Split along the Danube River, the regions of Buda, Óbuda, and Pest were unified in the late 1800s to create what we know and love today as Budapest. Budapest is a city full of life, warmth, and excitement, and offers a break from the skyscraper life. If you have the time in your travels, spend a long weekend exploring all that she has to offer. Don’t rush this beautiful city, she deserves your time and admiration!
Here’s my ultimate guide to exploring Budapest in 24 hours.
In Hungary, they use the Hungarian Forint (Ft). As of today, the exchange rate is approximately 332 Ft to 1 Euro or $1.10 USD.
When exchanging money, I do not recommend exchanging at the airport or at transit centers (bus or train). There are plenty of exchange stalls throughout the city at a better rate. But, if you must exchange at the airport or transit center, I recommend only taking out a little bit. You can go very far here with your money and most places accept most major credit cards.
Navigating the City
Getting around Budapest is very easy and you have easy access to all areas of the inner and outer city. I only explored Budapest for 24 hours, but I wish I had stayed for at least a week to get to know the city more. If you only have a stopover in Budapest, you can see a lot in 24 hours!
From the Airport - If you are flying into Budapest, it is very easy to get yourself to the city center via Bus or subway. It will take you 50 minutes regardless of which mode of transportation you use. The Airport Bus leaves from Terminal 2 and will take you directly to Deak Ferenc Square (city center). The bus runs every 30 minutes and will cost you 900 Ft (€2.70). Or you can take a transfer bus to the Kobanya-Kispest railway station where you can then take Metro 3 (Blue line) to the city center. A single-ride ticket will cost you 600 Ft (€1.80) on the metro.
I came to Budapest from Krakow using Flixbus and got off at Népliget Bus station. The easiest way to get into the city center from there is via Metro 3. While I was in Budapest in August, Metro 3 was under construction. There was a Metro 3 line bus operating in place of the subway line to still offer people access to the city.
Train, Bus or Tram - The main subway lines that connect Buda and Pest and allow access across outer and inner-city locations are Metro 1 (Yellow), 2 (Red), and 3 (Blue). There are numerous buses - too many to count - that also traverse both sides of the city and go further outside of the city than the metro lines do. There are also trams that run throughout the city center that run into the early hours of the morning, especially on the weekends for the late-night owls and party-goers.
You can purchase single-use tickets, multi-use tickets, or a 24-hour transportation pass (1,700 Ft or €5) that most metros, buses, and trams will honor. You can also purchase the Budapest Card for unlimited transportation and access to 30+ attractions free or at a discounted price. I recommend this option if you know that you will be in the city for at least a 3-day weekend so that you get your money's worth.
Bike - You will find city bike rentals throughout both sides of the city for anyone to use. There are also numerous bike rental shops where you can rent by the hour or day. You will find many locals and travelers alike out running or riding their bikes along the Danube at any time of the day or night. Budapest is not as bike-friendly as Copenhagen, but that doesn’t stop people from getting out and exploring by bike.
Walk - Budapest is a very pedestrian-friendly city. There are numerous pedestrian plazas and zones throughout the city that a car or bus cannot access. There are walkways across every bridge to connect both sides of the city. I recommend taking a morning or evening (or honestly any time of the day) walk along the Danube for some fresh air and a beautiful view of the city.
Walking is my favorite mode of transportation wherever I travel. You get to see so much of the city and can stop into any shop or cafe for a small break or even to steal some air conditioning or heat depending on the weather. I recommend bringing a comfortable pair of shoes if you are a big walker like me!
Rideshare - Bolt, the European version of Uber, is a great way to get around the city quickly. They are not as cheap as the bus or tram but will definitely beat the taxi prices. These car hire companies offer great convenience when you need to get somewhere quick or to get to the airport in comfort.
Where You Should Stay
Staying inside the city center will obviously be more expensive. However, there are many great hostels, Airbnbs, and hotels located in and around the center with great access to transportation. You just have to look for a place that fits your budget with a great location.
I actually stayed with a friend in Budapest, so I don’t have a hostel recommendation for Budapest at this time. But, making friends in a new city is a great way to get a private and local tour of the city and a great place to stay!
Booking My Accommodations - I love finding deals on places to stay while traveling. Here are my favorite sites that continue to find me affordable and great places to stay!
Things To Do - Attractions and Experiences
There is so much to see and do in Budapest that I recommend you space it out and savor the architectural and historical beauty. Whether you love to explore during the day or go out during the night, there are activities and life at all times of the day for you to enjoy!
Located on the Buda side of the city, Buda Castle is a beautiful historical complex made up of the Royal Palace and the Palace District. It now houses 6 museums and beautiful gardens for you to explore and wander through. You can walk up to the castle or take the Funicular (cable car). The views of the city and the Danube are amazing in the eary morning or in the evening.
An iconic symbol of Budapest and a stunning architectural structure. The Hungarian Parliament Building is a beautiful sight and worth the visit, even if you can only see the outside (althought the inside is just as impressive, if not more so!). The best view is actually from the Buda side overlooking the Danube. Book your tickets for a tour HERE.
To be honest, Fisherman's Bastion, or Halászbástya, is one of my favorite spots in Budapest (minus the crowds). It provides one of the best views of the city and the Danube. For any Instagramers or photography lovers, this is a great place to capture amazing shots. I recommend getting here early in the morning. By 8:00 am, it will begin to get crowded with tourist groups and tours.
St. Stephen's Basilica
While walking around the city center it will be hard to miss this beautiful structure. Named after the 1st king of Budapest, Stephen, St. Stephen's Basilica is a tourist favorite and a must see while visiting the city. It is free to enter, but if you want to go up and see the panorama of the city, it will cost you 1,000 Ft (€3).
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
The Széchenyi Chain Bridge is just as iconic as the Parliament Building and Buda Castle. This beautiful stone suspension bridge has allowed traffic to pass between Buda and Pest for over 150 years. Instead of taking the metro every time to cross to the Danube, I recommend going for a walk across the bridge at least once. It provides beautiful views from both sides of the city.
Central Market Hall
A one-stop shop for local produce, groceries, and souveniers. The Central Market Hall is frequented by tourists more than locals, but it is still a great place to shop and get decent prices. I recommend going in the mornings between 10 am and 12 pm. You can also book a food or wine tour to explore the flavors of Hungarian food.
Citadella & Gellért Hill
One of my other favorite spots in Budapest! If you are looking for the perfect place to walk and get into nature and do some light hiking, Gellért Hill is the place to go. With a beautiful view overlooking the city and the Danube, it is worth the 15-minute walk up to the top. At its peak, you will find the Citadella fortress where you can appreciate the view of the city and the Freedom Statue (or Statue of Liberty).
Connecting both sides of Budapest, the Liberty Bridge is a perfect bridge to use to access the spa Gellért and Citadella on the Buda side and access the Central Market Hall on the Pest side. This bridge is not as beautiful or as well-known as the Chain Bridge but has just as much character and history that should not be ignored.
You will find Turkish influence throughout Budapest, but the most popular is the thermal bathhouses. The bathhouses are a great way to stop and relax after walking through the city. ell, you can designate an entire day to the bathhouses and spas if you have time in your schedule. Gellért, Rudas, and Széchenyi are the most popular and always busy with other tourists. I went to Király as it was more of a local spot, less crowded, and much cheaper.
Budapest Eye & Elizabeth Square
Need a break from walking and just want to relax for a little bit? Check out Europe's largest mobile Ferris wheel - the Budapest Eye. Take a ride and admire the panorama view of the city and the Danube. The Eye is located in Elizabeth Square - a hot spot for all ages to relax during the day, cool off in the pool, and enjoy craft beers and food. There is always something going on in the park no matter the time of year.
Are you on a tight schedule, but still want to see the major sites of the city and learn about them too?? I recommend catching one of the morning or afternoon free tours offered by numerous tour companies in Budapest.
I felt like I saw a lot of the city in the 24 hours I was there. I loved it so much and made some amazing friends that I cannot wait to connect with when I go back.
Have you been to Vienna?? Tell me your thoughts and stories about your experiences in this beautiful city below!