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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you’re a more outdoorsy person and looking for better views outside of the cities, read up on the best hiking trails near Budapest.
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.
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.
If you don’t want to pay for this, you can also read about nearly 20 other free and cheap things to do in Budapest.
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.
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.
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.
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 and if you have some extra time, be sure to check out this three days in Budapest guide.
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.