CURRENCY: Hungary is not officially on the euro and still uses its own currency. However, the euro is accepted almost everywhere.
PEAK TOURIST SEASON: Summer months (June through August)
RESERVATIONS: You will need reservations in advance for almost everything in Budapest.
POINTS OF INTEREST: Fisherman’s Bastion, Hungarian Parliament Building, Buda Castle, Gellert Hill, Szechenyi Thermal Bath, Jewish Quarter, Ruin Bars, Central Market, Szechenyi Chain Bridge, Heroes’ Square, Vajdahunyad Castle, Shoes on the Danube Bank Memorial
For more on airport transfers, city layout, transportation within the city and other helpful city tips and tricks, check out our full Guide to Budapest.
Budapest is divided into two sides: Buda and Pest separated by the Danube River. (Buda is more residential, quiet and hilly with panoramic city views; whereas, the Pest side is the bustling city center.) It is extremely important to organize your day around sight locations as Budapest is a large and sprawling city.
Begin your first day on the Buda side at Fisherman’s Bastion. With sweeping city views and a castle like exterior, Fisherman’s Bastion is a big tourist draw and will be crowded all hours of the day. Aim for sunrise to minimize the crowds!
Spend the rest of the morning on the Buda side of Budapest. Move onto Buda Castle, located right next door. The castle is now a museum (personally, I was disappointed it was not a staged palace to tour). If you do not want to go inside the castle, walk the grounds and garden.
Continue on to Gellert Hill and climb to the top for amazing city views. For more details on these locations, click here to read our full Guide to Budapest.
After exploring Gellert Hill, walk over the Szechenyi Chain Bridge to the Pest side of Budapest. At the time of its construction, it was regarded as one of the modern world’s engineering wonders and became a symbol of advancement for the East. It is truly a unique experience to cross the bridge and take in the city views.
Continue on to Central Market Hall for lunch and souvenir shopping. The first floor of the hall is a food market and the second floor is lined with souvenir stands. Make sure to sample a few Hungarian staples: goulash, chicken paprikash, halaszle (fish soup), langos (flat bread) and chimny cones for dessert.
Head to High Note Sky Bar at the Aria Hotel for an afternoon cocktail. Located right next to St. Stephen’s Basilica, the rooftop bar has stunning cathedral and city views. Enjoy a traditional Hugarian meal at 21 Hungarian Kitchen or Pest-Buda Bistro to wrap up your first full day.
Start your day at Heroes’ Square. Here you will find Vajdahunyad Castle, Szechenyi Thermal Bath and (in the winter) one of Europe’s largest outdoor ice skating rinks. Spend your morning relaxing in Szechenyi Thermal Bath, the oldest bath in Budapest. (Tickets are also available to just tour the property if you do not wish to take a dip.)
After your time in the baths, stop by Vajdahunyad Castle and enjoy centuries of Hungarian architecture combined into one building.
Spend the rest of your day wandering in the Jewish Quarter. A revitalization has transformed the quarter into a local and tourist hot spot. Dilapidated buildings have been turned into bars and restaurants with eclectic designs. Szimpla Kert was the first ruin bar of it’s kind and now the most famous. (For more details on the revitalization and our time in the Jewish Quarter, check out our full Guide to Budapest.) Have lunch at the Karavan outdoor food hall, drinks at Szimpla Kert and dinner at the beautiful Mazel Tov.
Hitting many of the city’s main attractions, this quick guide is a great start to getting to know Budapest. If you have more time in the city, take a sunset river cruise down the Danube, have dessert at the beautiful New York Cafe and tour St. Stephen’s Basilica. Check out our full Guide to Budapest for more on what we did and travel tips to Budapest.