Budapest is one of our all-time favorite destinations. With its famous thermal baths, rustic ruin pubs, great museums, flavorsome Magyar cuisine, fantastic classical architecture, and quaint neighborhoods, there’s a lot to love about this city. While one day in Budapest is not enough to explore everything the city has to offer, you will still have plenty of time to see and experience some of the top things to do in Budapest. For your convenience, this post includes a free map of the top sights in Budapest. And now, off you go 🙂
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Table of Contents
How to Get Around During Your One Day in Budapest
Budapest is a city meant to be explored on foot as every pedestrian will find something of interest literally around each street corner. Walking is the best way to discover Budapest’s picturesque alleyways and appreciate the true charm of its backstreets. Many of the city’s major attractions are within comfortable walking distance of each other.
As you stroll across the city, be sure to look up at the buildings even if you have to stop a minute. There is a wealth of missed treasures above normal views that go unnoticed by many. Take time to seek out the gargoyles and decorative motifs that adorn the multitude of impressive late 19th and early 20th century buildings.
However, to make the most of your 24 hours in Budapest and to get around the city quickly, or to visit a more distant sight, public transport is a great option. Budapest has an efficient and extensive public transport network consisting of trams, buses, trolleybuses, funiculars, and the underground (metro) system. For getting around the inner city, the tram is probably the most pleasant mode of transport.
A day ticket only costs 1650 HUF. You can also buy single or transfer tickets for 350 HUF and 530 HUF respectively. Tickets can be purchased from the automatic machines at the entrance of all metro stations, at some tram or bus stops. Just make sure to validate your ticket at the start of your journey in one of the validation machines. Periodic checks are carried out by plain-clothes ticket inspectors and you’ll incur a hefty fine if you don’t. You can find more information on this public transport guide. You can plan your journey here.
I wouldn’t recommend using taxis unless it’s absolutely necessary. It’s very difficult not to get fleeced unless you speak Hungarian or know the terrain. Taxis can be hailed off the street but to avoid problems it is often better to book from your hotel or by phone. There are several taxi companies operating throughout Budapest. Some of the better ones are Budapest Taxi and Taxi 4.
Cycling is also an alternate option of getting around Budapest. I should warn you though that cycling in Budapest is rather difficult and fairly dangerous. Uneven, cobblestoned surfaces of some roads, a lack of dedicated bike lanes, sunken tram-lines, and poor air quality are some of the major drawbacks. However, if you’re keen on cycling, you can check out Budapest’s MOL Bubi bike-sharing system.
Your One Day in Budapest Itinerary
For this ‘one day in Budapest’ itinerary, I have tried to give you a taste of some of the must-see attractions in the city. It, of course, isn’t possible to explore all of Budapest’s major sights in just one day, and you’ll barely scrape the barrel of what Budapest has to offer. For your convenience, this post includes a free map which highlights the main points of interest in Budapest for one day. You can find the addresses of the attractions by clicking on the icons in the map.
I understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. The earlier you start your day the more time you’ll have to see the attractions. Below I have compiled a list of the best things to see (or eat) in Budapest over the course of one day:
- Széchenyi Thermal Baths
- City Park
- Heroes’ Square
- Andrássy Avenue
- Eat a Traditional Hungarian Lángos
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
- Széchenyi Chain Bridge
- Castle Hill Funicular
- Matthias Church
- Fisherman’s Bastion
- Traditional Hungarian Cakes & Pastries
- Hungarian Parliament Building
- Shoes on the Danube Bank
- Traditional Hungarian Dinner
- Visit a Ruin Bar
1. Széchenyi Thermal Baths
The best way to kick-off your one day in Budapest would be by heading to the famous Széchenyi Baths (Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő). With more than a hundred springs offering an endless supply of hot water at temperatures of up to 76˚°C, Budapest is deservedly known as a spa city, and visiting one of the many baths is a quintessential experience when visiting Budapest and shouldn’t be missed. Along with Reykjavik, Budapest is one of only two capitals in the world to be blessed with thermal springs.
Although the baths of Budapest have a long history, stretching back to Roman times, the thermal baths were popularized by the Turks who started building them in 1565 giving them a place to bathe in case of a siege on the city. Under Islamic law, the precept for washing five times a day before prayers is believed to have spawned a popular bathing culture here. Today, the baths are an important social hub, where people come to sit and chat as they follow the rituals.
The mineral-rich waters are supposedly healthy for degenerative illnesses of the joints, chronic and semi-acute arthritis, poor blood circulation, deformations of the spine, neuralgia, and calcium deficiency. Wallowing in the thermal waters is also rumored to be the best cure for a hangover. Even if you are not in need of the health benefits, time spent in thermal baths will lift your spirits.
Of all the thermal baths in Budapest, the Széchenyi Baths is undoubtedly the most popular one. It is the largest such complex in Europe, the complex has 18 pools (both indoor and outdoor) and provides a full range of thermal water treatments. When the baths were built in 1879, it was considered a technological breakthrough to reach the hot steaming waters almost 1000 meters below the earth’s surface.
The main building of the Széchenyi Baths has a Neo-Baroque facade which is really impressive. Pools of the baths are naturally heated courtesy of hot springs that are found deep underground. Thanks to two thermal springs, which provide water with temperatures up to 38°C (100 °F), the outdoor pools are also open year-round.
I had dreamed of coming to the Széchenyi Baths ever since I first saw them on television and they didn’t disappoint. It was so refreshing to soak up the steaming hot water and bubbling with the currents, whirlpools, and underground jets. We also got to witness the surreal spectacle of people playing chess in steaming water while submerged up to their chests. The fact that it was mighty chilly that day made this experience all the more pleasurable.
The world’s largest geothermal cave system is located underground Budapest. Europe’s largest underground lake also was recently found under Budapest’s Gellért Hill.
Practical Tips for Visiting the Baths
The Széchenyi Baths are open daily from 6:00–22:00 and you can check the prices here. Personally, we’d recommend getting a cabin for your stay rather than a locker. Make sure to specify that when you buy your ticket, as they will most likely give you a locker otherwise. This will give you a little more privacy to get ready for sightseeing after you are done. Cabins can also be shared.
You can rent a towel from the counter after the entrance for 3000 HUF (+2000 HUF deposit). It’s a bit pricey but beats lugging around a wet towel all day. There are also options to rent swimming costumes and slippers. Hairdryers are available by the showers.
Alternatively, you can also relax in the baths in the evening but be aware that it will be more crowded. I strongly recommend getting the skip the line ticket in order to save some valuable time.
2. City Park
After exiting the Széchenyi Baths, take a stroll through the famous City Park (Városliget). This enchanting park was laid out in the English style when it was chosen as the focus of the Millennium Celebrations in 1896, celebrating Hungary’s 1,000th anniversary.
This large expanse of green is home to restaurants, monuments, attractive walking paths, and picnic hideaways and is popular with both locals and tourists alike. One of the favorite spots in City Park is the artificial lake, used for boating in the summer and which morphs into a huge outdoor skating rink in the winter when it freezes over.
The other major attraction in City Park is the Vajdahunyad Castle which looks like it’s straight out of a fairytale. Similar to the park, the castle was designed for the 1896 Millennium Celebrations and was actually made out of cardboard and wood since it was only intended to be a temporary exhibit. However, the castle proved so popular with the locals that they insisted it stay, so it was rebuilt in brick and stone.
The castle’s eye-catching architecture is an eclectic jumble of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles, each representing a different era in the history of Hungary. Smaller parts of the castle have been designed as a replica of other significant structures to be found throughout Hungary and Romania.
Vajdahunyad Castle is one of the best things to see in Budapest and its moat, draw bridge, and soaring front castle walls are absolutely mesmerizing. The only part of the castle open to the public is the intriguing Museum of Agriculture, which includes steam harvesters, ancient cotton gins, wax figurines, and pastoral Hungarian historical scenes.
Directly opposite the castle lies the wildly popular Anonymous Statue, which shows a seated hooded monk. Details are very sketchy about the enigmatic monk who lived in the 12th-13th century and served as a chronicler and notary to King Béla III. The statue presents a great photo opportunity and possesses a certain magnetic quality. Touch the monk’s pen as it’s rumored to make you a better writer. I know I sure did!
The city of Budapest came into being in 1873, making it relatively young in its present form. It is the result of a union of three separate cities: Buda, Pest, and Óbuda. Buda and Óbuda lie on the western bank of the Danube while Pest occupies the eastern side. Each has its own distinct personality. Buda is built on a series of hills and feels more suburban. It is full of narrow winding streets and has a detached, imperial air of settled wealth. Pest, on the other hand, is flat as a pancake and is the buzzing economic and urban center of the city. With a thriving nightlife and a wide variety of tourist attractions, Pest is the most dynamic part of Budapest. Óbuda (literally meaning Old Buda) is mostly residential and is home to well-preserved remains from the Roman period to Baroque bourgeois mansions.
3. Heroes’ Square
Heroes’ Square (Hosök Tere) is one of Budapest’s grandest landmarks and the largest public square in the city. It stands in honor and memory of the great leaders in Hungary’s history. Like so many other notable landmarks in Budapest, the square was planned and built to celebrate the arrival and settling of the Magyars’ in 896. Since its inception, Heroes’ Square has played host to many public demonstrations, concerts, and fairs.
The imposing Millennium Monument dominates the square and is reminiscent of the Nelson Column in London. It comprises a Corinthian column in the center and a semi-circular twin colonnade. The construction of the memorial started in 1896 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Hungary’s existence. It was only completed in 1929 and three years later the area was given the name of Heroes’ Square.
Statues of renowned Hungarian leaders and politicians feature on the colonnade, and the grand central column is crowned by a figure of the Archangel Gabriel. At the base of the pillar, rounding its form, are the fiercely obdurate seven mounted Magyar chieftains, considered to be the founders of the Hungarian nation.
4. Andrássy Avenue
Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy út) is an iconic boulevard in Budapest that connects Erzsébet Square and the City Park. It was built in 1872 to divert the heavy traffic of the parallel Király street. It is Budapest’s equivalent of the Champs-Élysées and features a number of fine cafés, restaurants and luxury boutiques.
Andrássy Avenue is one of Budapest’s chief shopping destinations and features a number of fine cafés, restaurants and luxury boutiques. It is also home to a number of embassies, theaters, Victorian apartment houses, and an array of gorgeous Neo-Renaissance mansions. Many unknown Hungarian artists have graced Budapest with masterpieces adorning front door porticoes and balconies on Andrássy Avenue. It has an air of class about it and we really enjoyed our walk along this 2.5 km artery.
5. Eat a Traditional Hungarian Lángos
Lángos is a deep-fried flatbread that is Hungary’s most beloved snack. It is made from a potato dough which is then deep-fried. The result is a surprisingly heavy, delectably large, flat, round, crispy snack. It is often smeared with garlic-infused oil or butter, sour cream, grated gruyère, and a favorable sprinkling of salt. Other toppings such as mayonnaise or Nutella are also available.
Being a glutton, lángos is easily one of my favorite street foods and is simply amazing! One of the best places in the capital to eat lángos is at Retró Lángos Büfé near the St. Stephen’s Basilica. I strongly suggest getting the classic garlic-sour cream-cheese, you won’t be disappointed.
6. St. Stephen’s Basilica
No day of sightseeing in Budapest would be complete without seeing St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Bazilika). This Neo-Renaissance church is the largest one in Budapest and can hold up to a whopping 8,500 people. The church was built between 1851–1905 and it’s dedicated to St. Stephen, Hungary’s first Christian king. Its 96-meter high dome is visible from all over the city. A bas-relief by representing the Virgin Mary surrounded by Hungarian saints decorates the main pediment of St Stephen’s Basilica.
The number 96 is very important in Hungary. The crowning of Arpád as first king of the Magyars (Hungarians) heralded the creation of the Hungarian state in 896. Budapest’s metro was inaugurated on the country’s millennial anniversary in 1896. By law, buildings in Budapest must not exceed 96 meters, and the Hungarian national anthem should be sung in 96 seconds (if sung at a proper tempo)!
The dimly lit but opulent interior of the church is beautifully adorned with frescoes, stained glass windows and stone covered columns. One of the highlights of the interior is the main altar which features a life-size marble statue of St. Stephen and fine paintings depicting scenes from his life. There are also some brilliant mosaics decorating the central dome.
Lovers of the macabre will enjoy the Holy Right of St. Stephen – the mummified right fist of Stephen I that is kept in an ornate golden box. Every year on St Stephen’s Day (20 August), the Holy Right Hand is carried by the Basilica’s priests past large crowds of people who congregate in front of the basilica to witness the spectacle.
One of the great things about St. Stephen’s Basilica is that you can take the elevator or climb the stairs to the cupola for sweeping views of Budapest.
St. Stephen’s Basilica is open Mon-Fri 9:00-17:00, Sat 9:00-13:00 and Sun 13:00-17:00. The entrance to the church is free, but there is a fee of 600 HUF to go up to the observation deck.
7. Széchenyi Chain Bridge
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd) or simply Chain Bridge is one of the most notable points of interest in Budapest. Inaugurated in 1849, it was the first permanent bridge to span the Danube, connecting Buda and Pest, which were separate cities at the time.
The idea for the bridge was conceived and funded by 19th-century Hungarian reformer, Count István Széchenyi. The story goes that due to inclement weather, he was prevented from crossing the river to be with his dying father. Until the mid-19th century, only pontoon barges spanned the Danube between Buda and Pest. In the winter, the pontoons had to be pulled in, leaving locals to rely on ferries or a frozen river. Ultimately Széchenyi waited 8 days for the storms to subside so he could cross the river, but his father died and he missed the funeral.
The bridge spans a length of 375 meters. Like all of the city’s bridges, the Wehrmacht blew up the Chain Bridge in 1945, in a bid to hamper the progress of the Red Army. The bridge was subsequently rebuilt after the war and opened in 1949.
A pair of imposing stone lions guard the bridge on either side. At first glance, it seems as though the lions don’t have tongues, but a closer inspection will reveal they do. If you can, try seeing the Chain Bridge at night since it looks absolutely amazing when it’s lit up.
8. Castle Hill Funicular
Next, take the Castle Hill Funicular (Budavári Sikló) to get to the top of Castle Hill right up to Buda Palace. The funicular, which dates back to 1870, is the second-oldest funicular in Europe. It climbs a length of 95 meters at an inclination of 48% using two cars.
During World War II, the funicular was destroyed by a shell in 1945. Fortunately, it was restored in the 1980s and reopened in 1986. It’s lovely wooden carriages, which are replicas of the originals, are now lifted by an electric winch rather than a steam engine. They’re step-shaped to provide as many people as possible a panoramic view over the river and Pest. Riding on the century-old funicular is one of the best things to do in Budapest.
The Castle Hill Funicular is open daily from 07:30-22:00. A single ticket costs 1400 HUF while a return ticket costs 2000 HUF.
9. Matthias Church
The splendid Matthias Church is unquestionably one of Budapest’s top 10 sights. Built and rebuilt numerous times over many centuries, it has been the place of coronations and worship. It is said that the first king of Hungary, St. Stephen built a church on this site as an offering to the German settlers in 1015. The current structure dates back to the mid-13th century and its profusion of architectural styles reveals the building’s and the city’s troubled history.
Officially known as The Church of Our Lady (Nagyboldogasszony templom), it has been known as the Matthias Church since the 15th century, in honor of the great Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus who greatly embellished it during his reign and was twice married here. The roofs of many notable buildings in Budapest are decorated with colorful Zsolnay tiles, and the Matthias Church is no exception.
As beautiful as the church is from outside, I was even more overwhelmed by its magnificent interior. As you enter the church colorful patterns, fine frescoes, and alluring stained-glass windows all vie for your attention. Painted leaves and geometric motifs run up the church’s columns, while shafts of light fall through rose windows onto gilded altars and statues with striking effect.
Beneath the south tower, is the Loreto Chapel, containing a red marble statue of the Madonna and Child. According to popular lore, the original statue was set into a wall of the church during the Turkish occupation. After this wall was destroyed in 1686, the Madonna made a miraculous appearance. The Turks took this as an omen of defeat and at dawn the next day they surrendered. Another highlight is the elaborate Tomb of King Béla III and Anne de Châtillon
The Matthias Church is open Mon-Fri 9:00-17:00, Sat 9:00-13:00 and Sun 13:00-17:00. The entrance fee is 1800 HUF.
10. Fisherman’s Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion (Halászbástya) is a viewing terrace in the district of Castle Hill. With its fairytale-like appearance, it looks like something out of a Disney film and is undoubtedly one of the best things to see in Budapest.
The bastion was constructed between 1895 and 1902 and represents a blend of Neo-Gothic and Neo-Romanesque styles. It derives its name from the fishermen’s guild that was responsible for defending this part of the city walls in the Middle Ages. Despite its name, this incredible structure never served the role of a defensive building.
The magnificent seven white stone towers represent the seven Magyar leaders and their tribes that conquered the Carpathian Basin and settled down here in 896, which led to the founding of modern-day Hungary. The view from the Fisherman’s Bastion is indeed breathtaking offering amazing vistas of Budapest, especially of the Danube and the Hungarian Parliament.
The Fisherman’s Bastion is open 24/7 throughout the year except for the upper terraces which are open from 9:00-19:00 or 9:00-20:00, depending on the time of the year. It is free to walk around the ramparts and cloisters. There is a small charge of 1000 HUF to enter the upper-level terraces but it’s not really worth it in my opinion.
11. Try Hungarian Cakes & Pastries
Just like other European nations, Hungary has a wide variety of delectable cakes and pastries. Hungarian pastries are mouth-wateringly good, but the cakes are not as sweet or moist as cakes in other countries. Hungarian pastries are definitely a force to be reckoned with and I strongly suggest not leaving Budapest without trying some.
The diminutive Ruszwurm Confectionery, located near Matthias Church is a great place to sample some of these delights. You can try classics like the Eszterházy cake – a cream cake which consists of thin hazelnut meringue floors and vanilla buttercream or the Dobos cake – a sponge cake layered with chocolate cream and topped with chocolate icing. My favorite is the heavenly Ruszwurm cream cake – a square-shaped pastry filled with delicious cream. Either way, you simply won’t go wrong.
12. Hungarian Parliament Building
The Neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház) is one of Budapest’s most defining landmarks. Hungarian officials wanted to organize a lavish celebration of the nation’s Millennial in 1896 so they constructed the Parliament Building using London’s Westminster Palace as inspiration. The construction of the building took 17 years and it was finally completed in 1902.
It was the largest parliament building in the world at the time, with a length of 268 meters and a width of 118 meters. Presently it’s the third-largest parliament building in the world. One of its defining elements is the 96-meter tall dome.
The building’s facade is decorated with numerous gargoyles, thin-white Gothic pinnacles, and 88 statues of Hungarian rulers. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful and sumptuous parliament building in the world. Admiring the Parliament Building when it’s resplendently lit up at night is further proof of why it is Budapest’s top attraction.
While one day in Budapest may not accord you ample time to take a tour of the building’s stunning interior, you can still admire its elegance from the outside. If however, you manage to make time for a tour of the interior, you won’t be disappointed. The magnificent interior is filled with paintings, frescoes, and tapestries by renowned Hungarian artists. Other highlights include the grandly ornamented staircase, the Domed Hall, and the fabled Hungarian crown jewels of St. Stephen.
The interior of the Hungarian Parliament Building can only be enjoyed on a guided tour. The extent to which the interior is accessible to visitors depends on the Parliament’s activities, but you will at least get to see the Grand Staircase, the Cupola Hall, and the Lords Chamber. I strongly suggest you book your tour in advance as guided tours get sold out quickly.
13. Shoes on the Danube Bank
Take a stroll along the Pest side of the Danube River Bank and you’ll come across, a series of cast iron shoes laid out on the Pest side of the Danube River Bank. This poignant and chilling memorial commemorates the Hungarians Jews who were shot dead by marksmen of the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian far-right fascist organization, at the very same spot during World War II. While the Nazis’ puppet government sent thousands of Jews to concentration camps, it publicly murdered scores of Jews all over Budapest
3500 men, women, and even children were forced to take off their clothes and footwear before being shot at the edge of the river! It was convenient to throw them into the Danube because the river quickly carried the bodies away. During these terrible winter days of 1944-1945, the Danube River was referred to as “the Jewish Cemetery.
The pairs of 1940s-style shoes are arranged haphazardly depicting the commotion and sorrow when they were called upon to be shot. They’re also made in different sizes and styles, to depict how nobody, not even children, was spared the brutality of the Arrow Cross regime. At the time, shoes were a prized commodity and the murderers were quite aware of that, so they would trade the shoes on the black market or wear them themselves.
As you might imagine, Shoes on the Danube Bank is an extremely poignant and moving memorial. Even now, thinking back on my visit as I write this post, I feel a lump in my throat.
14. Traditional Hungarian Dinner
Head to the Gettó Gulyás restaurant to feast on classic dishes such as the famous goulash and chicken paprikash. I love how rich in flavor Hungarian cuisine is with its fusion of Magyar, Balkan, Turkish, and even French influences.
15. Visit a Ruin Bar
Cap off your day of sightseeing by heading to a ruin bar. Now, Jacky and I aren’t the sorts of people who hang out in bars often. But we had heard rave reviews about ruin bars and had to check them out.
Ruin bars are makeshift bars that are located in decaying old buildings, abandoned warehouses, and deserted parking lots. Their interior features mismatched furniture, funky lights, and an assortment of items for decor such as vintage computers dangling from ceilings. The walls are usually covered with doodles and bizarre graffiti. Many ruin pubs offer cheap beer and live music. All of this creates a grungy and unique atmosphere.
Most of Budapest’s ruin bars are situated in Budapest’s trendy 7th district. Szimpla Kert is one of the oldest ones and arguably the best one. Other popular ruin bars are Kuplung, Anker’T, and Instant.
Extending Your Stay
If you have any more time to spare than 24 hours in Budapest, we strongly recommend that you stay for a little longer. It will give you enough time to see some of the city’s amazing architecture and fabulous museums like the House of Terror or the Museum of Fine Arts. Or perhaps you could check out the famous Gellert Baths and the Great Market Hall!
Where to Stay in Budapest
The selection of accommodation in Budapest is vast, and it’s possible to find something to suit all tastes and budgets. The greatest choice of hotels and hostels can be found in Pest where many hotels are literally only a few steps away from most of the major tourist attractions. Even if you decide to stay in Buda or some of the other outer-lying suburbs, try and look for a place with good public transport connections.
Hostel: Wombats CITY Hostel, a great choice right in the heart of downtown.
Budget: Medosz Hotel, solid option just off Andrássy Avenue.
Mid-range: Hotel Zenit Budapest Palace, excellent choice on the Danube riverbank, close to the Chain bridge.
Splurge: Hilton Budapest, a sumptuous choice on Buda next to Fisherman’s Bastion.
Now, what do you think? Is Budapest on your bucket list? Or is there anything else that shouldn’t be missed during one day in Budapest? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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