The capital of Hungary was once the venue for many historical events that shaped Europe and the world as we see it today. There are many sites to explore for those willing to understand the present by learning about the past. In Budapest, history breathes on every corner through castles, religious buildings, memorials, and more.
1. Castle Hill
Castle Hill, located on the Buda side of the city, is the epicenter of Budapest’s historical sites. To get there, one can ride the Funicular or take the stairs. On the hill awaits the 13th-century Buda Castle, once the seat of the Hungarian royalty and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. In addition, Castle Hill features the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Matthias Church.
The 19th-century Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the city’s best-known historical sites with a panoramic terrace. The Matthias Church is a 14th-century Roman Catholic church built in a Gothic style. Named after King Matthias Corvinus the Fair, the church was the coronation venue for several Hungarian kings and a vital part of the city’s history.
2. The Millennium Monument
Heroes’ Square is one of Budapest’s biggest and most symbolic squares. It is home to the iconic Millennium Monument with statues of seven Magyar tribe leaders of the 9th century, a.k.a. the founders of Hungary. There are also statues of other important figures and a high column with the statue of Archangel Gabriel. The monument emerged in 1896 on Hungary’s 1000th anniversary. The square near the City Park now symbolizes Hungarian unity and attracts hundreds of visitors daily. Well-known Budapest museums, the Museum of Fine Arts and Műcsarnok, are also there.
3. The Historic Szechenyi Thermal Baths
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Thanks to the multiple thermal springs around the country, Hungarians are famous for their bathing culture. Budapest is not an exception with its iconic Szechenyi Thermal Baths. The renowned spa complex is only a few minutes away from the Heroes’ Square. The story of these thermal springs dates back to the 19th century when Budapest pioneered thermal baths in the country. The complex seen today was built in 1913 in Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance styles by the Hungarian architect Gyozo Czigler. Nowadays, visitors can enjoy three enormous outdoor pools, fifteen indoor baths, saunas, and steam rooms. The Budapest Szechenyi Baths are perfect for enjoying the grand architecture and a pleasurable way to spend time in the Hungarian city.
4. Vajdahunyad Castle
The Vajdahunyad Castle is a unique attraction, particularly suitable for those who enjoy discovering history through architecture. The castle was built in 1896 with wood and cardboard, designed by Ignac Alpar, as part of Hungary’s 1000th anniversary. During the renovation in 1905, the castle structure changed to stone. The building represents a millennium of architecture and links together 21 replicas of buildings found in the area of historical Hungary. That’s why the building combines several architectural styles, including Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Romanesque. The castle stands in the City Park and is home to the Hungarian Agricultural Museum.
5. The Hungarian Parliament Building
The Hungarian Parliament is the most iconic building of Budapest’s skyline and the most famous architectural masterpiece of the country. It stands on the Danube’s eastern bank and is the world’s third-largest parliament building. Inspired by the British House of Parliament, the building was the neo-Gothic style work of Imre Steindl. The construction process lasted from 1885 till 1896. Its intricate exterior is remarkable, but so is the parliament’s captivating interior, which resembles a royal palace with over 700 rooms, staircases, red carpets, marble, and frescoes.
The parliament building consists of the Lower and Upper Houses; the Lower House is the seat and meeting venue for the Hungarian National Assembly, while the Upper House is the one visitors can explore during guided tours, which occur daily and in several languages. A truly majestic experience happens at night when the bright lights illuminate the building.
6. Admire the St. Stephen’s Basilica
The Basilica is a must-see attraction in Budapest, a place of utmost spiritual significance for Hungarians. This Neoclassical Basilica took 54 years to build, started by Miklos Ybl and finished by Jozsef Kauser in 1905. Named after Stephen, the first king of Hungary, the church’s most important relic is his mummified right hand, located at the Holy Right Chapel. It is the third-largest church in the country and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to seeing the precious relics and the rich interior, people visit the church for classical concerts and the marvelous view from the Basilica’s dome.
7. The Shoes on the Danube Bank
Located only a few minutes south of the Hungarian Parliament, this grim memorial is a place to remember and reflect. Sixty pairs of iron-made shoes symbolize the horrors of the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross Party run by Ferenc Szalasi. It is a memorial to around 20,000 Jews brutally shot at the very spot in the winter of 1944-45; victims had to remove their shoes before being killed. The monument, created by Can Togay and Gyula Pauer, became public in 2005.
8. The Great Synagogue of Budapest
The Great Synagogue is a testament to the history of the Hungarian Jewish Community. Located on Dohany Street, it is the largest synagogue in Europe and one of the largest in the world. The only synagogues bigger are in Israel and New York City. It is a unique architectural marvel built in the 1850s in the Moorish Revival style with Gothic, Byzantine, and Romantic elements.
This building’s spectacular design was envisioned by Ludwig Förster and Frigyes Feszl, who were partially responsible for the stunning interior. The entrance ticket gives access to the entire complex, which consists of the Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the Cemetery, and the Holocaust Memorial. Meanwhile the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Park and the Hungarian Jewish Museum are also part of the deal. The ticket also includes a guided tour, helping visitors learn about the Jewish community’s history in an exciting and informative way.
9. Memento Park
Memento Park is on the outskirts of Budapest, yet it is well worth the trip. This unique park is one of the best places for anyone interested in Hungarian history. The open-air museum opened to the public in 1993. Its goal is to give visitors a comprehensive idea of Hungary under the Soviet Communist regime. There are over 40 statues and plaques of the Communist era taken off the streets after the collapse of Socialism in 1990. These include statues of Lenin, Marx, Engels, and some Hungarian political activists like Bela Kun and Jozsef Kalamar.