The pearl of the Danube: this is how they call Budapest, the beautiful capital of Hungary, built on both sides of the majestic River Danube and connected by 7 bridges. Spending one day in Budapest is enough to see a few amazing attractions, but be prepared: you will want to come back!
A Quick Overview of Budapest
Budapest is divided into two sections by the river Danube: on the hills to the West is Buda, and on the plain to the East is Pest.
The airport, the international train station (Keleti palyaudvar) and the bus station (Nepliget) are all located on the Pest side. From the airport, take bus 100E to reach Deak Square in the center in 30-40 minutes. From the train and bus station, take public transport (buy a 24-hour pass or 10 tickets at the purple machines).
There are many luggage deposits in the city centre, especially in the 7th district.
The main touristic attractions on Buda side are the Castle Hill and Gellert Hill; on Pest side, there is the city center, the Basilica, the Parliament, the Great Market Hall, Heroes Square, and the Ruin pubs.
Budapest was mostly built during the second part of the 19th century, especially Pest. After the being heavily damaged during World War II and during the 1956 revolution against the Soviet Regime, it was restored (many buildings still need a little help) to that style. Expect a feeling like Vienna, Prague, sometimes Paris: grand facades, Art Nouveau decorations, Neo-gothic here and there.
What makes Budapest unique is that it is not perfectly smooth and freshly repainted: it’s alive, it’s ruined, it’s a little dirty with pollution. It is real and authentic.
What to do in One Day in Budapest
It is certainly possible to reach most of the suggested places on foot if you don’t have your luggage with you.
Public transport is easy to use with a 24-hour pass or with the 10-tickets pack, but it may not be worth the research or the money. Google Maps is your friend and will bring you on a beautiful walk.
Some things you don’t want to miss during your one day in Budapest:
One of the symbols of Budapest is Chain Bridge, which crosses the Danube right in front of the Royal Palace (also called BudapestCastle). Built in stone in Scottish engineer Adam Clark in 1849, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1949, after the Nazis blew all the bridges up when they left the city to the Russian army. Its latest appearance on YouTube is in Will Smith’s vlog, when climbed it to the top! It’s super illegal, don’t even think about it.
The best photo spot for Chain Bridge is on Pest side, to the right of the bridge, looking at Buda side: perfect to capture the bridge and the Castle. Make sure to snap a picture also from Castle hill, at the arrival of the Funicular: you’ll get in one shot the Bridge, the Basilica dome, and the rest of Pest around it.
Time: 30-60 minutes
Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion
On the Castle Hill there are two main areas: the Royal Palace, which houses Museums and Art Galleries; a couple of minutes away, along the main street, there are Matthias Church and the Fisherman’s Bastion. With just 24 hours, skip the Royal Palace and head straight to the Church and Bastion.
The colorful ceramic tiles of Mathias Church are made by the famous Zsolnay factory, in Southern Hungary, and give a unique extra twist to the Neo-Gothic architecture.
- The Church looks good from any side, but consider walking a little down the road in front of it, in order to frame it between the surrounding buildings. Also, take a look at its reflection on the nearby copper windows of the Hilton Hotel.
- The Bastion takes its name from the Fisherman’s Guild, who protected this area in the Middle Ages. The graceful arches frame beautifully the Parliament, down below on the opposite side of the river. It is not unusual to see weddings and receptions here, nor marriage proposals.
- Being one of the most famous sights in Budapest, it is almost impossible to take a picture of the Fisherman’s Bastion without anyone in it. Recently, the crowd started to arrive at sunrise. However, if you zoom in enough, you can sit on one of the arches and gaze romantically to the scenery; you may also discover unusual perspectives by walking down the stairs and capturing it from below.
Time: 1-1.5 hours
Saint Stephen Basilica
Standing 96 meters (314 feet), the Basilica is the tallest building in Budapest, together with the Parliament (also at 96 meters). Unfortunately, the square in front of it does not really accommodate its size. Nonetheless, the Neo-Classical façade is proportionate and imposing without being heavy; the richly decorated interior is a triumph of frescoes, mosaics, and golden details.
Consider stepping closer to capture the unique elements of the facade, or climb up to the tower to admire the view. The entrance costs just a donation of whatever coins or small banknotes you have.
Time: 30-60 minutes (more if you want to climb up)
The Hungarian Parliament is a masterpiece of Neo-Gothic architecture. Beautifully located by the river Danube, the spacious Kossuth square in front of it provides enough space to admire from multiple points of view. The 96-meter dome rises graceful and light, calling for attention.
It is possible to visit the Parliament only with guided tours, available often and in multiple languages. The interior is very beautiful and its history captivating; the Crown Jewels are also kept there. If you are very interested, consider buying the ticket in advance on jegymester.hu and remember to bring your passport/ID. The tour lasts approximately 1 hour.
Unique photo opportunities are provided by the flowers blooming in the square, and by the flat, calm water surface in the centre. The majestic statues of Hungarian Heroes are also happy to pose in pictures. The historical tram number 2 passes in front of the Parliament very frequently, providing for a chance of a bright splash of yellow in a motion blur.
Time: 30 minutes
A visit to Budapest is incomplete without Ruin Pubs. These famous establishments are mostly located in the 7th district, on Kiraly Street and Kazinczy Street. While many of them are gradually turning hipster, some still retain the original qualities: local youngsters opened abandoned factories and service shops to the public, by filling them with random chairs and tables found in attics and garage sales, decorated with eclectic art on the walls, colorful lights and good music. Cheap drinks were important; fixing the holes in the walls, not that much.
The first and most famous ruin pub in Budapest is Szimpla. Its numerous rooms and nooks are all full of old junk, handmade art, old computer screens turned hypnotic attractions; the inner courtyard houses tables inside old cars, benches made of skis. It’s absolutely charming, and it will easily keep you there for a while.
The atmosphere between day and night changes dramatically: the soft sunlight of the day allows to capture the crazy decor, while the crowded nightlife brings the place to life with live music and limitless energy.
Time: 30-60 minutes
BONUS: Citadella for the view
For the most comprehensive view of Budapest, climb up to the Citadella Fortress, on top of Gellert Hill, on the Buda side. It is a beautiful hike through the woods, but if you’re short on time, consider taking a taxi (do not call it from the street; use an app or call a number). The whole city opens up from the side of the abandoned fortress, embracing everything from the hills of Buda, to the Royal Palace, the peaceful Danube and its bridges, to vast Pest.
Be patient. This is one of the stops of all sightseeing tours, so large groups come and go all the time. On a sunny day, it is beautiful anytime; if cloudy, unfortunately, the white light could ruin it. Sunsets are gorgeous (the sun sets on the same side of the river where the Citadel is) and obviously crowded: make sure you go there in advance and take a good spot. The statue of Liberty is really impressive and provides for interesting angles.
Time: 30 minutes just for the view, but could be much longer for pictures
Summarizing One Day In Budapest
There is so much more to see in Budapest: the bridges on the river Danube, the colorful tiled roof of the Great Market Hall and the Museum of Fine Arts, the impressive Heroes Square. Don’t even get me started on the spas and hot springs! Spending 24 hours in Budapest will certainly make you want to come back.
Giulia and Darek are an Italian-Polish couple based in Budapest, Hungary. Traveling is their passion: they try to squeeze city-breaks around Europe and 1-2 weeks trips somewhere far away as often as their full-time jobs allow. They write their itineraries and share useful tips on their blog, Travelling Sunglasses www.travellingsunglasses.com .
You can find Guilia and Darek on social media at: