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My first trip to the Hungarian capital was ten years ago, almost to the day I’m writing this. It was an unseasonably snowy March and I was woefully underdressed to endure those 2 days in Budapest. Oh, and I accidentally deleted half of my photos. Luckily, my second trip was much better!
I spent one week out of a three-week Central European trip in September 2022 working remotely and exploring Budapest. Like the movie remake of a lacklustre first release, I was determined to experience the cheap and fun Budapest city break I knew it to be. Thankfully, that’s what I did.
Budapest might be a sprawling capital city, but its historic centre is mostly walkable. Visiting in September meant that the city was warm but not overcrowded. This city strikes a great balance of nightlife with the ruin bars, cultural sites like the churches and synagogues, and fun activities like the thermal spas.
This 2-day Budapest itinerary is all the fun parts of my trip condensed down into a logical, easy-to-follow weekend guide. It’s perfect for first-time visitors, as I essentially was. Because I was a solo traveller staying in hostels, this is a budget-friendly and sociable Budapest itinerary.
2 Days in Budapest: Day One Itinerary
Breakfast: Budapest Baristas
Despite catching a relatively late flight into Budapest, I woke up early the next day determined to start exploring the best things to do in Budapest straight away. I needed redemption for my less-than-perfect trip from a decade ago, you know?
In my research prior to arriving, I found a ton of highly-rated casual brunch spots and was super impressed with all the ones I tried.
First on my list was Budapest Baristas. It’s quite small but I arrived shortly after they opened so finding a free table was no problem. I ordered a flat white (very standard Becca behaviour) and fruit pancakes and they were spot on.
Some others I tried were Cirkusz (a big brunch spot, eggs florentine were spot on) and Butter Brothers Bakery. This wee café was near my accommodation so I popped in several times for iced coffee and pastries. I didn’t get to try Cinnamon but it was also on my list.
See the Hungarian Parliament and Shoes on the Danube
Before joining my free walking tour at 10:00 (I did say I woke up early), I made a quick detour to see the Shoes on the Danube Bank Monument.
This memorial was installed in 2005 in honour of the Hungarian Jews shot on the banks of the Danube River in the winter of 1944-45 during WWII. Only the two people that bookended the line were actually shot. Because they were all tied together with barbed wire, everyone else would inevitably fall in and drown. Absolutely barbaric.
It’s just beside the Hungarian Parliament which quickly took some photos of before running off to find my tour guide.
Join a Walking Tour of Budapest’s Highlights
I booked a free walking tour with Go Zeppelin Tours which starts at Kossuth Lajos Square next to the parliament. If I were visiting Budapest for one day, I’d skip this tour. But since you’re here for a 2 days Budapest itinerary, I think it’s a nice introduction.
One of the spots you visit on this tour is Liberty Square. It has some statues of American presidents (weird) and the controversial monument, The Memorial for Victims of the German Occupation.
You also pass by St Stephen’s Basilica and the Dohány Street Synagogue (I return to these buildings later). Usually, this tour crosses the Széchenyi Chain Bridge and finishes outside Matthias Church, but the bridge was undergoing repairs when I visited.
Don’t worry, on this Budapest 2-day itinerary, you’ll visit the ‘Buda’ side of the city anyway.
Lunch: Karavan Street Food Market
You can find Karavan in the Jewish Quarter. It’s a small street food market filled with food trucks selling traditional Hungarian dishes like langos and goulash as well as international crowd-pleasers like burgers and tacos.
Not a fan of eating meat, I tried a rather beige-looking langos. It’s a Hungarian deep-fried flatbread usually served with sour cream, cheese, and a sprinkling of paprika, but there are lots of extra toppings you can order too. You can also get chimney cake here which is a traditional Hungarian sweet treat.
I won’t lie, the food here is probably more expensive than what you’d pay for it elsewhere. But it was a super convenient location and I hadn’t found anywhere else that served langos which I wanted to taste at least once during my trip.
Order a Coffee and Cake at Massolit Books & Café
Don’t fill up on fried bread, because just around the corner you can order coffee and cake from Massolit Books & Café. This is an independent second-hand bookshop and café and one of my highlights of exploring Budapest in two days.
I love seeking out cool bookshops when I travel. While they sold books in a variety of languages, the offerings were mostly what I would consider charity shop fare. However, I found a copy of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson so I was happy.
Plus, the staff were friendly and it’s clearly a favourite amongst students.
Explore St Stephen’s Basilica and Dohány Street Synagogue
Keen to not simply glance up at the exteriors of two of the most important religious buildings in Budapest on my walking tour, I returned to both St Stephen’s Basilica and Dohány Street Synagogue.
St Stephen’s Basilica, a relatively modern 19th-century church, is dedicated to Hungary’s patron saint. One of the reasons why you should check out the interiors is because you’ll find an ornate glass box that supposedly houses the black, withered hand of St Stephen himself.
As the largest synagogue in Europe, visiting Dohány Street Synagogue is one of the top things to do in Budapest. I think it was the first time I’d ever stepped foot inside a synagogue and it was just so beautiful with its Moorish Revival architecture.
I joined a guided tour of the synagogue which was included in the ticket.
Dinner: Kozmosz Vegan Restaurant
As I said, I avoid eating meat whenever I can help it so I was so glad to find out about the existence of Kozmosz Vegan Restaurant. It’s a dark, wooden hole-in-the-wall that serves vegan alternatives to traditional Hungarian dishes.
I ordered the seitan stew and it was delicious. Unfortunately, it’s a little off the main tourist trail but I think it’s worth the walk.
Join a Ruin Bar Pub Crawl and Visit Szimpla Kert Ruin Pub
On my walking tour, I started chatting with a woman around my age from New York and we soon discovered that we were staying at sister hostels. What a stroke of luck! So, we bought tickets to an organized Ruin Bar Pub Crawl for that evening through our hostel.
Ruin bars are formerly abandoned buildings, mostly in the Jewish Quarter, that have been reclaimed as cool pubs. There are lots of organized ruin bar crawls you can join, including this Pub Crawl you can book through Get Your Guide.
On our crawl, we visited Grandio Jungle Ruin Bar and other bars/clubs that definitely weren’t ruin bars like the Nomád Travelers’ Bar and Instant-Fogas Complex. My wee group was keen to visit Szimpla Kert (the quintessential ruin bar in Budapest), so we sacked off the rest crawl.
Szimpla Kert is a relaxed, easy-going pub during the day. When I visited, it wasn’t too busy and you could walk around the whole complex and look at all the graffiti and kitschy decor they had. At night, it was a dark and loud nightclub and it was cool to experience both sides.
One thing I wished I’d done at Szimpla Kert was to try a shot of unicum. It’s a Hungarian herbal liqueur that I discovered via an episode of Travel Man. Although it sounds vile, sometimes you’ve just got to try things in the place to try them in, you know?
2 Days in Budapest: Day Two Itinerary
Breakfast: Double Shot Coffee & Brunch
The second day of my Budapest 2-day itinerary starts at Double Shot Coffee & Brunch where I swapped fruit pancakes for fruit, yoghurt, and granola. I also ordered a flat white (again, standard) which I thought looked very strong before I recalled the name of the café.
I really liked this café. It was laidback and they had a varied brunch menu.
Visit Heroes Square and Relax at Széchenyi Spa
Every single guide, whether it’s a 2 days Budapest guide, one day, or 10 days, will include a trip to one of Budapest’s famous thermal spas.
I’d already visited Gellért on my trip to Budapest 10 years ago so decided to check out Széchenyi. I really, really loved it! One of the big draws is the huge, outdoor pools at the Széchenyi Spa which Gellért doesn’t have. I liked them both, but Széchenyi has the edge.
That being said, Gellért is probably in a better location. I didn’t mind the walk out to Széchenyi Spa because I wanted to check out Heroes Square anyway. It features monuments to the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary.
Lunch: Great Market Hall/For Sale Pub
Continue your 2 days itinerary in Budapest at the Great Market Hall. It mostly sells fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat for locals to take home but you can find some snacks too. I just really loved the tiled roof pattern and I bought a Christmas tree ornament as a souvenir.
I didn’t eat here, but many recommended the For Sale Pub literally just across the road from the market as a great place for lunch. It’s a cosy tavern with notes written on napkins and receipts cluttered on the walls. They serve Hungarian cuisine and more international pub grub too.
Sample a Chimney Cake at Gelateria Pichler Fagyizó
I stumbled across Gelateria Pichler Fagyizó by accident. It was late in my trip and I’d not yet tasted a chimney cake, so when I spied this place I immediately crossed the road and walked in.
Chimney cake is a doughy, cylindrical pastry covered in sugar so it has a bit of a crunch. Most have a creamy, flavoured filling but I opted for gelato since it was a hot day and I bloody love gelato. Obviously, the gelato is not traditional but I thought it tasted excellent.
It’s not an exclusively Hungarian treat. In fact, if you’ve visited the Czech Republic you’ll notice they call this dessert a trdelník.
Ride the Buda Castle Funicular to Buda Hill
No Budapest 2 days itinerary is complete without setting foot in the ‘Buda’ part of the city across the Danube River! Three neighbouring cities called Óbuda, Buda and Pest unified into one major city back in 1873.
Cross the Széchenyi Chain Bridge (if it has reopened!) and travel on the Budapest Castle Hill Funicular up to Buda. There are plenty of staircases and paths up to Buda Hill, but I love funiculars.
By a stroke of luck, I arrived at the Sándor Palace, home to the Hungarian President, in time to watch the changing of the guard ceremony at noon.
Buda Castle looks lovely from the outside, but my walking tour guide warned me that it’s quite bare inside. If you want to head inside a stately building during your 2 days in Budapest, the Hungarian Parliament would be a better choice.
Discover Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion
I walked over to Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion. The 13th-century church is named after King Matthias and it also boasts the same brightly coloured roof tile you can see on the central market.
I didn’t go inside on this trip but I did when I visited 10 years ago, and I recommend you do too.
Fisherman’s Bastion is a 19th-century fortress with lots of turrets and lookout towers on the edge of the hill. Here, you’ll find unrivalled views across the Danube to Pest. I hung around for ages working up the courage to find someone to take my photo, and eventually, I did.
Langos, chimney cakes, Hungarian seitan stews… I think I did a good job at seeking out traditional dishes during my short trip to Budapest! I couldn’t help it, I was in the mood for tapas and nothing else would suffice.
Luckily, Tapassio was absolutely delicious. I still don’t feel 100% comfortable eating dinner at a proper restaurant by myself yet, but I’m glad I did. They had a great beer selection and lots of veggie tapas plates.
Sail on a Sunset Cruise of the Danube
Though my memories of my first trip to Budapest aren’t too fond, I really enjoyed the sunset cruise I did and was eager to do it again. I researched the time the sun would set and booked a ticket for just afterwards with Legenda City Cruise.
Even as I walked along the banks of the river seeking out the right jetty number, I knew I’d made a good decision. I queued up with the other hordes of tourists and nabbed a spot next to the window so I could take photos.
Everyone gets a headset so you can listen to an audio guide in your native language while you cruise from the point of view of – wait for it – the river. Yes, the Danube voices the commentary. Inspired.
You get a free glass of fizz and the buildings and bridges are lit up. Perfect.
Other Cool Things To Do in Budapest
- New York Café – This is widely dubbed ‘the most beautiful café in the world’. It’s an ornate and upmarket café that I probably would have visited if I was travelling with someone else.
- Children’s Railway – I found out about the Children’s Railway on the Budapest episode of Travel Man and it seems bizarre but cool. Dating back to 1948, literal children operate this railway. It was a little far out of the city for this trip.
- Zugliget Chairlift – This mountain cable car offers lovely views across Budapest and the surrounding countryside. Again, just a bit too far away for this trip.
- House of Terror – I’m ashamed to say that I visited zero museums in Budapest. I was heading to Vienna afterwards (the museum capital of the world) and I didn’t want to get museum fatigue. House of Terror details the destruction the Nazi and Soviet regimes caused to Hungary.
- House of Houdini – If I didn’t feel like visiting a depressing (albeit important) museum, I’d have visited the House of Houdini in Buda instead. The famous magician was born in Budapest and it looks fun!
- Museum of Ethnography – My third and final Budapest museum recommendation. This looks like one of the most culturally important museums in Budapest and it seems like a beautiful building too.
- Metropolitan Szabo Ervin Library – Like the New York Café, this is just an absolutely beautiful building. I just felt weird about visiting a library where people are working to walk around and take photos. Plus, the opening times are a little sporadic.
How To Get To Budapest: Planes, Trains & Buses
Budapest Airport is a busy international airport and where most people begin their trip in Budapest. I found lots of Ryanair flights from various UK airports to Budapest through Skyscanner, although they weren’t as cheap as I expected them to be.
Once I arrived at the airport, I bought a ticket for the 100E airport bus transfer and didn’t have to wait long for the next service.
Budapest Keleti is the main international train station in the city and it’s just a little bit outside of the city centre. I didn’t take any trains during my 2 days in Budapest but I know there are plenty of services to Austria and the Czech Republic and beyond including sleeper services.
After my trip to Budapest, I booked a ticket on a FlixBus service to Vienna. I’ve only had great experiences with FlixBus; it was cheap, arrived on time, and was very comfortable. I couldn’t ask for more!
How To Get Around Budapest: Public Transport
Budapest has a bus, metro, and tram system. In fact, you’ll see the yellow trams travelling all over the city and they’re quite picturesque.
Unless you have accessibility needs, you probably won’t need to use the public transport network much as I didn’t. If you do, use Google Maps to buy find the best route and make sure you buy your ticket (either from a machine or app) before you board.
Where To Stay in Budapest: Accommodation Options
I stayed at the Maverick Urban Lodge. This hostel was near the Great Market Hall but there was another Maverick hostel in the Jewish Quarter which is in a much better location. Stay in the Jewish Quarter when you visit Budapest!
It was mostly a great hostel, though. It was modern and the dorms, bathrooms, and common areas were all spot on. The only thing was that they didn’t have an onsite kitchen and you couldn’t eat your own food in their bar area.
This was something I’d never seen in a hostel before (surely they all have kitchens?!) but I’ll know to watch out for this in the future.
2 Days in Budapest FAQs
How Many Days in Budapest?
I think two days is the minimum amount of time you should spend in Budapest but three full days are ideal.
Should I Go To Prague or Vienna or Budapest?
I’ve visited Prague, Vienna, and Budapest and they’re all fantastic cities. If you only have time for one, visit Vienna. If you’re on a budget then visit Budapest or Prague.
Prague probably has more attractive day trip options than Budapest so if you have more than two or three days, visit Prague.
2 Days in Budapest: That’s a Wrap!
So, that’s my 2 days in Budapest itinerary based on the week I spent there. I had a lot of fun and it more than made up for my first trip.
Are you planning a trip to Budapest? Let me know in the comments below!