After a recent trip to Budapest, we have fallen in love with the city. As we only had about a day and half to visit, our time was entirely too short. With careful planning we were still able to get a great feel for the city and enjoy our time. Without a doubt we will be returning! To help you make the most of your time, we created this city guide, First Time Guide to Budapest – When Short on Time. Enjoy!
Budapest is situated on both sides of the Danube and is a fascinating mix of history, cultures, friendly people, architecture, and REALLY good food. It all comes together in an incredibly beautiful, yet gritty combination. You’re going to LOVE it.
While at least 3-4 days is optimal, if you only have 1 or 2 you can still have a great time in Budapest. Below we have provided our recommended itineraries for a 1-day visit or 3-day visit. If you will be in Budapest for only 2 days, follow the 3-day itinerary and choose what works best for you.
Travel tip: When short on time, keep in mind that you will not be able to see everything. Many travelers feel pressure to rush through all the sites and leave a trip feeling stressed and tired instead of relaxed. For more travel tips see our post, 6 Travel Tips for Having a Stress-Free Vacation Abroad
Our Trip to Budapest
We actually flew into Budapest as a part of a Viking River Cruise, Danube Waltz. On that trip we had about 36 hours in Budapest, which was essentially one and a half days – half a day when we arrived, and a full day the next day.
We spent our half day on a self-guided walking tour around the Parliament Building, shoes on the Danube memorial, and the surrounding area – including Vorosmarty Square. After dinner on the ship, we went for an evening walk across the chain bridge and along the Danube. Our fantastic day ended with a glass of Pálinka on the roof top deck with some new friends, while enjoying the sights and sounds of Budapest.
The second day we joined Viking’s Panoramic Budapest tour in the morning, explored the rest of castle hill on our own, then headed on to the Great Market Hall to meet up with our chef from Easy Cooking Budapest. Yes we took a cooking class while we were in Budapest!
That evening we were treated to an awesome surprise. During dinner our ship left its dock to head upriver to a turnaround point then floated down the river to the start of the city so we could see the entire city from the Danube by night. Our ship’s cruise director narrated all of the sights. It was a breathtaking and memorable way to leave the city.
Sights to See, and Things to Do, if You’re Short on Time
Here is a summary of our favorite must-see sights in Budapest. Many of the sights mentioned below, are seen from the outside and will be covered in a tour. Several of the sights can be toured on the inside depending on your available time (Szechenyi and Gellert Baths, Parliament Building, Opera House, and Great Market Hall).
Important sights to see:
- Parliament Building
- Szechenyi Baths or Gellert Baths
- Shoes on the Danube Memorial
- Castle Hill, Fisherman’s Bastion, Mathias church
- Great Market Hall
- Hungarian State Opera House
- City Park and Vajahunyad Castle
- Heroes Square
- House of Terror or the Holocaust Museum
Top experiences so you can find your Budapest vibe:
- Ruin Pub Crawl. See ruinpub.com a local blog in Budapest with great information and Travel Addict’s post, Best Ruin Pubs Budapest Hungary
- Budapest Danube River Evening Cruise, More Info
- Cooking Class with a visit to the Great Market Hall, Easy Cooking Budapest
- Overview tour or bike overview tour, Budapest Bike Breeze
- Opera at the Hungarian State Opera House
Foods to try that will get you hooked on Hungarian cuisine:
- Dobos Torte (Layered Sponge cake layered with chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel)
- Hungarian Coffee
- Chicken Paprikás with Nokedli (nokedli are like tiny pasta, similar to spaetzle)
- Lángos. (Fried bread) usually topped with sour cream, cheese, and garlic
- Pálinka. (Fruit Brandy) A national drink, according to the locals. Fair warning, this is not a sweet brandy and it is strong stuff!
- Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cake) Make sure to get a fresh one!
Recommended Places to Stay:
As with most big cities, being centrally located and convenient to everything comes with a price. Hotel rooms in Budapest are quite reasonable as compared to other cities in Europe, however. Apartment style hotels and rooms are very popular and you’ll see that we’ve recommended a couple. Every hotel we recommend has very good ratings, is conveniently located, and are quiet.
- Hotel Clark Budapest (more information). This one is BRAND NEW and is gorgeous inside with fantastic views of the Danube!
- Aventura Boutique Hostel (see here, this is awesome). This hostel is an awesome price, very hip, and conveniently located, and has 4 private apartments, each one with available. When we return next year we will be booking the Retro apartment.
- 7Seasons Apartments Budapest, (more information here)
- Exe Danube Budapest, (more information)
Recommended Itineraries if You’re Short on Time
Here is our recommended itinerary if you have from 1 to 3 days in Budapest. If you are visiting for 2 days, just pick your favorites from the 3-day itinerary and save the rest for you next trip…I know you’ll want to return! 🙂
Coffee and Pastry
Start with a Hungarian coffee and pastry. Since you’re on vacation, I don’t see anything wrong with having dessert for breakfast do you? 🙂
If you are near the Café Gerbeaud or New York Café go there for the coffee, it’s opulent history, and the traditional Dobos Torte. These are both traditional coffeehouses dating back to the late 1800’s and Dobos Torte is their traditional Hungarian layered cake created for the 1885 Exhibition in Budapest.
If you aren’t near either of these coffeehouses, check out this post from 2foodtrippers for other awesome coffeehouses. You can’t go wrong with any of them! Trust me.
We’ve always found it super helpful to orient ourselves with an overview/highlight tour. You’re in luck! Budapest has some great options!
Combine a self-guided walking tour and hop on tram 2. Tram 2 travels along the Danube, and many other scenic and historical areas of Budapest. You will be near tram 2 on most of the sights we’ve recommended. Check out monkeysandmountains post, Budapest Tram 2: Europe’s Most Scenic Tram Journey
Another great option is a bike tour with Budapest Bike Breeze. Their tour is approximately 4 hours and includes a lunch in the park.
Consider a private tour guide. If you’re short on time a private tour is awesome because you’re essentially traveling one-on-one with a local, they often have a really unique personal perspective.
Cooking Class or Hungarian Bath House
Great Market Hall shopping and a cooking class with Easy Cooking Budapest. Okay, this was our FAVORITE thing we did in Budapest. We met our guide at the Great Market Hall to tour the market and shop for the ingredients to make our meal. Several of the stalls we stopped at let us sample local meats, cheeses, and a few sweets. Yum! Don’t forget to buy some paprika! After shopping you hop in a taxi and head to the kitchen, where you’ll whip up a tasty authentic Hungarian meal. While sipping Hungarian wine, you’ll make everything from the starter, the main dish, a side, and dessert. Double yum!
If you’re not doing a cooking class then we suggest either going to the market on your own, have a look around, then have a meal at one of the vendors on the upper level. After that, take in a must-see sight that you might not have visited on your earlier tour.
Another option would be a visit to the Szechenyi Baths or Gellert Baths. This is definitely a true Hungarian experience. Budapest sits on many thermal springs and taking a dip at one of the many baths is a part of everyday life in the city. Not only are the mineral baths relaxing but they are an awesome way to people watch – locals and tourists alike.
If you have not been able to try a traditional Hungarian meal yet then see Epicurious Passport’s, What and Where to Eat in Budapest for a great meal recommendation. Vorosmarty Square is a great place to sample some awesome street food from the vendors. I highly suggest you try Lángos which is a tasty fried bread with sour cream, melted cheese, and garlic. Oh my.
Cruise the Danube after Dark
An evening cruise on the Danube is a MUST. Legenda Cruises is a highly recommended Danube tour operator. Budapest at night is incredible – there is a reason why they call it the Paris of the East.
Ruin Pub Crawl
Ruin Pubs are super popular bars that have popped up in all kinds of unique places – old buildings, ruins, rooftops, and courtyards. This a huge thing in Budapest. We had every intention of going to a few of these pubs but we found ourselves sipping Pálinka on the deck of our ship watching the sights and listening to the sounds of the city. We enjoyed that moment so much we couldn’t bring ourselves to move. It is the unexpected things that make the greatest memories, right?
2 or 3-day itinerary
- Similar to the 1-day itinerary, do a tour.
- Szechenyi Baths (this will feel great if you did the bike ride earlier!)
- Cruise on the Danube after dark
- Explore Castle Hill, Matthias church, and Fishermen’s Bastion.
- Great Market hall and Easy cooking Budapest (authentic meal – Yay!)
- Evening stroll and people watching
- Ruin Pubs, Opera/Music
- Explore Parliament Building, shoes on the Danube monument, and Vorosmarty Square
- Andrassy Ut
- Tour House of Terror or Holocaust Museum
- New York Café or Cafe Gerbeaud for coffee and Dobos Torta
- Ruin Pubs or Opera/Other Music (choose the one you didn’t do on day 2)
That’s it! Be sure to email me or post a comment if you have any questions! We would LOVE to hear from you!