Beautiful and majestic Budapest sits on the two banks of the Danube river, and is ready to dazzle its visitors with the many splendors it has to offer. Some people say that if you land in Budapest blindfolded with no idea of your destination, coming from Paris, you could think you landed in Moscow, whereas coming from Moscow, your guess would be that you landed in Paris. Let us help you discover the top five attractions of Budapest and comment them with hand-picked bits of facts by our expert tour guides.
St Stephen’s Basilica Budapest
The St Stephen’s Basilica is an ecclesiastic basilica. It is named in honor of Stephen, the first King of Hungary (c 975-1038), whose mummified fist is housed in the reliquary behind the altar. Along with the Hungarian Parliament Building, it is the tallest building of the city center (96 m). It has a width of 55 meters, and its length is 87,4 meters. It was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction. Much of this delay can be attributed to the collapse of the dome in 1868 which required complete demolition of the completed works and rebuilding from the ground up.
The neoclassical style characterizes best the building. The facade is defined by two large bell towers. In the southern tower shelters Hungary’s biggest bell. Its weight surpasses 9 tons. The original bell had a weight of almost 8 tons, but it was used for military purposes during the second World War. Visitors may access the dome by elevators or 364 stairs for a 360° view overlooking Budapest.
Matthias Church Buda
Officially named as the Church of Our Lady, it has been popularly named after the greatest Hungarian king, Matthias Corvinus, “Matthias the Just”, known in Hungarian as Mátyás király, who ordered the construction of its original southern tower. In many respects, the 700 year history of the church serves as a symbol (or perhaps a reminder for Hungarians) of the city’s rich, yet often tragic history. Not only was the church the scene of several coronations, including that of Charles IV in 1916 (the last Habsburg king), it was also the site for King Mátyás’ two weddings (the first to Catherine of Podiebrad and, after her death, to Beatrice of Aragon).
Any Hungarian historian of note will tell you that the darkest period in the church’s history was the century and a half of Turkish occupation. The vast majority of its ecclesiastical treasures were shipped to Pressburg (present day Bratislava) and following the capture of Buda in 1541 the church became the city’s main mosque. To add insult to injury, ornate frescoes that previously adorned the walls of the building were whitewashed and interior furnishings stripped out.
The church was also a place of the so called Mary-wonder. In 1686 during the siege of Buda by the Holy League a wall of the church collapsed due to cannon fire. It turned out that an old votive Madonna statue was hidden behind the wall. As the sculpture of the Virgin Mary appeared before the praying Muslims, the morale of the garrison collapsed and the city fell on the same day.
Budapest Parliament Building
Budapest was united from three cities in 1873 and seven years later the National Assembly resolved to establish a new, representative Parliament Building, expressing the sovereignty of the nation. A competition was published, which was won by Imre Steindl, but the plans of the other two competitors were also realized, facing the Parliament: one serves today as the Ethnographical Museum, the other as the Ministry of Agriculture.
The construction of the winner’s plan was started in 1885, inaugurated in the millennium anniversary of the country in 1896, and was completed in 1904. (It is to be noted that the architect of the building went blind before its completion, similarly to Beethoven who composed his late works deaf, and he could not live up to the completion of his plan.) There were a thousand people working on it on average; 40 million bricks, half a million precious stones and 40 kg gold were used during the construction.
Similar to the Palace of Westminster, it was built in a Gothic Revival style. It is 268 m long and 123 m wide. Its interior includes 10 courtyards, 13 passenger and freight elevators, 27 gates, 29 staircases and 691 rooms (out of them, more than 200 office rooms). With its height of 96 m, it is one of the tallest buildings of Budapest, along with Saint Stephen’s Basilica. The number 96 refers to the nation’s millennium, 1896, and the conquest of the later Kingdom of Hungary in 896. The main facade is the one facing the Danube, but the official main entrance is from the square in front of it. Inside and outside, there are altogether 242 sculptures on the walls.
On the facade, statues of Hungarian rulers, Transylvanian leaders and famous military people are to be seen. Over the windows, there are pictures of coats of arms of kings and dukes. The main entrance is the stairs located on the eastern side, bordered by two lions. When entering the Parliament, the visitor can proceed on gigantic ornamental stairs, see frescoes on the ceiling and pass by the bust of the creator, Imre Steindl in a niche of the wall. Other statues include those of Árpád, Stephen I and John Hunyadi. One of the famous parts of the building is the hexadecagonal (sixteen-sided) central hall, with huge chambers adjoining it: the Lower House (today the National Assembly meets here) and the Upper House (until 1945).
Further sights include the stained glass and glass mosaic paintings by Miksa Róth. Due to its extensive surface and its minute details, it is almost constantly under renovation. However, the renovation of its central part was finished in the summer of 2005, scaffolding was removed for a few months and this part can be seen white again. Renovation was resumed in the autumn of 2005; new covering materials and methods are hoped to be more resistant to weather.
Heroes’ Square Budapest
The Heroes’ Square (HÅ‘sök tere in Hungarian) is one of the main representative squares of Budapest, Hungary. It marks the end of Andrássy Avenue (all part of the World Heritage), neighboring the City Park. Two major monuments define the square: the Museum of Fine Arts on the left and the Palace of Arts (or Art Exhibition Museum) on the right. The central sight of the square, the Millennium Memorial (also known as Millennium Monument or Millenary Monument) features statues of the leaders of the seven tribes that founded Hungary in the 9th century as well as other outstanding figures of Hungarian history. The construction of the memorial begun when the millenary anniversary of the arrival of Hungarian tribes was celebrated (in 1896), but it was finished only in 1929. On the 16th June of 1989 a crowd of a quarter million people gathered at the square for the reburial of Imre Nagy, executed in June 1958. The Millennium Underground line also stops by the square.
Andrássy Avenue Budapest
The Andrássy Avenue is the most representative avenue in Budapest. It connects Deák square with the City Park. It is mostly bordered by Neo-renaissance palaces with refined facades, beautifully handcrafted staircases, and it is a protected site on the World Heritage list. It was originally built in 1870, to ease Király utca drowning under heavy traffic and to connect the downtown city parts with the city park. The construction began in 1872 and the avenue was inaugurated on the 20th of August 1867. A blend of the plans proposed by the top 3 competitors Lajos Lechner, Frigyes Feszl and Klein & Fraser was realized. Many of the palaces were planned by the most distinguished architects of the time, and financed by Hungarian and other banks. The carry out was mostly finished by 1884 and mainly aristocrats, bankers, landowners and historical families moved in. It was named in 1885 in honor of the main supporter of the plan, Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy.
The construction of the first underground in Continental Europe was proposed in 1870, since the capital had consistently alienated the ideas of any surface transport means on this prime location. The construction of the metro began in 1894 and was finished in 1896, for the opening ceremony of the Universal Exhibition and general festivities.