Hungary’s capital, Budapest, is one of those cities you can never get enough of no matter how many times you visit. But, we all know that not everyone has the luxury to stay in one place for weeks or more. With excellent connections via air, land, and water, Budapest has quickly gained popularity as a short city-break destination. And that includes spending a weekend in Budapest trying to explore as much as possible.
While I strongly believe in slowing down when you travel, sometimes you go with the flow and enjoy the little time you have to explore a place.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to sightsee in Budapest, using the public transportation and your own two legs, making sure you don’t miss the highlights.
Arrival for your weekend in Budapest
Chances are you’d either fly into Budapest Airport or arrive by train (at Keleti pu or Nyugati pu).
Check with your accommodation and see if they offer free airport transfer (take it, if they do, of course). Else, once you are done with the immigration (if applicable), make your way to the BKV (that’s the public transport company) counter in the airport and get yourself at least a 24h transport card. They don’t carry 48h cards so, for our weekend in Budapest, we just got two 24h transport cards (for the two days) and we were set.
Checking in at your accommodation for the weekend in Budapest
As you know, hostels and hotels do have set check-in times and that’s usually 2 pm. Try to negotiate early check-in if needed or just get them to keep your luggage securely until they can check you in. Sure, if you rent a place off AirBnb, you can discuss with the owner and check-in won’t be an issue.
Weekend in Budapest: Day 1
Let’s get back to the transportation card of a bit. If you have purchased one from the airport, that’s great. If not, you need to get your hands on one of them. Check out their website and click to show the places where you can get tickets from . Once you have that info you can get your card and go on your merry way.
There are a lot of amazing things to do in Budapest but, obviously, a weekend is not enought to hit too many. Still, one can try.
It’s Buda time! Let’s start the weekend in Budapest with exploring Buda. Make your way to the closest metro station to Chain Bridge, which is Vorosmorty Ter on M1 or Deak Ferenc Ter on M1, M2, and M3. Alternatively, get on tram line 2 and get off at the bridge. Walk on the bridge to make your way to Buda side!
If your accommodation is on Buda side, make your way to the funicular which goes up to Buda Castle.
No, you won’t be taking that funicular, you’d be walking, of course. It’s not crowded and it’s an easy walk. From time to time, stop and look back across and across the Danube: the views are spectacular.
Once in Buda Castle, it’s time to explore. You can spend hours here but make sure to get to: Fishermen’s Bastion, Vienna Gate, and Matthias Church. If you travel during winter, going on the viewing platform at Fishermen’s Bastion can be brutally cold but you can still enjoy spectacular views without doing that (although it’s so worth it, even in cold weather!)
If you are too tired, you can look for a café to sit down and enjoy something sweet! Or savory. Do expect high prices because of the location.
There are a lot more places to visit – including incredible museums -but you won’t really have time for them on such a short trip.
Now it’s time to go up on Gellert Hill. Easiest way? Just get back down to the Danube bank and walk along it , in the direction of Gellert Hill. You can see the Citadella https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citadella on top, which makes it easy not to get lost. You can also check what trams are available from where the funicular is located. Either way, you’d be walking quite a bit. Google estimates it takes about 30-40 min to walk all the way up (from the funicular). I can tell you that it may take quite a bit longer, if only because you will stop to take photos.
Once at the top, the Citadella is quite imposing and offers both excellent panoramic views of the city and amazing photo opportunities with the giant statue. Walk around the fortress to see the weapons exhibit.
You can spend as long as you want here but, depending on when you visit, make sure you have appropriate clothing. You can bring a water bottle as there are fountains to fill it up.
My favorite thing to do after I go up on Gallery Hill is to walk down towards Liberty bridge and then to the Central Market Hall. Pay attention that it is closed on Sundays and other public holidays, while on Saturday it closes at 3 pm.
If it’s already late when you arrive in Budapest, you can make your way here first – Fovam ter metro stop on M4 is nearby -, then do the Buda itinerary backward: Gellert Hill, Citadella, and then Buda Castle.
You can spend up to 4-6 hours doing this Buda itinerary. It depends on the weather and how fit you are (which determines how many breaks you take).
Get to the nearest public transportation stop and make your way back to the accommodation. In the evening, look up a place to eat close to the accommodation. You’d want to be rested for the next day.
However, Budapest at night can be very charming. So , if you like to explore cities at night, get out and enjoy the city for a bit. I love to make my way to Vaci utca and Danube embankment.
Weekend in Budapest: Day 2
It’s time to explore some important sights in Pest. Make use of that transportation card and get to either Deak Ferenc Ter metro stop or Vorosmorty Ter metro stop. This means you’d be right in the tourist center. And what’s there? Vaci utca! Otherwise known as the place where I always buy something from.
There are a lot of stores which sell affordable things and especially souvenirs. If you visit before the winter holidays , that’s where you can find the Christmas Market. either way, prepare to part with some Forints as I am sure you’ll find something to buy.
Walk towards the Danube Embankment and take in the view. Now either hop on Tram 2 to the Parliament or walk there (it’s a short walk). It is possible to tour the Parliament but the tours are at set hours. Here are the details. We took the tour when it was still free for EU citizens but we weren’t really impressed, therefore I don’t consider it a must-do.
What I do consider a must is checking out the shoes memorial. It’s one of those places that make you sad instantly. And a lesson to the humanity.
Make sure to also check the view from here. It’s very interesting.
Time permitting, I suggest taking the public transportation to Heroes Square. That’s on M1 but you’d walk a bit before you hop on the metro. I like to walk through Liberty Square, pass by St. Stephan’s Basilica, and then make my way to Andrassy ut and you’ll find an M1 (yellow) stop. Hop on the train to Heroes Square.
Once here, you can take in the huge square, walk a bit in the City Park, or explore the Vajdahunyad Castle grounds. By the way, also in this are you can find the Zoo (which takes another half day to visit).
If you still have time to explore, you can check the tower tour at the castle. It’s affordable but departs at set hours. The views are worth it, although the tour is super short (15-20 min).
This itinerary for a weekend in Budapest includes some of the most well-known sights and is a good way to get to know the capital. I didn’t include restaurant recommendations for one big reason: my diet is super limited and doesn’t include traditional Hungarian dishes (in other words, I’m vegan).
For obvious reasons, I didn’t include any places further from the city center, such as the Roman site of Aquincum, Szentendre, or the Children’s Railway. All three places are worth your time but you need at least two days to visit them (you can combine Aquincum with either of the two other stops).