roof with stunning orange, green and blue patterns for a bit.
If you haven’t yet, grab breakfast in one of the restaurants on your ten-minute walk towards Buda Castle. Sitting on top of Castle Hill, this is the palace where Hungarian kings used to live. If you wish to take the time, there are two museums to visit: the National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum.
After strolling the grounds and enjoying the last views, take the funicular down. When it opened in 1870, it was only the second funicular in Europe and is a beauty to this day. It’s cheap and a short but fun ride. You can opt to walk down in about ten minutes, but it’s a frustratingly winding road and the views aren’t better on that trail.
Walk over the Széchenyi Chain bridge towards the Buda part. A vision of concrete and metal, you might know this famous bridge from Katy Perry’s Firework video. The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace will be right in front of you. Besides the building being a looker, their Kollázs Brasserie & Bar offers a great lunch and beautiful decor.
If your stay happens to fall within a weekend, we highly recommend stopping there for the brunch- the buffet is one of the best that we’ve tasted in a long time. Another suggestion would be trying their new delicious dinner menu- which covers all the traditional Hungarian delicacies, but with an upscale twist.
Next, walk along the promenade until you reach the Shoes on the Danube Bank. Sixty iron shoes are lined in a row to honor the Budapest jews that were killed along the Danube river during World War II. The victims had their shoes taken off, since these were valuable belongings at the time.
Just around the corner is the enormous Hungarian Parliament Building. It’s possible to do a guided tour that takes up about 45-50 minutes. The tour shows you around some great interior work, frescoes, the crown of the first Hungarian king and impressive halls.
If you still have energy left, the Great Synagogue isn’t too far away. Located in the Jewish Quarter of Pest near many other sights, it’s the largest synagogue in Europe. Bombed by the Nazi army in 1939, it’s now restored and a beautiful sight. They offer a range of guided tours, but know that opening hours are only till 4PM in autumn and winter.
At this point, it might be time to recover in your hotel room. Freshened up, head for one of Budapest’s many ruin bars where the cool kids hang out. Szimpla Kert is the most iconic one and filled to the brim with the strangest collection of knick knacks. Grab a beer and marvel at it’s artsy decor or enjoy a shisha from the comfort of a bath tub. Tip: for those that aren’t about the party scene, it’s still a fun place to visit. Check out it’s weirdness in daylight right after it opens, which is daily at 12 noon.
This all sounds like an incredibly packed day, but in reality is quite manageable considering that all these highlights aren’t spread out too much.
Start your day off with a bang by going to the famous Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Your feet could use some relaxation after walking all those miles yesterday, but it’s also one of the prettiest places in town. There are a ton of other thermal baths in Budapest, but if you only have time for one, visit Széchenyi.
Spend an hour or two inside the baths by starting in the outside pool, warm up inside in the thermal baths and finish up in one of the steam rooms. Adding more time here is easy, as massage options are affordable. Or, if you’re not visiting at the crack of dawn, add a 45-minute stay at the Thermal Beer Spa. This fun place is newly opened and located inside the Széchenyi complex.
They don’t literally pour a few Heinekens in the tub, but you can unwind in bubbling mineral water mixed with natural ingredients from beer. If you opt to visit a little later, it gets even better. The wooden bath tub looks fab and there’s a beer tab with Czech ale right next to you – start tapping your own drinks and chat the day away. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.
Once nice and refreshed, walk a mere 5 minutes across the road to Vajdahunyad Castle. It’s one of our most photogenic spots in Budapest and is somewhat of a Disney movie come true with its impressive architecture. You can visit the inside, but we recommend simply strolling around the castle grounds, which are free to access, take some photos and enjoy the scene. Pay extra close attention to the Gothic entrance gate with the statue of a man on top (to freak out and think you’re being stared at). Another angle not to walk past is the multi-layered portal of the Church of Ják, also right on the castle grounds.
Walk another 5 minutes to see Heroes’ Square for a quick visit. This might not end up as your favorite place in all of Budapest, but it’s impressive by sheer size and hey, you’re in the area after all. Surrounded by important museums, marvel at the enormity of the square. It was erected in 1894 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of Budapest and is still the largest square in the city.
After lunch, it’s time to visit St. Stephen’s Basilica. You can reach the top of the dome by lift (or 146 steps), but our favorite angle is looking back at the church from ‘Zrinyi utca‘, the street opposite it. The entire area is great for shopping, whether it’s boutiques, high-end stores or budget clothing. There are coffee shops at each corner, but we suggest grabbing a stylish donut at Mr. Funk’s for fun.
Is there still no stopping you? Simply strolling around the Danube river banks at night is time well spent, especially is you see the Parliament beautifully lit up from the Buda side. We’d normally recommend a show at the Hungarian State Opera House, but it’s closed for renovations until 2021.
Bonus: 3 Days in Budapest
Do you have more than just 2 days in Budapest? Great, because this city isn’t done with all it has to offer. As a bonus, here’s how to spend an extra day seeing worthy sights.
Start off with breakfast at New York Café. Upon opening in 1894 it was named the most beautiful café in the world, so go see for yourself. It’s best to reserve online first or you could easily spend 45 minutes waiting in line, especially on weekends. Remember to look up at the ceilings!
Use public transport to go towards Liberty Bridge. With great views over the river bank, you’ll likely see a few local kids casually looking cool on top of the green metal. If you wait patiently for a yellow tram to pass it’s a great photo opp.
A few steps away and you’ve arrived at the Great Market Hall – touristic, but nonetheless lovely. This large building dates back to 1897 and is worth visiting for its exterior or moody ceiling inside. It’s the spot for fresh goods, meats, souvenirs and people watching.
There are lots of local dishes to try, but foodies get their best fix by eating lángos up on the first floor. This Hungarian snack of deep fried dough tastes like pizza and doughnut had a baby. Choose any topping that you like, but the savory kind with sour cream is a more traditional one.
For the afternoon, take the metro to Óbuda district. It’s a bit of a journey, but you’ll be rewarded with pastel buildings and a lack of tourists. As the name might suggest, Óbuda is the name for ‘old Budapest’, one of the areas that have melted together with Buda and Pest to form the city you know today.
Roam the streets, then head to the Pálvölgyi cave for an hour-long tour. There are caves hidden all over Budapest, including Castle Hill, if you’d rather find one closer to your hotel. Pálvölgyi, in particular, involves lots of climbing, crawling and getting claustrophobic – and that’s the best way to be in a cave. Don’t wear your cutest dress for this one! It’s a day for old clothes and sturdy shoes, and know that the cave is at a constant 52 degrees (11 Celsius) throughout the year.
Helas, your last night in town. Finish up with some killer chicken paprikash or goulash for dinner and you’ve done Hungary proud.
When to visit Budapest
There isn’t really a bad time to visit Budapest. If you’re not scared of temperatures around freezing, December makes it a magical city with its Christmas markets and light snow for some added romance. Most popular times are from March to May and from September to October and rightfully so. Spring and winter are the best seasons to catch comfortable weather – remember that Budapest is a city where you’ll want to be outside a lot.
The famous Sziget festival is held around the second week of August. If you’re not attending, it might be best to avoid the city due to a large number of crowds.
Now you know what to see in Budapest in 2 days, and even how to amp it up to three. This city makes for an ideal weekend trip, or mix it up with other stunners that are nearby, like Vienna if you’re doing a full-on Eurotrip.
Budapest is a majestic place that is interesting for all kinds of travelers – lovers of history or architecture, couples, families, foodies and galls on a girls’ getaway. Enjoy the vibes – it’ll make you coming back for more.