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 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. 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. The waters are supposedly healthy for degenerative illnesses of the joints, chronic and semi-acute arthritis, deformations of the spine,neuralgia, and calcium deficiency. Wallowing in the thermal waters is also rumored to be the best cure for a hangover.
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. The fact that it was mighty chilly that day made this experience all the more pleasurable.
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 and is reminiscent of the Nelson Column in London. It comprises of 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.
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, 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. It has an air of class about it and 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. This imposing church was built between 1851–1905 and it’s dedicated to St. Stephen, the first Hungarian Christian king. It’s 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 opulent 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. 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. A great thing 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. 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. The idea for the bridge was conceived and funded by 19th-century Hungarian reformer, Count István Széchenyi. Story goes that due to inclement weather, he was prevented to cross the river to be with his dying father. Ultimately he waited 8 days for the storms to subside so he could cross the river, but his father died and he missed the funeral.
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. At first glance, it seems as though the lions don’t have tongues, but a closer inspection will reveal they do. The Chain Bridge looks absolutely resplendent 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. The conical towers are an allusion to the tribal tents of the early Magyars. 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.
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. 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 the glorious colorful patterns, frescoes, and the magnificent stained-glass windows of the interior. 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.
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 Neo-Gothic Hungarian Parliament Building 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 Parliament Building lies on the banks of the Danube river on the Pest side. It looks resplendent when lit up at night. In my opinion, it is the most beautiful and sumptuous parliament building in the world. While one day in Budapest doesn’t accord you ample time to take of tour of the building’s stunning interior, you can still admire its elegance from the outside. 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. Before being massacred, they were made to remove their coats and shoes, which were tagged for use by German civilians.
12. 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.
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, 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
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!