Western Europe is a lot more popular for tourist than Eastern Europe is. France, Spain and Italy dominate the tourism industry in Europe. While these countries are simply amazing with lots to see and do, Eastern European countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic are true gems. Among these places in Eastern Europe, Budapest, the capital of Hungary in my opinion is very underrated and has so much to offer. Budapest is made of two cities, Buda and Pest separated by the mighty Danube river. This post covers how to spend 2 days in Budapest and experience some of the highlights this wonderful city has to offer.
2 Days in Budapest
My itineraries and posts are usually jam packed with things to do. However, this 2 days in Budapest itinerary truly focuses on the key highlights.
Day 1 of this 2 days in Budapest itinerary will mostly be spent on the Pest side of the river.
Visit the Parliament
The Parliament of Hungary is perhaps the most famous landmark in the entire country. This neo-gothic building is beautiful from the outside, but even more stunning inside and is well worth a visit. Although you can buy same day tickets at the ticket office, tickets often sell out so it is best to book in advance HERE. The tour lasts about 45 minutes and there are some security measures to get by so arrive early.
Shoes on the Danube
Just a 5 minute walk from the Parliament building is a haunting tribute to 3,500 people, 800 of them Jews who were shot in to the Danube during World War II. Before they were shot, they were asked to remove their shoes and stand at the end of the river bank so that when they were shot, their bodies would fall in to the river. It is a chilling memorial and one that calls of some reflection.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
This basilica is the largest church in Budapest. Built in the neo-classical style, this basilica is named after St. Stephen, the first king of Hungary, whose right hand is housed in the church! The church has an impressive dome and two bell towers on either side. Definitely worth seeing the interior as well. Don’t miss to look up at the dome when inside.
The Policeman Statue
Close to the basilica is a statue of a golden policeman. Legend has it that if if you rub his belly you will find luck or not get fat (I heard both versions..not sure which one is true!)
A posh street dating back to 1872 that is a UNESCO World Heritage site today. It is also one of Budapest’s main shopping streets, with cafes, restaurants and luxury boutiques.
Hungarian State Opera
Even if you don’t do a guided tour or experience an actual performance, it is still worth it to see the building itself! Architecturally, it is built in neo-Renaissance style, with elements of Baroque and is considered one of the best opera houses in the world.
Szechenyi Thermal Baths
This thermal bath experience in Budapest probably is pretty high on the list of one of my favorite things I’ve done while traveling. The city of Budapest is built on top of thermal hot springs and you can find several thermal baths around the city. However, the Szechenyi Thermal Baths is perhaps the most popular and iconic.
This bath has a couple of outdoor pools and several indoor pools of varying temperatures. It also has a sauna room. My favorite was sitting in a sauna room and then dipping into the pool with the coldest water. Your body instantly feels like jelly and so relaxed. It’s also nice to see the amount of locals who come to this pool. A group of older men gathered around playing chess or cards is a common site.
There are many different ticket types and various add-ons like massages, renting a locker etc.
see HERE for tickets and available services.
A short walk from the Szechenyi thermal baths is Hosok Tere or Hero’s Square. This huge square is a tribute to Hungary’s notable leaders and historic figures.
Hungarian Folklore Show
This was not on my itinerary when I showed up in Budapest and was purely an accidental find. I was walking by the historic Duna Palota or Danube Palace an afternoon and decided to do in it on a whim. Depending on the night, the performances are by either The Hungarian State Folk Ensemble, The Danube Folk Ensemble, or the Hungarian Folk Ensemble & Orchestra. It’s a 90 minute performance and I really enjoyed the show!
What was most memorable was the 85 year old Hungarian woman who sat next to me who told me she used to do these dances as a teen. She had fled Hungary to Canada during the post World War II communist regime and she had tears in her eyes when she told me this may be the last time she would be in her motherland, Hungary due to her age and ability to travel.
Start day 2 on the Buda side of the river.
This castle is the most imposing structure you will see, if you look up from the banks of the Danube on the Pest side. Once the palace complex of the great Hungarian kings, today it is a world heritage site. The structure you see today is from the mid 1700s. Enjoy the views of Pest from here!
How to Get Here
- By foot: Steep stairs from the Chain Bridge, at Clark Adam Square
- By Funicular: Take the Buda Hill Funicular. Cheaper if you buy a return ticket down
This church is beautiful inside and out! the interior is very unique and nothing like I have seen before. The colorful tile work on the roof is also very unique. You can climb up to the roof top level for a small additional cost.
Right next to the church and offers great views of the Pest side. The 7 towers represent the seven Magyar tribes that founded Hungary. Sitting in the middle is a statue of King Stephen I on a mighty horse.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
Head back to the Pest side via the Széchenyi Chain Bridge. This bridge is another iconic landmark in Budapest. This beautiful bridge was first built in the 1840’s to connect the cities of Buda and Pest across the Danube. It was destroyed during World War II but later rebuilt. Walk through the pedestrian section of the bridge!
It’s more stunning at night so highly recommend seeing it when it is dark too!
Stroll Through the City
Make your way back to the Pest side and troll through the streets. There are pockets of this city that is modern and in the present while there are some other pockets that remind you of its past. Stroll through Vatci Utca if you are around that area. I love architecture and really enjoyed just walking around and seeing the facades of old buildings.
The Great Market Hall
Head over to the Great Market Hall if you are looking for a little shopping or to take home some souvenirs. This building was built in 1897 and is the largest of the market halls in Budapest.
Danube River Cruise
A cruise on the Danube river is a great way to finish your short but sweet trip to Budapest. There are lots of options for cruises ranging from time of day to type of cruise (cruise with entertainment etc.). I opted for a sunset cruise and it was just perfect! The best part was seeing the beautiful Hungarian parliament building during golden hour! There was also entertainment on my cruise with a live gypsy band playing music (including and much to my delight the Hungarian dance!) and a buffet style dinner with lots of traditional Hungarian cuisine.
HERE is the link to the company I booked the cruise with. I opted for them to come pick me up and drop me back and their service was great from start to finish!
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Budapest pleasantly surprised me and I really enjoyed the city. However, my favorite Eastern European city is Prague. See HERE or below for 12 amazing things to do in Prague.