Searching for essential recommendations on what to do, where to stay, and what to eat while planning the perfect 2 Day Budapest Itinerary? Then you will love this 2 days in Budapest travel guide. Here’s everything you need to know to spend an amazing weekend in the capital of Hungary.
Budapest, located on the banks of the River Danube in Hungary, is a fairytale town. It is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and popularly known as the ‘Pearl of the Danube’. It is also often called the ‘Paris of the East’ and exudes a charm that few cities have. It is one of the cheaper European destinations and hence quite popular with backpackers traveling long term and young working professionals looking for things to do in Budapest in 2 days or so.
In recent years, Budapest has come to be known for its excellent nightlife but at its core, the city remains a cultural and historic destination. Much of the city, including the historic neighborhood of Castle Hill and the Banks of the Danube, as well as prominent buildings along the banks are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of these attractions are on the list of things to see in Budapest in 2 days.
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“If you come from Paris to Budapest you think you are in Moscow.
But if you go from Moscow to Budapest you think you are in Paris.”
– Gyorgy Ligeti, the famous Hungarian music composer
Budapest’s Intriguing History
Few cities in Europe have a history as complex as that of Budapest. At least a dozen different civilizations have conquested over this beautiful city since the medieval times. It is essential to understand the city’s history in order to understand the various architectural styles, culinary influences, war remnants, and dark tourism sites in the city that you will find in this two days in Budapest itinerary.
Budapest began as a Celtic settlement of the banks of the Danube in the 4th century BC. It was annexed to the Roman empire around 100 AD and renamed as ‘Aquincum’ meaning abundant in water. The Romans discovered the city’s thermal baths and built grand bathhouses to enjoy them. Visitors can still see many Roman relics and ruins around the city’s museums and historic districts using our 2 day Budapest itinerary.
After the Romans, the city was successively ruled by the Huns, the Germanic tribes, and then the Bulgarians. The Bulgarians established two small towns of Buda and Pest on the opposite sides of the Danube. After the rule of the Bulgarians, the towns were invaded by the Mongols, rebuilt by the Huns, and then annexed to the Ottoman empire in the 16th century to be subsequently recaptured by the Austrians in the 17th century.
The cities of Buda, Pest, and Obuda (old Buda) began to flourish. The Szechenyi Chain Bridge was built across the Danube in the mid-19th century and connected the 3 small cities to form the large city of Budapest in 1873. Architecturally striking buildings and infrastructure were built in the city in the years leading up to the World Wars.
During WWII, Hungary was under fascist control and thousands of Jews were executed. This is one of the darkest periods in the country’s history. The city was heavily bombed by the Allies; buildings crumbled and bridges across the Danube were blown up. End of the WWII did not bring relief for the city but instead brought a Soviet communist dictatorship that lasted almost till the 1990s.
In the 1990s, first free elections in recent times took place in Hungary. Since then Budapest has become a liberal capital and has culturally advanced to be one of the best cities to visit in Eastern Europe. Budapest has shown great resilience in the face of its many invaders and the city offers a moving and dynamic experience to most visitors.
Budapest is for romance!
Budapest is a perfect city for all kinds of travelers: solo travelers, backpackers, families, and couples. But there is something about this beautiful city that makes it perfect for those seeking romance.
See the best of Budapest in 2 days. Take in the beautiful views from Fisherman’s Bastion, have a romantic dinner on the Danube, and admire the stunning architecture. Stay in the Four Seasons at Gresham Palace and be pampered! Soak in the thermal baths at Szechenyi Baths or Gellert Baths and stroll through the Roman ruins of Aquincum. Shop on Fashion Street and dine at Central Market Hall.
Walk along the Danube Promenade at sunset and cross the Szechenyi Chain Bridge at twilight. Admire the Hungarian Parliament Building at night and go for a drink in the ruins bar. Budapest offers the ultimate romantic experience and is perfect for weekend getaways, anniversaries, honeymoons, babymoons, and Valentine’s day celebrations.
When to visit Budapest?
Summer is the most popular time to visit Budapest in two days. While that means lots of visitors, it is still not anywhere as crowded as Paris or London in summer. Summertime temperatures are also quite pleasant and mostly stay in the low 80s and low 90s. The shoulder seasons of spring and fall are also great times to visit because of fewer crowds and good weather. Winter in Budapest can be quite chilly with temperatures falling below freezing.
Where to stay in Budapest?
District V of Budapest which is located near the Pest side of the Chain Bridge is a great option to stay close to places to see in Budapest in 2 days. For a luxurious stay, choose the beautiful Four Seasons hotel located in Gresham Palace, a magnificent Art Nouveau style building. The hotel is centrally located and just across from the funicular that goes to the touristy Castle Hill District. Many restaurants in Budapest are also located in this area, making the Four Seasons an amazing place to stay. Other great hotels to stay include the Kempinski. Check out all the hotels in District V here.
Another great neighborhood to stay in Budapest is District VI. This is the area near the UNESCO site of Andrassy Avenue, in the vicinity of the Hungarian State Opera House. It is quieter than the more popular District V and you can get great deals on hotels here. The Hilton Budapest City is a great option to stay in this central area of Pest.
2 Day Budapest Itinerary
Wondering what to see in Budapest in two days? If you have to see Budapest in two days, then you can take in many of the city’s attractions including the famous Szechenyi Chain Bridge, the Hungarian Parliament building, the historic Buda Castle and Old Town area, visit the Fisherman’s Bastion, and even soak in some thermal baths. Here is a compact 2 Day Budapest itinerary with lots of recommendations on customizing it as per your interests.
Day 1: Castle Hill district, the Chain Bridge, Danube river cruise, Ruin bars
Budapest, what to see in 2 days? Spend your first day of Budapest 2 day itinerary exploring the highlights of Buda. Start your day in iconic Castle Hill and linger along its cobbled streets, marveling at the unique architecture. Ride a funicular railway to the top of Castle Hill to visit it’s most iconic buildings and have lunch at a charming little cafe. See the views from Fisherman’s Bastion, then walk across the Chain Bridge to the Pest side. Take a river cruise and end your 1st night of 2 nights in Budapest at the ruins bars in Jewish Quarter.
One of the most popular areas to visit in Budapest, Castle Hill has stunning architecture. This neighborhood in hilly Buda is located above the plain areas of Pest and has historic buildings that date back to the 14th century. Must-see attractions in Castle Hill include the Buda Castle, Fisherman’s Bastion, Trinity Square, and the Matthias Church.
Buda Castle District Funicular
If you are staying in Pest, walk across the Chain Bridge to the Buda side and ride the funicular up to the Buda Castle. The funiculars start at the Adam Clarke Square and run up the hill every 10 minutes. The funicular service started in the 1870s and is a part of the Budapest UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was heavily damaged during WWII but splendidly restored and continues to work to this day. The funicular cars are historic and the views of Castle Hill, Pest, and the Danube from the cars is quite amazing. From the top of the funicular, you can take the iconic photo of Chain Bridge, Gresham Palace, and St. Stephen’s Basilica in Pest in one frame.
Buda Castle was the residence of the Hungarian Kings that ruled Budapest. The castle has been rebuilt several times, the current castle built in the Baroque style of architecture is from the late 18th century. Buda Castle is a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle and its gardens are home to many works of art. The Castle houses the Budapest History Museum and the Hungarian National Gallery, both of which are worth a visit for culture lovers. After taking in the castle, you can walk over to the Fisherman’s Bastion, the short walk is just under 1 km and takes about 10 mins.
A must for every Budapest itinerary of 2 days! Budapest has many fairytale-like buildings but the Fisherman’s Bastion is the best of them all. Locally, it is known as Halaszbastya. This impressive structure, that resembles a Disney Castle, was designed by the Hungarian architect, Frigyes Schulek in 1902 in Romanesque, Gothic and Neo-classical styles of architecture. The bastion has 7 lookout towers which represent the 7 tribes of Magyar, a Hungarian ethnic group, that first settled in the region of present-day Hungary.
The view of all of Budapest and the Danube from the watchtowers is pretty epic. There is a nice little cafe on the terrace which is perfect for a romantic date. Also, a must-see when visiting Fisherman’s Bastion during Budapest two day itinerary is the statue of the first Hungarian king, St. Stephen. Fisherman’s Bastion is often crowded but you can have the place to yourself if you go early enough or in the winter months. No visit to Budapest is complete without visiting this beautiful fortification.
There are many restaurants near Fisherman’s Bastion where you can have lunch. Popular ones include Halaszbastya Etterem, Pest – Buda Bistro, Cafe Pierrot, and Jamie’s Italian Budapest. We recommend having lunch before seeing the next attractions.
Trinity Square is the main city square in the Castle district and is one of the best places to visit in Budapest in 2 days. The Matthias Church is located on one side of the square while the old town hall of Buda is located opposite the church. At the center of the square is the Trinity Column, a large Baroque style column, built to celebrate the end of Budapest’s devastating black plague and commemorate the dead. The Holy Trinity Statue stands at the top of the column; the statue is said to protect the people of Budapest from another outbreak. Trinity Square is a short walk away from Fisherman’s Bastion and is great to stroll and people watch.
Matthias Church is located near the Fisherman’s Bastion and is a beautiful building built in Gothic style with a colorful tiled roof. As with most buildings in Budapest, the church underwent heavy damage during the World Wars and was rebuilt post-War. We recommend walking around the church and taking in its prominent features including the roof, bell tower, and gargoyles on the spire. The interior is also worth a visit with a medieval pulpit and frescos.
After seeing the highlights of Castle District, have traditional Hungarian desserts including the famous creme cake at Ruszwurm Cafe, Budapest’s most famous bakery. The family-owned business is almost two centuries old and located near the Matthias Church. The beautiful interiors have vintage-style counters and fittings. The cakes and pastries are delicious and wallet-friendly, which is rare in this touristy part of the town. Some of the must-try pastries in include the creme cake, apple strudel, cherry strudel, and torte cakes. The coffee at Ruszwurm Cafe is also very good.
Szechenyi Chain Bridge
After eating at Ruszwurm Cafe, walk towards the Chain Bridge and cross it to reach Pest. The Szechenyi Chain Bridge was the first bridge that connected Buda and Pest, way back in 1849 and is essential to visit during two days in Budapest. This was also the first bridge across the Danube in Hungary and when completed, was considered to be an engineering marvel.
Walking across the bridge is one of must activities in Budapest. The panoramic views of the river and the city from the bridge are something to experience. Also check out the workmanship of the bridge and the lion statues at the ends. The Chain Bridge looks particularly beautiful at night. Buying a lock and placing it on the Chain Bridge is one of the most romantic things to do in Budapest.
The Gresham Palace is a wonderful Art Nouveau style building that was refurbished in 1999. The magnificent building has an interesting history. It was originally built as the headquarters of the Gresham Life Insurance Company in 1906. It served as the office building as well as residential quarters for the company guests. At the end of WWII, it was occupied by Soviet soldiers and then was an apartment building during the Communist era in Hungary.
Today the building has been converted into a luxury hotel and the Four Seasons Budapest Hotel is located here. This is one of the finest places to stay in Budapest and hotel guests are treated to an unparalleled elegance and luxury. Visitors, including non-hotel guests, can walk around the atrium and admire the beautiful architecture of this palace. Tourists can also sit at the beautiful hotel bar and drink some of the best cocktails in all of Budapest.
Danube River Cruise
A river cruise on the Danube is a great way to end your first day in Budapest. The Danube River Cruise is a very romantic experience and one of the best ways to take in the beautiful sights of the Hungarian Capital. On the cruise, you can truly understand the majesty of the Danube, Europe’s second-largest river. Most cruises take you along the Danube and show the highlights of Budapest from the Parliament building, Gellert baths, the Chain Bridge, and Margaret island.
Some cruises will even let you get down at Margaret Island. Margaret Island, located in the middle of the Danube, is Budapest’s large urban park. It is connected to the city via Margaret Bridge. The island has beautiful gardens, walking and biking paths, a water tower that has amazing views from the top, and even thermal baths.
There are many types of river cruises available, from a quick trip down the river during the day to a two-hour romantic live music and dinner buffet cruise aboard a luxury boat. Specialty cruises including fireworks cruise, sunset cruise, booze cruise are also available.
If you are not taking the dinner cruise, then we suggest dining near the restaurants on Vaci Street. Vaci Street extends from Liberty Bridge to Great Market Hall, which is a food hall. Cafes, restaurants, diners, and bakeries line this street of Budapest along with souvenir shops and high-end shopping stores.
Budapest’s Ruin Bars
Wondering where to go and what to do in Budapest in 2 days to experience the legendary nightlife? If you are in the mood to explore the city’s famous nightlife, you can straight up hit the ruin bars in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter or District VII after the Danube River cruise. In the ruin bars, the night is always young. Ruin bar is exactly what it sounds, a bar or pub located in an abandoned, derelict building. Budapest has many of these: the Szimpla Kert is the granddaddy of them all – the one that started the trend! Since then, many other ruin pubs have opened in Budapest and are perfect for a ruin pub crawl. Other ruin bars worth a visit include Instant, Mazel Tov, etc.
Day 2: St. Stephen’s Basilica, Danube Promenade and Parliament Building, Andrassy Ut
Spend this day exploring the highlights of the Pest area including the Hungarian Parliament Building, the beautiful St. Stephen’s Basilica, and the architectural elegance of Andrassy Avenue. Walk along the Danube and pay your respects at the Shoes on the Danube Memorial. See the popular ‘Downtown’ area and shop for local produce and souvenirs at the Great Market Hall. Try some of the Hungarian goulashes and spend your evening at a thermal spa. Or admire communist-era statues at Memento Park or walk through the city’s Roman past at Aquincum.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica is a Roman Catholic Church named after Stephen, the first king of Hungary. It is one of the two tallest buildings in Budapest, the other being the Hungarian Parliament building. The huge building, built-in Neo-classical style of architecture, has two large bell towers. The building is beautiful on the inside as well as outside and visitors can climb up the bell tower for beautiful views of Budapest.
Inside you will find beautiful stained glass windows, mosaics, and – the mummified right hand of St Stephen! The city square outside the church is charming – the small coffee shop opposite the church has nice coffee and offers lots of people-watching opportunities. The church looks really beautiful at Christmas and hosts a big Christmas market with many stalls.
After seeing the Basilica, walk along the Danube Promenade. The banks of the Danube where the city has flourished is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The best way to experience the river banks is via a stroll along the Danube Promenade on the Pest side. Taking a stroll along the Danube Promenade at night is also incredibly romantic. From the promenade, you can enjoy marvelous views of the Buda Castle, Chain Bridge, and other bridges. The promenade also has many sculptures including that of William Shakespeare, Count Szechenyi, and s statue of a young girl, known as the Little Princess.
A must-see landmark on the promenade is the ‘Shoes on the Danube’ memorial located just south of the Parliament Building. During WWII, Hungary was under fascist control of the Arrow Cross organization and the anti-semitic atrocities were horrific. Over 80,000 Jews were expelled from the country and about 20,000 were executed along the banks of the Danube. The victims were forced to remove shoes on the banks before being shot and left to fall in the freezing river. Shoes on the Danube is a memorial to those victims and consists of 60 life-like iron sculptures of shoes of all men, women, and even children. The memorial is an intensely emotional experience and a chilling reminder of this gruesome period of Hungary’s history. Even if you cannot visit the entire promenade, seeing the memorial is a must when in Budapest.
Hungarian Parliament Building
Along with the Chain Bridge and Fisherman’s Bastion, the Hungarian Parliament Building is the most iconic of Budapest’s buildings. Located on the banks on the Danube, this impressive building quintessentially depicts the fairytale charm of the city. It was completed in 1904 in the Gothic Revival and Renaissance Revival style of architecture and is today one of the world’s must-see landmarks.
While the building is an office for lawmakers and regular parliament sessions take place inside the building, tours are also offered to visitors to see the building from the inside. The tours include historical information and anecdotes about Hungary’s politics; advance recommendations for the tours are highly recommended. The building looks spectacular during the day but is worth another visit at night. Many restaurants and cafes are located next to the Parliament building for a quick breakfast or lunch.
Andrassy Avenue connecting the Hungarian State Opera House and the City Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and should not be missed. The wide, spacious street is lined with trees on both sides and is beautiful. Historic buildings in impressive architectural styles, high-end shops, restaurants, embassies, residences, and apartment buildings are located along this street. The Underground Railway Museum in Deak Ferenc Square at the start of Andrassy Avenue is a must for railway fans. Other must-see attractions include the Hungarian State Opera House, the House of Terror, and City Park.
The M1 Metro line runs parallel to the Andrassy Avenue and is great for exploring its attractions. Line 1 is a historic metro line – it was the first metro in mainland Europe – and has been continually in operation since 1896. We recommend walking the entire length of Andrassy Ut up to City Park and then taking the famous yellow metro cars back to Vorosmarty Square to enjoy both experiences. This also lets you take a look at the metro stations located along Andrassy Avenue. Walking through the white subway tiles and vintage wooden booths feels like stepping back in time and is a unique experience.
Hungarian State Opera House
The Hungarian State Opera House is a magnificent building designed by the famous Hungarian architect Miklos Ybl. It was built in the year 1884 in the Renaissance Revival style of architecture. The building also shows a few baroque elements. The opera house can seat up to 1200 people and has exceptional acoustics, one of the best in Europe. The interior of the building is very striking; murals on the ceilings, marble columns in the foyer, grand staircases, wrought iron lamps, and intricate chandeliers exude elegance. The Opera House offers guided tours every day but the building is currently being renovated and will open towards the end of 2019.
House of Terror
After visiting the Hungarian State Opera House, walk down along the Andrassy Ut to the House of Terror. The House of Terror is one of the most visited war museums in Europe. It is dedicated to Budapest’s history during the Nazi and Soviet Communist rule. The museum has lots of audio presentations, video clips, and exhibits that add to the moving experience. We recommend an hour or two to fully experience the museum.
At the other end of Andrassy Avenue is City Park. Popular attractions of City Park include the Heroes Square, Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Museum of Fine Arts, Hungarian Transportation Museum, Budapest Zoo, and Vajdahunyad Castle. Heroes Square is dedicated to the 7 Magyar chiefs who founded Hungary as well as other prominent Hungarian leaders. The Museum of Fine Art and the Palace of Art are located in Heroes Square and are must for art enthusiasts. Heroes Square is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Szechenyi Baths are a huge complex of thermal baths while the Castle was built to celebrate 1000 years of Hungary. Today it is home to the Hungarian Agriculture Museum.
Great Market Hall
For lunch, you should visit the Great Market Hall, Budapest’s indoor market and food hall. Here you will find everything from traditional Hungarian dishes to produce and even souvenirs. The Great Market Hall also has beautiful neo-Gothic architecture. Its roof is particularly stunning. The first floor has stalls selling produce and unique Hungarian items like paprika spices, pastries including the Turo Rudi snack, honey, the local Tokaji wine, and candies. For eateries and souvenirs, the second floor is your best bet. We also recommend taking a stall through the fish and meat stalls in the basement.
Another great option for lunch is the area of Vorosmarty Ter. This public square is located at the northern end of Vaci Street. Here you will find food stands, cafes, and eateries serving delicious and authentic Hungarian cuisine at budget-friendly rates. The square also has sculptures and fountains; the historic yellow Line 1 of Budapest Metro starts at the square. If you take the metro from the city park it will drop you here just in time for lunch.
For the rest of the day, you can visit attractions based on your interests. You can spend the afternoon relaxing in one of Budapest’s mineral-rich thermal baths. The most famous of the bathhouses include the opulent Gellert Baths or the gigantic Szechenyi Baths. Another great option is the Turkish Rudas Bath with its rooftop pool and spectacular views.
Or you can visit the Dohany Street Synagogue, which is the second-largest synagogue in the world. The house of worship is located near Vorosmarty Ter and is also known as the Great or Central synagogue. The synagogue can hold up to 3000 people. The building is very beautiful and the on-site museum is a great way to learn about the Jewish persecution by the Arrow Cross organization.
What to see in Budapest in 2 days for history buffs? If you love archeology and historical ruins, then you should definitely visit the Roman ruins of Aquincum, located to the north of Budapest. This is the most famous archeological site in Hungary. Here you can walk through courtyards, Roman baths, and a large amphitheater. The onsite museum houses the finds of the excavation including jewelry, coins, pottery, etc.
Another unique attraction is Memento Park, an open-air museum containing relics of Hungary’s communist period. While pulling down divisive statues and plaques has become a controversial subject in recent times, Budapest has handled it tactfully by moving the old communist statues including that of Lenin, Marx, and Stalin’s Boots to Memento Park.
Or add a day and see all of the above attractions during your 36 hours Budapest itinerary!
Budapest is a city you can’t help but fall in love with. It has lots of character, beautiful architecture, and a resplendent spirit which has helped with the city’s transformation from a damaged occupied city to one of the finest cities in Europe.
We hope you liked our Budapest weekend itinerary and recommendations on what to visit in Budapest in 2 days. Let us know more in the comments!