Divided by the iconic Danube River, the once-separate cities of Buda and Pest merged in 1873 to form one of Eastern Europe’s most exciting and lively capitals. One visit to Budapest, with its beautiful architecture, distinct culture, and intriguing history, and you’ll understand why it’s known as the Pearl of the Danube. Follow our mini Budapest travel guide for everything you need to know about how to spend 48 hours in Budapest on tour.
Kick off your first day on tour in Budapest with a visit to some of the city’s most significant historic sites. Stop off at Budapest’s UNESCO-listed district, which conveniently houses several of Budapest’s top attractions, and check off several of the best things to do in Budapest by mid-morning!
Perched 550 feet above the Danube River, UNESCO-listed Castle Hill charms visitors with cobblestone streets, medieval architecture, and 19th-century buildings. While visiting Budapest, wander down the car-free roads and keep your eyes peeled for surprise viewpoints over the city. From Buda Castle and the 700-year-old Matthias Church, to the labyrinth under your feet, Castle Hill showcases some of the most compelling things to see in Budapest in 48 hours. Traveler Marissa said, “We were all astounded by the incredible Gothic and Renaissance architecture. The city is truly magnificent.” Read more about Marissa’s experience in the city when she went on tour to trace her family heritage in Budapest.
Budapest travel tip: Visit Castle Hill during the day when the top attractions are open. However, if you have a chance, check out this area again at night when everything is all lit up—it’s magical!
Constructed in the 13th century, the sprawling castle and palace complex once housed Hungarian royalty. It now accommodates the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the National Library. Originally built in Gothic style, expansions and restorations over the centuries weave in Renaissance and Basque flair. The size, location on the banks of the Danube, and centuries of history make Buda Castle one of the top places to visit in Budapest in 48 hours on tour.
Built in 1902 to honor the fishermen who helped to defend the city against invaders, Frigyes Schulek designed Fisherman’s Bastion as a communal gathering place for the Hungarian people. Serving as an unofficial gateway to the historic Castle Hill area, the neo-Gothic terrace and its seven turrets watch over the city the way its protectors did over a century before. Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the best places to visit in Budapest on tour for panoramic pictures. Climb to the top of the terrace, pause to take in the views, and snap perfect pictures of the cityscape, and the Danube River.
Nothing beats a classic comfort food. Lángos is a locally-loved street food made from deep-fried doughy flatbread topped with cheese, sour cream, garlic butter, and other toppings of your choice. Lángos is found throughout the city, often from street vendors or in markets. Head over to Street Food Karavan, a courtyard filled with food trucks selling Lángos and other traditional local dishes. Not only is it delicious, it gives you the fuel to see all the best places in Budapest in 48 hours.
Cafe culture is big in Budapest, and you won’t mind taking a load off after a full morning of exploration. Find historic locales throughout the city, like New York Cafe with its vaulted ceilings, elegant decor, and Renaissance-style architecture, or Ruszwurm Cafe, the oldest confectionery in Budapest with simple interior but irresistible cakes and coffee. Whichever cafe you choose to pop in for a bite, relax for a bit and enjoy the ambiance—it’s part of the experience when you travel to Budapest! Staffer Jamie said, “They’re the place to go to sip fresh-brewed coffee alongside decadent pastries while people-watching beneath chandelier light.” See what else our travel experts say are the top reasons to visit Budapest.
With its neo-Gothic, Baroque architecture and regal location on the Danube, this iconic Budapest landmark looks more like a royal palace than a government office. Despite its grandiose appearance, the Hungarian Parliament Building (completed in 1902) survived both World Wars, as well as many protests and uprisings. Today, it’s the tallest building in Budapest, one of the largest parliament buildings in the world, and a must-see Budapest attraction on tour.
Hungarians have enjoyed the luxury of naturally heated pools for centuries, thanks to the 100-plus natural hot springs that bubble beneath the city. A thermal bath experience is a must if you spend 48 hours in Budapest, but with so many options, how do you choose?
Look no further than the cheerful yellow neo-Gothic facade of Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Despite being built nearly a century ago (part of its charm), it boasts a total of 18 pools, all naturally warmed to 80-82F, a sauna, and steam room complex. Our travel experts say a dip in the thermal baths is one of the best things to do in Budapest in the guide to Eastern Europe.
Board a cruise at night, and you’ll understand why Budapest is sometimes referred to as the Paris of the East. You won’t soon forget the glow of lights from the lively capital, as you cruise down the Danube. Keep your eyes peeled for the top sights in Budapest that line the riverbanks, for an alternate photo opportunity of your favorite Budapest attraction. Traveler Carole said, “I fell in love with Budapest. We went on a boat ride on the river at night, and there was wonderful food, and you could see all the city lights. It was so beautiful.” Check out more of Carole’s experience as a global citizen on tour in Eastern Europe.
Your second day in Budapest focuses more on the local lifestyle and culture of the city. Here are the best things to do in Budapest on day 2, if you want to experience the city the way the locals do.
The river is an iconic part of Budapest. One of the best things to do in Budapest in 48 hours on tour is to stroll along the banks and snap a few photos. Head to the Danube Promenade, and while you walk along the river, make a stop at Shoes on the Danube, a memorial to the thousands that died there during World War II.
The Gothic Revival building hosts Budapest’s largest indoor market. Avoid the touristy souvenir booths, and stick to the stalls where you’ll see locals flocking around. The market is three floors, so it’s good to have a game plan before you go. Access the ground floor through the main entrance and shop for fresh produce, dried goods, meat preserves, and wine on this level. The basement floor is reserved for fish, game, and pickled vegetables. The upper floor overflows with art, crafts, and Hungarian textiles.
Budapest travel tip: The best market buys include local cheese, homemade lavender jams and soaps, fresh-ground paprika, and black truffle products made from locally foraged mushrooms.
Goulash is a must-try, when you have just 48 hours in Budapest. Simmered in a spicy paprika broth, the hearty beef, potato, and carrot stew is one of Hungary’s signature dishes. The soup comes from humble beginnings, when herdsmen lived out in the field for months and cooked with just a few available ingredients. The dish made a name for itself as a spicy and satisfying meal, eventually taking the name Gulyás, meaning herdsman.
Budapest travel tip: Go to Budapest Bisztro for its cozy ambiance, convenient location (a few blocks behind the Hungarian Parliament Building), and famous, housemade Goulash.
The largest public square in the city is full of clues to Budapest’s tumultuous history. The square’s centerpiece is the Millenary Monument, a 120-foot statue constructed in 1896 to celebrate Hungary's 1,000th anniversary. Tributes to the seven Hungarian chieftains surround the base of the monument, while a bigger semi-circle encompasses the square with statues of Hungarian kings and heroes. Heroes’ Square spotlights Hungarians’ indomitable spirit, making it one of the top things to see in Budapest in 48 hours. Traveler Jenny said, “In Budapest, the Communist rule ended fairly recently. We had this one local guide in Budapest who really sticks out to me. She was wonderful and shared about her life and her parents and the hardships they’ve been through. They’re a very strong people.” Read more about Jenny’s favorites memories from Eastern Europe.
The 1,230-foot stone bridge spans the Danube River and offers views of the top sights in Budapest. The bridge, first constructed in the mid-1800s and renovated in 1949, starts at Széchenyi Square on the Pest side and connects to Clark Ádám Square on the Buda side. Walk from one side to the other and gain a different perspective on the sites you’ve visited in Budapest, like the Hungarian Parliament Building and Buda Castle.
Wine is a significant part of Hungarian history. What better way to learn about it when you travel to Budapest than with a perfectly paired Hungarian feast guided by a local sommelier in a wine cellar? Indulge in Hungarian culinary delights on a tour of Budapest, Vienna & Prague and try the famous Tokaji wine, also known as Bull’s Blood. According to the legend, Hungarian soldiers drank this red wine and triumphed over the Ottomans in the 16th century battle. The Turks attributed their opponent's victory to the “bull’s blood” they saw them drinking beforehand, and the nickname was born. This wine is so deeply embedded in Hunagrian culture that it’s even included in the national anthem! Traveler Marissa said, “There were so many highlights during our stay, and eating authentic food was a big one! We even enjoyed drinking a special Hungarian wine called Bull’s Blood together.” Check out more of Marissa’s travels as she traced her family heritage in Budapest on tour.
There are plenty of reasons to visit Budapest in winter and shopping at the festive Christmas markets is one of them. Christmas time in Budapest delivers a generous dose of holiday cheer to anyone visiting on tour during the holidays. Get swept away in the spirit of Vörösmarty Square’s Christmas market, the biggest and most popular of them all in the heart of Budapest. As festive music floats through the air, hop from one wooden booth to the next, and stock up on mulled wine, cakes, ornaments, and gifts. Our staffer Emily said, “I picked up an angel that was holding dried cinnamon sticks, and a small wreath made up of various dried fruits, leaves, and spices.” Read more about best souvenirs to buy from the Christmas markets.