The Romans, the great Kingdom of Hungary, the Ottomans, and the Habsurgs have all played a part in Hungary’s past. Founded in 897, it is one of the oldest countries in Europe, and in around 1000 A.D., the Kingdom of Hungary was one of the largest states in Europe. The result is a fantastic melting pot of historic sites to visit, from Buda Castle in Budapest to the Hungarian Parliament Buildings.
Here’s 10 sites that you shouldn’t miss when visiting the ‘Heart of Europe’.
1. Buda Castle
Buda Castle is amongst the most iconic historic sites in Hungary. A vast palace in Budapest’s Castle Quarter, it is home to a series of museums including the National Gallery.
The first incarnation of Buda Castle dates to the fourteenth century, but since then it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, including by the Ottomans in the sixteenth century. Rebuilding projects took place throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as well as extensive renovations following World War II. As a result of the constant changes to Buda Castle, it’s difficult to identify the periods to which each part of the site dates. Nonetheless, it makes for an essential visit.
2. Hungarian National Museum
The Hungarian National Museum exhibits a comprehensive collection of historic artefacts, documents, and works of art from throughout the historical and global spectrum. Its collection is incredibly diverse, ranging from bone tools from the Palaeolithic era to 45,000 twentieth century posters relating to significant political, social, and cultural events. One of the main sections of the Hungarian National Museum is its archaeological department, which is divided according to time periods.
Though there is a lot to see, themed audio guides in a variety of languages are available to rent, offering a structured tour.
3. Hungarian Parliament Buildings
As part of the main Budapest UNESCO World Heritage site, The Hungarian Parliament Buildings (Orszaghaz) are some of the oldest in Europe. Built in the nineteenth century in a dramatic Gothic Revival style, and characterised by peaked towers, an ornate limestone façade, and a spectacular dome, the Hungarian Parliament Buildings are reminiscent of the UK’s Houses of Parliament.
Today, the Hungarian Parliament Buildings are home to the National Assembly of Hungary as well as a popular tourist attraction. Visitors can enjoy the many works of art both inside and outside the buildings, from frescoes and stained glass to the many statues scattered throughout. Note that you can only visit the Hungarian Parliament Buildings via a guided tour.
Aquincum is a large Ancient Roman site in Budapest housing the remains of part of what was an important military base and city. Most of the sites at Aquincum date back to the second century AD, when the city reached its peak with up to 40,000 inhabitants and as the capital of the province of Pannonia, later Lower Pannonia.
Today, the site of Aquincum has much to offer sightseers and history enthusiasts alike, including the ruins of a city wall, an amphitheatre (one of two in Budapest), temples, homes, and burial grounds.
5. St Stephen’s Basilica
St. Stephen’s Basilica (Szent Istvan Bazilika) is Budapest’s largest church. Begun in 1851 and completed in 1905, St. Stephen’s Basilica was consecrated in the name of the canonised King, Stephen I of Hungary (reign 1001-1038). One of the king’s relics, his right hand – known as the Holy Right and symbolic of his incorruptibility – is housed within the church.
The tower of St. Stephen’s Basilica is also a good place from which to enjoy views of the city.
6. Matthias Church
Matthias Church (Matyas Templom) is an ornate medieval structure which has been the site of royal weddings and coronations. Despite being founded in the thirteenth century by King Bela IV (some posit that the first church here was built in the eleventh century), the name Matthias Church is actually a reference to the monarch Matthias Corvinus who was twice married there. Its official name is the Church of Our Lady.
The diverse and often turbulent history of Buda is reflected in the eclectic style of Matthias Church, which includes a mostly gothic dramatic exterior and a vibrant interior with allusions to the various rulers of the city, including the Ottomans.
7. The Iseum
The Iseum – also known as the Isis Szentély Romkertje – in Szombathely is a restored 2nd century A.D. Roman temple site dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis.
Excavated since the 1950s, the ruins of the two (partially reconstructed) temples of the Iseum can be seen today. The remains of the original site, some of which have undergone significant modern restoration, are now contained within a wider museum complex.
8. Hungarian National Gallery
The Hungarian National Gallery (Magyar Nemzeti Galeria) in Budapest contains several historical art collections including medieval and gothic pieces, such as stonework, sculptures and altars.
Located within Buda Castle, the Hungarian National Gallery is also home to the Habsburg Palatinal Crypt (Nadori kripta), the burial place of the Hungarian line of the Habsburg Dynasty. Note that the crypt can only be visited by prior arrangement and is located on the ground floor of Building C.
9. Dohany Synagogue
The Dohany Synagogue (Dohany utcai zsinagoga), also known as the Dohany Street Synagogue and The Great Synagogue, is the world’s second largest synagogue. Originally built from 1854 and completed in 1859, the Dohany Synagogue was bombed by the right-wing Arrow Cross Party in 1939. Its latest restoration was finished in 1996.
With its distinctive Moorish exterior and ornate interior, the Dohany Synagogue is open to the public and is also the place from which tours of the Jewish Quarter of Budapest begin. Next door to the Dohany Synagogue is the Budapest Jewish Museum and the birthplace of Theodor Hertzl.
10. Fisherman’s Bastion
As part of the city of Budapest UNESCO World Heritage site, the Fisherman’s Bastion (Halaszbastya) along the eastern part of Budapest’s Castle Hill is a beautiful set of walkways and terraces built between 1895 and 1902. Resplendent with turrets and towers that wouldn’t look out of place in a fairytale, the Fisherman’s Bastion is one of the city’s most iconic sites. In fact, the Fisherman’s Bastion has seven towers in all, each representing one of Hungary’s tribes.
Whilst the name “Fisherman’s Bastion” implies some sort of coastal fortification, the site is not coastal nor a defensive structure. The name actually refers to the fisherman’s guild, which once protected this part of the medieval walls.