Sliced top-to-toe by the great blue Danube, Hungary’s capital is quite literally a tale of two cities. On the west side, hilly Buda is all grandiose historic monuments and sweeping vistas, while buzzy Pest is the city’s beating heart with lively shops, cafes and markets. If you’re spending 24 hours in Budapest, don’t miss its highlights with our essential itinerary.
Kick off your day with a trip to the incredible Fisherman’s Bastion. Built in tribute to the Magyars (the founders of the Hungarian nation) the turreted, fairytale edifice offers breathtaking views from Castle Hill and of neighbouring Matthias Church. Just south from Fisherman’s Bastion, atop another lofty summit, sits the Citadella. An imposing fortress overlooking the city, you’ll get a majestic 360° panorama.
Next, take a walk over the city’s iconic Chain Bridge – it was this construction that first linked Buda and Pest in the 19th century. On the Pest side, in the city centre and adjoining Palace District, you’ll find an array of quaint cafes and coffee shops perfect for a quick lunch. For a truly unforgettable experience, dine at the famous New York Café. With marble columns and frescoed ceilings, the opulent eatery is considered the world’s most beautiful café.
After lunch, wander to the Great Market Hall. A cavernous, neo-gothic space, it’s packed with fresh, locally grown fruit and veg and delicious pastries. Pick up some traditional spicy sausage to bring home. The nearby Jewish Quarter is just a short walk away, where you’ll find the impressive Dohany Street Great Synagogue – Europe’s largest, no less. Within the ornate Moorish structure, you’ll find the Hungarian Jewish Museum, a treasure trove of captivating historic artefacts.
No visit to Budapest would be complete without a dip in one of its thermal baths; their mineral-rich spring water is reputed to have healing properties. The baroque, Széchenyi Baths are Budapest’s largest with fun and relaxing pools to bob about in. They’re open all year round, so in winter the naturally hot baths steam up into the bracing fresh air.
Take an afternoon tour of Hungary’s Hungary’s grandiose Parliament building on the banks of the Danube, It’s the world’s third largest parliament building and houses the Hungarian crown jewels.
After, the best time to view the Parliament when the sun sets. After dark, illuminated in all its glory, the show-stopping landmark becomes seriously Instagram-worthy. It’s best seen from a river cruise along the Danube.
For dinner, keep it authentic and seek out the traditional Hungarian dish, Goulash at a local restaurant in Pest like Rustica where you’ll be serenaded by a folk band. A rich, meaty stew made with beef, vegetables, macaroni, herbs and sweet paprika (Hungary’s signature spice), this hearty dish is guaranteed to warm you up on chilly winter nights. There’s no better way to round up your day in Budapest than with a taste of the local tipple, palinka. A feisty fruit brandy that comes in a cornucopia of flavours, palinka is a popular Hungarian digestif – don’t forget to raise your glass and proclaim, “egészségedre!” which is Hungarian for “good health!”
To discover the architectural grandeur and 19th century romance of Budapest you can visit on our Prague, Vienna and Budapest, Imperial Europe and Bohemian Highlights trips.