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What To Do in Beautiful Budapest for a Day
In recent years, Budapest has become one of the most popular tourist spots in Europe, and for a good reason!
Straddling the mighty Danube River, the Hungarian capital is full of history, has some amazing spas thanks to its thermal waters, and is home to some of the most beautiful landmarks in Europe. With a lively blend of Western, Eastern, and Central European culture, Budapest is eclectic and interesting.
In this Budapest travel guide, we’ll share an itinerary for a day in Budapest, highlighting the top attractions and hidden gems that you won’t want to miss. You’ll find information, tips, and recommendations for visiting Budapest, with an interactive map, organized to make the best use of your day.
Budapest Trip Resources
Here are the services we use and recommend for traveling in Hungary;
When to Visit Budapest
Late spring and early autumn will still grant you warm temperatures with fewer crowds and more affordable hotel rates.
If you love Christmas markets and beautiful Christmas decorations, visiting Budapest during the holidays is also a great idea. Keep in mind that winters in Budapest are usually quite cold, so make sure to pack some warm clothes.
RELATED POSTS: Europe Winter Destinations: 22 Amazing Wintry Places
Getting to Budapest
Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport, formerly known as Budapest Ferihegy International Airport, and still commonly called just Ferihegy, is the international airport serving Budapest, and by far the largest of the country’s four commercial airports. The airport is located 16km southeast of the center of Budapest.
You have several options to get into downtown Budapest from Ferihegy Airport;
Transfer – The quickest and most convenient option, you can book in advance with Intui Travel.
Taxi – Grab a metered cab which will cost around 8,045 HUF (Hungarian Forint) and take about 35 minutes.
Bus – Airport shuttle bus 100E departs from the airport every 30 minutes and the trip takes approximately 35 minutes to Deák Ferenc tér central metro station, tickets cost 900 HUF. Bus 200E will drop you off at Nagyvárad tér from where you will need to take a metro to reach the city centre and this line can be used with regular BKK (Budapest’s public transport system) tickets.
Where to Stay in Budapest
What to See & Do in Budapest
Separated by the Danube River, Buda and Pest form the two halves of Hungary’s capital, linked by the famous Chain Bridge since 1849. Despite being spread across both sides of the Danube, Budapest is a compact and very walkable city.
Follow our one day Budapest itinerary to see all the highlights of this wonderful city within your tight timeframe. If you prefer someone else to organize your day, check out this small group orientation walking tour of Budapest with a local guide.
One Day in Budapest Interactive Map
How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.
Catch the Sunrise at Fisherman’s Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the most iconic places in the city and it’s certainly the best place to start your first day in Budapest. Although it looks like a fairytale castle, it’s actually a panoramic lookout tower located on the Buda side of the city.
Since it’s one of the top tourist spots in Budapest, try to visit as early as possible to avoid the crowds. If you don’t mind waking up early, watching the sunrise from Fisherman’s Bastion will surely leave you speechless.
From there, you can enjoy an incredible panoramic view over the Pest side of the city, including some of the top Budapest must-sees like the Hungarian Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica.
Top Tip: An advantage of getting up early is that you don’t need to pay an entrance fee for the upper towers. While most part of the Fisherman’s Bastion is free to visit, you need to pay 1,000 HUF to enter the upper part if you get there after 9am.
Admire Matthias Church
Behind Fisherman’s Bastion is the Church of the Assumption of the Buda Castle, more commonly known as the Matthias Church, which was built between the 13th and 15th centuries.
At the end of the 19th century, it was completely renovated and has a predominantly neo-Gothic style with a distinctive slender spire and an intricately tiled and colorful roof.
Explore the Castle District
Sitting on top of a hill overlooking the city, Buda Castle is one of the most important historic landmarks in Budapest and it’s a must-visit on every Budapest itinerary.
The castle that once used to be the residence of Hungarian kings is now the home of many interesting museums, such as the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery.
While you’re there take the opportunity to explore the labyrinth cave system under the Buda Castle District as you learn about the history and unique geology of the caverns.
From Fisherman’s Bastion, it takes around fifteen minutes to reach the Castle on foot. Alternatively, if you don’t fancy walking up the hill, you can use the funicular to save your legs. Getting lost in the Castle District and soaking up the views is definitely one of the best things to do in Budapest in one day.
On your way down from the Castle, don’t forget to visit the Castle Garden Bazaar. It’s recently been renovated and consists of many beautiful gardens, exhibition halls and restaurants.
Cross Széchenyi Chain Bridge
After visiting the most important monuments on the Buda side, it’s time to explore the Pest side of the city. You can find eight bridges crossing the mighty Danube River in Budapest, each with different styles and characteristics.
Szechenyi Chain Bridge, with the giant stone lions guarding each bridgehead, is certainly the most famous bridge in Budapest.
It was the first permanent bridge built on the Danube River and it connects the Castle District with the city center on the Pest side. The bridge itself is really beautiful as well but nothing can beat the views you get from the bridge!
Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica
No Budapest itinerary is ever complete without visiting the largest and most beautiful church in Budapest, St. Stephen’s Basilica.
The construction of the Basilica started in 1845 but it wasn’t completed until 1905. It was named after the first King of Hungary, Stephen, who was also the founder of the Hungarian state.
This Roman Catholic masterpiece is open every day from 9am to 7pm and the entrance is free. However, if you want to go up to the panoramic lookout towers, you need to pay a small entrance fee of 1,000 HUF. Although there is an elevator, you will still need to climb a few stairs but don’t worry, the 360-degree view will surely make up for it.
The lookout tower has different closing times in each season and unfortunately, it closes pretty early in the summer, at 6.30pm. Winter is the only period when the tower is open long enough to watch the sunset which is a pretty magical experience!
If you’re visiting in late November or December, you can also see one of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Budapest in front of the Basilica from a bird’s eye view.
Top Tip: If you want to include a little break, head over to High Note Skybar which is one of the best rooftop bars in Budapest. It’s located right next to St. Stephen’s Basilica so you can get an up-close view of the Basilica from the terrace.
Check Out Deák Ferenc Square
After visiting St. Stephen’s Basilica, head over to Deák Ferenc Square which is the heart and soul of the city center. From spring to autumn, the square is usually full of locals and tourists alike, making it one of the liveliest places in Budapest. You can find many restaurants and cafés with great outdoor terraces around the square.
Alternatively, you can just simply sit on the grass like many locals do while catching up with friends and doing some people-watching.
Deák Ferenc Square is also the starting point of Fashion Street, or Deák Palota, a pedestrian-only street lined up with luxury fashion shops and high-end restaurants. Right behind the square is a giant Ferris wheel called the Budapest Eye. If you haven’t had enough panoramic views yet, it’s the best way to see Budapest.
Stroll Along the Danube River
Taking a leisurely walk along the Danube River is a must, even if you only have one day in Budapest. From Deák Ferenc Square, you can easily walk back to Széchényi Chain Bridge within minutes.
After reaching the bridge, continue walking in the direction of the Hungarian Parliament along the Danube River. It’s a mere ten minute walk from the bridge to the Hungarian Parliament but most likely it will take a bit longer as you will want to stop a few times to soak up the views.
You will also pass by the ’60 Pairs of Shoes’ memorial on the Danube Bank, a tribute to the Jewish population who tragically lost their lives in the Danube by the Cross Arrow Military during World War II.
Visit the Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament is easily the most beautiful building you will see during your one day in Budapest. The Neo-Gothic style Parliament Building is the seat of the National Assembly and one of the most important landmarks in Hungary.
It’s not only the tallest building in Budapest but it’s also the third largest parliament building in the world! It’s possible to visit the inside of the Parliament with a guided tour which is usually 45 minutes long.
The tour is really popular so it’s worth booking your tickets online well in advance, or book a tour with skip-the-line tickets and learn about the history of this stunning building with an expert guide.
Take a Ride on Tram #2
Going for a panoramic ride with tram number 2 is one of the cheapest, quickest, and most iconic ways to see the city.
The tram runs along the Danube River, from Margaret Bridge (the third bridge to the north) all the way down to Rákóczi Bridge (the last bridge to the south), and passes by many important landmarks.
Although it’s a panoramic ride, it doesn’t require any extra ticket other than a simple BKK ticket which costs 350 HUF, or your 24-hour Budapest Travelcard.
Top Tip: If you’re running short on time, get off at Fővám tér from where you can reach the Citadel, the next (and last stop) on this one day Budapest itinerary.
Watch the Sunset from the Citadel
There is no better way to finish off your one day in Budapest than watching the sunset from the Citadel, a 19th century fortification located on top of Gellért Hill, offering sweeping views over the entire city.
Getting to the Citadel is a bit of a stretch as it requires a fifteen to twenty minute uphill walk, however, it’s truly worth it. The Citadel is one of the most popular sunset spots in the city so you will not be alone, but the views will surely make up for the crowds.
Cruise the Danube
The city’s lifeblood and an important trade route, the Danube is Europe’s second-longest river.
Rising in the Black Forest of Germany and snaking its way through Central Europe to the Black Sea, some 2,850km later, the river and Budapest, often called ‘Queen of the Danube’, have a symbiotic relationship.
Take a city highlights evening river cruise to appreciate the might of the river and see Budapest from a different perspective.
Visit a Ruin Bar
The city’s ruin bars are fast becoming a must-do in Budapest. Ruin bars are budget pubs housed inside the huge and dilapidated prewar buildings of the Jewish Quarter of the city.
Szimpla Kert, which opened in 2003, was the first. Despite the crowds you expect in any tourist hot spot, it’s worth stopping in for a drink to see the impressive space for yourself.
On Sunday mornings, the place transforms into a farmers market selling street food and locally produced items such as salami, cheese, and honey.
Where to Eat in Budapest
Just a few minutes from the Basilica is Stand25 Bisztro. This cool and casual bistro specializes in traditional but refined Hungarian food, inside a market hall come food court.
Must-try dishes here include the goulash soup, the layered potatoes, and the somlói galuska, a delicious rum-soaked local dessert.
An award-winning, family-run restaurant, Rosenstein, serves Hungarian and Jewish classics, such as chicken dumplings and pan-seared foie gras with potato croquettes in a Tokaji wine sauce. Casual but stylish and classy, it’s worth a trip to the slightly out-of-town location for some of the best traditional food in Budapest.
Top Five Budapest Travel Tips
- You can purchase a 24-hour Budapest Card for 6,490 HUF which grants you free use of public transportation, free guided walking tours, and free entrance to a few museums (including the ones in Buda Castle). However, unless you want to explore all the museums, it’s not worth buying it if you follow our Budapest one day itinerary.
- Getting around in Budapest is really easy and the city is totally walkable. You will only need a few BKK tickets that can be purchased for 350HUF each(or 450 HUF on the spot), or buy the 24-hour Budapest Travelcard for 1,650HUF which covers all of Budapest’s public transport, including trams, but it does not cover the 100E airport shuttle bus.
- A strange local tradition in Budapest dates from 1848 when the Hungarian revolution was overthrown by the House of Habsburg. To celebrate the victory in Vienna, Austrians everywhere clinked their beer glasses to show their joy. Although 167 years have since passed, Hungarians still never clink their glass, and neither should you!
- Although Hungary is a member of the EU, it has retained its own currency, the forint. Although you can pay with credit cards almost everywhere in Budapest, it’s worth having some cash in your pocket, and euros are widely accepted. Try to avoid using the yellow and bluecolored Euronet ATMs for picking up forints, as they use a poor exchange rate with additional fees.
- If you’re a coffee lover, make sure to explore Budapest’s kávéház, or cafés. Many have been around since the early 16th century after the Turks brought coffee to Hungary, and they know how to make a great brew!
More Than One Day in Budapest?
If you have a bit more time in Budapest, add these top attractions to your itinerary;
Szechenyi Thermal Baths
Known as the ‘City of Baths’, Budapest sits on a fault line, and its thermal baths are naturally fed by 120 hot springs. The Szechenyi Baths are one of the most popular thermal baths in Budapest, offering three outdoor and fifteen indoor pools.
The Szechenyi Baths are also quite famous and get booked up very early, so book your tickets online well in advance.
Heroes Square & City Park
Heroes Square is a beautiful landmark consisting of several statues of important Hungarian national leaders, such as the Seven chieftains of the Magyars, the indigenous people of Hungary.
Right behind Heroes Square, you can find City Park, the biggest park in Budapest, which is home to Vajdahunyad Castle, Széchenyi Thermal Baths, and the Budapest Zoo.
Wander Andrassy Út
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the grand tree-lined boulevard of Andrassy Út connects the Bulgarian State Opera House and City Park and is best explored on foot for a chance to glimpse some of the city’s finest houses.
Danube Bend & Szentendre with Lunch with Cruise
If you take one day trip from Budapest, make it this highly recommended and well-organised day trip from Budapest.
Take an adventure back in time as you tour the Blue Danube and visit historic attractions, from the heart of the Catholic Church at Esztergom, the largest basilica in Hungary and the former royal residence of Visegrád.
With a professional guide to offer insights, this tour is the perfect opportunity to see more of the Hungary in less time!
Written for The Gap Decaders by by Krisztina of She Wanders Abroad