Budapest: Basilica to Parliament

St Stephen’s Basilica

St Stephen’s Basilica was a great place to get an overview of the city on our first day in Budapest. Stephen (Istvan in Hungarian) is revered as the founder and patron saint of Hungary. He was crowned king in 1000, but the Basilica is centuries later than that: built between 1851 and 1905.

The interior is beautiful and, in places, quirky – note the reliquary in the gallery below which contains Stephen’s mummified right hand. On the anniversary of his death each year, August 20, this is paraded through the streets.

The highlight, however, was climbing the 302 steps of the tower. Well, not the actual climbing itself, but the views. We could see many of the places we would visit later that day, or over the forthcoming week.

If you spotted a building in the gallery above with a multicoloured roof, that was our next destination. A fine example of Hungarian Art Nouveau, it was formerly the Post Office Savings Bank and is now the State Treasury. The bees on the facade symbolise thrift.

We found Budapest to be a “monumental” city with statues and sculptures everywhere. Here are some favourites from the area between the Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament. Many of the names brought back my school history lessons, for example Kossuth who led the 1848 revolution. Ronald Reagan seems a little out of place! He never visited Budapest but was honoured in 2011, the centenary of his birth, for his role in ending the Cold War.

A couple of monuments merit more detailed attention. The German occupation monument, marking the Nazi takeover in 1944, is controversial. The government insists that it stands for all victims of the occupation while Jewish groups see it as part of an official attempt to absolve Hungary of responsibility in the Holocaust. At its foot, families of those who died have set up a Living Memorial of photographs, documents and belongings which, unfortunately, is frequently vandalised.

The Holocaust Memorial lies on the banks of the Danube and consists of dozens of shoes cast in iron. Hundreds of Jewish adults and children were shot here and their bodies thrown into the river. Before they died they were made to remove their coats and footwear to be used by German civilians. Horrific.

Just upriver lies the Hungarian Parliament Building which makes the Palace of Westminster look rather restrained: Gothic Revival with Renaissance and Baroque flourishes. I’m not sure I like it exactly, but it’s certainly impressive.

By this time it was 3pm and our feet were starting to get sore from tramping the pavements. Before leaving the Basilica in the morning, we had bought tickets for an organ concert starting at 5pm. Just time to go back to our hotel for a cuppa before venturing out again.

Today’s explorations were all on the Pest side of the river. It reminded me a lot of Paris – broad boulevards lined with neo-classical architecture and, when you ventured down the side streets, a slight air of dilapidation. The next day we would cross the river into Buda for the first time (the cities merged in 1873). It was quite different.


  1. Ah, your first day matched our first day, except we missed out on the Post Office Savings Bank! We wondered what that wonderful green-roofed building was, and I had the Post Office Savings Bank on my list, but what we found and thought was that building was decidedly not! Such a bummer that we missed that beautiful Art Nouveau facade. Also, I sadly didn’t take as many statue pictures as you did because I feel they never turn out well and I can’t always keep track of what they are. I love all your statue pictures though. We also visited that Living Memorial to Jews and the Shoes on the Danube and walked by the impressive Parliament. It’s strange, isn’t it, that statue of Ronald Reagan? It’s been so much fun reliving our trip through yours! Great posts all! 🙂


  2. Fascinating insights Anabel. We were struck on our own visit by how much suffering the people of Hungary had endured over the centuries – they truly must be so resilient! Very proud of their heritage too and yes we noticed the large numbers of monuments!


  3. I’ve never been to Budapest, but I know it is a beautiful city.
    Loved the pictures, but what touched me the most were the little info about WWII. It was a horrible time, but I thnk it’s right to remember. We need to remember. However controversial it may be, forgetting is even worse.


  4. When I watched Going My Way with Bing Crosby and Rise Stevens talks about reading his letters when she tours Europe. She says Budapest and lingers for a second or 2 remembering that city. At that moment, I knew I wanted to visit there and when I was 18, I did and loved it! This was in 1982 and it was behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War but I still loved it even though my mom was scared to death. I took a 4 day tour with a group of Austrians and I and a 16 year old were the only 2 young girls on this trip. The rest were married couples at least 60 years old and up. I remember seeing St. Stephen’s Hand and visiting that Cathedral and visiting the Fishermans wharf and the nearby church also. There were the communist statues there as well that are now gone and in some area where these statues go to “die” as it were. This brings back fond memories plus a want to revisit this great place. Hungary suffered at the hands of Stalin where 7 million died in one year from 1932-33 so it wasn’t too hard for them to lean towards Hitler unfortunately. The shoes are sobering and reminds me of my dad in law who was a soldier in WW2 and was part of helping one camp. He remembered seeing a huge pile of shoes and that image never left him.


    • That sounds quite an adventure! We went to Fisherman’s Wharf too but didn’t make it to the communist statue park which was outside the city. The shoes were poignant – I’ve seen pictures of the piles of shoes and clothes, but it must be far more awful to see them in real life.


  5. What a lovely city . . . .and even though his face looks a little bit odd here think I prefer this Ronald to the McDonald one who seems to get everywhere!!