A Perfect 1-Day Budapest Itinerary & Walking Tour

I’ll level with you; you need at least two days to scratch the surface of Hungary’s capital. But life isn’t always perfect and you can cover a lot of ground if you have only one day in Budapest.

Whether you are visiting Budapest on a Danube cruise or staying overnight, hit the ground running with my 1-day Budapest itinerary and walking tour. It will be a busy 24 hours but you’ll get to see the city’s photogenic Old Town, admire its architecture and visit some of Budapest’s most popular attractions.

bronze statues of st stephen on a horse

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An Overview of Budapest

Budapest was created when Buda and Pest were united with a smaller third city, Óbuda, in 1873.

Buda is on the west bank of the mighty River Danube. This is Budapest’s Old Town, where you will be treated to the best city views.

Pest is the city’s lively 19th-century commercial centre on the river’s east bank. This is home to many of the city’s tourist sights, including the State Parliament building, and its (in)famous ruin bars.  

rover danube in budapest with bridges linking buda and pest

1 Day Budapest Itinerary in a Nutshell

Your day in Budapest starts with a view you won’t forget on the Buda side of the river. It finishes by exploring the city’s dark past at the aptly named House of Terror in Pest. This is how it shapes up:

  • Fishermen’s Bastion
  • Matthias Church
  • Széchenyi Chain Bridge
  • Gresham Palace
  • Shoes on the Danube
  • Hungarian Parliament Building
  • Liberty Square
  • St. Stephen’s Basilica
  • Dohány Street Synagogoe

If you have more time to spare, check out my 2-day Budapest itinerary.

As with any city itinerary, adjust it to your tastes and energy levels.

For example; if you want to linger in the churches and synagogue – or have a leisurely lunch – you could skip the House of Terror and end the day at Dohány Street Synagogue. Another option is to sacrifice one of these stops for a tour of Budapest’s majestic opera house.

If you want to indulge in coffee and cake in a swanky setting, I recommend Gerbeaud Patisserie. Although it is hugely popular, I do not think Budapest’s New York Café is worth it.

people standing at ornate counter of gerbeaud cafe in budapest
Gerbeaud Cafe in Budapest

I’ve also included a few things to do during your evening in Budapest.

Self-Guided Budapest Walking Tour

This itinerary slots nicely into a Budapest walking tour that starts at Fishermen’s Bastion in Buda and finishes at the House of Terror in Pest. It covers a distance of four miles (7 km). Wear your most comfortable shoes.

For a live map with directions, or to save it to your phone, click here or on the image.

a map of the best things to see in one day in budapest as a self-guided walking tour
view of the river danube and parliament building in budapest seen through arch of fishermens bastion

Begin your day in Budapest with a view of Budapest that was made for sharing.

This Disneyesque undulating rampart of stairways, turrets and cloisters was built in the 19th Century. Although fishermen reputedly defended this part of the hill during the Middle Ages, Fishermen’s Bastion is purely decorative.

I recommend visiting as early as possible in your day when you won’t have to bump elbows with so many other visitors and the morning light shines a glorious spotlight on the city below.

Between the Fishermen’s Bastion and Mathias Church, there’s an equestrian statue of King Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian nation.

bronze statue of st stephen on a horse in front of matthias church in budapest
exterior of matthias church in budapest with tall tower and tiled roof

This is my favourite church in Budapest and one of the most beautiful in Europe. Although you can do worse than admire it from the outside, Matthias Church is well worth the entrance fee.

Although parts of this lavishly decorated place of worship are over 800 years old, it is essentially a neo-Gothic confection dating from 1896. It is named after King Matthias Corvinus who married Queen Beatrix here in 1474 (it’s also known as the Coronation Church).

Climb the stairs to the upper level for wonderful views of the church’s main altar and polychromic columns floor. There’s also a treasure trove of ecclesiastical bits and bobs.

sculpture of a lion's head looking out over the floor of matthias church in budapest

Take a look at the Holy Trinity Statue near Matthias Church. This beautifully carved 18th-century column commemorates the people of Buda who died from two outbreaks of the Black Plague in 1691 and 1709.

ornately carved stone plague column with figures of saints

To get to the next stop on your Budapest itinerary you can either walk the Király lépsco (Royal Steps) or take the funicular railway. The funicular railway leaves from close to Sándor Palace and drops you off at the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.

budapests chain bridge across the river danube with large palace in backgriubd

This is Budapest’s most famous River Danube bridge.  After a lengthy closure for restoration – I couldn’t use it on my last visit to Budapest – Széchenyi Chain Bridge has now reopened.

art nouveau lobby of gresham palace in budapest with domed skylight and chairs and sofas

I love Art Nouveau architecture and this Budapest landmark building is a superb example.

The Gresham Palace was built between 1904 and 1906 as a complex of luxury residences, offices and ships and was extensively restored in 1999. It is now a Four Seasons hotel but you can peek at the lobby if you aren’t staying there.

written message, candles and lowers left by sculpture of shoes on the danube in budapest

Turn right after you leave the Gresham Palace and walk along the Danube Promenade.

Shoes on the Danube is a poignant memorial to the Jews who were murdered during Budapest’s Nazi occupation. It comprises sixty pairs of cast-iron shoes, arranged in a line along the riverbank. Many of these Jewish victims were instructed to take off their shoes before being shot.

the facade of the hungarian parliament building on the banks of the river danube

The riverfront Hungarian Parliament Building is Budapest’s most audacious building, mixing Gothic Revival with Renaissance and Baroque flourishes. You can visit the building on one of the 45-minute tours. Book well in advance or try for same-day admission at the Visitor Centre.

Check times and book your ticket via the official website here.

monument with bronze sculptures of an angel and eagle

This pretty square was developed on the site of the barracks where scores of Hungarians were imprisoned and tortured under the Habsburg rulers. Exploring its buildings and monuments to freedom and liberty is one of the best things to do in Budapest if you are a history buff.

facade of st stephens basilica in budapest with central dome and two towers

St Stephen’s Basilica is a glorious 19th-century ensemble of multicoloured marble and gilt that houses the mummified hand of Hungary’s patron saint. The views from the basilica’s panoramic terrace are the best in Pest but the treasury is skippable.

aerial views of the streets of budapest and st stephens church tower
interior of synagogue with gilded and decorated arches and windows with 8-pointed stars

I’ve stepped inside many synagogues but this one is my favourite.

Dohány Street Synagogue, or Budapest Great Synagogue, is Europe’s largest synagogue and was built in 1859 in a Moorish Revival style. After the guided tour included in your ticket, visit the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial on the synagogue’s northern side.

sculpture of a tree in a courtyard
people standing on balcony of opera house in budapest

Your route from Dohány Street Synagogue to the House of Terror takes you past the Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Allami Operahaz). This Renaissance-style structure is one of Budapest’s most beautiful buildings and opened in 1893 with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata.

If you want to see more of the building join one of the 45-minute tours.

a wall of photographs of the victims of oppression mounted on a red wall

I was on the fence about the House of Terror but was glad I visited. Housed in the former headquarters of the ÁVH secret police, this excellent, if chilling, museum is dedicated to the victims of the Fascist and Stalinist regimes of 20th-century Hungary.  

Evening in Budapest

Finish your 24 hours in Budapest with one (or two) of these activities.

people bathing in gellert baths in budapest
Gellért Baths

Bathing in one of the city’s thermal pools is a quintessentially Budapest thing. Széchenyi Baths and Gellért Baths are the two city pools most popular with visitors and are usually open until 7 pm or 8 pm.

I visited the Art Nouveau Gellért Baths on my first visit to Budapest and it was an unforgettable experience.

the hungarian parliament building in budapest illuminated at night

Watch the city’s skyline light up and you sip a glass of fizz on this one-hour Danube cruise. An audioguide is also included

>>> FIND OUT MORE & BOOK HERE

group of people sitting around a table during wine tasting

I had a fabulous evening wine tasting in Budapest, run by the excellent Taste Hungary. We were served eight generous pours of wine (three red, three white, one sparkling and a delicious Tokaji dessert wine) which were paired with local produce

>>> FIND OUT MORE & BOOK HERE

Hit Budapest’s Ruin Bars

bottles of wine and beer on a shelf below a sign saying wine bar

Budapest’s (in)famous Ruin Bars sprung up within the courtyards of vacant pre-war buildings of the city’s Jewish Quarter. Although I’m more of a cheese-and-wine girl, pub crawls around these bars are hugely popular.

>>> FIND OUT MORE & BOOK HERE

How to Get Around

yellow metro train at a platform in budapest hungary

Although Budapest has an efficient network of buses, metro trains and trams, you shouldn’t need them to visit the places in this one-day itinerary. The only time I used the metro system was to get to and from Budapest’s Keleti train station.

Get the lowdown on public transport in Budapest here.

Where to Stay

Whether you want to stay in Buda or Pest, there are lots of hotels and apartments from which to choose.

If you want to be in the thick of things, pick the Pest side. I prefer Buda as it is quieter but most of the city’s attractions are on the opposite side of the river.

Here are my top choices:

Park Plaza Hotel

I would stay at this Radisson hotel again solely for the unforgettable view of the river and Parliament Building from my bedroom window. As well as its superb location, the room was spacious and the staff were super friendly.

bar area of park plaza hotel in budapest with curved sofa with cushions and tables and chairs
hotel bedroom with 2 single beds 2 chairs and a small table and red carpet

>>> CHECK ROOM RATES & AVAILABILITY HERE

TG Hotel Suites Budapest

This large and stylish apartment is a stone’s throw from St. Stephen’s Basilica, on the doorstep of several restaurants and cafes. As a solo traveller, the building was very secure.

room in hotel with bed, large floor rug, sofa and small table with 2 chairs

>>> CHECK ROOM RATES & AVAILABILITY HERE

My Final Tips for Spending One Day in Budapest

Firstly, pick a handful of attractions and stick with them. You are only in Budapest for a day and can’t do it all. I have been there twice, each time for three or four nights, and there is still much more I would like to see.

Secondly, this is not the time for faffing. If you have your heart set on experiences like Hungarian wine tasting, taking a Danube cruise or doing a ruin bar crawl, book them before leaving home.

I visited Budapest as part of an Interrail trip through Central and Eastern Europe. If you have found this guide useful and need help with planning where to go next, take a look at my other guides:

AUSTRIA: Walk in the footsteps of Mozart in Salzburg and plan a Christmas vacation in Vienna. See the highlights of Feldkirch, one of Austria’s hidden gems, and spend a day in Liechtenstein, visiting Vaduz.

CZECHIA (CZECH REPUBLIC): Take your pick of these Brno itineraries or discover what to do in Brno a day. If wine tasting is your thing, tour the vineyards of South Moravia.

SLOVAKIA: Find out why you should visit Bratislava and bag the best 1-day Bratislava itinerary. Explore Košice, Slovakia’s second city, and take a day trip to Bardejov, a UNESCO gem.

Happy travels!

bridget coleman the flashpacker 2

About Bridget

Bridget Coleman has been a passionate traveller for more than 30 years. She has visited 70+ countries, most as a solo traveller.

Articles on this site reflect her first-hand experiences.

To get in touch, email her at hello@theflashpacker.net or follow her on social media.

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