Two Days in Budapest: An Itinerary You’ll Want to Steal

With its medley of Ottoman and Habsburg influences, Budapest is one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. From strolling through its photogenic Old Town to gazing at Gresham Palace’s Art Nouveau grandeur to visiting Europe’s most magnificent synagogue, there’s something for every traveller

So what are the best things to do in two days in Budapest? As a two-time visitor, this is where I can help.

Make the most of your weekend in Hungary’s capital with my tried and tested 2 day Budapest itinerary.

stone sculpture of a pensive angel seen during two days in budapest

Some articles on this website contain affiliate links. This means that I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase through these links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Read the full disclosure here.


Getting to Know Budapest

The grey-green River Danube splits Budapest into two.

Buda, on the river’s west bank, is its Old Town with gaslight cobblestone streets and a hilltop palace. To the east, Pest is the city’s vibrant 19th-century commercial centre with the landmark Parliament Building and wide boulevards.

Buda and Pest were united with a smaller third city, Óbuda, in 1873 to form Budapest.

How I Spent Two Days in Budapest

Much like the city itself, my 2-day Budapest itinerary is split into two halves. I spent the first day on the old Buda side; on the second day, I explored Pest.

  • DAY 1 – Castle Hill, Matthias Church, Fishermen’s Bastion, Gellért Hill, Gellért Baths, Hungarian wine tasting
  • DAY 2  – Gresham Palace, Shoes of the Danube, Hungarian Parliament Building, Liberty Square, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Dohány Street Synagogue, Hungarian State Opera House, House of Terror, Danube cruise

If you want to indulge in coffee and cake in an opulent setting, make tracks for Gerbeaud Patisserie. Although it is hugely popular, I do not recommend Budapest’s New York Café, which is staggeringly overpriced.

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

Budapest Itinerary Day 1: Buda

Much of your first day in Budapest is spent exploring the city’s biggest draw, Castle Hill (Várhegy) in Buda. I love the pastel-coloured medieval palaces you find here and the iconic views of Pest across the river.

After lunch, walk to the Citadel on Gellért Hill for some of the best views in town before relaxing at the Gellért Baths. As night falls, learn more about Hungarian wine by joining a wine tasting.

If you find it helpful to map it out, here’s one I created. Think of it as a free walking tour of Buda, covering a distance of three miles (5 km).

For a live map with directions, click here or on the image.

map of the best things to see in budapest on the buda side of the river
A Self-guided Walking Tour of Buda. Map data @ Google 2024
budapests chain bridge across the river danube with large palace in backgriubd

Built between 1839 and 1849, Széchenyi Chain Bridge is the most famous of Budapest’s Danube bridges. After a lengthy closure for restoration – I couldn’t use it on my most recent weekend in Budapest – it has reopened.

a funicular train in budapest with the river and chain bridge in background

Although you can walk to Castle Hill up the Király lépsco (Royal Steps), the funicular railway is a less lung-busting way to get there. This sets off from Clark Ádám tér next to the Széchnyi Chain Bridge.

Prepare to wait (I queued for 30 minutes). Its one small car makes the ascent every 5 – 10 minutes.

group of marching soldiers in uniform wearing sunglasses

I confess I came across this ceremony by chance, but so glad I did. The rifle-twiddling and choreographed movements were so theatrical and I loved that the soldiers wore identical Aviator sunglasses.

The Changing of the Guards takes place every hour on the hour. A drummer sentry accompanies the noon ceremony.

exterior of matthias church in budapest with tall tower and tiled roof

This lavishly decorated place of worship is well worth the entrance fee. In my opinion, it’s one of Europe’s finest churches.

Although parts of Matthias Church are over 800 years old – notably its exterior carvings – this is essentially a neo-Gothic confection dating from 1896. It is named after King Matthias Corvinus who got hitched to Queen Beatrix here in 1474.

The richness of this church’s interior was almost overwhelming. Polychromic columns are adorned with painted leaves and geometric motifs. Shafts of light through its rose windows shine spotlights on its gilded altars and stone sculptures.

window in a church depicting a lamb
Lamb of God window

Take the stairs to the upper level for wonderful views of the church floor and a treasure trove of ecclesiastical knick-knacks.

sculpture of a lion's head overlooking a gilded altar in a church
ornately carved stone plague column with figures of saints

You’ll find the Holy Trinity Statue in the middle of Trinity Square near Matthias Church. Dating from the early 18th Century,  this beautifully carved column commemorates the people of Buda who died from two outbreaks of the Black Plague in 1691 and 1709.

view of the river danube and parliament building in budapest seen through arch of fishermens bastion

Welcome to Budapest’s Tourist Central. Sharpen your elbows.

Looking like it has been lifted from a Walt Disney movie, this undulating white 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.

Although you can pay to access the upper level, the views from the free lower level are just as good.

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

statues of st stephen on a horse in front of the matthias church in budapest

I love random discoveries like this gallery, which I popped into out of sheer curiosity.

Established in 1953, Koller Galleria is Hungary’s oldest private art gallery and welcomes visitors to its exquisite outdoor sculpture gallery. I had the space to myself with not a selfie stick in sight.

modern bronze sculpture of a woman sheltering under an umbrella
modern bronze sculpture of a person kissing the cheek of another person

This cosy café is an oasis away from the busy surrounding area. The coffee and service were both excellent.

It’s located at Táncsics Mihály u. 12 near the Museum of Music History.

panoramic view of the river danube and budapest from gellert hill

It’s a good 30-minute hike from the Walzer Café to the Citadel on Gellért Hill. But once you take in the view of Budapest, your aching muscles will forgive you.

If you don’t fancy the walk, hop on a local bus (but it’s a lovely stroll).

interior of gellert baths in budapest with carved columns and domed roof

Buapest’s bathing tradition goes back to the Romans and visiting one of the city’s thermal baths is an unmissable experience. The magnificent Art Nouveau Gellért baths have tiles, mosaics and a columned Roman-style thermal pool with spouts in the shape of lions’ heads.

glass of white wine next to some charcuterie

Do you think that Hungary doesn’t produce good wines? Think again.

I had a fabulous evening at this wine tasting. We were treated to eight generous pours (three red, three white, one sparkling and a delicious Tokaji dessert wine) accompanied by charcuterie and cheeses.

>>> CHECK PRICE AND AVAILABILITY HERE

Budapest Itinerary Day 2: Pest

Your second day in Budapest is spent exploring the Pest side of the city, including St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest Great Synagogue and the chilling House of Terror. In the evening, see the city from another viewpoint by joining a boat ride along the Danube.

Here’s a map of the route if you need it, which covers a distance of  3.5 miles (6 km). For a live map with directions, click here or on the image.

map of the what to see in budapest on the pest side of the river
Self-guided walking Tour of Pest. Map data @ Google 2024.
art nouveau lobby of gresham palace in budapest with domed skylight and chairs and sofas

I’m a sucker for Art Nouveau and this landmark building, which is now part of the Four Seasons hotel chain, is a superb example of this architectural style.

The Gresham Palace was originally built between 1904 and 1996 as a complex of luxury residences, offices and ships and was extensively restored in 1999. You can peek inside the lobby even if you aren’t staying there.

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

Turn right after exiting the Gresham Palace to walk along the Danube Promenade.

Shoes on the Danube is a powerful memorial to the Jews murdered during the Nazi occupation of Budapest. Sixty pairs of cast-iron shoes are arranged in a line along the banks of the Danube River. Many of these Jewish victims met their fate at the river and 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 monumental Hungarian Parliament Building has taken the Gothic Revival style used by Pugin for London’s Palace of Westminster and embellished it with Renaissance and Baroque flourishes. It’s Budapest’s most audacious building.

You will need to be more organised than me if you want to look inside the building. The only way to see it is on a 45-minute tour which sells out well in advance. If you are lucky they may have tickets for same-day admission at the Visitor Centre but don’t bet your house on it.

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

rectangular memorial in a park flanked by stately buildings

This scenic square near the Hungarian Parliament Building 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 interested in Hungarian history.

monument with bronze sculptures of an angel and eagle
facade of st stephens basilica in budapest with central dome and two towers

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

gorgeous domed ceiling in st stephens basilica in budapest in hungary
views of the streets of budapest from the terrace of st stephens church
sculpture with hebrew writing in front of the great synagogue in budapest

Visiting Budapest’s stunning Dohány Street Synagogue is unmissable. I’ve stepped inside a few synagogues over the years, but this is my favourite.

Built in 1859 in a Moorish Revival style, it is Europe’s largest synagogue. Your ticket includes a fascinating guided tour.

moorish interior of budapest great synagogue with painted dome and ceiling

Take time to visit the Holocaust Tree of Life Memorial on the synagogue’s northern side.

metal plates with names of victims of the holocaust as part of memorial at budapest great synagogue

Budapest’s Jewish Quarter is one of the most interesting corners of the city and a good place to stop for lunch.

Its once-neglected streets and buildings have been spruced up and are now home to shops, cafés, restaurants and bars. This includes Budapest’s famous Ruin Bars which sprung up within the courtyards of vacant pre-war buildings.

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

If you are spending the weekend in Budapest, stop by the Gozsdu Market, which peddles antiques, art and jewellery in a historic courtyard.

people standing on balcony of opera house in budapest

The Hungarian State Opera House (Magyar Allami Operahaz) first opened in January 1893, with a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. Modelled on Vienna’s Opera House, this Renaissance-style structure is one of Budapest’s most beautiful buildings. Sculptures of muses and opera greats such as Puccini and Verdi adorn its facade whilst its dazzling interior is awash with marble columns, gilded vaulted ceilings and chandeliers.

If you want to see more of the building join one of the 45-minute tours. Better still, buy a ticket for a performance. It will cost you far less than opera houses in Vienna or London.

ornate interior of the opera house in budapest hungary with gilded ceiling and chandelier
sombre grey exterior of budapest house of terror

Housed in the former headquarters of the dreaded ÁVH secret police, the House of Terror is dedicated to the victims of the Fascist and Stalinist regimes that operated in Hungary in the 20th Century. I found some aspects of this excellent museum truly chilling, especially the cellar with the hangman’s noose.

a wall of photographs of the victims of oppression in hungary

Although an optional audioguide is available for an additional cost, I don’t think this is necessary. There is English information in each room and on the archive videos.

the hungarian parliament building on the banks of the river danube illuminated at night

A one-hour cruise along the Danube is the perfect finale to your two days in Budapest.

Make this extra special by booking this affordable cruise which includes a free glass of fizz. Try to time your boat ride as the sun sets to watch the city’s skyline light up. An audioguide is also included.

>> FIND OUT MORE HERE

When to Visit Budapest

For the most comfortable temperatures visit Budapest in spring or autumn. My last visit was in April when daytime temperatures were in the mid-60s.

The summer months in Budapest can be scorching and busy. Winters can be bitterly cold.

Getting Around

yellow metro train pulling into a platform in budapest

Although Budapest has a network of buses, metro trains and trams, you shouldn’t need them to visit the places in this itinerary. I only used the metro system to get to and from Budapest’s Keleti train station.

You can find out more about public transport in Budapest here.

Where I Stayed in Budapest

If you want to stay in the thick of things, choose a hotel on the Pest side. Buda tends to be quieter at night.

Having stayed in both sides of the city, I would opt for Buda for a future stay as it is more tranquil and you benefit from wonderful views across the river.

Here is where I stayed on my last visit:

Park Plaza Hotel

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

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

>>> CHECK PRICE AND AVAILABILITY HERE

TG Hotel Suites Budapest

room in hotel with bed, sofa and small table with 2 chairs
bathroom of hotel room with large shower toilet and white basin

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.

>>> CHECK PRICE AND AVAILABILITY HERE


And That’s a Wrap!

I hope this article helps you plan your perfect two days in Budapest. Reports of the city’s beauty are not exaggerated.

I visited Budapest as a solo traveller on 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 discover why Vienna is a fabulous Christmas destination. Explore Feldkirch, one of Austria’s hidden gems, using it as a base to visit Vaduz in lovely Liechtenstein.

CZECHIA (CZECH REPUBLIC): Discover the best things to do in Brno. If wine tasting is your thing, do this self-guided wine tour in South Moravia.

SLOVAKIA: Find out why you should visit Bratislava and the best things to do in Bratislava. Explore Košice, Slovakia’s second city, and visit 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *