Looking out over the Budapest cityscape, be it from a perch on the hilly Buda side or from one of the impressive bridges stretching between Buda & Pest over the Danube, you're treated to what is arguably one of the most beautiful scenes of an urban landscape anywhere in the world - by both day and night; and one of the main reasons for this city's remarkable and striking beauty is its buildings.
Strolling through Budapest evokes a sense of time-travel like few other cities capture. Indeed, the old trams and buses which are still running after more than sixty-five years certainly echo the past, but it's the buildings of Budapest, boasting many different architectural styles & periods, which make up the rich urban tapestry of Budapest and adds a distinct, historic and alluring aesthetic from district to district.
Check out our expert local's guide to Where to Stay in Budapest in 2020
What are the best buildings to see in Budapest?
We know you may not have a lot of time for sight-seeing in Budapest, and there is quite a lot to see when in the Hungarian capital, especially incredible buildings. Whether on a walk in the castle quarter, a leisurely stroll in the old town of Pest, a hopefully not too challenging 'hike' in the mansion-district of Gellért Hill or wandering on the avenue of Andrássy Street, Budapest's buildings paint different faces on the city, tell many stories, and have been central to some of the most remarkable history that has been played out here.
To help you make sure you don't miss out on visiting some of the must-see buildings in Budapest, we had one of our very own local expert Budapest free tour guides, András, put together a handy guide to the best buildings to see in Budapest, some of the fascinating history associated with them and an insight to some of the different
architectural styles of Budapest.
Get to grips with the history, heritage, culture and, of course, buildings on a Free Tour in Budapest
The oldest building in Budapest - Red Hedgehog House
If you're planning to visit the
oldest buildings in Budapest, you need to pack a few oxygen tanks in the backpack and face the stairs of "Castle Mountain", as the locals like to call it. Although, let’s face it, it isn't a mountain, it's a hill; us Hungarians are real creative when naming things! This district was inhabited during the era that followed the Tartar destruction of the 1200s, when some citizens of Pest sought out an easier-to-defend location for their homes and moved up the hill on the western side of the Danube
The oldest building in Budapest, at Táncsics Mihály u. 2, 1014, on Hess András square by the Hilton Hotel, is Vörös Sün Ház or 'Red Hedgehog House' owing to the little red hedgehog that adorns part of the facade. This building has its earliest mention in the early thirteen hundreds, and served several purposes throughout its history - including being a residence, holding the relics of St. Paul of Thebes, the first pub tavern of the Buda Castle complex, named the Red Hedgehog, a theater, cabaret venue and even a brothel!
The streets and the blocks of this ancient district are still laid out pretty much the same as they were established more than eight hundred years ago. In about an hour and a half, you can easily explore and see some of the most historical
buildings of Budapest. The neighboring streets host a 14th-century Medieval Synagogue (Táncsics Mihály str. 26), the National Archives (Bécskiapu sqr. 2) and the destroyed Marie Magdalene church’s tower (Kapisztrán tér 6).
While you are walking the Fortuna, Országház or Úri streets, if you are lucky enough to spot open gates to an inner courtyard, do not miss the chance to take a look inside. Many of these residential buildings are like onions, multiple layers of architectural styles on top of one another. Commonly, the main floors are from the fourteen/fifteen hundreds, on top of which rests those extensions that were built in the seventeen hundreds with a ‘modern’ facade from the nineteen century.
Just beyond these gates, you can see some of the most fascinating mysteries of Hungarian middle age architecture; beautifully carved stone benches that have Historians going nuts as they can not figure out what the actual purpose of them was, other than just being fancy chairs.
The Matthias Church is an outstanding Neo-Gothic cathedral dating back to when the first citizens moved to the mountain and founded their city. It looked very different that time, of course, as a significantly smaller and tower-less Romanesque church, but it became the main cathedral of Budapest in the 1400s when decorative Gothic architecture influences was added during the reign of King Matthias, before further renovation in the late 19th-century to leave us with Matthias Church as we see it today.
The interior is truly remarkable and unique too, and well worth visiting.
Largest building in Budapest - Parliament building
Leaving the Castle District, I recommend you walk down to the riverbank, either by the Fisherman’s Bastion or taking the road down from the Vienna Gate (Bécsi kapu tér). You will hardly miss
the largest building in Budapest, on the opposite side of the river, The Houses of the Parliament.
This view of the splendid, majestic, 268-meter long building with its glorious dome facing the river will be your companion as you head over to Pest across the Margaret Bridge. At halfway across the bridge, I highly recommend stopping for a moment to take in what is perhaps the
best view of Budapest.
If you are planning to visit inside the Parliament building, it is recommended to book the ticket early, as during summertime the tours can already be fully booked months ahead. Tours take around forty-five minutes and you can book a spot for one through Parlament.hu.
The district and area of the Parliament takes you to a very different time, to those years when Budapest, as part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, transformed from a small town into an outstanding European capital, a real metropolis, a city that will be called the little sister of Vienna. The differences between Buda and Pest are remarkable, none more so than seen in the buildings - from two storey, colourful houses on the Buda side to mind-blowingly ornamented massive blocks of residential buildings built for the comfort of thousands.
Tallest buildings in Budapest - St. Steven's Basilica
From the Parliament to St. Steven's Basilica, via the Liberty Square provides a fascinating route. With imposing buildings like the US Embassy right in front of the Memorial to the Soviet Heroes, you may find yourself imagining the tension of the Cold War that was, relatively speaking, not long ago played out on these streets.
The square counts among its structures the Art Nouveau Building and Museum (Honvéd str. 3), the National Treasury (Hold str. 4), the building of the National Bank (Szabadság sqr. 9) and the former headquarters of the Magyar Televízió - the Hungarian Television Company from the 1950s - the abbreviation MTV mounted on top. Originally built to be the Exchange Palace (Szabadság sqr. 17), the building has seen a lot of stories since it was completed in 1907.
From here, it will only take you five minutes or so to reach the main catholic building among the
structures in Budapest, St. Steven's Basilica. The Basilica is one of the two
tallest buildings in Budapest. St. Steven's Basilica and the aforementioned Parliament building both stretch ninety-six meters high. And there's a historical reason for this too!
Both these buildings were completed around the same time, and are the only two structures in Budapest that can boast such skyward reach and majesty. The number 96 is an important one in Hungarian history - it was in the year 896 when the nomad Hungarian tribes reached this land, and a thousand years later, to celebrate the Millennium in 1896, the Parliament building was designed, reaching completion in 1904, a year before the Basilica. The fact that both buildings are of equal stature is symbolic of the equal importance afforded to both church and state in Hungarian society.
Bonus Tip: The front steps of St. Steven's Basilica is the meeting point for all of our daily free walking tours in Budapest. Book your spot online and join us; it's certainly the best way to see all these remarkable buildings, and more, accompanied by a knowledgeable and lovely local guide, like yours truly!
The Basilica itself doesn’t have an entrance fee, although donations are welcomed in the money-box. It is open daily from 9 a.m. until the last mass that ends every day at 7 p.m. The interior is exquisite and if you are looking for a few stairs to climb you can count the steps on your way up to the dome, or take the lift up if you prefer. Either way, the view from the top will blow your mind, do not miss it!
Andrássy Avenue - the Champs-Elysées of Budapest
From the Basilica, venturing toward the City Park along
Andrássy Avenue will be a joy for those of you who like to wander among architectural beauties. This street is often referred to as 'the Champs-Elysées of Budapest' and is the remarkable production of the late eighteen hundreds, containing some of the most highlighted palaces of the Hungarian capital including the first underground line of the continent, the Opera House (Andrássy str. 22) which, according to legend, upset Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria who ordered it remain smaller than the Opera House of Vienna, but the breathtaking facade of our Opera building meant the Viennese building could hardly compete for beauty.
Not far from the Opera House stands the first mall of Budapest, the Parisian (Andrássy str 39) with its rooftop café, as well as the House of Terror Museum (Andrássy str. 60) and countless other buildings that may well make your jaw drop.
There you have it, folks. Whether walking on Andrássy Avenue, exploring the Old Town of Pest or wandering the Károly and Múzeum ring boulevards, there's few cities the world over that can boast such unspoiled historic beauty in its buildings and a skyline untainted by imposing skyscrapers as Budapest. Take my advice if you're in Budapest - get lost in the center and simply look around, the
architecture and buildings of Budapest are holding plenty of treasures to be discovered. Better still, join us for a free tour if you can and get real insight to the beguiling streets and buildings in Budapest.