2 Days in Budapest: The Perfect Budapest Itinerary for First-Time Visitors

The perfect 2 days in Budapest itinerary for first-time visitors to Hungary. Includes the best things to do in Budapest and the best Budapest restaurants.

This 2 days in Budapest itinerary is perfect for first-time visitors to Hungary. It includes the best things to do in Budapest, how to get around, and recommended Budapest restaurants.

This guest post comes courtesy of Darah and Garrett, the food-obsessed travellers from Where Food Takes Us who believe in sharing budget-friendly travel tips and seeking out the road less travelled.

Budapest has a special place in our hearts (the food is incredible!) and this charming European capital has been one of the most unique cities of our travels.

Its architecture, the beautiful Danube, the fact that every corner you turn inspires the wanderer within… Your 2 days in Budapest will have you wishing your stay was longer!

Whether you’re on the search for some of the best views in Budapest or want to scour each side of the river for that famous Hungarian goulash, we’ve got you covered in this two day itinerary.

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Budapest cheat sheet

Where to stay in Budapest: Essential Hostel (budget); Lanchid 19 Design Hotel (mid-range); Hotel Rum (boutique).

How to get from Budapest airport to city: Pre-book a private transfer to your hotel (from $50 per car) or reserve a seat on the airport shuttle bus (from $11 per person).

Budapest car hire: Exploring more of Hungary? Use Discover Cars to find the best price on a rental car.

5 essentials to pack for Budapest: A Universal travel adapter; swimming costume and a dry bag (for storing your gear after visiting the thermal baths); Wine Wings (essential if you want to take a few bottles of Hungarian wine home with you); a travel raincoat for wet weather; a copy of the latest Lonely Planet Pocket Guide to Budapest.

Top rated Budapest city tours & experiences

When is the best time to visit Budapest?

We highly recommend shoulder season travel for just about everywhere; however, we experienced Budapest in the dead of winter and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way!

The snow fell, heavy at times, and we got to warm ourselves with some Hungarian goulash: The perfect remedy for a frigid day. If you need more convincing on braving Budapest in the cold, then check out our reasons to visit Budapest in winter.

What to expect from this Budapest itinerary

Since Budapest is split by the Danube into two cities, Buda and Pest, we think a day exploring each side is the perfect plan. We’ve written a detailed guide to each side of the river, allowing you to hit the highlights, taste the flavours, and make some great memories.

We’re huge fans of free walking tours. Budapest has one of the best free tours in Europe, and we think it’s a fantastic way to start your two days in town. However, our itinerary does not include the tour, which can last around two hours.

That said, it’s still possible to fit it in your itinerary, especially on day one. In addition to a general walking tour, they offer Jewish and communism-themed tours as well.

Day 1: Buda and a beautiful view of Pest

A colourful church surrounded by white arches and a large square.
Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion.

Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion

Matthias Church is one of the most-photographed spots in Budapest. It’s also one of the best attractions to start your day. If you’re an early riser, then head to the church to get a great view at sunrise. There will be fewer tourists around!

The price of entry to St. Matthias Church is 1600 HUF/adult, which may seem steep considering that other churches in Budapest are free or much cheaper. However, you’re in for a special treat, so we think it’s more than worth the price.

The interior is insanely detailed so be sure to take your time to appreciate it. You’ll find a small museum inside, which is included in the entry price, as well as a special exhibit.

Just outside of the church is one of the best views in Budapest. Fisherman’s Bastion, as well as the statue of St. Stephen, serve as a scenic playground around St. Matthias. From here, you can catch a full panorama of the Danube River, parliament and the other side of the city, Pest.

After you’ve had your fill of the area, follow the river to Buda Castle.

Hungarian National Gallery

If you’re a fan of art, then the Hungarian National Gallery needs to be on your 2 days in Budapest itinerary. Housed in Buda Castle, it was established in 1957 and holds Hungarian art from Medieval, Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque periods, as well as wooden altars from the 15th century. The altars are especially cool!

The museum is open from 10am to 6pm every day except Monday, and tickets cost 3,200 HUF. If you want to see the panoramic views from the dome, it will cost you another 1,000 HUF.

This gallery is huge! Museums can really exhaust travellers, so we recommend picking out a floor or two or some specific objects and casually browsing. Otherwise, you won’t have any energy left for the rest of the day.

Lunch at Horváth Étterem

Horváth Étterem is a 15-minute walk from the Hungarian National Gallery and is the perfect place to recharge and refresh before heading to the Hospital in the Rock. Their large menu includes various chicken, beef, pork, fish, and a few vegetarian dishes. 

Dishes range in price from 1,000 to 5,000 HUF, so it won’t break the bank!

The perfect 2 days in Budapest itinerary for first-time visitors to Hungary. Includes the best things to do in Budapest and the best Budapest restaurants.
Hospital in the Rock. Photo: Where Food Takes Us.

Hospital in the Rock

Miles of caverns lie underneath Buda Castle. In the late 1930s, they were transformed into an emergency hospital and bunker to serve the public during World War II. Going on the guided tour of the hospital will give you insight as to what it was like in Budapest during the war, especially during the siege of Budapest from 1944 to 1945. Over the years, the hospital sat unused until the uprising in 1956 against Soviet rule.

Temperatures can be pretty chilly within the hospital, so be sure to bring a jacket. They do offer capes for loan. Due to the nature of the exhibition, they don’t allow children under 6 and don’t recommend children under the age of 12 to visit.

Tours are 4,000 HUF per adult and last around 60 minutes. They start every hour on the hour between 10am and 7pm. 

View of Budapest from above, with a grand bridge and river.
View of Pest.

View of Parliament

The largest building in Hungary and built in the Gothic revival style, the Parliament in Budapest is one of the most eye-catching sights in this part of Europe.

Make your way to the banks of the Danube River on the Buda side and walk along until Országház, the Parliament of Hungary, comes into view.

If time permits, you can tour the building for 3,500 HUF. It’s open between 8am and 6pm from April 1st to October 31st and from 8am to 4pm the rest of the year.

Langos, fried dough topped with sour cream, cheese and onions.
Hungarian langos.

Dinner at Drum Cafe

One of our favorite restaurants in Budapest, Drum Cafe is the perfect place to try traditional food and wind down after a day of exploring. You can sample anything from goulash to langos (fried dough with sour cream, cheese, or other toppings), best paired with a refreshing beer or some local wine.

This restaurant exudes a cosy vibe and you’ll feel right at home.

Prices at Drum Cafe are very affordable, so try and sample as much as you can! It can get busy for dinner, so you may want to make a reservation ahead of time.

Day 2: Exploring Pest and a night out

The interior of a busy market hall with a steel roof.
Central Market Hall.

Central Market Hall

Begin your second day with a real Budapest market experience at the Central Market Hall. This hall is a foodies’ dream: Fresh produce, meats, cheeses, milk and seafood (in the basement) are all on display. Make your way to one of the many restaurants or bakeries to grab a bite for breakfast. There is some shopping to be had as well. It’s not a bad spot for lunch, either!

Central Market Hall is pretty well-known so if the crowds are too much, you have a great alternative. Rákóczi tér Market is a less touristy, smaller market, but you’ll find great eats here as well. Plus there’s a tap wine refill station. Bring a bottle in and they’ll fill it with award winning wine!

Dohány Street Synagogue

Also known as the Great Synagogue, the Dohany Street Synagogue is one of the more iconic sights on the Pest side of the Danube. Consecrated in 1859 and built in the Moorish revival style, this Synagogue has a long and important history. Learn about its unusual architecture and the struggles of the Jewish people during World War II on a guided tour, which is included in the ticket price.

Also included in the 5,000 HUF price is entrance to the Hungarian Jewish Museum, which houses religious relics and offers access to the cemetery and Tree of Life Holocaust memorial.

A beautiful domed church viewed from the end of a busy street in Budapest, Hungary.
Saint Stephen’s Basilica.

Saint Stephen’s Basilica

This impressive basilica sits at the head of a picturesque square. If you time your visit around Christmas or New Year, you’ll find a Christmas market and mini ice rink for kids. Entry is just 200 HUF and the interior is magnificent.

In addition to the art and flawless detail, you can also view the mummified right hand of St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary. For 200 HUF, you can light up his hand for a more ‘heavenly’ show. We gave it a try and didn’t think much of it. It’s up to you! If you’re patient, you can wait around to see if someone else lights the hand up first.

You can also take an elevator for 600 HUF to the top of the church for a 360-degree view of Budapest from the centre of town. It’s a great spot for sunset!

Lunch at Istanbul Kebab & Grill Török Étterem

The area around St. Stephen’s is teaming with great places to eat. If you’re looking for something cheap, delicious and quick, then look no further than one of the many kebab shops that seem to be on every corner. We promise it will be one of the best kebabs of your life.

Istanbul Kebab & Grill Török Étterem has many dishes to choose from and you can sit inside, outside or take your food to go. Friendly staff, tasty food and affordable prices make this restaurant a winner in our books.

House of Terror

We’ve been to more than 15 countries in Europe and the House of Terror remains one of our favourite museums on the continent. It’s a must-visit during your 2 days in Budapest. A trip to the House of Terror will introduce you to the dark and tumultuous history that defines the city today.

The exhibits are simply incredible, the information easy to follow (there are handouts in English), and it all serves as a memorial to the victims who suffered during the two terrible regimes in the last century.

Tickets are 3,000 HUF, and the museum is open from 10am until 6pm every day except Mondays. After your visit, be sure and stroll Andrássy Avenue and enjoy the scenery. This street is a UNESCO heritage site, after all. Here, you’ll find the Opera House as well as Heroes’ Square.

The perfect 2 days in Budapest itinerary for first-time visitors to Hungary. Includes the best things to do in Budapest and the best Budapest restaurants.
Heroes’ Square. Photo: © Michal Collection via CanvaPro.

Heroes’ Square and Városliget

This historic spot, located at the end of Andrássy Avenue, was built to commemorate the 1,000-year anniversary of Hungary in 1896. Since Hungary’s leadership has changed hands several times, the statues have changed as well.

Walk past Heroes’ Square and you’ll find Városliget, the city park. This gorgeous green space contains Vajdahunyad castle, a massive ice rink (another great reason to visit in winter!) and Széchenyi Thermal Bath.

Even if you’re on a time crunch and a walk through the park is all you can manage, you need to do it! It’s one of the prettiest spots in Budapest.

A yellow facades surrounded by steaming hot pools.
Széchenyi Thermal Bath.

Széchenyi Thermal Bath

As we just mentioned, you can find Széchenyi Thermal Bath within Városliget. Széchenyi is one of the most touristy (and most expensive) thermal baths in Budapest. But we’ve listed it because it’s also one of the most convenient. Skip the queue by purchasing your pass online. A cabin or locker comes included, but if you want to hire towels, you’ll need to pay for those separately.

If a thermal bath sounds like a great idea (it totally should), then look into the plethora of thermal spas scattered around the city. OffBeatBudapest has a great list of thermal baths as well as tips on what to know before you go. For instance, going on a weekday is highly recommended, and you’ll need to bring a swimsuit.

Two glasses of beer on a table in a bar in Budapest.
Szimpla Kert.

Dinner at Mazel Tov and Ruin Pubs

We’ve saved one of the best things to do in Budapest for last: Ruin pubs! These old facilities and apartments in the Jewish Quarter were just recently converted into hip hangouts that serve any drink you can imagine. However, not all ruin pubs are equal!

For food, we highly recommend Mazel Tov. It’s a higher-end ruin pub when it comes to drinks, but the food is worth every penny.

Of course, Szimpla Kert, the original ruin pub in Budapest, is a must-see. It’s a great hangout for friends or if you’re just a couple, then you can always find a cosy spot in a corner. Feast your eyes on the neon lights and sip on a brew or two.

There are so many other ruin pubs in this part of Budapest so do your research!

2 days in Budapest: Final thoughts

Is 2 days in Budapest enough? No way!

However, we think this two day guide has covered enough ground – and enough architecture and culture – to give you a taste of the city and compel you to return some day. Happy travels!

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