How to see best of Budapest in just one (long) day

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best of budapest hungaryIt’s the ultimate tease to fly all the way to some far-flung country, only to realize you have just 24 hours to spend there. But whether the rush is due to a quick stopover, a planned port of call on a cruise itinerary or simply a lack of time, sometimes there’s no way around it.

Budapest, Hungary is one of those cities you’d never want to budget just a day for, as it seems to leave a mark on everyone who visits. From its rather dark history of constant takeovers to the unification of towns on either side of the Danube River (“Buda” and “Pest”), every street corner, bridge and towering monument seems to have a story to tell. Add to that the impression the cityscape makes on those lucky enough to see it at night, and it’s easy to see why Budapest casts such a spell.

Those who are limited on time to explore Budapest should immediately rejig their plans (or book a trip back, stat), but if there’s no way around it here’s the perfect itinerary to see the best of Budapest in just one day.

Early morning

Start the day with a pre-dawn dip in one of Budapest’s many public baths. The city sits over natural thermal waters which are renowned for their healing properties, and Magyars (as Hungarians call themselves) take great pride in their famous bathing culture.

The iconic Széchenyi Thermal Bath has been one of the country’s most popular spots to soak for over a century, and is home to 18 pools including three massive outdoor pools complete with waterfalls cascading out of marble sculptures.
Széchenyi Thermal BathSzéchenyi opens as early as 6 a.m., which is an incredible time to visit as you can enjoy the quiet of the morning while relaxing in the steaming water and watching the sunrise. Once you manage to pull yourself out, explore the rest of the complex which includes scorching saunas and steam rooms to heat you from the inside, icy plunge pools designed to increase circulation, and numerous spa services including massage therapy.

READ MORE: Greeting the morning at Budapest’s Széchenyi Thermal Bath
Széchenyi Thermal Bath

Mid-morning and lunchtime

The rest of the morning is dedicated to exploring the Pest side of the city, and it’s just a five minute walk from the Széchenyi Bath to the first landmark: Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere). Located in an enviable position between the City Park (Városliget) and two museums, the giant plaza is home to the towering Millennium Memorial which is dedicated to national leaders and those who gave their lives for Hungary.

Heroes Square. Shutterstock

Heroes Square. Shutterstock

Just past Heroes’ Square is the beginning of Andrássy Avenue (Andrássy út) which is nicknamed “The Champs-Élysées of Budapest.” One of the city’s most exclusive spots, the beautiful tree-lined street hosts elegant townhomes, luxury boutiques like Louis Vuitton and Burberry, restaurants and cafes. Andrássy connects the City Park with the city centre, and has been designated a World Heritage Site.

While it’s a bit of a trek to wander the whole route, there are couple of notable spots along the avenue, including the aptly-named House of Terror. Both the Nazi and Soviet regimes held their prisoners for interrogation in the building, and even killed them. Torture techniques were also used such as covering all the windows so captives had no idea what day or time it was. Today it’s a museum dedicated to commemorate those dark periods of Hungarian history.

best of budapest hungary

Outside of the House of Terror

Continuing along Andrássy, you’ll pass the State Opera House and St. Stephens Basilica before turning towards the sprawling Jewish Quarter. Home to one of the largest synagogues in the world (second only to one found in Jerusalem), it also has a museum, temple, cemetery and memorial the commemorate the Hungarian Jews killed in the Holocaust as well as those who tried to save them. Walking tours of the district are very popular, which is a good add-on if time permits.

best of budapest hungary

Jewish Quarter

All that sightseeing means you’ll have worked up an appetite, so hop in a taxi for the 10 minute drive to the New York Cafe in the Boscolo Budapest hotel for lunch. It’s earned the moniker of the “Most Beautiful Coffee House in the World” thanks to its opulent Renaissance-style dining room, and serves up local specialties like goulash and schnitzel.

best of budapest

Felix Lipov/

Once you’ve got your fill, head back toward the river for some shopping along the pedestrian-friendly Váci Utca, which is one of Budapest’s most popular streets. Sure, it can be overrun with tourists, but that’s because it’s chock-full of clothing stores, cafes, souvenir shops and galleries. It connects to Vorosmarty Square, which you’ll want to make a beeline for during the holiday season, as it hosts the city’s best Christmas market.
European Christmas market

European Christmas market

Decorations in Budapest, Hungary

Váci Utca runs parallel to the Danube, and eventually leads straight to the colourful Great Market Hall. Take a moment to admire the intricate patterns that adorn the facade and roof, before heading inside the enjoy the sights and smells of the market.

Grand Market

Grand Market

Spanning two levels, there are hundreds of stalls with local vendors selling everything from spicy sausage and fresh vegetables to handmade jackets, matryoshka dolls and leather goods.
best of budapest hungary


Hopefully you grabbed a snack at the market, because you’ve still got lots of exploring to do! Cross the nearby Freedom Bridge, and you’ll suddenly find yourself on the city’s historic Buda side (which is where those heading off on a cave tour will meet- yes, you can do that here!).

best of budapest hungary

Freedom Bridge

Following the winding river, look up as you pass Gellert Hill and keep your eyes peeled for the Liberty Statue which looks down over the city. A quick drive brings you to the bottom of Castle Hill, where you can either continue up the winding road or hop on the funicular to get to the top. You definitely won’t want to attempt to walk up!
hungary-budapest-buda-castle-2The castle district is home to a number of sprawling, impressive buildings including the National Gallery and Royal Palace, which is essentially Hungary’s version of America’s White House. While they’re worth exploring you’re tight on time, so instead continue over to the pristine, cobblestone area which is home to Buda Castle, towering Matthias Church and the Fishermans Bastion which protects both from the cliffside. This is where you’ll find the best view in the entire city, no contest, and best of all it’s completely free.

best of budapest hungary

Matthias Church

best of budapest hungary

Inside Matthias Church

best of budapest hungary
best of budapest hungaryYou’ll want to budget at least an hour or two to explore the scenic spot, head inside the church, and pop into one of the nearby restaurants or souvenir shops.

best of budapest hungary
best of budapest hungaryOnce you manage to tear yourself away from what is arguably one of Budapest’s best landmarks, close out the afternoon by heading all the way back down the hill and crossing over the Chain Bridge, which is one of the city’s most photographed bridges. You’ll find yourself back on the Pest side, and a five minute walk will bring you to the Parliament Building and a sombre memorial in front: Shoes on the Danube Bank.

Shoes on the Danube

Shoes on the Danube Bank

60 pairs of rusted iron shoes have been affixed to the concrete boardwalk, to pay tribute to the Jews who were rounded up during the Holocaust, brought to that same spot, and ordered to strip naked. They were then shot by a firing squad, falling into the river to be washed away.


You can’t say you’ve seen Budapest until you’ve taken in the enchanting view of the city after dusk, so book a dinner cruise as the spectacular scene is best enjoyed from the water.

As your boat traces the path of the Danube, you’ll slowly glide under seven distinct bridges, affording a close up look at the sculptures adorning the sides of the Chain Bridge. Twinkling strings of lights wrap around each structure, illuminating them for all to see from miles away.
best of budapest hungaryThen finally, it comes into view: the iconic Parliament Building. Stretching 315 feet high with spectacular domes, its entire facade emits a golden glow which perfectly reflects off the dark water of the Danube. It’s safe to say you’ll be spellbound—which is the perfect way to cap off a day of exploring the best of Budapest.
best of budapest hungary IF YOU GO:

Currency: The Hungarian currency is the forint, but euros are commonly accepted as well as major credit cards.

How to get there: Hungary is located in eastern Europe, desirably sandwiched between Austria, Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia. Rent a car, and explore all of them! Budapest is served by the Budapest Ferenc Liszt International Airport (BUD).

Getting around: Budapest’s subway and tram system is very easy to use, and only costs about $1.50 per ticket. Alternatively, book a hop on/hop off tour, which will take you directly to all of the main sites and includes a river cruise.

Don’t miss: It’s a rather well-kept secret, Hungary actually has some incredible wines. Try one of the sweet white wines, crafted in the region of Tokaj.


Greeting the morning at Budapest’s Széchenyi Thermal Bath

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Globe Guide visited Budapest as guest of Viking River Cruises. Click here to learn more!

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10 Responses

  1. Peter Posse says:

    A great survey of the most popular sights in Budapest, but this will need a very very long day. I think at least two days are necessary for that program.

  2. Darrin Halsted says:

    Try an authentic Hungarian dish paired with vintage Hungarian wine. Best enjoyed at one these award winning Budapest restaurants .

  3. Wow, what an action packed day!!

  4. Dorcsa says:

    As a local, I think there are many places to visit in the countryside too

  1. March 8, 2016

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  2. May 31, 2017

    […] candles and figurines. Oh, and SO. MUCH. BRATWURST. In contrast, the fabulous Christmas market in Budapest, Hungary has more handmade wares such as clothing, leather gloves, artwork and fragrant cloves. In France, […]

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