Watch out for the birds & the sword!
Sitting majestically alongside the Danube, this impressive structure dominates the Pest bank of the river and is the largest building in Hungary. Once the largest parliament in the world (Romania has the title now), it is a “must see” for any visitor to Budapest. It also ranked as one of the bargains of our trip, costing a tiny £4 to £5 (depending on the exchange rate) for EU citizens for a 45 minute tour.
Created by Imre Steindl in the 1890s, it stands as the equal tallest in Budapest along with St Stephen’s Basilica. Built at the height of Hungary’s prominence Budapest was the twin capital with Vienna of a large empire. Reputedly inspired by the Palace of Westminster, it looks something like our Houses of Parliament but with St Paul’s dome added in the middle for good measure.
I really enjoyed seeing the building from the outside, having walked around it during the day and night, also seeing it from the Danube and the Buda bank. It’s particularly enchanting (if not a little bit spooky) at night, with hundreds of birds continually circling above the building, the spotlights seem to drive them crazy. It’s a bit like a scene from a Hitchcock movie, but thankfully they stayed circling above, rather than swooping down to attack. You might just be able to see the white specs in the sky in the night picture.
To see the inside we had booked the 10am tour with an English speaking guide. We did as recommended and booked ahead of time to avoid disappointment, using the booking site jegymester.hu and printing our tickets to avoid any queuing at the ticket office on the day.
We met our guide inside the very modern Visitor Centre (there are free toilets just outside the revolving doors but you have to pay for the ones in the cafe) and progressed through airline style security. There are over 100 steps to negotiate from the parliament square to the end of the tour but there are lifts all along the way if you cannot manage them. Unfortunately this will mean missing the magnificent XVII staircase (one of 28 in the building) with its stained glass windows and gold plated lavish decoration. The main floor and the corridors of power are no less lavish, framed with statues, frescoes and stained glass windows.
The Old Upper House is richly decorated Slavonian oak and although it’s now used for meetings and conferences only, it’s a carbon copy of the National Assembly Hall in the other wing, where parliamentary sessions are held. Coats of Arms from Hungary’s royal families, murals and the horseshoe arrangement of the seat gave me a sense of the historical significance of this chamber.
We were lead into the Domed Hall (no photographs allowed in this part) where the iconic Crown of St Stephen (The Hungarian Holy Crown) is located. With orb and sceptre, the sword brandishing Crown Guard of the Hungarian Armed Forces guard the Crown Jewels of the nation, rotating every 15 mins with appropriate pomp and ceremony. We were also warned to give them a good 2 meters clearance at all times due to their ceremonial sword swishing that happened on a regular basis. Whilst I knew I needed to lose a bit of weight on this trip I obeyed to the letter, not wanting the weight sliced off.
Although we only saw a fraction of the 600 odd rooms in the building, we also viewed the ceiling frescos by Karoly Lotz that sit at the top of the Grand staircase. The 96 red carpeted stairs are the pinnacle of this magnificent buildings beauty and majesty.
That completed the guided tour and we were left to peruse some great photography of the building.
An absolutely brilliant tour, full of facts and interesting information e.g. 40 kg of decorative gold was used on the building. Highly recommend as part of any visit to Budapest.