Is Hungary’s the most beautiful parliament building in the world?

In the heart of Budapest’s Pest district, standing proudly on the banks of the River Danube, is the Hungarian Parliament Building. But as a silent witness to some of the country’s most pivotal political moments over the last century, the buildings beautiful Neo-Gothic exterior shrouds a wealth of history – some of which is not so pretty.

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Having not done much sightseeing or been much of a tourist since I’d arrived in the city of Budapest (because I was exhausted after a whirlwind tour of Berlin and felt like I needed a break after smashing my goal of visiting 30 countries before my 30th birthday), on my last full day in Hungary I was determined to go and see something recommended by all my friends.

So early that morning I left my hotel in the city centre and set out to find the famous Shoes of the Danube.

The Shoes of the Danube.

The shoes are a memorial to honour the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. Not far from the Hungarian Parliament building, on the bank of the river are sixty pairs of old fashioned women’s, men’s,and children’s cast iron shoes.

Created by Hungarian sculptor Gyula Pauer, the shoes represent the different individual Jews who were murdered, after being asked to remove their shoes and line up along the river bank. They were then shot one-by-one at the edge of the water, so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away.

Pauer was awarded the Kossuth prize for the poignant tribute.

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En route to the poignant holocaust memorial for the murdered Jews though, I unintentionally stumbled upon perhaps the most beautiful building I’d seen in Hungary. Which is really saying something, as over the four days I saw so many amazing buildings feats. From the fairytale Buda Castle and the colourful Matthias Church to the elegant embassy buildings down Andrássy út, Budapest is a like a wet dream for architectural aesthetes.

The Hungarian Parliament Building is in a league of its own, however.

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The design of the Hungarian Parliament Building.

In the 1880’s an open tender was held to find an architect to design a new Hungarian Parliament Building which would represent the nation’s sovereignty. Taking inspiration from London’s Houses of Parliament (which look dated and unimpressive next to this building, in my opinion), the winner was Hungarian architect Imre Steindl who designed the grand Neo-Gothic building which stands today.

Construction of Steindl’s winning plan began in 1885, and the building was inaugurated on the 1,000th anniversary of Hungary in 1896. Fully completed in 1902 when the first sessions took place, the construction took 17 years from start to finish. Sadly Steindl never got to see the building in all its glory, as he went blind before his grand design was completed. He then died a little later that year.

Interestingly, both runner-up designs for the contest back in the 1880’s were also built, facing the Parliament building. One is now the Museum of Ethnography and the other is the Ministry of Agriculture.

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At 268m (879ft) long, 123m (75.4ft) wide and 96m (314.9ft) tall, the Hungarian Parliament is the country’s largest building, Budapest’s tallest, and the third largest parliament building in the world. Quite an accolade for such a small city.

The Parliament building is an amazing example of Neo-Gothic architecture, though there are some characteristics from the Renaissance and Baroque periods too – such as the revival style dome.

It is just over 100 years old, but is clean and the grounds are well kept. Air pollution and the extensive level of detailing on the exterior of the building mean the porous limestone walls are regularly under repair. Though thankfully there wasn’t any scaffolding erected to spoil my pictures.

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What’s inside the Hungarian Parliament Building?

Though I didn’t take a tour of the building (they are available, so Google and book one ahead if you fancy it), inside the grand walls and high domes of the Hungarian Parliament, there are 691 rooms, 10 courtyards and 12.5 miles worth of stairs. Can you hear the heart palpitations of those architecture aficionados?

The guided tours allow you to explore the Main Staircase, the Old Upper House Hall and the Lounge, as well as see the Hungarian Crown Jewels, which have been were lost and stolen numerous times.

After World War II, they were transported to Western Europe and eventually given to the American Army for safekeeping from the Soviet Union. For much of the Cold War, the Crown Jewels were held at the United States Bullion Depository (Fort Knox, Kentucky) alongside the bulk of America’s gold reserves. They were eventually returned to Hungary under the presidency of Jimmy Carter in 1978.

The grounds surrounding the Hungarian Parliament.

The impressive Hungarian Parliament Building has stood through two World Wars, a number of uprisings and revolutions and a shifting urban landscape.

The square where the Hungarian Parliament stands is named after Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian lawyer and regent-president of the country during the 1848–49 revolution. He was widely honored during his lifetime, including in the United States, as a freedom fighter and a bellwether of democracy in Europe. His memorial, as well as a memorial for the 1956 Hungarian Revolution can be seen in front of the Parliament building.

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According to my Budapest guidebook, during the Communist era a large red star was added to the central tower above the dome of the building, but after its downfall, the star was removed.

As well as shadowing the Jews murdered by the Danube River in World War II, the Hungarian Parliament Building also witnessed the tragic events of 1956 when, during an uprising on 25 October, against the ruling of the Communist regime, protestors gathered in front of the Parliament. While little is known about the circumstances, shots were fired resulting in the deaths of many.

A memorial to this event stands in the square today.

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Also, during World War II all of Budapest’s bridges were destroyed and as a temporary solution a bridge was built between Kossuth Square and Batthyány Square. The bridge, named after Lajos Kossuth, was in use until 1960. A memorial next to the Parliament building marks the site on the Pest side.

How to get to the Hungarian Parliament Building.

Getting there is so easy. Just take the Subway (M2) to Kossuth tér, or Streetcar 2, which runs along the Pest riverfront and has a stop at Kossuth tér. You can then walk from there to The Shoes on the Danube river bank too.

Looking at the Parliament from a distance makes it easier to take in the beauty and harmony of the building. But from the Parliament you’ll get the most spectacular views across the river to the Budapest Terrace, where I celebrated Hungary as 30th country.

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128 thoughts on “Is Hungary’s the most beautiful parliament building in the world?

  1. Wow, I find the statues of the shoes by the riverbank incredibly powerful! I love art that makes a political statement. Did you learn anything of Hungarian politics while you were there?

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  2. Oh my goodness – those shoes. How poignant.
    They remind me of a square in Krakow that is filled with empty cast iron chairs – a similar memorial and another must-see

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  3. Wow, the Hungarian Parliment building is breathtakingly beautiful! I’ve heard about the Shoes of the Danube and seeing your pictures of this memorial is so achingly sad. I got goosebumps just looking at them and I can’t imagine how I would feel seeing this in person.

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    1. It was a very quiet, serene place. The shoe memorial is so fitting for those innocent people that were murdered – seeing the children’s ones really did bring it all home though 😦 x

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  4. This is tough question to answer, as I’m sure there are many beautiful parliament buildings around the world. However, I must say that the Hungarian building is definitely noteworthy of this title, and it has the river as a backdrop making it more stunning!

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  5. I visited Budapest, woah, 5 years ago now. I absolutely loved it! It’s still one of my favorite places I’ve gone. The Parliament building really is beautiful. The shoes look like an incredibly powerful art piece, it’ll definitely be on my list of things I have to see next time I go.

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  6. Oh my word, congratulations, 30 countries before 30, wow, how amazing! Budapest is beautiful and the photo of the Parliament building from across the is stunning. What beautiful buildings!

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  7. The shoes by the river bank is such a haunting monument. I’d love to go back to budapest. I went a long time ago for a 24 hour flying visit and it was beautiful but I saw very little

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    1. You should go back Steph – I don’t think 24 hours would be enough to see enough, heck I was there for 5 days and didn’t think it was long enough lol. I’d love to go back x

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    1. It really is Sarah – as you can probably imagine, it’s a very quiet, peaceful place, so was nice to just sit and relax by the river, taking everything in while reading the horrific story of what happened to the Jews in this place x

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  8. Budapest is a beautiful city and I have visited twice. The last time I visited the Parliament building and it is very impressive. I never heard of the shoes of the danube before and didn’t see when I was there. I will have to make a visit next time I am there.

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  9. The architecture there is stunning and you captured it beautifully in your photographs! I’ve never been to Hungary but it’s on my list of places I want to see. My favorite picture of yours is the one with the shoes, I think that is a great monument.

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  10. I never realized that Hungarian architecture was so beautiful and my god you are right when you say that it blows our Houses of Parliament out of the water. It kind of reminds me of a larger, fancier version of Strawberry Hill House !

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    1. Yeah, I can totally see the similarities between Strawberry Hill House and the Hungarian Parliament – both are in a Neo-Gothic style 🙂 it’s definitely more attractive than our Houses of Parliament x

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  11. The Shoes of the Danube literally took my breath away. I can’t imagine when it must have been like to have lived during that dark period in world history. I’m so glad there are memorials like this so we never forget. x

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  12. This building is probably my favourite building I’ve ever come across, it’s absolutely stunning, although I found the best views were from a river cruise where you could see the whole thing in full. Next time I head to Budapest I want to do a tour inside x

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  13. The building looks so stunning, hard to believe that human could make something like this. Those shoes are so sad but also so beautiful at the same time

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    1. I know, the building is like a work of art – I find it hard to believe the architect took inspiration from the UK’s Houses of Parliament though, as ours aren’t nearly as beautiful x

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  14. Ohhh I love Budapest so much. Very informative post, you should be a tour guide! There’s your next challenge. Glad you saw the shoes as well xxx

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  15. Being 100 years old, it still looks amazingly attractive and royalty is reflected clearly in the photos. It is such a great achievement to be the third largest parliament building in the world! Beautiful architecture.

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    1. I know, it’s so beautiful even though it’s over 100 years old! And considering Hungary isn’t a particularly a big country, I think an incredible achievement to have the third largest parliament building in the world x

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  16. Wow this is a brilliant post! I’ve never been here but it’s on my bucket list and I’ll definetly visit this place and the statue with the Jews shoes! I love things like that that make a powerful statement whether that’s political or not! I also love what you wrote about the building! I love finding out the history of places! But also the architecture of this building is incredible! I recently did an art project on the beauty of architecture and I wish I had known about this place!

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  17. What a beautifully clean building! Though the pictures of the shoes were the most thought provoking. So sad but a lovely tribute.

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    1. It’s amazing how clean the building is when you compare it the UK’s Houses of Parliament (which look so grotty and old in comparison). I totally agree though, the shoe memorial is very thought provoking x

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  18. As a political science major and fan of government buildings, I loved this post because I’ve never seen Hungary’s and its seriously so beautiful!!! I would say it’s definitely in the running to be the most beautiful– but Canada has a seriously beautiful one as well!

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    1. Thanks Shigufa, I’ve never been to Canada so aren’t able to compare – hopefully I’ll get over there at some point (and probably take a million photos like I did in Hungary lol!) x

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  19. Hungary is on my list for 2018. This place looks really beautiful. The statue with th Jews shoes sounds like a must-go… An important memorial.

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  20. Wow, what a stunning building, and it looks so well cared for – that must take some upkeep!! It’s so interesting to hear the history around it. The Shoes of the Danube is such a beautiful tribute, I’ve not heard of it before. Thank you for such an informative post.

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    1. You’re very welcome – I’m glad you learnt something new! I agree, the Hungarian’s have done a great job keeping this building so clean and in good condition. As it’s made of limestone I imagine that it’s no easy feat! x

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  21. When we drove through Budapest during the first part of our relocating from the UK to Bulgaria, we stopped in Budapest ove night. We were in a car with our cat so sadly there was no time for sightseeing. I remember I was fascinated by the names of the streets.
    Now I want to visit again, but for a bit longer.

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  22. OH my gosh, I would LOVE to go here. It’s very very beautiful, and as a lover of everything historic, I can feel my mouth water so to speak.
    Nothing is better than walking among giants and touching creations that were built so very long ago.

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  23. I can’t get over how beautiful the The Hungarian Parliament Building is! Not simply the size, but the incredible attention to detail. Can you imagine the stories the walls could tell if only they could talk? So much history there. x

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  24. Yes this Hungarian Parliament Building is indeed in a league of its own. Its a cross between a fairytale castle and a majestic Royal Castle its truly unique and fab.However the sculptures of the Jewish shoes by the side of the river Danube have got to be the most poignant piece of art sculpture I have ever seen.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Kathryn 🙂 I think the whole of Budapest was actually like a fairytale city – it felt like I was walking through the setting of a Disney movie when I was there x

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  25. Oh wow , this is really amazing.., the place is like those illustrations i used to see in fictional books. Your photographs are very amazing and you have captured the the wonderful atmosphere perfectly. Those shoes installation is really fantastic as if it tells a lot of story just by looking at it. Thanks for giving us a tour and I hope I can visit this place someday

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  26. Hungary is on my bucket list. I have always heard wonderful things about Budapest & I can’t wait to go there. And the parliament building is so beautiful.

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  27. I have to admit that the Hungarian Parlaiment Building on the outside is magnificent. The amazing architecture and gothic look to the building is awe inspiring. Although I have to admit that the holocaust piece with the shoes made me really sad. Thanks for sharing these great works of art and architecture.

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