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Two Days in Budapest: Plan a Perfect Short Break

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You will need at least two days in Budapest just to see the cities amazing UNESCO World Heritage sites. Considered by many as one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe with outstanding architecture and the lovely Danube river dissecting the city, your two days will fly by.

An abundance of museums, thermal baths, historic sites and stunning architecture, 48-hours in Budapest is just enough to see the main sites and give you a taste of a city that I am sure you are going to want to return to.

What to Know Before Visiting Budapest

  • The Danube river dissects the city into two sides, Buda and Pest and each with unique scenery and ambience.
  • Instead of the Euro, Hungary uses their own currency, the Hungarian Forint. It’s advised you avoid the ATM converters from EU to HUF, as they have the worst exchange rate.
  • While we’re on the topic on money, make sure you tip! Hungary has an active tipping culture.
  • Hungarian’s refer to themselves as Magyars. The Hungarian word for Hungary is Magyarorszag, who were the original tribe of the land. You’ll see the word splayed throughout the city.
  • They’re great producers (not necessarily exporters) of wine, so make sure you seek out the local drop.
  • The correct pronunciation for Budapest is actually ‘Boo-da-PESHT’.
  • English is widely spoken throughout the city, although learning some basics like hello and thank you are always appreciated.

Best time to visit Budapest

The climate in Budapest is pretty mild with temperatures being an average of low 20’s (degrees Celsius) throughout the year.

High Season is from June to August during the European summer break. This also happens to be when the city is hottest, busiest and wettest. It’s worth mentioning that in August there are plenty of festivals and events across the city.

Shoulder Season occurs between March to May and August and November and is considered to be the optimum time to visit Budapest.

Low Season is from December to February these being the coldest months with the likelihood of snow. The perks of travelling during the low season is that you can enjoy the famous Christmas markets without crazy prices.

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Where to stay In Budapest

Budapest is a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own personality. Choosing where to stay if you only have two days in Budapest you won’t want to be too far from the main sites.

We have come up with what we think are the best two options for a short visit. We believe either District 1 or District 9 fit the bill for most travellers being well located and offering a range of price points.

View of Buda side of Budapest – Buda Castle, St. Matthias and Fishermen’s Bastion

District I: Várkerület (Castle District)

Those who are looking for more of an upmarket experience will enjoy the picturesque Castle District. Think cobbled streets, delicious restaurants and elegant architecture. Located on the Buda side, here you have an abundance of chic hotels, most of which offer sweeping views of the famous Hungarian Parliament building. You are also close to the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion and walking distance from Gellért baths.

The evenings here are nice and quiet, which will be ideal if you need of a relaxing getaway.

Pros: Views to die for, close to major sites
Cons: Higher price tag and a limited number of budget properties. The quiet nightlife on this side of the river may not appeal to all. Some properties have an uphill walk 😉
Best suited: special occasion holidays, family visitors and those wanting a quiet night.

Check reviews for these three very well-rated hotels in the Castle District on Tripadvisor.

You might also like to check out apartments and rooms in the Castle District on Airbnb.

District IX: Ferencváros

Just a short walk from the city centre, this district is, without a doubt a hipster’s paradise. With plenty of restaurants, bars and cafes scattered around, you will be hard-pressed not to eat well here. If all of the options surrounding your hotel weren’t enough, here you can also find the Great Market Hall for as much food as your heart (and stomach) desires.

Check reviews for three properties we think you will like in the 9th District

Airbnb has some affordable properties in the 9th District.

How to get around Budapest

While most of the city’s highlights and activities can be reached by foot, the public transport system in Budapest is incredibly easy and affordable. The metro (subway), trams and buses connect the city’s many districts, and should you be staying somewhere on the Danube, the public ferry service is a seamless commute.

With just two days in Budapest, the Budapest Card is the best option. Cards can be purchased with 24-hour, 48-hour, 72-hour, 96-hour or 120-hour validity and include unlimited travel on public transportation. You can buy your Budapest Card online (they will deliver the card to your hotel!), on arrival at the airport and from various convenience stores within the city.

The Number 2 tram travels along the Danube River past Parliament House

Another fun thing to do is ride the number 2 tram. The tram follows the Danube River past Parliament House, to Széchenyi Square and past several other attractions until it reaches the end of the line at Közvágóhíd Station. If you have a pass, consider jumping on and off the tram at some of the attractions. It’s much cheaper than the HOHO bus.

Things to do in Budapest on a two-day itinerary

Visit the Parliament Building

One of the city’s most famous landmarks, The Hungarian Parliament Building, completed by 1902, is the third-largest parliament building in the world. This Gothic Revival designed masterpiece is perhaps the best-known image of the city. With 691 rooms, its design was inspired by London’s Palace of Westminster.

Budapest Parliament building

If you are interested in visiting the interior, a guided tour will allow you to discover the spectacular central staircase and stunning vaulted hall. The Parliament is also home to the crown jewel and a viewing is included in the tour. Book in advance, and you can skip the line which can save valuable time on a short visit.

We managed to accidentally time our visit with the changing of the guards, which was fun to watch. It happens daily on the hour between 8:30 am-5 pm.

Tip: The best place to view this building in all its glory is from the opposite side of the Danube

Recommended tour: Those with an interest in architecture or political history will enjoy a short guided tour

Where: Budapest, Kossuth Lajos tér 1-3, 1055 
When: 8am-6pm (4pm weekends)
How: The number 2 tram stops 3 mins away or walk 1.2km from the chain bridge.

Take a dip in the thermal baths

After a long day of exploring, you can’t beat a relaxing and rejuvenating thermal bath! Or perhaps you’d prefer a spa treatment? Or an afternoon sauna perhaps?

Thermal Baths in Budapest

Thermal baths are very much a part of life in Budapest. The waters are rich in natural minerals such as sulphates, calcium and magnesium to help alleviate a range of medical issues. I am a huge fan of the benefits of magnesium; if I lived here this would be a daily event for me.

Budapest sits on thermal springs with these mineral-rich waters popping out of the ground at several locations. There are dozens of baths across the city, but the two best known are Gellért and Széchenyi. Both are right in the heart of the city to offer a complete bathing experience.

Unlike the public baths of Asia, nudity is not allowed here (thankfully!). Each complex has a different vibe. We chose Gellért for its art nouveau architecture. It is also a little more expensive, but a little quieter, they say.

Tip: Visit the baths early in the day to avoid the biggest crowds.

Recommended: We bought a skip the line ticket for Gellért as we had limited time and did not want to spend too much time waiting around. If you are visiting at peak time we recommend doing this.

Where: Széchenyi – 9-11 Állatkerti körút, XIV. kerület Budapest. Gellért Baths – 4 Kelenhegyi út, XI. kerület Budapest
When: Gellért Baths 6am-8pm / 6am-10pm

Cruise the Danube

Sandwiched by the Buda and Pest sides, the Danube river is a key feature to the overall landscape of Budapest city.

Damube River cruise Budapest
After walking all morning, a river cruise can be a great way to see the sites.

Appreciating this UNESCO World Heritage Site can easily be done while walking along the promenade, however, if you want to fully experience the Danube, why not hop on a sightseeing cruise and take in the sights of the city from the water.

A cruise will let you see all six of the bridges that cross the river in Budapest. It’s also a great way to get some photos of the Fisherman’s Bastion, Parliament and Budapest Castle. This one has an open rooftop which will allow you better photography access.

This is a particularly beautiful way to see the city lit up at night! We took this 2-hour cruise that was a bit of a splurge but included a lovely buffet dinner of local food, two drinks and an excellent band playing traditional instruments. It was a great night out.

Some other cruise offerings are:

Remember when you a book a tour or activity with Get Your Guide most offer free cancellation up to 24 hours before the activity starts. This allows you to secure of spot and plan your itinerary but still have the option to cancel in bad weather or if you plans change. The cancellation policy is clearly stated on each listing.

Let your camera go wild at Fisherman’s Bastion Viewpoint

This was our favourite spot in the city. I found it hard to leave; my camera kept finding new angles, new viewpoints. I have enough photos to do a whole post about visiting!

Completed in 1902 in a neo-Gothic style reminiscent of a fairy tale, the Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) is a medieval monument, designed by Frigyes Schulek, originally built as a defensive panoramic lookout. The structure was severely damaged in WWII, and it was the architect’s son who completed the restoration work.

Fishermans Bastion Hungary Budapest
Built to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state.

The Bastion has a total of seven medieval turrets or towers, to represent the seven Magyar tribes of the time. These days, it provides one of the best lookout spots in the city and visiting at sunset is particularly spectacular.

Take some time while you are here to visit the neighbouring Matthias Church, you can buy a combined ticket to both sites if you plan to visit both.

Tip: For the best photos arrive just before sunrise. Most visitors do not turn up until 8am, giving you plenty of time to snap away in relative peace.

Get more great tips on photographing the Bastion from my friend Victoria’s blog.

Where: Szentháromság tér, I. kerület Budapest
When: Upper Terraces 9am-7pm later in summer. Lower terraces always open so perfect for sunrise visits.
How: walk from Batthyány ter metro station or follow directions for the castle.

The Shoes on the Danube

This very moving memorial featuring 60 pairs of iron cast shoes, snuck up on up as we strolled from the Parliament to the Chain Bridge.

In memory of the victims who were shot into the Danube by armed Arrow Cruisers in 1944/45

Completed in 2005, it is the result of a collaboration between film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer. Designed as a memorial to the thousands of Jews murdered by the Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45. The prisoners were forced to remove their shoes, a precious commodity in wartime Europe before they were lined up and shot at the edge of the river.

Where: On the edge of the river just south of the Parliament
When: Anytime but sunset is rather special

Drink with the locals in a Ruin Bar

Possibly the best thing to do at night in Budapest is to visit one of the many ruin bars. Ruin bars are dotted mostly in the old Jewish Quarter (Budapest’s District VII) and are mostly converted buildings that were deserted after WWII.

Ruin Bar in Budapest
Szimpla Kert is one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest

These buildings have been transformed from abandonment into trendy bars. Each bar has its own personality by utilising rustic furniture, eclectic music and unique artwork. It’s worth checking out a few during your stay if you have the energy.

Since opening back in 2002 Szimpla Kert has become one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest. This bar plays an integral part in its community with lots of events and activities for locals. Everything from concerts and outdoor movies to a farmers market. There are lots of interesting spaces to explore across the venue so give yourself a couple of hours to enjoy the food, drinks and atmosphere

If you are travelling alone, you might like to join a tour of some ruin bars. There are many available, and even if you are with friends, it can be a great way to uncover the local favourites and not end up in the most touristy spots. We recommend this 3-hour ruin bar walk but for the party people out there this 5 hour one may be more your thing!

Check out a full list of ruin bars here

Where: Szimpla Kert – Budapest, Kazinczy u. 14,
When: 10am-4am
How: Just 4 mins walk from Dohány Street Synagogue

Eat your way around the Great Market Hall

The first piece of advice to take when visiting the Great Market Hall is to arrive with a big appetite. Walk the many aisles to find many varieties of locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as local delicacies like goulash and langos.

Great Market Hall Budapest Hungary
Inside the Great Market Hall

I challenge you to leave without at least one paprika based souvenir.

Tip: On the upper floors, you will find the many street-vendor type sellers to fill your stomach to the brim. Choose your meal and stall carefully, stalls that overcharge with each condiment you add to your dish adding a few dollars more to the price. Not all the sellers are dodgy, and we really enjoyed our meal but ask for a total cost before you order.

Where: 1-3 Vámház körút, IX. kerület Budapest
When: 6am-6pm Tue-Fri, 6am-5pm Mon, 6am-3pm Sat. Closed Sunday
How: 2km walk from Chain Bridge or jump on the number 2 tram which stops minutes away.

Stroll around Margaret Island

If the hearty Hungarian food has you feeling like some exercise is in order a visit Margaret Island (Margitsziget) might be a good idea. The island is Budapest’s equivalent to Central Park and offers a natural paradise away from the hustle of the city centre. The 2.5km island sits in the middle of the Danube a great aspect of the cities waterfront.

There’s plenty to explore here, including yet another thermal bath. This one is a great option for the young (or young at heart) with water slides and wave pools.

There is also a small zoo, a Japanese garden and a musical fountain. You can walk, cycle or rent a golf cart to explore the island at your own pace.

Where: District XIII. Budapest, 1138
When: Sunrise till late night
How: Take the number 4 or 6 tram

Take a tour of Castle Hill and Buda Castle

Atop Castle Hill, you will find Buda Castle, a royal palace that dates back to 1265. Within the Castle Hill complex, many other cultural sites can be found including:

On a two day visit, it will not be possible to visit all of these, so I suggest you choose according to your passions.

While it’s possible to walk to the top of the hill, the fastest way to reach Buda Castle is the funicular (the second oldest of its kind.) Enjoy the uninterrupted views of the city and beyond.

Where: 2 Szent György tér, I. kerület Budapest
When: Grounds and gardens are always open but to tour inside. 10am-5pm every day
How: The funicalar is $7 return ($5 one-way). The number 16 bus is about half that.

Walk across the Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Originally built in 1849, the Széchenyi chain bridge was the first permanent bridge that connected both Buda and Pest sides of the city.

Szechenyi suspension bridge
Be sure to view the bridge all lit up at night.

The suspension bridge can we walked (or cycled) across, allowing for some spectacular photo opportunities while the Danube flows steadily below. Its particularly impressive at night when all lit up, so make sure you catch it in both lights.

Originally built in 1849, the Széchenyi bridge (its official name) was a well-appreciated installation compared to the notoriously unreliable pontoons that were operating beforehand.  

Where: Széchenyi Lánchíd, V. kerület Budapest
When: Anytime, try to see it lit up at night.

Visit the Dohány Street Synagogue

Noted as Europe’s largest synagogue and the second largest synagogue in the world, take a walk through this beautiful historic building. Budapest’s Jewish history can be traced back well before Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany, at a time where over 200,000 Jewish people inhabited the city. Since it was built in 1859, the Dohány Street Synagogue has been well preserved and is well worth the visit for the exquisite architecture alone.  

Where: 2 Dohány utca, VII. kerület Budapest,
When: 10am-6pm Sun-Thurs. 10am-3pm Fri. Closed Sat.
How: 16-minute walk from Chain Bridge or a short walk from Astoria Metro Station.

Where are you going next? Check out more of our Europe posts.

Other sites to try to slot in

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