The Best Visitor's Guide to Budapest's Stunning Hungarian Parliament Building
Anyone who hears the word "Budapest" will most likely immediately think of their iconic Parliament Building. The Hungarian Parliament Building is one of the most recognisable images of Hungary and a symbol of the country's talented artists who helped achieve this vision of architectural magnificence. Standing on the banks of the Danube, it flanks the city and greets visitors floating down the river with its bright white columns and staggering silhouette.
To reach the Parliament Building, you can take the subway to Kossuth Tér station on the M2 metro line. If you prefer to travel on the tram, you can also take Line 2 to Kossuth Lajos Square Station. The buildings are open from 8 am to 6 pm from April till October and 8 am to 4 pm from November till March. There are certain times when Parliament is meeting and during those days entry is not available. Be sure to check the website before you arrive to check to see if there are any blackout dates during your visit.
Since the parliament buildings are one of the most popular attractions in Budapest, it is highly advisable to buy your tickets in advance. Tickets can be purchased online and trust me; you'll be happy you don't have to waste your time waiting in line on your vacation by doing it this way. Adult tickets cost 5,800 HUR ($22 US), anyone from the ages of 6 to 24 is considered a student and costs 2,900 HUF ($11 US), and kids under 6 are free.
A Brief History of the Hungarian Parliament
The Parliament building was built in 1896, after the unification of the three cities which would eventually make up modern-day Budapest. A nationwide design competition was held to find a design widely loved by not just the government but by the public as well. It was important for the committee choosing the final design that the building was conceptualised from the start by a Hungarian who could embed their nation's values, history, art and cultures into one building. In the end, Hungarian architect Imre Steindl's Gothic Revival design won the competition and construction on the new Parliament could finally begin.
Interestingly enough, second and third place designs were also honoured by being built as well, just not as Parliament. They were actualised, albeit on a smaller scale, across from the Parliament Building and served as the headquarters for the Ministry of Agriculture and the Museum of Ethnography. All three of these buildings set together in these small areas is a real treat, and you can decide for yourself if the committee made the right choice.
Parliament by the Numbers
The Hungarian Parliament Building is the third largest parliament building in the world measuring 258 meters long and 123 meters wide. All in, its interior includes 691 rooms, 200 offices, ten courtyards, 27 gates, 29 sets of staircases and 13 passengers and two freight elevators. The building is 96 meters tall, and after it’s construction, there was a law written into a place that no other building in the city is allowed to be taller than the Parliament building. This ensures that the spires of Parliament can be seen from all across the city.
Where to Get the Best View
The best place to see the Parliament building for the first time is from across the Danube river. Standing in a place like Batthyány Square, you can easily see the entirety of the building. From afar you can better appreciate the harmony and power such a domineering structure can evoke. From the other side of the Danube, you'll be able to study the symmetrical nature of the construction. Either side of the upper and lower houses are perfect copies of each other. This reflects the equality between the two houses of Parliament. In the centre is a large, commanding, Neo-Renaissance dome, signifying the unity which is creating when combining both sides of the legislature.
Over 100,000 people were employed to construct the Parliament Buildings. No expense was spared in the production. One of the most essential things to designer Imre Steindl was to ensure the construction used elements of the Carpathian Basin in its structure. There were over 40 million bricks made from Hungarian materials. Half a million precious stones were harvested from around the country to be used in the decorations. 40 kilograms of gold were added throughout to give the building a sense of opulence and grandiosity. Steindl used local artisans to create the thousands of sculptures and, frescos and ironwork that make this building so absolutely covered from floor to ceiling in art.
The design of the building is anchored in the Gothic Revival movement which takes elements from classical Gothic designs but blends in details of the Renaissance and the Baroque. Gothic Revival is an architectural movement that began in the late 1740s in England. The style features characteristics including; decorative patterns, finials, scalloping, lancet windows and hood mouldings. While the facade and ornamentation may be neo-gothic, the floor plan is distinctly baroque, and the embellishments on the ceilings inside are stylistic elements drawn from the Renaissance. It’s fantastic to see a building which feels like it is not stuck inside just one specific style. It breaks free from linear standards and instead feels like a love story to architecture itself.
Because of modern day pollution, the porous limestone walls cover to surround the facade of the building regularly require cleaning. Don't be surprised if you see scaffolding around Parliament it when you come to visit.
To the east, even from across the river, you can see a large group of statues which make up the Kossuth Memorial. Created in 1956, the dramatic sculpture surrounds a large column where Lajos Kossuth stands. Lajos Kossuth was a freedom fighter and influenced the creation of democracy in Europe.
On the north side of the building, you'll find the statue of Count István Tisza. István Tisza was a Hungarian politician, prime minister, political scientist, international lawyer, macroeconomist, and member of Hungarian Academy of Sciences. He really did it all! Tisza was one of the most influential politicians who supported the dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary but eventually was assassinated during the Aster Revolution.
Along the edge of the river, sitting frozen in place is a statue of Attila József. His poem By the Danube is reflected here in his pose:
As I sat on the bottom step of the wharf,
A melon-rind flowed by with the current;
Wrapped in my fate, I hardly heard the chatter
Of the surface, while the deep was silent.
As if my own heart had opened its gate:
The Danube was turbulent, wise and great.
On the grassy knoll outside the front of Parliament is the triumphant equestrian statue of Francis II Rákóczi. Rákóczi was a nobleman and leader of the Hungarian uprising against the Habsburgs in 1703. He is considered even to this day as one of the greatest Hungarian national heroes.
In my opinion, one of the most moving statues on the grounds is the IN MEMORIAM 1956 October 25th sculpture. This large piece of black iron might look like nothing from afar, but when you get close, you can make out bullet holes embedded in the sculpture. This is to memorialise the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. This was a nationwide revolution against the Hungarian People's Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies. The battle lasted 18 days, and over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict.
The 6.5 m tall statue of Count Gyula Andrássy riding his proud horse stands on the south side of the building. Gyula Andrássy was the prime minister of Hungary between 1867-71, and he still stands guard today outside the house of Parliament today.
Because both sides of the Parliament Halls are identical, one is used for the politicians daily work and the other is used for guided tours. This gives you the ability to explore everything the insiders see daily without being worried about interfering with the day to day activities of the employees.
The Golden Staircase
When you first go up the stairs upon entry, take a look up. You'll see that the entire ceiling is coated in nothing but gold. Hence the name, The Golden Staircase. It looks like the inside of a jewellery box. From the golden staircase, you're lead down a narrower hallway. The right side of which is adorned with brilliant coloured stained glass.
The Grand Stairway
The small hallways will suddenly open up, and you'll find yourself standing in The Grand Stairway. Along the sides of the staircase, are huge Corinthian columns, each carved in exotic burgundy granite. They are capped with intricate gilded embellishments and spread out into fantastically painted arches which are also covered in gold. There’s a lot of gold in here that’s for sure. There is something about seeing all this grandeur in a place of government, it really does give you the sense that these people were very passionate about politics.
Take a 360-degree spin around and be sure to take a look up the fresco on the ceiling. These incredible frescos were painted by Károly Lotz, a famous German-Hungarian painter. These three depictions are allegorical, symbolic of the actions and affects the government takes on the country.
The stained glass throughout the building creates little vignettes of magic when the light pours through. Created by artist Miksa Róth, the windows represent family crests of iconic Hungarian royal families. Others designs are merely decorative, using traditional Hungarian patterns. But most impressive, are the glass works made to look like embroidered drapery yet forged in glass.
The Dome Hall
The next stop on your tour is the Dome Hall. Entering the hall makes you feel as though you are entering a Cathedral. The soaring dome and adornments throughout are as glorious as it comes. There are 16 points in this room, each of whose corners reach up to the top of the dome creating an immense sensation of openness and grandiosity.
See if you can count all 242 sculptures which surround the domes corners. Each one portrays a different Hungarian ruler, Transylvanian leader or famous historic military officer, carefully placed on gold pedestals. Despite their small stature their faces are impeccably carved and expressions so life-like.
Hungarian Crown Jewels
One of the most precious treasures of the Parliament building are the Hungarian Crown jewels. You can see on display the Holy Crown, the orb and sceptre as well as a Renaissance royal sword. The crown jewels have had a rough history as they have been lost, stolen and looted several times over the years. After WWII they were given over to the American army to keep them safe from the Soviet Union. They remained in Fort Knox, Kentucky for years and it was only in 1978, that President Jimmy Carter had them returned to the Hungarian people. The Hungarian Crown is made up of two different pieces of jewellery, each from an illustrious era of Hungarian history. The lower portion is the original Byzantine crown and the upper cross-shaped topper is from another crown from the medieval period. The crown was initially designed for St. Stephen for his royal coronations over 1000 years ago.
Upper House Lobby
Before entering the Upper House, you'll be ushered into the Upper House Lobby, a long corridor with massive pillars on either side, where people will gather before or after critical political meetings. One of the most exciting things in the Upper House Lobby is the enormous turquoise carpet! This carpet is hand-knotted which would have taken artisans thousands of hours to complete all by hand. The pillars in the lobby, which are almost salmon pink in colour, are surrounded by statues representing Hungarian crafts and culture which seems appropriate since the art and design that makes this building so unique is mostly due to these craftsmen and women.
Another seemingly ubiquitous piece of history which is worth a look is the brass cigar holders that line the window sills. Since smoking was banned inside the Chamber, when smoking politicians had to go back inside to vote on a particular bill or amendment they didn't want to snuff out their expensive cigars and instead would leave them in these fireproof holders so they could return to smoking after the voting took place.
The Old Upper House
The Old Upper House is a replica of the assembly hall where the congress meets weekly and where some of the nation's most significant decisions are made. This hall is used more for conferences and meetings compared to political state business. The House itself is enormous. 452 wooden seats, made from decorated Slavonian oak, are set in a semi-circle around the speaker’s chair. The seats are covered in lush red velvet, making each and every member feel important. Behind the speaker's chair are magnificent paintings of Hungary’s royal families over the years.
Library of Parliament
The last thing you'll visit on your tour is the library of Parliament. Although politicians have a private library which they use, this library is open to the public and still contains over 500,000 books and volumes. Books as old as 1580 are stored here on the shelves which reach all the way up to the ceiling. Sitting inside the library, you have a stunning view across the Danube and it’s the perfect peaceful place to end the tour.
What are you your Parliament Buildings like back in your home country? Are they are magnificent as this one? Let me know in the comments!