17 fun things to do in Budapest (2 days itinerary)

Spending 2 days in Budapest and wondering what to see? It’s totally possible to experience the best things to do in Budapest in a few days. 

Budapest Hungary is an interesting city. And it’s been on my radar for what seems like an eternity. This summer during my Interrail trip through Europe, I finally made it there and it was hands-down worth the wait.

So, what’s so special about Budapest, you ask?

Well, first of all, coming from Vienna I couldn’t help but notice how alike these two capitals are. Vienna is super classy, whereas Budapest is a bit more vintage… or rough around the edges shall we say; things are more old and retro and it’s definitely cheaper!

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What to do in Budapest in 2 days

Budapest is really two cities: Buda and Pest. They were only joined in 1873, though still separated by the Danube River.

They each have different vibes and fun activities, so it makes sense to spend one day in each part of town.

Budapest, Hungary
Things to do in Budapest

Day 1: Buda Side

If Buda and Pest were twins, Buda would be the classy one. Hilly Buda is full of elegant architecture such as Gellért Bath, Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, and Matthias Church (and my favorite restaurant in Budapest: “Pest-Buda Bistro”).

The area is calm and serene, and you can see everything in less than a day, although I ended up going here every day. Other things to see on the Buda side include:

  • Buda’s caves (Szemlgőhegyi and Pálvölgyi)
  • Wolf Meadow cemetery
  • Park area

1. Fisherman’s Bastion

I stayed at the Pest side, where there’s a little more action, but the first thing on my Budapest agenda was to visit the famous Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side. 

Fisherman’s Bastion (aka The Halászbástya in Hungarian) is a terrace in neo-Gothic and neo-Romanesque style situated on Castle Hill.

If you’ve seen photos of Budapest, you’ve probably come across this image once or twice ↓

Budapest, Hungary

Fisherman’s Bastion was built in the late 1800s to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the founding of Hungary.

Aside from its impressive seven towers, it also has the best views of Budapest. You can see the Danube River, the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, and the very impressive Hungarian Parliament Building from here.

Miriam’s tip

If you’re a sunrise and sunset lover like me, you’ll want to be at the Fisherman’s Bastion in the morning for the sunrise. You get the best sunset view from the Chain Bridge on the opposite side.

See? I wasn’t kidding about the view ↓

Budapest, Hungary
View of the Hungarian Parliament Building

2. Matthias Church

The colourful Matthias church is conveniently located right next to Fisherman’s Bastion so getting lost was not an issue for me this time around.

The church is over 700 years old and the vibrant ceramic roof is made of tiles from the renowned Zsolnay factory of Hungary. It’s super impressive and detailed!

Budapest, Hungary

3. Buda Castle

A few minutes walk from the Fisherman’s Bastion is the Buda Castle. I didn’t go inside; I’m not even sure it’s allowed now that I think of it.

I know for a fact that some sections of the castle are open, but I think the Royal Palace is closed off.

Budapest, Hungary

4. Gellert Thermal Bath

After visiting the castle district, I picked up my swimsuit and headed to one of the famous Budapest baths.

The choice between Gellért Bath and Széchenyi Bath (the most famous) wasn’t easy, but I ended up going to Gellért because of its famous Art Nouveau entrance hall and architecture.

Many of Budapest’s thermal baths lie on the Buda side, and while the baths in Buda tend to be more upscale and luxurious, those in Pest are more popular.

Thermal baths on the Buda side:

  • Gellért Bath (5100 HUF / $17 for entrance)
  • Rudas Bath (3200 HUF / $11 for entrance)
  • Kiraly Medicinal Bath (2700 HUF / $9 for entrance)
Budapest, Hungary

5. A river cruise on the Danube

The Danube is Europe’s second-longest river and its banks in Budapest are a part of Unesco World Heritage sites. A very popular way to explore the city and watch the top sights is by taking a river cruise.

These river cruises let you glide past landmark monuments such as Buda Castle, the Parliament, and the Vigado Concert Hall with free WIFI and a drink in hand from $10.

You can choose between several cruises. Some run during the day, others at night, and each has its advantage.

Budapest, Hungary
I took this photo from Buda Castle
Budapest, Hungary
View from the Chain Bridge

6. The Széchenyi Chain Bridge

Buda and Pest are separated by the mighty Danube River, and no less than eight bridges link the two city parts.

The most well-known of these bridges is the Széchenyi Chain Bridge – high-five if you can pronounce that correctly!

I got a really good view of Budapest from the bridge, including the Castle district and the Hungarian Parliament.

Budapest, Hungary
Two incredible stone lions guard the bridge at both sides

7. Enjoy the food in Budapest

Staying on the subject, I was quite taken by the food scene in Budapest. I mean, wow.

And before you say anything… yes, it is a Greek dish you’re looking at, but bear with me for a second here. Budapest is a foodie town and it packs a punch when it comes to International food (including Greek) and Hungarian food.

If you like paprika, sausage, and goulash, you will like the local cuisine!

Read next: What to eat in Budapest

Hungarian food, Budapest

Day 2: Pest Side

Pest, Buda’s flat but hip twin, has a thriving nightlife, business and culture scene, and a whole lot of sights.

The most important is the Hungarian Parliament Building, but it also hosts tons of churches, vibrant restaurants, thermal baths, and other interesting landmarks, including:

  • Thermal baths (Széchenyi Baths and Dagály Baths)
  • Central Market Hall (You can also do a food tour here)
  • Vajdahunyad Castle
  • The House of Terror

8. Shoes on the Danube

On a more serious note, I was faced with a very moving memorial while walking along the Danube promenade.

The shoes on the Danube banks tell the horrific war story of the many Jews who, during 1944-1945, were forced to strip naked on the banks of the Danube and face the river.

A firing squad then shot the prisoners at close range in the back so that they fell into the river to be washed away.

The shoes are a fitting tribute to all those who lost their lives, but also a sad reminder of a very dark time.

Budapest, Hungary

9. Hungarian Parliament

Right next to the Shoes on the Danube is the magnificent Hungarian Parliament, the third largest parliament building in the world. And grand it is.

The Neo-Gothic building is open to visitors for a 45-50 minute tour at specific times every day, but only when the assembly is not in session. You can buy a ticket at the entrance.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary
View from Buda Castle

10. New York Café

The New York Café prides itself on being the most beautiful café in the world. I live in the land of cafes and I must say that I tend to agree.

This café is extremely popular and very grandeur. It’s located inside the Boscolo Budapest Hotel and basically looks like the place a Queen would sip her afternoon tea.

So yeah, the New York Café is not exaggerating when it calls itself beautiful.

Budapest, Hungary

11. Alexandra Café (a super secret)

However… I found a similar version and a much less crowded alternative to the New York Café.

It’s actually a library, but behind the books is this Art Nouveau palace room with a fresco-style ceiling, chandeliers, and a black-suited pianist. It’s called Alexandra Café.

I preferred Alexandra Café over New York because it’s smaller, more low-key, and much less popular. It seemed like a local spot, a hidden gem among all the touristy sights.

And they have great pastries. Need I say more?

Budapest, Hungary

12. State Opera House

I just made a pit stop at the State Opera, which offers tours once or twice a day.

It’s very up-scale and beautiful inside so I kind of wish I hadn’t been 1 hour late for the last tour.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

13. Stay at a fancy hotel

What I did manage though was finding a classy and luxurious boutique hotel to spend the night.

Budapest has quite a few luxury hotels, and I was fortunate to get a room at the majestic Aria Hotel Budapest, which is conveniently located right next to St. Stephens’ Basilica (aka it was super central).

Seriously, this is one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed at.

Read next: Where to stay in Budapest

Budapest, Hungary
Lobby at the Four Seasons
Budapest, Hungary
The music inspired Aria Hotel

14. St. Stephens Basilica

My awesome location had me close to all the good restaurants and only 10 10-minute walk from the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and the Hungarian Parliament.

My neighbor was St. Stephens Basilica (also known as Szent István-basilica), a Roman Catholic church and also the largest church in Budapest.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary
The Neo-classical church was finished in 1905
Budapest, Hungary
View from Aria Hotel

15. The Jewish Quarter

While walking to the train station I suddenly found myself in the Jewish quarter.

It was a walled ghetto during World War II, but today it’s home to a vibrant Jewish culture including the grand Dohány Street Synagogue.

Aside from a hefty entrance fee and a veeeery slow cashier lady (it took us almost 30 minutes to get through an annoyingly small line), I was impressed by the synagogue once I got past the metal detector and inside.

I learned that the Grand Synagogue is the largest in Europe and the second largest in the world. The area around it is interesting as well, so in the end, I was glad to visit and learn the history.

If you don’t feel like waiting, you can skip the line and head straight to security by getting a ticket here. It includes a guided tour of the synagogue.

Budapest, Hungary

16. The funky Ruin Bars

In walking distance of the Dohány Street Synagogue, I found the most popular of Budapest’s ruin bars: Szimpla Kert.

These so-called ruin bars are abandoned spaces turned into clubs by locals with second-hand furniture and lots of creativity.

It’s a world apart from the extravagant New York Café or Fisherman’s Bastion, but that’s exactly what I like about Budapest. It’s so versatile and vibrant, and there’s something for any taste.

Budapest, Hungary
Szimpla Kert
Budapest, Hungary-33

17. Photograph Budapest at night

Budapest might just be one of the most popular places for night photography. If only I had known this before deciding not to bring my tripod – gaaarrh!

Whether you’re a photographer or not, Budapest really lights up at night and it’s particularly stunning at the Danube where you have the best view of the landmarks.

At the end of the day, I only have praise for Budapest.

I really, really like this city! It’s the perfect combo of cheap and luxe, the food is awesome and there’s lots of history and beautiful things to do in Budapest. I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely going back.

Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, Hungary

How to get around Budapest

I mostly took busses or the tram around town, but occasionally I took the metro just for the fun of it. It’s really, really old. Not like in bad shape or anything, but it’s just so retro.

Another more convenient and easy way to explore the main sights in Budapest is a hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus.

It won’t take you to the offpath places like the Alexandra cafe, but it’ll stop nearby. You can choose between a 24, 48, or 72-hour pass depending on how long you’re in town.

And the bonus? You get a free drink at a ruin bar.

Book here: Budapest: Hop-On Hop-Off Tour

Budapest, Hungary

FAQ – Things to do in Budapest in 2 days

Is 2 days enough for Budapest?

Two days in Budapest give you just enough time to hit the highlights. You can check out the Buda Castle, walk across the Chain Bridge, and see the Parliament Building.

Make sure to squeeze in a visit to a thermal bath.

Is 3 days in Budapest too long?

Not at all! Three days in Budapest is perfect for a more relaxed pace.

This gives you enough time to explore the main sights, enjoy the thermal baths, and even discover some off-the-beaten-path spots.

What are the do’s and don’ts in Budapest?

Do’s in Budapest:

  1. Try the local cuisine, including dishes like goulash and chimney cake.
  2. Visit the thermal baths for a relaxing experience.
  3. Use public transport, which is efficient and covers the city well.
  4. Respect local customs and greetings, like saying “köszönöm” (thank you).

Don’ts in Budapest:

  1. Don’t exchange money at the airport or tourist spots due to high fees. Look for reputable exchange offices.
  2. Avoid being loud and disrespectful, especially in quiet neighborhoods.
  3. Don’t skip buying a ticket for public transport to avoid fines.

Where to stay in Budapest for two days?

The Aria Hotel in Budapest is amazing!

Right next to St. Stephen’s Basilica, I could just walk to so many cool spots. The rooms have this awesome music theme, and the views from the rooftop? Unbelievable.

What you shouldn’t miss in Budapest?

You definitely shouldn’t miss soaking in the Széchenyi Thermal Bath – it’s a classic Budapest experience.

Walking across the Chain Bridge for those stunning views of the Danube is a must-do. Don’t skip the chance to explore the historic Buda Castle; it’s like stepping back in time.

What is Budapest best known for?

Budapest is famous for its beautiful buildings like the Parliament, those amazing thermal baths everyone talks about, and the Chain Bridge that lights up so nicely at night.

What do tourists typically do when they visit Budapest?

When tourists hit Budapest, they usually check out the Parliament Building because it’s just stunning, especially from across the river at night.

They also make sure to relax in one of those famous thermal baths, like Széchenyi or Gellért.

Walking across the Chain Bridge is pretty standard too, for those epic views.

Before you go – read more from Budapest

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Budapest, Hungary is the perfect combination of budget and luxury travel, the food is awesome and there’s lots of history and beautiful things to do in the Hungarian capital. Get a list of all the best things to do in Budapest here.

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  1. Hi Miriam:

    Just a quick note to let you know how much I enjoyed your blog about Budapest today. Your photographs are beautiful. I was fortunate to have visited Budapest on a river cruise a few years back, but from your blog entry, it looks like I missed a lot of good stuff! Now I must go back again. I love Budapest because it’s so unique.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that, Suzanne. Thank you! I didn’t get to do the river cruise this time around, but I’ve heard it’s amazing. There’s definitely lots more to see for a second visit!

    1. Thank you, Leigh! If you’re ever around these parts, I recommend going to Budapest. It’s so cheap compared to the rest of Europe, not to mention beautiful.

  2. I was just in Vienna and it got me SUPER curious about Budapest. Before I got to Austria, I had taken forgrated the Austro-Hungarian history. I pinned this for when I make it to Hungary.


  3. Loved this post, really gave some good insight into Budapest! What camera did you use to take these photos?

  4. I’m going next month and can’t wait to use this post! Also, what was that ruin bar called that you posted about?

    1. So glad to hear that, Chloe! I’m not sure of the name, but it’s located in the Jewish quarter – it’s easy to find 🙂

      1. Szimpla Kert is the name of the ruin pub featured above – it’s also converted to a farmer’s market on Sunday mornings.

  5. I spent five days in Budapest before we left for Vienna. I loved it. Great food and lovely places and loads to see. And cheap!! Thanks for the pics. It brought back lots of good memories of our trip in September.

  6. I’ve been to Budapest but I absolutely want to go back. My girlfriend and I rented an apartment across the alley from the opera house. It was a very positive experience and a great introduction to world travel. The people were happy and the city was very beautiful and vibrating with energy. It’s also very affordable. We’ll definitely use some of your tips on our next visit. Cheers.

    1. Glad to hear you had a great trip. I was really smitten with Budapest too and had an amazing experience there. It definitely deserves a revisit.

  7. I found your blog when researching a visit in a couple of weeks.
    I just wanted to say thanks for so many tips.
    My wife and I can’t wait to follow in your footsteps

  8. Hi, I don’t usually comment on blogs but I just wanted to say that I stumbled upon this post and was swept away, your photos are fantastic! This has helped me so so much with my Budapest itinerary. Thanks, Alex x

  9. Wow, I will write down Alexandra Cafe for my next week’s visit! I would take the less crowded places at any point in time, the place still looking amazing from your picture.

  10. I am heading to Budapest this weekend! A spur of the moment decision and was looking for some tips when i came across your blog post. I have to tell you that this was all i needed, comprehensive information all in one place. thanks for that and the wonderful pictures that help me decide the must-sees or the can-skips .

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