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Hungarian Parliament Building
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Budapest’s riverside parliament building is an eclectic mix of different styles, including neo-gothic and neo-Romanesque, and no expense was spared on its construction. One thousand local artisans worked on the building, adorning the interior with 40 kilograms of 24-carat gold foil. There are 691 rooms inside, and many are still used on a regular basis. Highlights include the Domed Hall, where the Crown of St Stephen is on display. An interesting fact: the building’s beautiful cupola is 96 metres high, which is a direct reference to the Hungarian Conquest of 896.
St. Stephen’s Basilica
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St Stephen’s Basilica is Budapest’s largest church, and it can hold 8,500 people. It took over 50 years to build, with construction starting in 1851. Unfortunately, things started badly, when architect Jozsef Hild made a rather major miscalculation and underestimated the weight of an enormous dome he’d designed for the roof. It caused huge damage when it collapsed in 1868 – one year after Hild died. Construction was restarted almost from scratch, with Miklós Ybl, one of Europe’s leading architects in the nineteenth century, at the helm. Sadly like Hild, Ybl didn’t get the fruits of his labour either – he died shortly before the project was completed.
Hungarian State Opera House
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Miklós Ybl was also the man behind this beautiful building. The theatre was unveiled in 1884, and was a rather extravagant affair. It featured the world’s first hydraulic stage and an enormous, three-tonne chandelier which was designed in Germany before being shipped to Hungary. The horseshoe-shaped auditorium, which can seat 1,200 people, is considered to have the best acoustic qualities of any opera house in the world, and it’s certainly one of the most spectacular, with beautiful sweeping frescos and vast expanses of sculpted marble. If you visit, you’ll notice two statues outside. One is of Ferenc Erkel, who wrote the Hungarian national anthem, and the other is of Ferenc Liszt, another famous Hungarian composer.
Dohány utca Synagogue
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This is the world’s second largest synagogue, and Europe’s largest, and it can seat 3,000 people. It’s actually more of a complex, housing the main synagogue along with the Heroes’ Temple (a tribute to Jewish soldiers who fought with the Hungarian army in World War I) and a Holocaust Memorial. One of the most stunning features is the sculpture designed in 1991 by Imre Varga. Known as the tree of life, the metal leaves bear the names of some of the Holocaust’s victims. The main Neolog (strict conservative) synagogue was designed with the help of Viennese architect Ludwig Förster and features an enormous stained glass window depicting a rose.
Széchenyi Chain Bridge
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This might not be a building but it’s certainly one of Budapest’s most famous sites. This was the first permanent bridge to connect Buda and Pest, and only the second permanent crossing on the entire length of the Danube river. The idea was first proposed by Hungarian Count István Széchenyi, and construction started in 1838. The bridge was designed by English engineer William Tierney Clark (we’re guessing there were lots of tea breaks) and is a larger version of another one of his creations – Marlow Bridge, which crosses the Thames in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.
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This spectacular building was built in 1905 to honour two groups of people: the city’s fishermen, whose additional role was to defend the city from invaders, and secondly, the people who founded Budapest. The seven gleaming turrets represent the seven tribes which arrived in the Carpathian Basin in 895, and who founded modern day Budapest. The beautiful monument outside depicts St Stephen on horseback, and the building’s viewing platform is a great place to admire Budapest.
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One of Budapest’s more modern buildings, the National Theatre can be found in the Millennium Quarter, a shiny new city block between the Petőfi and Lágymányosi bridges. It was designed by architect Mária Siklós and is regarded as one of the world’s most modern theatres, with the highlight being a moving stage which can be raised and lowered at the flick of a switch. The surrounding parkland has numerous memorials commemorating Hungary’s film industry, including statues of some of the country’s best known actors and actresses. Look out for the park’s ornate gate, designed by contemporary sculptor Miklós Melocco.
Mátyás-templom (Matthias Church)
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This Roman Catholic church can be found next to the Fisherman’s Bastion, in the heart of the Castle District. A church was first built at this spot in 1015 but a second one replaced it in the fourteenth century, and extensive renovations were carried out in the nineteenth century. It’s got a fascinating history; in 1541 following the capture of Buda, the church temporarily became the city’s main mosque. Furnishings were stripped and ornate frescos whitewashed. It was then badly damaged during WWII, and was used as a camp by Soviet soldiers during the Soviet occupation of Hungary. Renovations have restored its original gothic style, most visible in the gargoyle-adorned spire.
Budavári Palota (Buda Castle)
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Budapest’s castle was built in the thirteenth century, which is when the city’s first citizens arrived, coming to the region seeking protection from the Mongolian invasion. Its golden age was the fifteenth century, following the marriage of King Matthias Corvinus and Beatrix of Naples, who married here. The queen arrived in the city accompanied by an army of Italian artists and craftsmen, who helped transform the castle. Today, Castle Hill, on which it sits, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its cobbled streets and eighteenth-century houses, many of which bear plaques listing the year in which they were built.
Iparművészeti Múzeum (Museum of Applied Arts)
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This is one of Budapest’s most spectacular examples of Art Noveau. Although the museum is a tribute to several styles – wander around the building and you’ll spot Islamic and Hindu motifs alongside more modern elements. It was designed by architect Ödön Lechner and was built between 1893 and 1896. It’s most famous for the colourful terracotta tiles which adorn its roof, but equally stunning is the enormous interior glass dome. Head to the museum to admire everything from Hungarian folk ceramics and Ottoman carpets to Baroque gold ware, Tiffany glass and Zsolnay ceramics.
Széchenyi Fürdő (Széchenyi Bath & Spa)
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Famous for its clusters of semi-naked men playing endless rounds of chess while semi-submerged, Széchenyi Fürdő is Europe’s largest medicinal baths, and people have been bathing here since 1881. The northern wing, with its beautiful Neo-Baroque interior, was completed in 1927. Visit these baths and you’ll have 18 pools to choose from, 15 of which are spring-fed. And if you love a pool party, forget about Las Vegas – head here during the summer months, instead. During the warmer weather the baths are the setting for regular pool party nights, known as Szecska, which run from around 10pm to 3am.
Párizsi Udvar (Parisian Arcade)
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Suddenly the Westfield shopping centres look rather bland. The entrance to this magnificent arcade can be found on Ferenciek tere, one of the city’s oldest and most beautiful public squares. It was built in the early twentieth century and designed by Hungarian architect Mihály Pollack, who modelled it on the Passage des Panoramas, a glass-covered passageway in Paris. It’s another building which incorporates numerous styles – you’ll see elaborate reliefs tucked into neo-Gothic niches alongside oriental and art noveau-inspired elements. One of the most stunning elements is the vaulted roof with its colourful, hexagonal glass dome.