How To Spend 48 Hours In Budapest

If you only have 48 hours to spend in Budapest, then these are the top things you must do to get the most out of this beautiful city.

I had such a wonderful time in Budapest this past weekend so I’m really excited to share with you the best things to do if you only have 48 hours. As you know, I’m a big fan of day trips or weekend trips. Whether it’s how to spend an afternoon in London, just a short weekend in Marseille, a day in Dublin and or even spending a long weekend in Dubai, I think short trips and lots of them are a great way to see the world and add a bit of adventure into your life but without quitting your job.

Budapest is a beautiful city and if you find yourself there during the Christmas season you’ll have even more to do. To go along with this post, I’ve created a useful interactive map, should you wish to visually see the places I’m going to talk about or just quickly refer to it later.

Before we delve into the things to do in this beautiful city, let’s have a short history lesson. I know, snore, but history is fun! It makes everything you see have more meaning. Budapest is the capital of Hungary situated on the river Danube. Much like Hamburg or Berlin, Budapest is both a city and a county, spanning nearly 3,000 square miles. Budapest became a unified city in 1873, combining Buda (formerly the Kingdom of Hungary) on the western side of the river and Pest and Óbuda on the eastern side. Ok, short history lesson over!

My favorite parts of Budapest are the views, so let’s start with the two best places to get stunning panorama views of the city.

Best Views In Budapest

There are two great places to get amazing views, so first we’ll talk about Citadella. This is located in the southern part of the Buda side and it’s a fortress that was built after the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. Be warned that the walk to the top of the Citadella is no easy feat, but there are plenty of places to stop off and enjoy the views if you want to take a break, or only go halfway up. However, this is the tallest point of Budapest, so if you are able it’s certainly not a sight to miss.

Budapest view from Citadella

Once you get near the top, you’ll start to have views of Buda Castle and St. Stephen’s Basilica, although you won’t quite be able to see the Parliament Building since it will just be around the bend of the river.

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At the very top of the Citadella, you’ll find the Liberation Monument, which was built in 1947 and commemorates everyone who lost their lives in the battle for Hungarian independence. This is similar to another memorial we’ll talk about later on in this post.

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Once you reach the top you can wander about the Citadella for free and have a look at some of the weapons the Red Army used in WWII, as well as do some souvenior shopping or grab a snack. If the walk to top has left you parched, don’t worry, there’s a bathroom up there too.

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Luckily, you can go down the hill the other side than where you came up so you can get different views and also not end up having to backtrack. When going down the opposite side you’ll get some lovely views of Buda Castle and it’s best to walk along the river down that direction to take you to best view number two.

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citadella

While walking along the river to Buda Castle, you’ll come across many museums and shops and cafes, so this would be a great time to reset if you plan on exerting more energy going straight up to the castle. Alternatively, you can take the funicular, which costs HUF 1,100 (about US$3.70) one way or HUF 1,700 return (US$5.80).

The castle is home to the National Gallery the Budapest History Museum, both which cost money, but to wander around the castle grounds is totally free. If it’s a nice day, this can almost be a better way to spend your time, unless you enjoy museums. Personally, I’m not a huge fan so I prefer to admire the architecture and views of cities than sit inside.

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary view of Parliament Building

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary view of St. Stephen's Basilica

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary

Buda Castle, Budapest, Hungary

Explore Budapest Squares, Markets And Churches

Once you’ve had your fill of the castle, you can make your way down and head across Chain Bridge – the first bridge to ever connect Buda and Pest, which was opened in 1849. This is the bridge you can see in one of the above photos with St. Stephen’s Basilica in the background.

Not only is the walk across Chain Bridge beautiful (and windy, make sure to hold onto your hats!), but it also leads you directly to St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is another focus point for the city.

Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary

Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary Parliament Building

Going up the road to St. Stephen’s Basilica gives you an impressive first look at this stunning building, currently the third largest church in Hungary. It was named after the first king of Hungary, King Stephen (735-1038). It was completed in 1905 and although you can go inside and get a tour of it, it will cost HUF 1,600, which is approximately US$5.

St. Stephen's Basilica Budapest, Hungary

St. Stephen's Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

If you have the good fortune to be in Budapest during the Christmas season, then you’ll really luck out with Christmas markets. Although there are Christmas markets dotted around the whole city, there are two that take the cake for beauty and excitement.

The one at St. Stephen’s Basilica has a gorgeous tree and light display as well as an ice rink and all the mulled wine and food you could eat. These markets are also great for little trinkets and handcrafted items, which make for great additions to your home or gifts for others.

St. Stephen's Basilica Christmas Market Budapest, Hungary

The other main Christmas market in Budapest is the Christmas Fair and Winter Festival at Vörösmarty Square. This market has more food than you could ever dream of, including mouth-watering goulashes in bread bowls and something called a Kürtőskalács, which is going to be the best pastry you will ever taste. 

This market has insanely impressive lights strewn between the buildings and lots of wooden hut stalls that will sell you everything from handblown glass clocks to handmade porcelain dish soaps and butter dishes, all at affordable prices.

christmas-market Budapest, Hungary

christmas-lights Budapest, Hungary

If you’re not in Budapest for Christmas, no worries, these are still excellent areas to explore and if it’s the summer there are some really nice parks to lounge in with some traditional Hungarian snacks that can be bought from one of the many food carts around the square.

From Vörösmarty Square, you can get the M1 (one of the metro lines) directly to Heroes’ Square, a beautiful and more secluded part of the city. In Hungarian, this station is called Hősök tere.

Heroes' Square Budapest, Hungary

This square’s main focus is the Millennium Memorial (the above photo), commemorating all those who lost their lives for Hungarian independence. It was built in 1896, a significant year because it marked the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin, as well as the foundation for the Hungarian state. It depicts the Seven Chieftains of the Magyars, the seven ethnic Hungarian tribes, as well as other important characters like the members of the royal Hungarian family. It is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a tradition that many countries now have to commemorate all those who lost their lives but were never properly identified.

Across the street from the square is the Embassy of Serbia, formerly the Embassy of Yugoslavia, where Imre Nagy, a communist Hungarian politician, secured sanction in 1956. Two years later he was executed on treason charges and in 1989, 250,000 people gathered at Heroes’ Square for his reburial.

On one side of the square you’ll find the Museum of Fine Arts and the Palace of Art on the other. Behind it is a massive park that from the looks of photos looks nice, but I’ll be honest it was so cold all I could really think about was going inside so needless to say, I never saw it.

Other Notable Sites

If you have more time in your 48 hours to experience additional things in Budapest, you should take a trip to the Central Market Hall (marked on the map at the top of this post). This building was built in 1897 and still retains many of its original features. You can buy cheeses, meats and seafood and in the upstairs levels you can shop for clothing, jewelry and other small trinkets, all handmade.

A relaxing way to end the day is in one of Budapest’s many thermal baths and spas. I went to Szechenyi Bath the first time I ever went to Budapest and I can highly recommend it.

At the bottom of the hill with the Citadell, you’ll find the Gallért Hill Cave, an impressive church carved straight into the rock of the hill. This gets great reviews and I would have loved to go, but unfortunately it was closed when I was there.

For more amazing sights, be sure to check out this list by Pretty Wild World.

Getting In And Getting Around Budapest

Transport is pretty cheap in Budapest, which is great since it’s the best way to get around. If you’re coming from the airport, you can get the 200E bus and that will take you to the start of the M3 metro line. This line is very well connected for the city and you can easily change to other metro lines and trams.

If you want to buy a 24 hour pass it’s great value at only HUF1,600, about US$5.65. A single journey ticket is only HUF350, which is only a little over US$1, but one thing to keep in mind is you are only allowed free transfers within the metro. If you want to change to a tram or a bus from metro or something similar you’ll have to buy a separate transfer ticket for HUF530. So really you’re better off just buying multiple singles.

If you’re looking for a different side to Budapest, be sure to check out Susanna’s hipster guide to this awesome city.

Budapest is a beautiful city with so much to offer and so many things to see, but it’s still perfectly doable if you’ve only got 48 hours.

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  • What a beautiful city! Love these photos. There is so much history and beautiful things to see that I feel like I’d need more time, but you did an awesome job rounding it up in 2 days!

    • Thank you, Linh! It’s always hard to pick out the highlights in a city for just two days, but I think it’s totally doable and lets you do more and see more cities!

  • Stephanie Parrell

    wow! This is a great comprehensive guide to Budapest. I think I may have to visit someday. Europe during Christmas in general is a dream of mine. So incredible!

    • I hope you do, Stephanie! I love Europe at Christmas, all of the markets feel so magical.

  • Candy Kage

    I would love to spend 48 hours in Budapest. I’ll just have to settle for looking at your great photos.

    • I’m glad you liked them, Candy! If you ever get to Europe you’ll have to make sure to make a stop here!

  • Love your post. I live here, in Budapest (on Buda side) and I really enjoyed how and what to write about my capital. Thanks!

    • I’m so glad you liked it!! It’s so great to get approval from locals 🙂 It’s such a stunning city, I’m very jealous!

  • Ooooh, the Christmas markets! We lived in Europe for a couple years, and the thing I miss most (especially this time of year) are the markets! And goulash in a bread bowl? I bet it’s heavenly there!

    • Oh absolutely, Jessica, the Christmas markets are the best! And the goulash in a bread bowl was one of the most mouth watering things I’d ever seen haha. Unfortunately I’d just eaten a giant sausage and didn’t have the room for a whole other meal hahaha.

  • Jessica

    My grandmother was originally from Budapest. I have always wanted to go and learn more about where she was from. This sounds like it was an amazing trip!
    xo Jessica
    http://www.whatsfordinneresq.com

    • That would be so awesome! I hope you do go someday and learn more about it. I love learning about where our grandparents came from, especially when its somewhere totally foreign to us. I think it really opens up your eyes and makes the world truly feel smaller.

  • Marissa Pedersen

    Wow you did a lot on your trip there! I’m adding that to my list.

    • Thanks, Marissa! I hope you do, it’s a great city to explore.

  • JamieSplendry

    I spent a few hours in a Budapest back in college and have always wanted to go back! Great tips and suggestions for when I do!

    • I’m glad you liked it, Jamie! I first went to Budapest in college too nearly five years ago and I loved it then and loved it even more the second time around!

  • Love this post! I visited Budapest this time last year and can say it’s one of my favorite places!

    • It’s amazing, isn’t it? I also went years ago and really liked it, but it was great to go back and remember how awesome it is.

  • Budapest is one of my favorite European cities! Was sad I didn’t get longer there but man some amazing views!

    • Yes, the views are incredible, Shane! Views are some of my favorite things so I love when a city has tons of options for that, especially when they’re free!

  • This looks amazing! I didn’t make it to Budapest on my last trip to Europe, but now it’s definitely on my to-visit list!

    • I’m so glad it is, Meg! It’s always hard when you come to Europe because there are so many beautiful places it’s impossible to see them all!

  • I already wanted to go to Budapest, but this post makes me want to go even more. I loved all the pictures you shared… and the history lesson! 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Crystal! I’m glad you enjoyed my brief history lesson, I never want to bore you all to death lol!

  • Budapest has always been in my list of places to travel to. You certainly got a lot done. Thanks for sharing this – bookmarked it just in case 🙂

    • I’m glad you liked it, Vincent! Hope it helps if you ever go!

  • Stephanay Jnote

    I would enjoy meeting and getting to know Budapest. Sounds amazing.

  • Budapest has been on my list for a while. But 2016 was the first year we really tried to travel as much as possible throughout Europe now that we are based in Amsterdam. I totally agree on the weekend and day trips. You quickly find out if you love a place and can always go back for more later if you want to!

  • I have heard such wonderful things about Budapest and it’s high up on my travel list… it looks like I should try to get their AT Christmas though! Wow!

    Xxox
    Laura @ http://www.cookwineandthinker.com