Budapest in 24 hours | A Comprehensive Travel Guide
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" served as the starting point for my fascination with Budapest. In the said movie, Wes Anderson beautifully captured the charm and elegance of early 20th-century European aesthetics, which includes architectural elements and cultural nuances reminiscent of Budapest's rich history and architecture.
While the film doesn't portray Budapest directly, it does draw inspiration from the city's architectural beauty, particularly in its depiction of magnificent hotels and scenic landscapes.
TBH, I don't know if it was the name of the city or something else that set off my interest in this city. But it was a city that ranked high in my "must visit" list.
Tevan and I finally visited Budapest in June 2023, just before the summer madness began. We only spent a day in this beautiful city but it was enough to make us fall in love with this city. It was exactly the way I pictured it to be -vibrant, romantic, regal and picturesque.
One day is clearly not enough time to see everything this spectacular city has to offer but sufficient to conquer the top attractions. The best bit is most of the attractions are free so you have the liberty to spend as much or as little as you want.
Here is how we spent our day in the city.
P/s Please be warned that by end of the day your legs will feel like Jell-O but it will be totally worth it.
Lay of the Land
To begin, let me give you a basic idea of the lay of the land.
Budapest is split into two halves by the Danube River; Buda and Pest. Buda is characterized by its hilly terrain and historic sites, while Pest is flatter and home to the city's commercial and administrative areas.
Both Buda and Pest offer their own distinct attractions, making Budapest a city of contrasts that can cater to a wide range of interests. The Danube River serves as a unifying element, merging these two sides and contributing to the city's unique character.
The official currency of Budapest and Hungary is the Hungarian Forint (HUF). When visiting Budapest, you'll predominantly use Hungarian Forints for most transactions, including shopping, dining, transportation, and entrance fees to attractions. It's advisable to have some Hungarian Forints on hand for small purchases and transactions, especially in more local establishments.
As I mentioned above, Buda and Pest, the two main parts of Budapest divided by the Danube River, each have their unique characteristics and personalities . Here's a closer look at what each side has to offer:
Buda, the mountainous and historic part of Budapest on the west bank of the Danube River, is home to many attractions that display its rich history, opulent architecture, and cultural significance. Some of the notable attractions that we visited include:
One of the most renowned landmarks and a UNESCO Heritage Site, Buda Castle is situated atop the hills of Budapest, offering remarkable views of the city. It houses the Hungarian National Gallery, Szechenyi National Library and the Budapest History Museum, offering art collections and historical exhibits.
You can visit the Buda Castle courtyards free of charge at any time of the day. However, separate admission fee applies to the other attractions within the castle.
Each of these museums in the Buda Castle has its own independent opening times. It's always a good idea to confirm the latest information on the official website of Buda Castle or local tourist information sources prior to your visit.
Buda Castle offers numerous guided tours that will provide tourists an opportunity to discover the rich heritage and offer deeper appreciation for the cultural significance of the castle. Before your visit, I recommend checking the official website of Buda Castle to inquire about the availability of tours, schedules and any other practical information.
The Buda Castle is also known for its ceremonial changing of the guard, which takes place in front of the main entrance to the Royal Palace. So be sure to find out the timings of this ceremony before your visit so that you do not miss out on this experience.
If you don't already know Buda Castle is a popular location for weddings. So, it happened that the castle was closed to the public on the day of our visit as a wedding was taking place.
As we were walking away from the entrance, we heard Indian music playing in the background. We were obviously curious if it was indeed an Indian wedding taking place inside the premises of the castle. The security personnel kindly confirmed our suspicion. This goes to show that we know our desi tunes pretty well. Hehe. We hung out with the other tourists eager to catch a glimpse of the wedding procession.
TBH, we were a little bummed that we could not visit the interior of the castle but we will always remember our visit to the castle because it ended up being an unique experience.
We still managed to enjoy the exterior views of Buda Castle, even if some areas were closed. The exterior of the castle and its surroundings are also very lovely.
The wedding was featured in Daily News Hungary, if you wish to read about it.
The best way to access the castle is via one of this two ways:
Walking: One of the most scenic and rewarding ways to access Buda Castle is by walking. There are pedestrian paths and roads that lead up to the castle from the surrounding areas allowing you to take in the panoramic view.
Buda Castle Funicular (Budavári Sikló): The Buda Castle Funicular is a historical cable railway and it is the second oldest of its kind. The funicular connects Clark Ádám Square at the base of Castle Hill to Buda Castle making it convenient to reach the peak of the hill while enjoying stunning views of the Danube River, the Chain Bridge, and the Pest side of the city.
You will require a separate ticket to ride the funicular. The cost of the ticket can vary so it is best to check the official website for the latest pricing.
Fisherman's Bastian is located within walking distance of Buda Castle and it is one of the most prominent landmarks in the city. This fairy tale like castle was constructed in the late 19th century to honor the fishermen who safeguarded this part of the city during medieval times.
The Bastion has both free and paid areas. The lower terrace of the Fisherman's Bastion is usually open to the public and provides breathtaking views of the city at no cost However, access to the upper terraces, which offer more scenic views, requires admission fee.
I highly recommend that you sit in a café alongside the wall to get a spectacular view of the city. I cannot for the life of me remember the name of the café that we visited but it hands down had the best view of the Hungarian Parliament Building.
We sampled the local Hungarian spirit called Palinka. We were told to sip it slowly to allow the delicious drink to wash over the entire mouth and release all its flavor and fruity goodness.
This medieval church is also known as the Church of our Lady and it is located beside the Fisherman's Bastion. Its ornate exterior, colorful tiled roof and intricate interior makes it a must visit.
Visitors who wish to the explore the interior of the church must purchase an entrance ticket.
A historic square near Matthias Church and Fisherman's Bastion, featuring the equestrian statue of King Stephen I, Hungary's first king.
Hospital in the Rock
An underground hospital and nuclear bunker carved into the natural limestone caves beneath Buda Castle, which served various purposes during varying periods of history.
This site has specific operating hours and an admission fee. The best way to visit this attraction is via guided tours that offer context about the history of this site.
Pest, the eastern half of Budapest, Hungary, is a bustling and vibrant part of the city. Pest houses iconic landmarks like the Hungarian Parliament Building, St. Stephen's Basilica, the Great Market Hall, and Heroes' Square. These landmarks display both historical and architectural significance.
Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament Building is a stunning neo-Gothic masterpiece and one of Budapest's most legendary landmarks. The Parliament Building is situated along the banks of the Danube River in the Pest side of Budapest. Strategically situated, it offers scenic sweeping views of the river and the Buda Castle on the opposite side.
Guided tours of the Hungarian Parliament Building are available for visitors who wish to explore its interior and learn about its history and functions. I strongly suggest that you book guided tours in advance, especially if you are planning to visit during summer.
We sat on a bench across the Parliament Building and witnessed the Building light up as the sun slowly faded away. The night view of the parliament building was truly a magical sight. We wanted to do a time lapse so badly but unfortunately both phones were drained thanks to the gazillion selfies that I took.
St. Stephen's Basilica
St. Stephen's Basilica is an impressive neoclassical cathedral named after Hungary's first king.
Please note that while entrance to the basilica itself is normally free; there might be fees associated with certain activities. For example, admission fee will be imposed on tourist who wish to climb the dome's observation deck for views of the city
We had our meal at a quaint establishment overlooking the cathedral. We tried the Goulash and it was flavorful. The weather was pleasant and it was lovely watching people milling about the square.
A scenic walkway along the Danube River offers stunning views of Buda Castle, Gellért Hill, and the Chain Bridge. The promenade is a popular spot for strolling and it beautifully captures the city's urban vibe.
Danube river is Europe's second-longest river flowing through or along the borders of ten countries, including Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukrain.
Danube River cruise
Taking a cruise along the Danube River in Pest, is a terrific way to experience the city's major landmarks and skyline from a unique viewpoint. There are many kinds of cruises available, ranging from short sightseeing trips to more elaborate dinner cruises.
You will find booths selling cruise tickets along the promenade in case you wish to buy a ticket at the last minute. This is however subject to availability.
Shoes on the Danube Bank
The "Shoes on the Danube Bank" is a sorrowful memorial situated near the Hungarian Parliament Building, and is open to the public at all times.
The memorial serves as a tribute to the victims of the Holocaust who were killed during World War II. The victims, mainly Jews, were ordered to remove their shoes before being shot at the edge of the river, allowing their bodies to fall into the water and be carried away.
The memorial consists of a row of iron shoes, representing the shoes left behind by the victims. The installation aims to honor the memory of those who lost their lives during this tragic period of history and to remind visitors of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.
P/s Kindly avoid taking selfies at the site as a mark of respect.
The Jewish District in Budapest, also known as the 7th District, is home to one of the biggest Jewish communities in Europe. Exploring Budapest's Jewish District provides better understanding as to the history, culture, and resilience of the Jewish community in Hungary.
Some of the key attractions that we managed to cover include:
Dohány Street Synagogue
Otherwise known as the Great Synagogue, this is one of the largest synagogues in the world is the heart of Jewish life in Budapest. It features a unique Moorish architectural style and houses a museum and a Holocaust memorial garden.
Full price ticket includes access to the synagogue, the Jewish Museum, the Heroes' Temple, and the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park. Guided tours available for an additional fee.
Opening Hours are:
Sunday to Thursday: 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM (last entry at 4:00 PM)
Friday: 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM (last entry at 1:30 PM)
Closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays
Ruin bars are all the rage in Budapest and no trip to Budapest is complete without a trip to a ruin bar.
Ruin bars are known for their unconventional and creative use of space, vibrant atmosphere, and eclectic décor. These bars are often set up in abandoned or dilapidated buildings, giving them an edgy vibe.
Szimpla Kert, often referred to as "Szimpla," is one of the most famous and iconic ruin bars located in Budapest's Jewish Quarter. It is full of quirky art, cool graffiti , colorful neon lights, furniture from the 90s - it is as though you've stepped into another universe. Our sensories were in overdrive in a good way, to say the least.
Once you are in, you are guaranteed a good night out.
The opening hours are as follows:
Sunday to Thursday: Open from around 12:00 PM (noon) until late evening.
Friday and Saturday: Open from around 12:00 PM (noon) and often stays open well into the early hours of the morning.
Karavan Street Food Court
Karavan is located right next to Szimpla Kert and is a great place to sample authentic Hungarian street food as well as international favorites. Whether you're in the mood for a classic lángos (fried dough), goulash, burgers, wraps, or something entirely different, you're bound to find something that suits your palate.
The operating hours are as follows:
Monday to Thursday: Open from around 11:30 AM to 11:00 PM.
Friday and Saturday: Open from around 11:30 AM to 12:00 AM (midnight).
Sunday: Open from around 11:30 AM to 11:00 PM.
However keep in mind that the opening hours may vary depending on the season so it is best to keep looking out for latest update on their page
The Chain Bridge is one of the most famous landmarks in Budapest and is considered a symbol of the city. This magnificent bridge straddles the Danube and connects The Buda and Pest sides of the city.
Walking or driving across the Chain Bridge offers scenic views of the Danube River, the Buda Castle, the Hungarian Parliament Building, and the overall cityscape. It's particularly gorgeous during sunset and at night when the city's landmarks are lit up.
Unfortunately, the Chain Bridge was closed to pedestrians due to renovation during our visit. The renovated bridge reopened on 4 August 2023.
Known as the Budapest Eye or Budapest Ferris Wheel; It is located in Erzsébet Square offering panoramic views of the stunning architecture and landmarks along the Danube River, such as the Buda Castle, Hungarian Parliament Building, and Chain Bridge.
Budapest Eye Tickets and Payment
A ride costs (8-10 minutes, 3 turns):
3 000 HUF / 10 EUR for adults (ages: 18 – 65),
1 500 HUF/5 EUR for children between ages 2 – 12.
students and people above 65 yrs of age: 2 700 HUF / 9 EUR
Family ticket (2 adults+2 kids under 12): 7 800 HUF/26 EUR.
You can buy the tickets on the spot. You can pay in cash (EUR/HUF) or with credit card.
The Budapest Ferris Wheel offers fantastic opportunities for photography enthusiasts to capture stunning shots of the city from above. Day or night, the views are sure to be Instagram-worthy.
The city is peppered with many statues and monuments that reflect the city's culture and heritage.
One statue that I particularly like and found adorable is the The Fat Policeman Statue. This iconic statue is located near the entrance to the Fővám Square Market Hall.
The "Fat Man Statue" is associated with good luck and fortune. Rubbing the belly of the statue is believed to bring good luck, wealth, and prosperity.
Metro, Trams & Busses
Budapest's public transportation system is generally reliable and affordable, making it a convenient choice.
Budapest's metro system is efficient and well-connected, consisting of three lines (M1, M2, M3). Trams and buses also cover the city comprehensively. A single ticket is valid for all modes of public transport within the indicated time limit. You can purchase tickets at metro stations, newsstands, or use contactless payment methods.
Protip: Always remember to validate your ticket before boarding the metro. A non validated ticket can result in a fine, so please be mindful about this.
Hop-On Hop-Off Buses:
These tourist buses offer a convenient and fun way to explore the city, It gives you a chance to customize your sightseeing itinerary in a hassle free manner.
Guided walking tours, bike tours, and even Segway tours are also a great way to navigate the city. These tours offer insight into the city's history and culture. Plus it is also a chance to meet new people.
Go Zeppelin offers free walking tours around the city. However, at the end of the tour you are expected to tip the guide as you deem fit. Tips can range anywhere between $10 – $25.
Danube River Ferries
Budapest has public ferries that operate on the Danube River. These can be a scenic way to travel between certain points and enjoy views of the city from the water.
In my opinion, walking is the best way to discover the city as some of the best sights are those you stumble upon while wandering the city. Budapest is an extremely walkable city with wide pedestrian sidewalks. So put on your comfy walking shoes, get out and enjoy the city.
Protip; Avoid street taxis as they have tendency to overcharge or scam people. It is better and safer to order a ride from e hailing applications if you prefer taking a taxi.
The Budapest Card offers unlimited travel on public transportation, including buses, trams, metro, and certain ferries. It also provides free or discounted entry to many museums, attractions, and discounts at participating restaurants. It's available for various durations (24, 48, 72, or 120 hours) and can be a convenient option for tourists.
Is the Budapest Card value for money?
The value of the Budapest Card depends on your travel preferences, the attractions you plan to visit, and how frequently you intend to use public transportation. If you plan on visiting most of the attractions covered by the card, then the card may provide significant savings. Similarly, if you intend to regularly use public transportation during your stay, then the unlimited travel option can make the card worth it.
To decide if the Budapest Card is worthwhile for your specific trip, it's best to create an itinerary and calculate the total cost of individual attractions and transportation without the card. Then, contrast that cost to the price of the Budapest Card for the corresponding duration. Also you should take into account the convenience factor and other benefits that come with the card.
Best time to visit Budapest
The best time to visit Budapest depends on your preferences in terms of weather, activities, and crowd levels. Budapest experiences distinct seasons, each offering its own charm.
I personally feel that the best time to visit Budapest or any other European is between April to June. The weather is mild and pleasant, with blooming flowers and trees adding to the city's beauty. Crowds are relatively smaller than in the summer months, making it a good time to explore popular attractions without long lines.
We visited Budapest late June and it was lovely. The weather was still cool and pleasant, However, the temperature can drop at night, so I recommend that you carry a light jacket. Thankfully it wasn't too crowded and it was rather peaceful. We had a wonderful time.
Where to stay?
The best place for you to stay will depend on your preferences, interests, and budget.
In my view, District V (Inner City) will makes for an excellent base throughout your stay because it is considered the heart of Budapest and is in close proximity to major attractions like the Hungarian Parliament Building, St. Stephen's Basilica, and the Danube River. The area has a mix of luxury hotels, boutique accommodations, and easy access to restaurants, shops, and public transportation.
We stayed at the Royal Park Boutique Hotel which is conveniently located close to the metro station - about 3 minutes walk. There are many restaurants and shops close by and the hotel itself is nice, clean and affordable.
To conclude, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Budapest and wish we had more time to explore this amazing city. We are generally not fans of capital cities, but Budapest is definitely an exception. There is just so much more to see and experience like the thermal baths - which we are hoping to experience during our next visit.
I hope that you find this Guide helpful. Happy Planning!
Till my next adventure. Toodles!