When we think of Budapest, what comes to mind are images of the massive parliament building, the towering cathedral, and Chain Bridge that spans the Danube River and connects Buda to Pest. Even though we have 11 days to discover the city, our first mission was to see these four iconic Budapest sights.
Iconic Budapest Sights: Parliament
As we rounded the corner into Kossuth Square and got our first glimpse of Parliament, I literally stopped in my tracks. The colossal building was much larger than I anticipated it being. It stretches 879 feet along the bank of the Danube River. Built from 1885 to 1904, it was inaugurated in 1896 for the country’s 1000th year celebration. The Gothic design features spires, statues, arches and a dome that soars 96 meters, in honor of the country’s birth date, 896.
The entire square feels grand with perfectly manicured green lawns, a smattering of statues and the majestic buildings surrounding it. Relaxed guards are stationed at the entrances, but more rigid guards stood at the base of the flag in the center of the square. We walked the complete perimeter of Parliament, struggling to find an angle that could capture it all.
Iconic Budapest Sights: Liberty Square
A short walk to the southeast brought us to Liberty Square. More playful than Kossuth, people lounged at the center café and played catch with their canines in the dog park. It’s ringed by historic buildings, such as the Hungarian National Bank, the old stock exchange and fashionable apartment buildings from the late 1800s. The US Embassy is on the northeast side of the square, which is guarded by a high fence, blockades and strict No Photo signs.
We were a little surprised to find two statues honoring Americans in the square: one of Harry Hill Bandholtz, an officer from World War I, and another of a smiling Ronald Reagan walking along the path. Since it’s not everyday I get the chance to walk alongside an American president, I grabbed his hand and we had a little chat. He’s much taller than I expected.
Two memorials stand at each end of the square, the Soviet War Memorial to the north and, to the south, a brand new sculpture commemorating Hungary’s German Occupation on March 19, 1944 – both of which are controversial. A counter exhibit of personal mementos has been set up in response to the newest memorial.
Iconic Budapest Sights: St. Istvan’s Basilica
Continuing southeast we walked a couple blocks to St. Istvan’s Basilica. Also built for Hungary’s 1000th birthday, the enormous church has two bell towers and a dome that reaches the height of 96 meters. The height, celebrating the year in which Hungary became a nation (896) matches that of Parliament’s dome to signify the balance between church and state. No other building in Budapest can exceed that height.
We entered the church via the wide staircase into the glittering interior. A special mass that had every pew filled kept us from touring the church. However, we were able to enter the small chapel that houses the decaying right hand of St. Istvan, Hungary’s first Christian king. Slightly gruesome, we passed on ponying up the 75 cents to light up the box.
Iconic Budapest Sights: Chain Bridge
From here, we walked directly west along the pedestrian-only promenade, Zrinyi Utca, to the Danube River and Chain Bridge. We passed many typical Hungarian eateries along the way, most of which offered goulash and meat dishes, as well as a statue of an old-time, typical Hungarian police officer.
Once we made it to the river bank, we got an up close look at Chain Bridge, the first to span the river and connect the two separate towns of Buda and Pest. The bridge was commissioned by Count Istvan Szechenyi and built by Adam Clark between 1842 and 1849. The original bridge was destroyed in World War II, but rebuilt. Lions mark both ends and walking paths on the outside edge provide spectacular views to all of Budapest.
We want to know: What would you add to our list of iconic Budapest sights? Which is your favorite? If you haven’t been to Budapest, which do you want to see most? Tell us in the comments!