Budapest, Hungary

What to see in Budapest, Hungary

Historic buildings

Parliament (Országház), Kossuth Lajos tér. The Hungarian National Parliament building is the largest in Europe, designed by architect Imre Steindl for the 1896 millennial celebrations, and built 1880-1902. It is based on England’s Parliament building, and supposedly is one meter wider and longer than that august building, just a little bit of architectural conceit. The building is so immense, the weak alluvial soil along the Danube had to be reinforced with a 7-foot-deep concrete foundation. Not surprising, as the building is 300 yards long and 140 yards wide, with 691 rooms and 12.5 miles of corridors. The lacy white Gothic froth covering the building is actually educational: 88 statues representing Hungarian rulers, princes and military commanders. These statues are small and cannot be readily distinguished from the ground, but they are there.  Under the Parliament’s cupola the Hungarian crown jewels are exhibited. After World War II, the medieval crown (last used in 1916) was taken out of the country by escaping Hungarian fascists, ending up in the United States. President Carter returned the crown to the Hungarian state in 1978, accompanied by a large American delegation. It was exhibited in the National Museum until 2000 when it was moved to its present location. The only way inside the building is with an organized tour. The tour lasts about 30 minutes. Tours only run on specific times during the day, and you have to get your ticket in advance for a timed slot. The House of Parliament’s Visitor Center is directly north of the Parliament building itself and is an underground office reached by stairs. Come back at the specified time on your ticket, and a guide will appear (not in a uniform). Then you can go through security screening before starting. There is a bar/cafe just inside the main doors which is open to the public during the tour times. Tickets can be purchased in advance online (official tickets sold through Jegymester).  You can also wait in line and purchase tickets for the guided tour inside the Visitor Center. Multiple guided tours in English, Spanish, German, Italian, Hungarian, Russian, Hebrew, and French are held throughout the day. Visits to the House of Parliament are restricted during weeks in which the National Assembly holds its plenary sittings.

The Royal Palace (Királyi palota). The most popular attraction on the hill. Entrance to the area is free, while some museums and attractions have paid admission. Can be reached on foot (sloped paths and/or a long series of steps), by tourist funicular, or by public transit bus. On foot, walk to the base of the castle on the Buda side and look for the white stairs next to the palace garden park. In the park there is also a small elevator and then a small escalator that will get you part way up. By funicular, cross the chain bridge and then proceed to the base of the station. Tickets cost 1100 HUF for adults for a short ride, and the view is not particularly impressive, so this is a better option for those with limited mobility than those looking for a fun experience. By public transit bus, take bus number 16. The first known buildings here where the Royal Palace stands today were built by Charles Robert’s eldest son, Stephan Duke of Anjou (1308-1342). It was later remodeled, but the reign of King Matthias brought about the golden age of Buda (1458-1490). Legend has it that when a Turkish ambassador came to Buda, he saw all the wealth and grandeur, forgot his greeting speech and all he could say was „The emperor sends his respects.” After several remodeling’s, the unique building we see today is the recreation of Alajos Hauszmann and Miklós Ybl’s1896 millennial designs. During its history the Royal Palace was destroyed and rebuilt at least 6 times. It hosted rulings but also invaders such as the Turks. Today the Palace is converted into some museums. It hosts the National Gallery. Sections of the Royal Palace include:

Lions’ Courtyard The courtyard got its name from the four stone lions that guard its gate. The two formidable lions at the gate try to deter one from entering, while the two on the inside roar furiously at those who dare walk past the gates. They were created by sculptor János Fadrusz in 1902. As we walk past the gate lighter stripes in the grey cube veneer show the excavated, the re-buried remains of the medieval palace walls. The 4300 m² courtyard is bordered by the building complex containing the Hungarian National Museum, the Budapest Museum of History and the National Széchenyi Library.

Hunyadi Garden The Hunyadi Garden was a market place during the reign of Sigismund of Luxemburg. The group of bronze statues known as the Mátyás Fountain is the work of Alajos Stróbl from 1904. The work features Matthias Corvinus in the company of his henchman, his hunter, his Italian chronicler and his hunting dogs. On the left side is Szép Ilonka, a young woman from a humble background, who knowing nothing about Matthias’s status falls in love with the king during a hunt. The busy fountain is a popular rest stop for tourists. This is Budapest’s answer to the Trevi Fountain in Rome: visitors wishing to return to the city toss shiny coins into the fountain, of which thousands shimmer under the water.

Savoyai Terrace One of the most representative areas of the Buda Castle, the Savoyai Terrace boasts the best view of the city. Standing on this spacious square we can see the graceful Danube dividing the two sides of the city, the limestone walls of the Parliament, the Gellért Hill, our capital’s bridges, the Monument of Liberty, and on a clear day you can see the sites of Pest. The Terrace is in front of the Hungarian National Museum and on it you will find the neo-baroque bronze statue of Austrian Prince Eugene of Savoy military strategist made by the sculptor József Róna which has been there since the beginning of the 1900s. Eugene of Savoy is an important figure in Hungarian History because he was the general who irrevocably freed Hungary from the Turkish occupation. The first palace, in Gothic style, built and added onto over 300 years, was destroyed by the Christian army that liberated Buda from the Turkish occupation in 1686. In 1715 work started on a completely new, smaller Baroque palace, but over the years more and more space was added to the palace until it reached its current length (304 meters). The palace, in neo-Baroque style, had many added wings (which now house the National Gallery, among other treasures–see below). Reconstruction after the various indignities suffered during rebellions of the nineteenth century finished in 1904. This reconstruction, by Miklós Ybl and Alajos Hauszmann, was undone by German troops holding out at the end of WWII. The roof fell in entirely and most of the furniture was destroyed. A Baroque façade which had never existed before and a real dome (there had previously been a faux dome with attic space beneath) were added to the building. Today the building houses three large museums (see below) and the National Széchényi Library. The statue of Hussar general András Hadik, a favorite of Empress Maria Theresia is well known to local students. The statue, designed by György Vastagh Jr. was presented to the public in 1937. The general is on horseback; take a close look at the horse’s testicles. They are shiny yellow, unlike the patina on the rest of the statue. Engineering students have for years polished the horse testicles on the morning of difficult exams, supposedly for luck. Mary Magdalene Tower (Mária Magdolna torony), on the corner of Országház utca and Kapisztrán tér is the part of a 13th-century Franciscan church used by Hungarian speakers. Under Turkish rule, this was the only church allowed to remain Christian: all others were converted into mosques. The chancel was destroyed in World War II and has not been rebuilt except for one stone window, as a memento. *Vienna Gate (Bécsi Kapu) at the northern end of Castle Hill. This was the market for non-Jewish merchants in the Middle Ages, and is where all four streets that run the length of the hill converge. The Vienna Gate inspired a typical Hungarian parental retort for children who talk back, they will be scolded with “Your mouth is as big as the Vienna Gate!” The gate is not really large or extraordinary, but you can climb over it anyway.

The Fisherman’s Bastion and lookout terrace (Halászbástya). For impressive views across the Danube to Pest. This neo-Gothic construction was built in 1905 by the architect Frigyes Schulek. It is composed by seven towers that are symbolizing the seven magyar clans’ leaders that came in the Carpathian Basin at the end of the IX century. It was built between 1890-1905, and is named after both the medieval fish market once nearby and the Guild of Fishermen who defended this section of the wall during past wars. The story is that different trades were responsible for defending different parts of the castle walls and that this section of the defenses was raised by the fishermen’s guild. In fact, the structure is a late 19th century fantasy built to add class to the area. That this is an invention does not detract at all from the attractiveness of the structure, nor from the impressive views of the river and Pest on the opposite side. The mounted statue between the bastion and the church is King Stephan (Istvan in Hungarian) the first king of Hungary (crowned about 1000.) He was declared a saint for his efforts in bringing Christianity to Hungary. He carries the apostolic cross with two crossbars – a symbol granted him by the Pope. In tourist season there is an admission charge of about $1 to climb on the bastion. In the daytime around the year, the bastion is the place most overcrowded by tourists in the Castle Hill, mainly brought in here by buses. The sculpture of a Turul bird just outside the cable car station is not, as you might think, an eagle, but the mythical turul bird (which is believed to be a kind of falcon). This bird is a part of the story of how the Magyars settled the Hungarian homeland. This bird appeared in a dream to the wife of the Magyar leader Ügyek and told her that she would be the founding mother of a new nation.

Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum, 1012 Budapest, Lovas Street 4/c. The Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum is located in the natural cave system of the Buda Castle Hill, few minutes away from the Matthias Church and the Hungarian Military Museum. The hospital was built out during WW II and was functioning as a hospital between 1944-1945, and later, during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. In the 1950s the institution was nationalized, received a secret code and was classified as TOP SECRET until 2002 due to the extension works that converted the place into a nuclear bunker. Since 2008 the museum has been open to the public, you can join historic walks scheduled every hour to take you back to the past and experience the living history of the XX. Century. 

Vajdahunyad Castle (Vajdahunyad vára). While loosely modeled after a Transylvanian fortress of the same name, the building is not really a castle at all: it’s a full-scale model built for Hungary’s 1896 millennial celebrations. The structure has three distinct wings, one Gothic, one Romanesque and one Baroque, making it quite a bizarre sight when seen from a distance. But sneak up closer and its magic will be revealed: thanks to the moat, the trees and the carefully laid footpaths, you can usually only see one section at a time. The attention to detail (all copied from real sites around the country) has been painstaking, so it’s like seeing three extraordinarily pretty castles rolled into one. The structure was originally supposed to be only a temporary one, but Budapest’s people liked it so much that it was rebuilt to last. Located on an island in the middle of the park’s lake.

Opera house (foyer)

State Opera House, Andrássy ut 22. Built between 1875-1884 by the premier Hungarian architect of the day, Miklós Ybl, who also worked on nearby St Stephen’s Cathedral. 

The Central Market Hall – this market is one of the most visited tourist attractions. It is placed in the city center just at the end of Váci Utca (do not confuse it with Váci ut which is a completely different street!). It is the largest and oldest covered market of the city. This is the right place to buy an Hungarian souvenir or to eat traditional food. Closed on Sundays.

 

Museums and Galleries

National Gallery (Nemzeti Galéria). An art gallery inside the Royal Palace. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10AM-6PM. Tickets for the permanent collection are 1400 HUF for general admission, or 700 HUF for EU travellers under 26 or over 62. Photographs only allowed with the purchase of a photo/video permit (500 HUF). Audio guides and guided tours available with fees. Ticket price includes admission to the dome of the gallery (weather permitting, and limited capacity) and the views from the dome balconies are very good. The gallery itself contains four floors of exhibitions including sculpture, renaissance and baroque paintings by Hungarians and other European artists, and modern/contemporary Hungarian painting and art installations. One section also displays selected works from the Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum) in Heroes’ Square, as the Museum of Fine Arts is closed for several years for renovations. The National Gallery is smaller than other major European art collections, and could be seen very quickly in 1-2 hours, or more thoroughly in a half or whole day. There are several tourist-oriented cafes onsite and nearby for drinks, sandwiches, or ice cream.

House of Terror (Terror Háza), Andrássy út 60 (corner of Csengery Street, a few hundred metres from Oktogon). Tue-Sun, 10-18. The building in the block of “Andrássy út 60.” was used both by Nazis and and the communist-led Political Police/State Security Police as headquarters. In the basement a labyrinth of prisons was created. Many people were jailed and starved or beaten to death here. 2002, the “house of fear” was converted into a stylish but depressing museum about Nazi and communist terror which helps visitors to understand Hungary’s 20th century. You will find background information sheet (English and Hungarian) for each room in the museum. 1800 ft.. 

Hall of Art (Műcsarnok). An “art hall” showcasing exhibitions of modern art by Hungarian and international artists. If you’re nearby it’s always worth taking a look to see what’s happening today. Open 10AM to 6PM daily except Monday, admission varies from exhibition to exhibition.

Ethnographic Museum (Néprajzi Múzeum), Kossuth Lajos tér 12 (across from Parliament). Tue-Sun, 10-18. Sometimes said to resemble the Reichstag (parliament) building in Berlin, the white neo-Renaissance façade complements the Gothic-style Parliament building just across the square. Do not miss the richly decorated interior, including the ceiling frescoes by Károly Lotz (who also frescoed the State Opera’s ceiling). The building was originally used to house the Supreme Court and chief public prosecutor’s office, explaining some of the motifs used in the frescoes. 1000 ft..

Memento Park, at the corner of Balatoni út and Szabadkai utca (From “Ujbuda Kozpont” – corner of Fehervari ut – Bocskai ut (Allee Shopping Mall) with bus No.150 to Memento Park stop.). Open daily from 10 AM till sunset. The open-air museum is located in South Buda. Driving takes 20 minutes, taking public transport 50 minutes to reach the spot. Main part of Memento Park is the typically Central European, yet universally unique collection of former public statues, which used to be stationed in the city’s public domains in accordance with the guidelines and the requests of the Socialist culture-politics and ideological system. In addition there is an exhibition of the 1956 revolution and 1989-90 political changes, a film showing about the political secret service. According to Ákos Eleőd, the architect: “This park is about dictatorship. And at the same time, because it can be talked about, described, built, this park is about democracy. After all, only democracy is able to give the opportunity to let us think freely about dictatorship.” Possible souvenirs are t-shirts which poke fun at communism, German Trabant car models; CDs of Hungarian communist fight songs, reproduction Hungarian Communist Party membership booklets and postcards. To attend the guided tour, or get a booklet in English is well-recommended. 

The Hopp Museum of East Asian Art. Collection of 20,000 pieces from China, Japan, India, Nepal, Tibet and Mongolia. Nearby is another similar collection, namely Gyorgy Museum.

Ernst Museum. Contemporary Hungarian art.

Museum of Applied Arts.

Natural History Museum. Mainly minerals at display.

Ludwig Museum of Modern Art.

Holocaust Memorial Centre.

Bible Museum

The Historical Museum of Budapest. Exhibition of medieval Budapest and history of the Royal Palace.

Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker Museum. WWII military hospital and former secret nuclear bunker open to the public, located inside the Buda Castle Hill, close to the Matthias Church and the Military Museum, 15 minutes walk from the Buda Castle

The Music Museum. Includes a collection of musical instruments and the Bartok archive.

The Military Museum. Uniforms, weapons, maps and other Hungary-related military objects from 11th century until nowadays.

Marzipan Museum.

Pharmacy Museum. Collection of pharmaceutical objects from the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Museum of Medieval Judaism. Presents the medieval Jewish objects of Buda.

Hungarian Agricultural Museum. Housed in Vajdahunyad Castle’s baroque wing, this is the only part open to the public and it now houses the exhibits on breathtaking topics like cattle breeding and fishing. But at 50 ft a throw for students it’s worth seeing just for the architecture.  

Museum of Victor Vasarely at Szentlélek tér. — Take HÉV from Batthyány tér and get off at Árpád-híd stop. The museum entrance is just next to the square where many buses stop. The museum contains the work of Vasarely, a figure of ‘op art’. The works are excellent and are fun to watch.

Museum of Aquincum – The remains of Aquincum the former capitol of Pannonia Inferior, built by the Romans.

Tomb of Gül Baba and Rosegarden – Built around 1548 by the Turkish occupants of the city. It is the northernmost place of Muslim pilgrimage. The beautiful view and the peacefulness of the place makes a visit worth.

Béla Bartók Memorial House – The final home of one of the greatest Hungarian composers. Located at a very beautiful place and has a big garden.

Foundry Museum – A foundry from the 18th century in the very heart of the city, preserved as a museum.

Semmelweis Medical History Museum – The most important museum and archives on the history of medicine in Hungary

Museum Kiscell – A beautiful complex of baroque style buildings originally built for Trinitarian monks. The museum exhibits fine arts and items of modern history.

Museum of Óbuda – A museum of the local history in the Zichy Castle.

Zelnik Istvan Southeast Asian Goldmuseum (Aranymúzeum) has the leading collection in Europe of Southeast Asian gold artifacts from the 1st millenia BC

Olof palme ház is an elegant building in North italian renaissance style was erected in 1884 by the architect Pfaff Ferenc. The central wall of the building is finely decorated with some portraits of the most important italian renaissance artists: Michelangelo, Raffaello and Leonardo da Vinci.

Aquincum was a city in the Roman times, its remains are turned into a great open-air museum. It’s situated in the Óbuda district of northern Buda. There are some ruins of thermal baths, made by stones and decorated with mosaics and paintings. Visiting these places was social events for Romans. Don’t miss the Aquincum museum in which it is possible to admire many finds, paintings, reconstruction of houses and a reproduction of the hydraulic system of the time. Aquincum is the biggest and the most important roman ruin in Hungary.

Gül Baba Türbéje is the shrine where Gül Baba (literally Rose Father, from whom the Rózsadomb (Rose Hill) was named) lies.Offers a nice view and the little street which leads down the hill from there contains more houses that won the “House of the Year” award.

Kassák Museum at the Zichy Castle shows works of the modern Hungarian artists as well as modern Hungarian art.

Kiscelli Museum  – The Budapest Picture Gallery.

Kodály Museum.

Liszt Museum. Home of Ferenc Liszt, most famous Hungarian composer. Collection of his personal objects and instruments can be visited.

Bartók’s House.

The Music Museum. Includes a collection of musical instruments and the Bartok archive.

Fashion Museum.

MEO Budapest’s art fair.

House of the Future .

Parks

Margaret Island (Margitsziget) and its large parks are a very pleasant place to relax and wander. Perfect for a sunny afternoon. The island can be reached from both sides (Buda and Pest) by the Margaret Bridge that has a curious shape because it is connecting with the island with a 30° angle.

Churches

St. Stephen (István) Cathedral (the Basilica), Szent István tér. Though often called “the Basilica” for short due to its clerical rank as a basilica minor, it actually is shaped like a Greek cross, with two steeples and a dome on top. Designed by Miklós Ybl and József Hild, and built 1851-1905, it is as high as the Parliament building — it’s the highest church in Budapest. Walking in the main entrance, after climbing a series of stairs, the viewer is first greeted with a relief of St Stephen, then a mosaic of Christ’s resurrection. There are many notable mosaics in this church, especially those within the dome designed by Károly Lotz, best known for his ceiling frescoes in the State Opera and Ethnographic Museum. While designed here, the mosaics were made in Venice. The foremost Hungarian artists of the day designed the artworks within St Stephen’s, among them Bertalan Székely, Gyula Benczúr and two men also known for their work in the Opera, Mór Than and Alajos Stróbl. Here Stróbl contributed the central statue of St Stephen on the main altar. In the left hand chapel is the “Chapel of the sacred right hand” this is pretty surreal as St Stephen’s surviving hand in a glass box, lovely. For a fee, you can also climb to the very top of the Basilica to get a wonderful view of the city.

Matthias Church (Mátyás templom, aka Church of Our Lady). Dominant neogothic church crowning Budapest’s cityscape – nowadays is under reconstruction. The church praises a wonderful and unusual roof made of coloured shingles and elegant pinnacles. The interior worth a visit because of the frescoes and the artistic glass walls. The rococo spire of this church is one of the easily seen landmarks of the castle district. Originally the Buda German community’s parish church, its official name is the “Church of the Blessed Virgin”. The popular Hungarian king, Mátyás, held both of his weddings here, and so it is known as the Matthias Church. Today an eclectic mix of styles, the church was started in the thirteenth century. The main apse, which ends in a seven-sided polygon, is in French style and is the earliest extant section. The central section was built about 100 years later. During the Turkish occupation of Budapest, all the furnishings were removed and the painted walls whitewashed to cover art unacceptable to the Islamic eye. Once returned to the Catholic community, it was Baroquified (i.e. covered with Baroque ornamentation that obscured the original style like many other Central European churches were), and the rose window was bricked up. In the last century, between 1873 and 1896, Frigyes Schulek began a major renovation and restoration of the Matthias Church. The interior is sumptuously decorated in a style which is on the one hand art deco and yet evokes the medieval predecessors of this structure. As you enter the church turn to the right and proceed down the right hand aisle to the front of the church. For a small fee you can visit the underground treasury which includes a replica of the Crown of St. Stephen — the real crown (a 12th century object even though Stephen was a 10th century king) is on display in the parliament building. Also take a look at the opulent chapel at the rear of the church (around the corner to the left of the entrance. Be aware that this is a functioning church and you may find that at times it is closed to visitors for church activities or concerts. To the left of the neighboring Hilton Hotel is what looks like the wall of a medieval church with a monument set into it. In fact it is a copy of a monument located in Belsen, Germany (near Dresden). The copy was erected by the ilton Company. It portrays King Mátyás (15th century), the most beloved of Hungarian Kings. In front of the Matthias Church is a tall column decorated with many statues – this is a “plague monument” erected by thankful survivors.

Great Synagogue and the Jewish Museum, Dohány ut. 2-8. This synagogue is unique both because of its size, and its two onion-shaped domes, which are forty-three meters high. Onion domes are typically found on Catholic churches, and Hungary is a very Catholic country. Perhaps Ludwig Förster, the architect, meant for it to blend in a bit. Those interested in Jewish history or culture may be interested in a guided or self-guided tour of the old Jewish Quarter of Budapest is the neighborhood bordered by Károly Boulevard, Erzsébet Boulevard, Király Street and Rákóczi Road. Main sites include Wallenberg Park, The Tree of Life, The Temple of Heroes, the Rumbach Synagogue, the Carl Lutz Memorial, and the Kazinczy Street Synagogue 

Rock Church (Sziklatemplom) at the southeastern edge of Gellért Hill. The church was created from a natural cave system, following the Lourdes cave as sample in 1926. To reach the church, go to Gellért tér, turn towards Gellért Hill and look for the big white cross or the statue of King Saint Stephen – you can find the church below the cross and next to the statue.

Statues and Monuments

Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) – with the Millennium Monument in the middle and two museums on the two sides:

Chain Bridge (Széchenyi Lánchíd). Lánchíd (pronounced “laance heed”) means chain bridge and the suspension structure of the bridge is made of chains whose links are huge dog-bone shaped metal bars linked by pins at their ends. Make sure you stop by after dark to take a picture as the bridge is beautifully lit up.

Little Princess statue, (on bank of Danube, somewhere near Vigado ter). A bronze statue created by László Morton, a child sitting on the fence of the tram.

Shoes on the Danube memorial, (Danube bank, between Kossuth tér and Széchenyi tér (former Roosevelt tér)). The shoes are placed there in memory of the Jews who were shot into the Danube during World War II. 

Look-outs and viewpoints

Citadella, the former fortress on top of Gellérthegy, offers a superb panorama over Central Budapest including bank of the Danube River, Buda Castle and Pest city. To get good views up and down the Danube, take the steps going down in front of the Liberty Statue in front of the Citadella. There are several outposts offering good photo opportunities. The Citadella is served by local bus 27 from either Sánc utca (reached by bus 8, 112, 239 from Corvin Negyed (former Ferenciek tere) or Astoria Metro stations) or Móricz Zsigmond körtér (reached by tram 6 from Corvin Negyed (former Ferenciek tere) Metro station or tram 47, 49 from Kálvin tér Metro station). The bus stop is called Búsuló Juhász (Citadella), but the Citadella is 600 m away on foot along Szirtes utca.

Elizabeth Lookout (Erzsébet kilátó) is Budapest’s highest peak with its 527 meters. One possible ‘vehicle’ to reach it is the chair lift (Libegő), starting out from the terminal of bus 291. Open hours of the Chair-lift: between 15th of May and 15th of September: 9AM-5PM, between 15th of September and 15th of May: 9:30AM-4PM. A single ticket costs HUF 750 and and a return ticket HUF 1300.

Other

In the City Park, the Budapest Zoo is one of the oldest in the world. It offers more than 800 animals to be seen in a historic atmosphere.

The Cogwheel tram (Fogaskerekű) and Children’s Railway (Gyermekvasút) in the Buda Hills are a great escape from the city. The cogwheel tram, which is officially tram no. 60, leaves from Városmajor, accessible by tram 59 or 61 from Széll Kálmán tér. It climbs through the wooded Buda Hills and at the top, if you feel like doing it, take the Children’s Railway through the hills to Hüvösvölgy and take tram 61 back down to Széll Kálmán tér. The cogwheel tram accepts local travelcards, but the Gyermekvasút does not, and fares can be found here. Also if you have an old map, you’ll find Pioneers’ Railway (Úttörővasút) instead of Children’s Railway in it, which is the former name of the railway from the Soviet era.