How to spend 48 hours in Budapest (2020 guide)
Hungary’s capital is a great European city to visit for a weekend or a short break. From sightseeing and shopping to bars and spas – here’s my guide on how to spend 48 hours in Budapest.
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Discover the city’s famous landmarks
Start your day one of your 48 hours in Budapest by going on a walking tour of the city’s famous landmarks. Luckily they all sit within reasonably close distance of each other, athough make sure you have a good pair of shoes on! And you’ll find most of them on the Buda side of town. I would recommend the following route.
The Parliament Building – Start your route by heading down to the banks the Danube Pest-side to the magnificent Hungarian Parliament Building. Here, art and architecture lovers can marvel at the beautiful neo-gothic style exteriors (and interiors if you choose to pay to go inside). Whilst history lovers can learn about the history of the city and the country and see the crown jewels.
Shoes on the Danube – Walk along the river bank where you’ll get to one of Budapest’s most poignant monuments. Shoes on the Danube is a memorial of cast iron shoes to honour the people killed by being shot into the water during WWII.
Szechenyi Chain Bridge – Continue walking along the river bank where you’ll get to the famous Szechenyi Chain Bridge. A landmark itself, this will lead you over to the Buda side of the city and the rest of the sights.
Fisherman’s Bastion – Once over the bridge, head north up to Fisherman’s Bastion, a 19th-century decorative fort. Sat atop Buda Hill, its a lovely place to wander around with plenty of history to discover. However most people go there for the views, with the fort’s many balconies providing a wonderful panorama of the the city below.
Buda Castle – Walk south along the river and the next sight you’ll reach is Buda Castle. What was once the royal palace, now houses a collection of museums including the National Art Gallery. There’s also lots of pretty gardens and grounds to walk around too. From the castle you can choose to either ride the funicular back down to the riverbank or walk down.
Citadel – Wander further south along the river and you’ll reach the final landmark, the Citadel. Perched on Gellert Hill, this 19th-century fort is seen as a symbol of freedom today, complete with its own Statue of Liberty. It’s also another great view point from which to look out across the city.
From the Citadel you can walk across the Elizabeth Bridge and back into Pest.
Top tip: I’ve recommended the landmark tour in the above order starting on the Pest side of the city as lot of hotels, hostels and Airbnb’s are there. However if you are staying on the Buda side, you might find it easier to do the above route in reserve.
Explore Budapest’s Ruin Pubs
After a day of sightseeing, there’s no better way to spend the afternoon and evening than exploring Budapest’s increasingly popular Ruin Pub scene. Ruin Pubs are unique, eclectic style bars set within a ruined abandoned building and are a must visit during your 48 hours in Budapest. Although each one has its own personality, they all have a similar rough and ready, mismatched feel to them. You’ll find most of the city’s Ruin Pubs in District VII (the old Jewish quarter), I would recommend:
Szimpla Kert – The king of the Ruin Pubs. Szimpla Kert is one of the craziest bars I’ve ever visited. Think eccentric decor and lots of it.
Doboz – Doboz is great for a proper night out, with DJs playing regularly, plenty of indoor spaces and a big outdoor courtyard.
Anker’t – Anker’t has a more simple feel to it. It hasn’t go overboard with styling the place, and it’s courtyard is great for casual drinks on warmer nights.
Instant – The largest ruin pub in Budapest. Instant spans across 26 rooms in an old apartment block. Here, there’s a spaces for relaxed drinks as well as party nights out, staying open until 6am.
Top tip: If you’re feeling hungry after a beer or two in the Ruin Pubs, head to Bors GasztroBar for your munchies fix. They do the best sandwiches and baguettes I think I’ve ever had – the queue outside says it all.
Experience Budapest’s famous thermal baths
You can’t spend 48 hours in Budapest without visiting one of it’s century old turkish baths. Set in historic buildings of domed ceilings and stained glass, these baths offer a truly unique and relaxing experience. However as they’re popular with both tourists and locals it’s best to get there early and beat the crowds. There’s plenty to choose from in the city, but I would recommend the following three:
Szechenyi Baths – These are the largest thermal baths in Budapest – with 18 pools to relax in. They are especially great to visit on a summer’s day, as a number of the pools are outside.
Gellert Baths – Sat on the foot of Gellert Hill, Gellert Baths’ Art Nouveau interiors make them particularly beautiful to visit. Here, they have 10 pools to explore, found both indoor and out.
Rudas Baths – These were the baths that we actually opted to go to, as they are slightly less touristy than Szechenyi and Gellert. It’s original domed roof spa room is particularly spectacular, whilst newer highlights include a rooftop spa pool.
Go shopping or eating in the Great Market Hall
Built in the late 19th-century the Great Market Hall is the perfect place to go to for an authentic culinary or shopping experience. Staying true to its roots the market still sells everything you’d expect to find in a traditional market including fresh fruit, veg and meat. But now there’s also stalls where you can browse for souvenirs and try traditional cooked hungarian cuisine too.
Visit St. Stephen’s Basilica
Even if churches aren’t your thing, St. Stephen’s Basilica is worth a visit for its architecture alone. You can even head up to its cupola for a view of the city. Whilst the grand square the cathedral sits upon is flanked with lovely cafes, where you can stop for a coffee.
Sip cocktails in 360 Bar
End your trip with an evening at 360 Bar. A wonderfully hidden rooftop terrace that offers a beautiful view of the city. A world away from the Ruin Pubs, here you can enjoy classic cocktails and nibbles while watching the sun set over Budapest.