Budapest's diverse architecture spans from Roman ruins to award-winning contemporary buildings, with plenty of treasures in between. I've assembled the below list with the help of local architects; the buildings are grouped chronologically, and this map will help you find each one of them.
If you're interested in a thematic architecture tour of Budapest, the Center of Contemporary Architecture (KÉK) offers various walking tours led by competent local architects. Also, Budapest has an excellent architecture center, Fuga, where English-language books about Hungarian and regional architecture are available.
In the 1st century CE, the Roman Empire expanded to the Danube, with the river serving as its eastern border. Aquincum, situated in the northern part of today's Budapest, was the capital of Lower Pannonia province and had a population of 40,000 people in its heyday. While Budapest's Roman ruins are relatively small, they're accessible for free, easily reachable from downtown by public transport, and usually deserted, so you can have these two-thousand-year-old remains to yourself.
#1 - The two best-preserved Roman ruins in Budapest
No rival to the baths of Caracalla, but Thermae Maiores, pictured above, was a vast public bath in Aquincum complete with steam rooms and a gym (and today with a concrete overpass running above it). A 15-minute walk from here is the Aquincum Military Amphitheater, once a 13,000-capacity stadium — again, no Colosseum — used for gladiator combats and chariot races. You can visit Thermae Maiores for free from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (it's closed on Mondays); the amphitheater is accessible at all times. The nearby Aquincum Museum has more Roman ruins. Location.
Middle Ages to the early 19th century
Few buildings in Budapest predate the 19th century for three main reasons. First, new constructions weren't a priority when Ottoman Turkey occupied the city (1541-1686) since Hungary was on the western fringes of the empire. Apart from putting up a few hammams, the Turkish simply converted the existing housing stock to fit their needs, for example churches into mosques.
Second, many medieval buildings were destroyed during the 1686 siege of Buda when the Christian Holy League clashed with the Ottomans to retake the city. For example, both the Gothic-Renaissance Buda Castle and the Gothic synagogue of the Castle Hill were demolished.
Third, as part of a massive urban development program in the 19th century, whole downtown neighorhoods were reduced to rubble to make way for grander buildings and a more systematic urban environment (not unlike Haussmann's renovation of Paris). Unfortunately, many Baroque and other historical homes were knocked down along the way.
#2 - Church of Mary Magdalene (mid-13th century)
One of the first Gothic buildings in Budapest, Béla IV of Hungary commissioned the Maria Magdalena church to serve Budapest's Hungarian community (the German residents attended the nearby Matthias church). After WWII bombings damaged the church, the hardline and anti-religion communist regime decided to tear it down instead of renovating it. Only the late-Gothic, four-story tower has remained, soaring above the city and offering stunning views. Location.
#3 - Residential homes on the Castle Hill
Budapest's Castle Hill is split between the Buda Castle and the civilian quarters lined with residential homes. The countless battles waged on this small piece of land — most recently WWII — left many of the original buildings damaged, but the Baroque and in some cases modern facades stand on medieval walls. The neighborhood's winding streets still exude a charming, historic air. Location.
#4 - Király Baths (1565?)
Built by Sokollu Mehmed pasha in the 16th century, Király Baths is one of the few remaining buildings in Budapest that dates back to the city's century-and-a-half Ottoman occupation. The small openings on the dome admit little daylight, lending a mysterious ambiance to the hammam beneath. Of Budapest's thermal baths, this one is popular among local residents, too. Location.
#5 - Tomb of Gül Baba (1548)
Gül Baba, "father of the roses," was a muslim spiritual leader who died in 1541, when Ottoman Turkey occupied Budapest. His refurbished octagonal limestone tomb (türbe) is set on a scenic and tranquil area with sweeping views of the city. For the best experience, climb up on Mecset Street through the rose garden and exit on the other side down the winding Gül Baba Street. Location.
#6 - Inner City Parish Church in Pest
Built on the remains of a Roman fortification, this church is a palimpsest of architecture, reflecting two thousand years of history: the external buttresses and the arched windows with tracery — on the sides and the rear — come from the Gothic era; the 16th-century mihrab (prayer niche) bears witness to the Ottoman rule; the steeples and the curvilinear facade date to the Baroque period. There's a lookout point in the tower with dramatic views. Location.
#7 - University Church (1723-42)
Budapest's Baroque treasure, the Roman Catholic University Church, was built on the site of a mosque after the Ottoman occupation of the city. Most captivating is the building's richly decorated interior, especially the dynamically shaped main altar, the crowded pulpit, and the benches made from carved oak. The church initially belonged to the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit, Hungary's only monastic order, but today it's part of a seminary. Location.
#8 - Budapest City Hall (1727-35)
It's fascinating to picture what this huge building, which is still one of the largest in the city, looked like in the village-like, 18th-century Budapest surrounded by a few dozen flimsy houses. It was built as a hospital and rehabilitation facility for wounded soldiers, later became a military barrack, and today is home to the City Hall and the Mayor's Office. A sweeping renovation is long overdue. Location.
#9 - Hungarian National Museum (1837–47)
Mihály Pollack's Hungary's National Museum harks back to the time when the buildings of ancient Rome inspired architecture (neoclassicism). Hence the entrance portico supported by giant Corinthian columns and the rotunda on the second floor, both of which bring the Pantheon to mind. Today, the building is home to a comprehensive permanent exhibit about Hungary's history. Location.
#10 - Széchenyi Chain Bridge (1839-49)
Those two triumphal arches soaring heroically from the Danube? They're part of the Chain Bridge, a major Budapest landmark and the first permanent connection to span the Danube between Buda and Pest. When it opened in 1849, the iron chain suspension was considered to be modern and technologically advanced. As with the city's other bridges, German soldiers blew up the Chain Bridge in 1945 to slow the advancing Soviet army (it was rebuilt by 1949). Location.
Revival Architecture (second half of 19th century)
In 1867, Budapest became a joint capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire alongside Vienna. The subsequent half a century marked Budapest's golden era, when, inspired by Paris and Vienna, grand boulevards, monumental plazas, and eye-catching revival architecture sprung up across the city at a head-spinning pace. Today, still, these buildings — a kaleidoscope of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque revival styles and combinations thereof — dominate Budapest's urban landscape.
#11 - Dohány Street Synagogue (1854-59)
Europe's biggest synagogue, in Dohány Street, anchors Budapest's old Jewish Quarter. When it was built, many people believed that a national Jewish architecture should feature Mesopotamian and Moorish elements (the resemblance to Alhambra of the nearby Rumbach Street Synagogue designed by Otto Wagner is even more striking). On the rear side, there's a smaller, modernist synagogue from 1931 wrapped in travertine that honors Jewish-Hungarian soldiers who died in WWI. Location.
#12 - Vigadó (1859-65)
Romanesque, Gothic, and Moorish details mix with Hungarian decorative motifs and historic figures on the facade of this downtown concert hall. Frigyes Feszl's building is regarded as the first attempt by an architect at establishing a Hungarian national architecture style. Liszt, Brahms, Debussy, Dvořák, and Bartók are among the notable composers who performed at the Vigadó over the years. Location.
#13 - Andrássy Avenue & the Grand Blvd. (1876, 1896)
These two major thoroughfares have profoundly shaped the city's fabric. The stately Andrássy Avenue, often referred to as Budapest's Champs-Élysées, stretches from downtown to the City Park, while the Grand Boulevard is Budapest's main artery connecting five neighborhoods. Rows of Renaissance Revival apartment buildings line both of them. Location.
#14 - Hungarian State Opera House (1875-84)
The Hungarian opera house on Andrássy Avenue, designed by Miklós Ybl, is a stunning venue of its kind. The Renaissance Revival exterior evokes the arches of the Colosseum and features statues of famous composers, including the Hungarian-native Franz Liszt. The interior is rich with marble columns, gold leaf, and a giant bronze chandelier. Location.
#15 - Batthyány Palace (1884)
If you have a hunch that you've already seen this heavily rusticated building somewhere else, you're correct: the Batthyány Palace is a near-faithful replica of the Strozzi Palace in Florence, which was built in the 15-16th centuries. The fact that people saw fit to erect an actual duplicate of a Renaissance building shows the extent to which historicism in architecture engulfed Budapest in the late 19th century.
#16 - Wenckheim Palace (1886-89)
In the second half of the 19th century, wealthy Hungarian aristocrats drove a building boom in what's called the Palace Quarter today. When not in their countryside estates, usually during the colder months, they entertained lavishly in the rapidly developing capital city. A good example is the sumptuous Baroque Revival palace of the Wenckheim family (for more eye candies like this, visit the nearby Pollack Mihály Square). Today, the building belongs to the Szabó Ervin Library but some of the upper floors have retained their original splendor and can be visited. Location.
#17 - New York Palace (1891-94)
The colossal New York Palace embodies the heavy-handed historicism that reigned supreme in Budapest's architecture in this time: strong central axis, giant Greek columns, rooftop cupolas. The New York Life Insurance Company commissioned starchitect Alajos Hauszmann to design this representative building, which still dominates the Grand Boulevard. An iconic Budapest coffeehouse, New York Cafe, is on the ground floor and loaded with classical ornaments. Location.
#18 - Supreme Court Building (1893-96)
This immense Baroque Revival building across the Parliament used to be home to the Supreme Court of the Hungary until 1949. There's a striking entry hall adorned with frescoes and grand staircases and gilded marble columns. It's regarded as the main work of Alajos Hauszmann, one of the most prolific architects from this era. Until recently, the Museum of Ethnography occupied the building. Location.
#19 - Matthias Church (1255; 1896)
Little has remained of the modest medieval church that once stood on the Castle Hill and where Habsburg Emperor Franz Joseph was crowned king of Hungary in 1867. A couple of decades later, architect Frigyes Schulek reimagined the building into this enormous Gothic Revival structure with colorful roof tiles soaring over Budapest. The dim and quiet inside offers a respite from the throngs of tourists (though there's an admission fee). Location.
#20 - Great Market Hall (1894-97)
Architect and university professor Samu Pecz dreamed up several romanticized Gothic Revival buildings across Budapest, the most famous of which is the main market hall of the city. I'm especially partial to the exposed brick walls which exude a palpable sense of craftsmanship. Zsolnay supplied the colorful glazed ceramic tiles of the roof and steel frames provided structural support. Location.
#21 - House of Parliament (1885-1904)
This Gothic Revival extravaganza stretching along the Danube's bank is Hungary's biggest building. The Hungarian Parliament's resemblance to the Westminster Palace is no coincidence — architect and university professor Imre Steindl was an expert of Gothic architecture and the design was also meant to lend authority to the building in the eyes of the people. Parts of it are open to visitors, including the hall with the holy crown of Hungary, and what used to be the upper chamber. Location.
#22 - St. Stephen's Basilica (1851–1906)
Towering over Budapest, the St. Stephen's Basilica is another statement-building conveying the city's rising status at the time. The construction works lasted for more than half a century, outliving two of the building's chief architects. Behind the vast limestone exterior hides a dim central space where the supposed hand of St. Stephen, Hungary's first king, is also on display. The church's dome offers sweeping views and is open to visitors. Location.
#23 - Millennium Monument (1896–1906)
Hungary's national monument on Heroes' Square was built to celebrate in style the country's thousand-year history (thankfully, it's less bombastic than Italy's national monument from around the same time). Two sets of curved colonnades enclose bronze statues of Hungary's key statesmen. In the middle of the square rises a Corinthian column surrounded by equestrian statues of ancient chieftains and topped with archangel Gabriel. Location.
#24 - Buda Castle (1896-1905)
It was only in the early 20th century that the impressive Buda Castle took its final form (its last resident was Miklós Horthy, Hungary's leader between the world wars). The building was badly damaged during WWII and stood empty for decades before a low-budget reconstruction took place (it's easy to tell from the outside the sections that were rebuilt). Today, the Buda Castle is home to the National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum, and the Széchényi Library. Below the building hide the remains of the original Gothic-Renaissance palace that can be accessed through the Budapest History Museum. Location.
#25 - Vajdahunyad Castle (1904–08)
What seems like a fairy-tale castle inside Budapest's City Park sprung up as a temporary thing in 1896 for an event celebrating Hungary's millenium. It incorporated dozens of famous buildings from across the Hungarian Kingdom, including the Romanesque church in Ják, the fortified tower of Segesvár, and the Castle of Vajdahunyad. The structure turned out to be so popular that they decided to keep it, rebuilding everything with lasting building materials (instead of wood). The Museum of Agriculture occupies parts of it today. Location.
Art Nouveau and pre-modern (late 19th and early 20th centuries)
By the end of the 19th century, new influences in architecture were gaining ground and it was Ödön Lechner who pioneered Hungary's unique brand of Art Nouveau: Using folk art motifs as inspiration, Lechner wanted to create a distinct Hungarian national architectural style. Some call him the “Gaudi of Hungary,” as Lechner's playful and brightly colored glazed ceramics decorations and expressive shapes loosely resemble those of the Spanish master.
Architects of the next generation took Lechner's approach in different directions. Some of them, like Károly Kós, further explored the frontiers of a national Hungarian architectue. Others, most notably the brilliant Béla Lajta, left behind the sinuous shapes of the Art Nouveau altogether and designed some of the first pre-modern buildings in Europe in the early 20th century.
#26 - Museum of Applied Arts (1893-96)
The decorations of Ödön Lechner's Museum of Applied Arts pay homage to ancient Indian and Persian art. Lechner's inspiration came from Hungarian ethnographer József Huszka, who wrongly believed that Hungarian tribes were previously exposed to these cultures. Apart from the decorations, also novel were the spatial flow of the connected open spaces and the enormous steel-framed sky window. The building is currently undergoing renovation and can't be visited. Location.
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#27 - Postal Savings Bank (1900-01)
Lechner's Art Nouveau masterpiece, the Postal Savings Bank, nestles on a quiet downtown street. Take a close look at the facade: the floral patterns appearing throughout, the subtle vertical partitions of pale yellow brick, the unique battlement motifs topped with glazed ceramics, and an endless collection of symbolic creatures (the bees signal industry and hard work). Even today, the building has a fresh, novel appearance. For a better view of the vivid green and yellow roof tiles, walk to the nearby corner of Bajcsy-Zsilinszky Road and Nagysándor József Street. Location.
#28 - Kőrössy Villa (1899)
While Lechner's style was most unique to Hungary, other strands of art nouveau also popped up across Budapest. This richly decorated family home lining the elegant Városligeti fasor pays homage to the French and Belgian art nouveau (architect Albert Kálmán Kőrössy, who studied in Paris, built it for his own family). The building's stunning facade features omega-shaped windows and a parade of plant and animal motifs, including a pair of peacocks flaunting their feathers. Location.
#29 - Gresham Palace (1904-06)
With prime views onto the Danube, the Chain Bridge, and the Castle Hill, downtown's Gresham Palace stands on what's arguably the most valuable piece of real estate in Budapest. Originally built for the British Gresham Life Assurance Company, an army of Hungary's top craftsmen worked on this Art Nouveau landmark. The rich decorative details — glass mosaics, immense ironworks, wall reliefs — are impossible to take in in their entirety. The building, which is currently home to a Four Seasons hotel, evokes Budapest's golden age. Be sure to also peek inside. Location.
#30 - Török Bank Building (1906)
The outsized glass mosaic panel — the biggest in Budapest and made in the renowned atelier of Miksa Róth — depicts Saint Mary, Hungary's patron saint, surrounded by prominent Hungarian revolutionary figures. Architects Ármin Hegedűs and Henrik Böhm designed the facade with great steel-framed vertical windows that tastefully counterpoint the rich mosaic tiles. Location.
#31 - Modern & Breitner Building (1910-12)
In the first decade of the 20th century, at the peak of the art nouveau style in Hungary, all sorts of striking architecture appeared in Budapest. This immense downtown building was inspired by the German art nouveau (Jugendstil) and is the work of the prolific architect duo, Sámuel Révész and József Kollár. The luxury apartments, including an artist's studio inside the corner tower, were on the upper levels, while stores occupied the lower floors. Location.
#32 - Reformed church, Budapest Dist. 7 (1911-13)
Ödön Lechner's legacy and the desire for a national architecture spawned a new vernacular style in the early 20th century. Rather than simply applying folk motifs as wall ornaments — as Lechner did — architects turned to stronger expressions of native forms (the Arts and Crafts movement and Finnish national architecture were sources of inspiration). Case in point is the Reformed church of District 7 designed by Aladár Árkay, where archaic shapes, rough-textured stone, and mythical motifs appear throughout the building. Location.
#33 - Adria Palace (1912-18)
This polished limestone-clad building smack in the middle of Budapest once belonged to a Trieste-based insurance company, later became the headquarters of the Budapest Police, and today houses a Ritz-Carlton. The symmetrical layout and the subtle French balconies bring an old-world elegance to the otherwise light and modern facade. The building, which was designed by Emil Tőry and Móric Pogány, took so long to build because of World War I. Location.
#34 - Parisiana (1907-09)
Designed by Béla Lajta, the Parisiana was originally an upscale cabaret venue (today it belongs to a theater company). The plain facade of gray marble slabs — each with a slightly different shade and level of marbling — juxtaposed with small openings exudes elegant, understated luxury. Note the row of gilded copper cherubs perched atop the building and holding stained glass letterings. The building, completed by 1908, is among the first of its kind in Europe, bearing pre-modern and art deco characteristics. Location.
#35 - Béla Lajta's bank building (1911-12)
This imposing red-brick building by Béla Lajta demonstrates how far some of Ödön Lechner's disciples steered from their master's path. While the delicate terracotta folk art motifs still hark back to the Art Nouveau, the horizontally grouped windows, the largely blank exterior, and the flat roof call art deco and modern buildings to mind (decades before they started appearing en masse). Location.
#36 - District 8 High School of Commerce (1909-13)
This enormous high school building, also by Béla Lajta, emerges unexpectedly on a narrow Budapest side street. Lajta was plugged into the latest architectural developments of Germany and Austria and sometimes this showed in his works. The vertically repeating walls, oversized windows, and the industrial feel of this high school harks back to the AEG Turbine Hall in Berlin designed by Peter Behrens, the grandfather of modernism. Don't miss the Hungarian folk art motifs crowding the entry doors. Location.
#37 - Czech-Hungarian Industrial Bank (1912-13)
A student of both Lechner and Lajta, Béla Málnai was a protean architect and among the first to design pre-modern buildings in Budapest. The elegantly pared down Czech-Hungarian Industrial Bank in downtown showcases Málnai's talent and penchant for novel solutions like the steel-framed bay windows that accent the plain stone walls. There are beautiful art nouveau decorations made from mahogany (!) on the ground floor. Location.
Between the World Wars (1918-45)
Thanks to Hungarian students and teachers at Germany's Bauhaus school — including some well-known figures like Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy, and Alfréd Forbát — modern ideas in architecture spread to Hungary relatively quickly. Especially notable is the work of Farkas Molnár, a star student at the Bauhaus and a colleague of its first director, Walter Gropius. In 1925, Molnár returned to Hungary to advance the cause of the modern movement; as the head of the local International Congress of Modern Architecture (CIAM), he laid out ways to improve public housing and city planning (practicing together with Breuer for a short period). Molnár also designed more than two dozen buildings in Budapest — pioneering residential homes and small apartment complexes — before he was tragically killed by a bomb during WWII.
However, modern architecture had its adversaries at the time. The political establishment and the conservative middle class favored the traditional Baroque Revival style, which meant that modern buildings in the 1920s were relegated to small-scale, private commissions. In this environment, truly modern houses — like those designed by Molnár — became status symbols for the urban, cosmopolitan elite that viewed the Baroque Revival and what it represented as politically and socially outdated. Naturally, most buildings from this time fell some way along the spectrum, between the rigidly historical and the experimentally modern. By the 1930s, the modern movement became more accepted.
#38 - Cistercian High School of Buda (1927-29)
The robustly ornamented yellow facade of this Cistercian secondary school wouldn't feel out of place in 18th century Hungary, and yet the building was erected in 1929, providing a good example of the Neo-Baroque architecture that resurfaced in Hungary between the world wars. The church, next to the school and also designed by Gyula Wälder in a similar manner, is from 1938. Location.
#39 - Electric Distribution Station of Lipótváros (1926-31)
This former electric power distribution station — designed by Ernő Román and Dénes Györgyi and today used as an office space — is among the top art deco buildings in Budapest. Delicate brick buttresses decorate the walls, which are lined with steel-framed thin, vertical windows. The seal of the city of Budapest appears carved in limestone above the entry door. Location.
#40 - Napraforgó Street Housing Development (1930-31)
In 1930, a renowned real estate developer (Fejér & Dános) commissioned a motley crew of 18 top architects to design model homes for middle-class families in the modern style of the day. The result is the 22 single-family houses on the leafy Napraforgó Street in Pasarét, a Budapest suburb. The roster of architects included heavyweights like Lajos Kozma, László Vágó, Gyula Wälder, Farkas Molnár, and József Fischer. Unfortunately, some of the buildings have been neglected or rebuilt since, but the overall modern aesthetic of the street is still palpable. (Note that Pasaréti út provides a view of the other side of the buildings.) Location.
#41 - Dálnoki-Kováts Villa (1932)
This award-winning villa perched above its residential neighborhood is the most celebrated building of Farkas Molnár, the Bauhaus-graduate who led the movement of modern architecture in Hungary in the 1920s and '30s. Even today, the gleaming white walls, the oversized rooftop terraces, and the cylindrical forms feel so contemporary that it's hard to believe the building is almost a hundred years old. Unfortunately, it's privately owned and difficult to access even for a glance (the best view is from Apor Vilmos Square). Location.
#42 - Városmajor Roman Catholic Church (1932-36)
The eye-catching classical modernism of Mussolini-era Italian architecture rippled out to Hungary, too. But instead of going for the bombastic, the Városmajor Church impresses with less: The arched colonnades, the sleek walls clothed in travertine, the standalone bell tower, and the ambient quiet of the area have a haunting presence. Architects Aladár and Bertalan Árkay commissioned modern painters and sculptors for the interior decorations. Location.
#43 - Dunapark Apartment (1935-36)
Parts of the Újlipótváros neighborhood sprang up as a result of a sweeping real estate development between 1933 and 1943. Thanks to zoning laws that regulated the new buildings' appearance, today the highest concentration of modernist apartment complexes is found here. The most spectacular is a Danube-facing luxury building at 38 Pozsonyi Road: the limestone-clad facade hides a dramatically exclusive lobby with a spiral staircase featuring marble finishes and custom blue-rubber floors. It's worth waiting for a chance to sneak in for a glance. The historic Dunapark Café is located on the ground floor. Location.
#44 - Manfred Weiss Pension Fund Apts. (1937-38)
This upscale apartment development on the Buda side is also the work of Béla Hofstätter and Ferenc Domány, the architect duo behind the exclusive Dunapark Apartments on the other side of the Danube (see the entry above). The streamlined shapes, high-quality building materials, and sumptuous interior details — the lobby and the staircase are a must-see — show modern architecture at its best. Location.
#45 - Madách Houses (1937-38)
Madách Houses, a group of 11 brick buildings that separate the old Jewish Quarter from downtown, showcase a moderate strand of modern architecture. The arcaded ground floor lined with in travertine and the subtle geometric patterns on the brick facade lend the buildings an understated grace. The central arch was supposed to be the grand entry of a boulevard piercing through the neighborhood but its construction was halted during WWII and never continued. Location.
#46 - Postal Office of District 7 (1937-39)
Gyula Rimanóczy's Postal Office in District 7 is one of the few large-scale modern public buildings of the inter-war period. The pushed-back facade leaves ample space to appreciate its sheer size, which spans the entire block. Rectangular building blocks and stone statues jut out from the travertine-clad walls to brighten up this immense and elegantly reserved building. Location.
#47 - MEZ Building (1941-42)
This streamlined building straddling the corner of Párizsi and Petőfi Sándor Streets in downtown is one of the jewels of modern architecture in Budapest. At its opening in 1942, luxury apartments complete with a telephone, dishwasher, and built-in furniture occupied the upper floors, while stores lined the ground floor. The building's architect, Gedeon Gerlóczy, is also known as the rescuer of the avant-garde paintings of Tivadar Csontváry. Location.
Architecture during the four decades of communist rule in Hungary (1947-1989) was more varied than most people think. In the beginning, modern buildings continued to dominate but by the first half of the 1950s, as in other communist countries, socialist realism became the state-imposed art form. In architecture, it combined classical elements with communist ideology — imagine a Doric-columned facade decorated with a painting of joyful laborers. Socialist realism was painfully out-of-date at a time when sleek modern architecture reigned supreme in the Western world. Interestingly, some of Hungary's top architects managed to remain within the bounds of state censorship while also giving new meaning to socialist realism (see three exampes below).
By the end of the 1950s, socialist realism ran its course and architects were permitted to return to modern designs. Since state control of architecture wasn't as strict as of other fields like the fine arts, there exist tastefully modern buildings from this time, especially up to the 1960s. But overall, due to capital constraints, volume pressures, limited access to construction materials, and an incompetent state bureaucracy, many Budapest buildings from the late '60s and especially the '70s haven't stood the test of time. This period is also culpable for the total neglect of the country's pre-war housing stock.
Apart from Hungarian-born Marcel Breuer, it's Imre Makovecz whose name might ring a bell for architecture fans around the world. Makovecz's unique brand of organic architecture explored how modern buildings can become more communal. He was years ahead of his time: in the 1960s, when unadorned white boxes still defined much of mainstream global architecture, Makovecz was already fiercely pursuing his own aesthetic and intellectual paths, seeking to bridge the built and the natural environments. Makovecz's buildings are mainly in the Hungarian countryside, but both of his main Budapest works are featured below.
#48 - MÁVAUT Bus station (1948-49)
This landmark-protected former bus station in the heart of Budapest is a real treasure of modernist architecture. István Nyíri designed two sleek, dynamic, light-filled buildings — departures on one end, arrivals on the other — that are connected by what used to be the loading area. Lined with bars and restaurants, the venue has found a new purpose in the 21st century. Location.
#49 - MÉMOSZ HQ (1948-50)
Once the headquarters of the construction workers union, this characteristically modern building has a number of remarkable features. The slender columns support a glass-clad conference room that juts out of the facade, while circular decorative holes punctuate the flat roof. The building managed to arise just before the Hungarian state banned modern architecture in favor of socialist realism. The Minister of Culture at the time was especially irked because it occupied a high-traffic location by Budapest's City Park. Location.
#50 - Former HQ of Hungarian Shipping Co. (1952)
The photo above shows a typical building designed in line with the tenets of socialist realism. The symbolism is evident: The bulky pillars of the entrance convey order and authority, while the sculpture of the self-assured worker channels working class propaganda. To give the full effect, there used to be a five-pointed red star on the building's roof. What follows are three more subtle examples of socialist realism. Location.
#51 - Former Communist Party HQ, District 2 (1952-53)
Bizarrely, but in line with the socialist-realist dogma, a colonnade of Doric columns, a classical cornice, and rusticated walls decorate the local communist party's former headquarters (remember, this is 1953). Nonetheless, József Körner's building managed to retain a somewhat modern feel overall — in part by keeping those columns so slender. Before the fall of the regime in 1989, a five-pointed star was on top. Location.
#52 - Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (1954)
Some architects found inventive solutions to bypass socialist realism while retaining the required classical elements. Zoltán Farkasdy, a noted architect and theoretician, turned to surrealism: he attached an outsized porticoed entrance with comically thick Doric columns to an otherwise sleek structure. And thus formed a provincial countryhouse villa and a modern box a contemporary new whole. Location.
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#53 - University of Technology Building "R" (1951-55)
This university building perched along the Danube demonstrates yet another approach to circumvent the obsolete architecture demanded by the state in the early 1950s. Under the guise of socialist realism, architect Gyula Rimanóczy designed a beautiful complex that pays homage to the brick-forward tradition of Nordic classicism and the monumental architecture of interwar Italy (take a glance at the colossal lobby, too). Location.
#54 - Restored building on the Castle Hill #1 (1957-59)
Much of the medieval and Baroque housing stock of Budapest's Castle Hill was reduced to rubble during WWII. Architect Zoltán Farkasdy, who led many of the restoration works, was ahead of his time in 1957 when he emphasized that the renovations had to be contemporary but also respectful of the historical surrounding (instead of simply erecting replicas of the lost buildings). The house at 32 Úri Street successfully accomplished this: it's clearly modern but lets the surviving Gothic details take center stage. Location.
#55 - Restored building on the Castle Hill #2 (1961-63)
Just around the corner is another remarkable house from the same time and born out of a similar philosophy (György Jánossy, its designer, was a close friend and contemporary of Farkasdy). The pitched roof, the heavy gable, and the brick walls wouldn't be out of place in medieval Buda, but the steel frames of the windows and their playful composition and the vertical recesses decorating the gable convey that there's more to it. Location.
#56 - Elisabeth Bridge (1961-64)
As Budapest's other bridges, the original Elizabeth Bridge (1896-1903) was destroyed by the Germans in World War II to slow the advancing Soviet army. The new bridge, designed by Pál Sávoly, became a modern masterpiece both structurally (it was the first cable-stayed bridge in Hungary) and aesthetically. The dynamic, gracefully bare white modern structure quickly became a Budapest landmark. Location.
#57 - Telco engineering plant (1961-64)
Hungary’s industrial architecture was a bright spot in the communist-era, even drawing international acclaim in the 1960s. To appreciate this, head to the Buda side where the sprawling building of a telecommunications engineering plant — designed by Lajos Arnóth and Jenő Szendrői — seamlessly blends into the street view. The flexible interior spaces are clad by a calm brick exterior that's brightened up with delicate openings, metal shades, and the horizontal windows of the top floor. Location.
#58 - Körszálló Hotel Budapest (1964-67)
A number of beautiful late-modern buildings emerged in the 1960s after the state lifted restrictions on architecture. One of the best examples is the Körszálló by György Szrogh, a 64-meter (210 ft) tall circular hotel towering over the Buda hills. Even if you aren't a guest, you can try to ask the receptionists to let you up to the top floor to enjoy the sweeping views. Location.
#59 - Hilton Budapest (1973-76)
Even if you find its 1970s curtain walls uninspiring, the Hilton in the Castle Hill has a number of unique features. For example, integrated into this five-star hotel are the remains of both a 13th-century Dominican church — with a playful modern spire — and an 18th-century high school that once stood here. And the views are startling. Location.
#60 - Funeral Chapel at Farkasréti Cemetery (1975)
The timber interior of the Farkasréti Cemetery's funeral chapel is one of the two main Budapest works of visionary architect Imre Makovecz. The design is simultaneously subtle, intense, and symbolic: The repeating bentwood frames evoke a human rib cage, with the stand holding the coffin placed where the heart is. Location.
#61 - All Saints Roman Catholic Church (1975-77)
In 1975, this was the first church in Budapest that the communist regime permitted to be built (the previous one was in 1948). Since the state provided no financial support, the congregation had to rely on social workers for labor and the absolute cheapest materials. Architect István Szabó, also working for free, designed all of the interior decorations and the furnishings himself. And yet the powerfully expressive shapes and the immense craftsmanship give the building an enduring appeal. Location.
#62 - Prefab Residential High-Rises (1960-70s)
In the 1960s and ‘70s, thousands of residential apartments made of precast concrete slabs sprung up in Budapest to address the city's critical housing shortage. These high-rise blocks came with district heating and hot running water, amenities previously unavailable to many of the residents. But there was a price to pay: entire neighborhoods had to be wiped out to make space for these gray, lifeless, uniform boxes, which today account for almost 30 percent of Budapest's apartment stock. Location.
#63 - Sculptural walls on Gellért Hill (1975-81)
Philosophers' Garden is a cherished hideaway on Gellért Hill with some of the best views of Budapest. Carved into the park here are the sculptural walls of a water storage facility that hides beneath the surface. These pale slabs of mystical geometric shapes, designed by architect György Vadász, have become as much part of Gellért Hill as the better-known statues on the hilltop. Location.
Postmodernism (1980s to the early aughts)
Postmodernism in architecture is a fluid concept but it generally refers to buildings exhibiting more local context, wall ornaments, and historical references than do the plain modern boxes that preceeded them. While the majority of Budapest's postmodern buildings are absent of the bombastic shapes and radical eclecticism that tend to grab people's attention, the selections below feature the most characteristic buildings of this style.
#64 - Liget hotel (1990)
From overblown cornices to a motley collection of historical shapes, building materials, and color combinations, the postmodern repertoire prominently features on József Finta's 140-room hotel across the busy street from the Museum of Fine Arts. A delicate bronze statue of a siren floats above the cantilevered ground-floor arcade. Location.
#65 - "Makovecz House" (1993)
Imre Makovecz, the renowned Hungarian architect, designed this four-story extension atop a 19th century Renaissance Revival building hidden in a Budapest side street. Take a deep breath: Vertically repeating blank pediments flanked by two curved towers laced with Gothic-arched windows and split by light-blue columns. Notwithstanding the spectacle — it's impossible not to stop and try to make sense of it all — the building feels more self-serving than sensitive to its surrounding. Location.
#66 - Church of Hungarian Saints (1994-96)
This collection of church buildings by architect Ferenc Török was supposed to be the Vatican’s pavilion for the 1996 World's Fair in Budapest but the event was canceled (today it's a functioning Roman Catholic parish church). Török skillfully juxtaposes various forms of Christian architecture: the underground chamber of funeral urns relates to the Roman catacombs, the circular dome to the early Christian places or worship, and the thick stone wall to the fortified medieval churches. Location.
#67 - Hungarian Police Headquarters (1995-97)
Architect József Finta's magnum opus is the Hungarian Police Headquarters, colloquially known as the “Cops' Palace.” This beautifully proportioned, 58,000 sqm giant masterfully evokes a host of associations by passersby, including a sphynx that fixes its vigilant gaze toward the city center. The building also features subtle hat-tips to the works of other architects. Location.
#68 - Lehet Market (2000-02)
Love it or hate it, you'll likely get a kick out of this intentionally kitsch Budapest market hall designed by László Rajk. The boat-shaped building is packed with radically overblown historical shapes and loud colors, likely to call to mind the hustle and bustle of the busy marketplace inside. If you decide to visit, go on a Saturday morning when the place is liveliest. Location.
#69 - Hungarian National Theater (2000-02)
Local architects have little love for Hungary's national theater, calling the building everything from kitsch apocalypse to a total failure. While it's true that the building has shortcomings both inside (poor acoustics, confined spaces) and out (cluttered ornaments that are difficult to make sense of), this is nonetheless among the few large-scale postmodern buildings in Budapest and hence worth a visit. In fact, a Danube promenade with beautiful vistas leads to the building from downtown. Location.
#70 - Orczy Fórum (1994-2006)
Orczy Fórum is a massive real estate development within Budapest's outer District 8, a low-income neighborhood. With hundreds of apartments, vast office spaces, and even a private chapel, the cluster of postmodern buildings is a shining light in this badly neglected area. Orczy Fórum is the brainchild György Kévés, one of Hungary's most talented and versatile architects. Location.
Large-scale contemporary buildings in Budapest are fewer than you might expect. Deep-pocketed private developers are rare, and the state-funded mega-projects tend to focus on the refurbishment of historical buildings rather than new constructions. The buildings below are some of the exceptions and well worth a visit.
#71 - Restored bldg. on the Castle Hill #3 (1999-2000)
Four decades after the initial reconstructions took place in the war-ravaged Castle Hill (see #54 and #55 above), a leading architect of the next generation, Péter Reimholz, got a chance to demonstrate his approach to restoring a medieval ruin. Instead of delineating old from new, he designed a striking brick building that blends into its historical surrounding but also clearly references the current day with modern materials and playful shapes. Location.
#72 - Müpa Budapest (2002-05)
Müpa is a cultural center perched on the Danube's bank and so far the most successful large-scale work of architecture in Budapest in the 21st century. The warm limestone exterior encloses massive floor-to-ceiling windows that permit plenty of light. Inside, the transition of materials is gracious: from wood to metal to glass to stone. Designed by Gábor Zoboki, the building is home to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, and also the National Concert Hall, which is known for its high-quality acoustics. Location.
#73 - CET Building (2006-11)
The CET Building is a cultural and commercial center consisting of two restored warehouses and a whale-shaped high-tech structure inserted in between (CET stands for Central European Time, and it also means "whale" in Hungarian). The building, lined with riverfront bars like Esetleg and Jonas Craft Beer House, is one of the few with direct access to the Danube. Location.
#74 - M4 Subway Stations (2004-14)
The new stations of Budapest's metro line #4 show contemporary Hungarian architecture at its best. Each platform's design pays respect to its above-ground surrounding or to the station's moniker. The Fővám tér and Szent Gellért tér stations won the prestigious Architizer A+ Award in 2014. Location.
#75 - Central European University Building (2014-16)
The indented facade of the main building of the prestigious Central European University, designed by the Irish O'Donnell + Tuomey, seamlessly blends into the 1820s downtown street view. The inside, which is open for all to see, features expensive-but-understated details, unexpected color combinations, and some of the original walls. Location.
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