In this part of our “One Day” series, we’re looking how to spend one day in Budapest, Hungary. Budapest is one of our all-time favorite destinations. With its famous thermal baths, rustic ruin pubs, great museums, 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 Budapest
Some of the attractions we’ve marked in for one day in Budapest are within comfortable walking distance. To get to some you should use public transport as it will save you time. Budapest has an efficient and extensive public transport network. You can get more information on this public transport guide. Taxis in Budapest are cheaper than in Western Europe but it’s best to avoid them unless it’s absolutely necessary due to the chronic occurrence of scams.
You should know that Buda lies on the western bank of the Danube river while Pest is on the eastern side. Buda is hilly, green, more suburban and is full of narrow winding streets. Pest, on the other hand, is flat as a pancake and is the urban center of the city with grand boulevards.
Your One Day Itinerary for Budapest
For this one day Budapest itinerary we have tried to get you a taste of the best of Budapest. We recommend that you start your day early so you can actually enjoy the thermal baths, get cleaned up, and go sightseeing.
We understand that everyone travels at a different pace so feel free to choose the destinations according to your own pace. This itinerary is also meant to be walked, but you may certainly use public transport should you need it. On your one day in Budapest you will see (or eat):
- Szechenyi Thermal Baths
- Heroes Square
- Andrassy Avenue
- Try a Traditional Hungarian Langos
- St. Stephen’s Basilica
- Szechenyi Chain Bridge
- Fisherman’s Bastion
- Matthias Church
- Traditional Hungarian Cakes & Pastries
- Hungarian Parliament Building
- Shoes on the Danube Bank
- Traditional Hungarian Dinner
- Budapest’s famous Ruin Pubs
1. Széchenyi Baths (Széchenyi fürdő)
Kick off your day by heading to the famous Széchenyi Baths. Along with Reykjavik, Budapest is one of only two capitals in the world to be blessed with thermal springs. Budapest is well known for its numerous medicinal bath complexes and Széchenyi is the largest and most famous one. In fact, 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. The main building of the Széchenyi Baths has a neo-Baroque facade which is really impressive.
The pools of the Széchenyi 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. It was so refreshing to soak up the steaming hot water because it was mighty chilly that day.
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 2000 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. Hair dryers are available by the showers.
Alternatively, you can also relax at the baths in the evening, but be aware that it will be more crowded.
2. Heroes Square (Hősök tere)
At the end of Andrássy Avenue lies Heroes Square, one of Budapest’s grandest landmarks and the largest public square in the city. Heroes’ Square stands in honor and memory of the great leaders in Hungary’s history.
The imposing Millennium Memorial dominates the square. It comprises of a Corinthian column in the center and a semicircular twin colonnade with statues of Hungary’s kings and leaders between its pillars. Statues of the seven Magyar chieftains considered to be the founders of the Hungarian nation lie at the base of the column. The construction of the memorial started in 1896 to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Hungary’s existence.
3. Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy ut)
Andrássy Avenue 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 was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
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 and an array of gorgeous Neo-Renaissance mansions. We really enjoyed our walk along this 2.5 km artery.
4. Eat a Traditional 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 recommend getting the classic garlic-sour cream-cheese, you won’t be disappointed.
5. St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent István Bazilika)
St. Stephen’s Basilica is a Neo-Renaissance church and the largest one in Budapest. The interior of the church is beautifully adorned with frescoes, stained glass windows and stone covered columns. 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. You can take the elevator or climb the stairs to the cupola for amazing 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. Entrance to the church is free, but there is a fee of 600 HUF to go up to the observation deck.
6. Széchenyi Chain Bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd)
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge or simply Chain Bridge is one of the most prominent landmarks in Budapest. Opened in 1849 it was the first permanent bridge to span the Danube, connecting Buda and Pest, which were separate cities at the time. Badly destroyed by the Germans in World War II, the Chain Bridge was rebuilt in its original form and reopened in 1949. The bridge spans a length of 375 meters. A pair of imposing stone lions guard the bridge on either side. The bridge looks absolutely amazing at night when it’s lit up.
7. Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya)
Fisherman’s Bastion is a viewing terrace in the district of Castle Hill. With its fairytale-like appearance, it looks like something out of a Disney film. 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.
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.
8. Matthias Church (Matyas templom)
Situated just adjacent to the Fisherman’s Bastion is the splendid Matthias Church, one of Budapest’s most important churches. Many Hungarian kings were coronated here and the church is home to significant tombs and ecclesiastical treasures. The current structure dates back to the 12th century and it took on a neo-Gothic form in the 14th century.
Originally known as The Church of Our Lady (Nagyboldogasszony templom), it has been known as the Matthias Church since the 15th century, in honor of King Matthias who greatly embellished it during his reign. As beautiful as the church is from outside, I was equally impressed with the inside with glorious colorful patterns, frescoes, motifs, and the magnificent stained glass windows.
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.
9. Try Hungarian Cakes & Pastries
Just like other European nations, Hungary has a wide variety of delectable cakes and pastries. You definitely shouldn’t leave Budapest without trying some. Ruszwurm Confectionary, located near Matthias Church is a great place to sample some of these delights. You can try classics like the Eszterházy cake, Dobos cake, Chimney cake or their house specialty, the amazing cream pastry. Either way, you simply won’t go wrong.
10. Hungarian Parliament Building (Országház)
The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of Budapest’s most defining landmarks. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful and sumptuous parliament building in the world.
The Parliament Building lies on the banks of the Danube river on the Pest side. This imposing Neo-Gothic building was completed in 1902 and was the largest parliament building in the world at the time, with a length of 268 meters and a width of 118 meters. It looks resplendent when lit up at night. The parliament building is best viewed from the Buda side of the Danube.
11. Shoes on the Danube Bank
Take a stroll along the Pest side of the Danube river bank from the Chain Bridge in the direction of the Parliament building and you’ll come across 60 pairs of iron sculpted shoes. This chilling memorial is a somber reminder of the horrible tragedy that took place during World War II. 3500 people, 800 of them Jews, were killed by members of the Arrow Cross, a Hungarian Pro-Nazi organization, along the river bank. They were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot to death.
12. Traditional Hungarian Dinner.
Head to the Gettó Gulyás restaurant to feast on classic dishes such as the famous goulash and chicken paprikash. It is reasonably priced and the food quality is excellent.
13. 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, an assortment of items for decor. 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
Naturally, a big city like Budapest deserves more than 24 hours. If you decide to extend your stay by one or two days, it will give you enough time to see some of the city’s fabulous museums, like the House of Terror. Or perhaps you could check out the famous Gellert Baths and the Great Market Hall! If you decide to stay, check out our recommendations for the best accommodation in Budapest:
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, sumptuous choice on Buda next to Fisherman’s Bastion.
Now, what do you think? How would you spend one day in Budapest? Is Budapest on your bucket list? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!