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.
Heads up: Budapest has an excellent architecture center, Fuga, where English-language books about Hungarian and regional architecture are also available.
In the 1st century AD, 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 with 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
Surely not a 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 (today a concrete overpass runs 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 19th century
There are noticeably few buildings in Budapest that predate the 19th century for three main reasons. First, new constructions weren't a priority when Ottoman Turkey occupied the city (1541-1686). Hungary was on the western fringes of the empire, so the Turkish didn't spend much money on new buildings with the exception of hammams. Instead, they 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 battled 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 - 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 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.
#3 - Király Baths (1565?)
Built by Sokollu Mehmed pasha in the 16th century, Király Baths is one of the few remaining buildings in Budapest dating 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.
#4 - Tomb of Gül Baba (1548)
Gül Baba, "father of the roses," was a Bektashi monk who died in 1541, when Ottoman Turkey occupied the city. His octagonal limestone tomb (türbe) is still a popular destination of Islamic pilgrimage and also a scenic and tranquil area with sweeping views. 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.
#5 - Inner City Parish Church in Pest
Built on the remains of a Roman fortification that once stood here, this church is a true palimpsest of architecture, reflecting two thousand years of history. The external buttresses and the arched windows with tracery — on the sides and the rear — recall the Gothic era. Inside, the mihrab (prayer niche) from the 16th century bears witness to the Ottoman rule. The steeples and the curvilinear forms of the facade date to the Baroque period. Location.
#6 - Hungarian National Museum (1837–47)
The imposing edifice of Hungary's National Museum harkens back to the time when the buildings of ancient Rome inspired architecture (neoclassicism). Hence the entrance portico supported by giant Corinthian columns, the symmetrical shapes, and the circular dome of the lobby. Today, the building is home to a comprehensive permanent exhibit about Hungary's history. Location.
#7 - Széchenyi Chain Bridge (1839-49)
A major Budapest landmark, this bridge was the first permanent connection to span the Danube between Buda and Pest when it opened in 1849. While the stone pillars resemble the triumphal arches of ancient Rome, the iron chain suspension was modern and technologically advanced. As with the city's other bridges in WWII, the Germans 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. 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.
#8 - Dohány Street Synagogue (1859)
The largest synagogue of Europe, 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 which honors Jewish-Hungarian soldiers who died in WWI. Location.
#9 - 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.
#10 - Hungarian State Opera House (1875-84)
The Hungarian opera house on Andrássy Avenue, designed by Miklós Ybl, is one of the most stunning venues of its kind globally. 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.
#11 - 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. That fact that people saw fit to erect an actual duplicate of a Renaissance building shows the extremity to which historicism in architecture was entrenched in Budapest in the late 19th century.
#12 - Wenckheim Palace (1889)
In the second half of the 19th century, wealthy Hungarian aristocrats drove a building boom in what's called Budapest's Palace Quarter today. When not in their countryside estates, usually in the colder months, they needed lavish houses for entertaining in the rapidly developing capital city. A good example is the sumptuous Baroque Revival palace of the Wenchkeim 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.
#13 - 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 architect 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.
#14 - Matthias Church (1255; 1896)
Little has remained of the modest medieval church that once stood here 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.
#15 - House of Parliament (1885-1904)
This Gothic Revival extravaganza stretching along the Danube's bank is Hungary's largest building. The Hungarian Parliament's resemblance to the Westminster Palace is no coincidence — architect and university professor Imre Steindl was devoted to Gothic architecture and the design also meant to lend additional authority to the building in the eyes of people. Parts of it are open to visitors, including the hall with the holy crown of Hungary, and the former upper chamber. Location.
#16 - 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. Note that the church's dome offers sweeping views and is open to visitors. Location.
#17 - Millennium Monument (1896–1906)
Hungary's outsized national monument on Heroes' Square was built to celebrate in style the country's thousand-year history (still, 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 (yes, they're all men). In the middle of the square towers a Corinthian column surrounded by equestrian statues of ancient chieftains and topped with archangel Gabriel. Location.
Art Nouveau and pre-modern (late 19th and early 20th centuries)
By the end of the 20th century, historicism in architecture was losing ground to contemporary influences, especially the Art Nouveau. It was Ödön Lechner who pioneered Hungary's unique brand of Art Nouveau. Using folk art motifs as inspiration, Lechner's aim was to create an independent Hungarian national architectural style. Some call him the “Gaudi of Hungary,” as Lechner's playful and brightly colored tileworks and expressive shapes loosely resemble those of the Spanish master (though most of Lechner's buildings predate Gaudi's).
Architects of the next generation took Lechner's approach to different directions. Some of them, like Károly Kós, further explored the frontiers of a national Hungarian architectue. Others, most notably the brilliantly talented Béla Lajta, left behind the sinuous shapes of the Art Nouveau altogether and by the early 20th century designed some of the first pre-modern buildings in Europe.
#18 - Museum of Applied Arts (1893-96)
The decorations of Ödön Lechner's Museum of Applied Arts pay homage to Indian and Persian art. For example, the mosaic tiled entrance and the all-white entry hall bring to mind the Taj Mahal (Lechner's inspiration came from Hungarian ethnographer József Huszka, who falsely believed at the time that Hungarians had an ancient ancestry in the east). 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.
#19 - 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 (the beehives symbolize 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.
#20 - 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 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, is a reminder of Budapest's golden age. Be sure to also look inside. Location.
#21 - Török Bank Building (1906)
The outsized glass mosaic panel — the largest 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.
#22 - Parisiana (1907-09)
Designed by Béla Lajta, the Parisiana was originally a 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, finished by 1908, is among the first of its kind in Europe, bearing pre-modern and art deco characteristics. Location.
#23 - Béla Lajta's bank building (1911-12)
This imposing red-brick building designed by Béla Lajta demonstrates how far some of Lechner's former disciples steered from their master's path. While the delicate terracotta folk art motifs still harken 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.
#24 - Reformed church, Budapest Dist. 7 (1911-13)
Ödön Lechner's legacy and the wish 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.
Between the world wars (1918-45)
Several well-known figures of Germany's Bauhaus school — Marcel Breuer, László Moholy-Nagy, Farkas Molnár, Alfréd Forbát — were Hungarian, which meant that modernist ideas quickly spread to Hungary. Especially notable is the work of Farkas Molnár, a star student at Bauhaus and a colleague of Walter Gropius. In 1925, he returned to Hungary to advance the cause of the modern movement through exhibitions, publications, and speeches. As the head of the local CIAM chapter, he laid out how modern architecture and mass production can improve things like public housing (practicing together with Breuer for a short period). Molnár also designed more than two dozen buildings in Budapest — pioneering residential houses and small apartment complexes — before he was tragically killed by a stray bomb at his home during WWII.
However, modern architecture in Hungary had its adversaries. The political establishment and the conservative middle class at the time favored the traditional Baroque Revival style, which meant that modern buildings, especially in the 1920s, were often relegated to small-scale, private commissions. In this environment, truly modern houses — for example those designed by Molnár — became symbols of the urban, cosmopolitan class that viewed the Baroque Revival and what it represented as politically and socially outdated. Naturally, most buildings from this time fell somewhere along this spectrum, between the rigidly historical and the experimentally modern. By the 1930s, the modern movement became more accepted.
#25 - Cistercian High School of Buda (1929)
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 style of architecture that resurfaced in Hungary between the wars. The church, next to the school and also designed by Gyula Wälder in a similar manner, is from 1938. Location.
#26 - Electric Distribution Station of Lipótváros (1930)
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 accentuated by steel-framed thin, vertical windows. The seal of the city of Budapest appears carved in limestone above the entry door. Location.
#27 - Napraforgó Street Housing Development (1931)
A progressive government decree in 1929 commissioned a motley crew of top Hungarian architects like Gyula Wälder, László Vágó, Lajos Kozma, József Fischer, and Farkas Molnár to design housing for middle-class families in the modern style of the day. The result is the 22 single-family model homes on the leafy Napraforgó Street in a Budapest suburb. Each of the individual buildings has a unique architecture while fitting into a greater aesthetic whole. Location.
#28 - Dálnoki-Kováts Villa (1932)
This award-winning residential villa perched above its residential neighborhood is the best-known building of Bauhaus-alumnus and star architect Farkas Molnár. Even today, the gleaming white walls, the oversized rooftop terraces, and the delicate cylindrical forms feel so contemporary that it's hard to believe the building was constructed almost a hundred years ago. Unfortunately, it's privately owned and difficult to access even for a glance (the best view is from Apor Vilmos Square). Location.
#29 - Városmajor Church (1936)
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 geometric shapes clothed in travertine, the standalone bell tower, and the stillness of the area have a haunting presence. Architects Aladár and Bertalan Árkay commissioned modern local painters and sculptors for the interior decorations. Location.
#30 - Dunapark Apartment (1936)
Pozsonyi Road in the Újlipótváros neighborhood was a largely barren land until a sweeping development took place in the 1930s. Thanks to a strict zoning law that regulated the new buildings' appearance, today the highest concentration of modernist apartment complexes are here. The most spectacular is a Danube-facing luxury building at #38: the limestone-clad facade hides a dramatically exclusive lobby with a spiral staircase featuring marble finishes and custom blue-rubber floors. For the best experience, wait for a chance to sneak in for a glance. The historic Dunapark Café is located on the ground floor. Location.
#31 - Manfred Weiss Pension Fund Apartments (1938)
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.
#32 - Madách Houses (1938)
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 covered in travertine and the subtle geometric patterns on the clinker-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.
Architecture during the four decades of communist rule in Hungary (1947-1989) was more diverse than most people think. In the beginning, modern designs continued to gain traction as they had before the war. 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 entrance 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 '50s, socialist realism ran its course and architects were permitted to return to modern designs. State control wasn't as strict as of other fields like the fine arts and Hungarian architects designed many tastefully modern buildings during this time, especially up to the 1960s. Unfortunately, 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 the ways in which modern buildings can be humanistic, communal, and inspired by nature. 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. Makovecz's buildings are mainly in the Hungarian countryside, but both of his Budapest works are featured below.
#33 - MÁVAUT Bus station (1949)
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.
#34 - MÉMOSZ HQ (1950)
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 projects out of the facade and also a horizontal roof punctuated by circular decorative holes. The building managed to arise just before the state banned modern architecture in Hungary 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.
#35 - 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 clear: 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 examples of more subtle manifestations of socialist realism. Location.
#36 - Former Communist Party HQ, District 2 (1953)
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, the building somewhat managed to retain a modern feel overall — in part by keeping those columns so slender. Before the fall of the regime in 1989, a five-pointed star topped the building. Location.
#37 - 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.
#38 - University of Technology Building "R" (1955)
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.
#39 - 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 it lets the surviving Gothic details take center stage. Location.
#40 - Restored building on the Castle Hill #2 (1961-63)
Just around the corner is another remarkable house from the same time and borne 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 and the concrete base convey that there's more to it. Location.
#41 - Telco engineering plant (1961-64)
Hungary’s industrial architecture was a bright spot in the communist-era, even gaining international attention 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 aluminum shades, the delicate openings, and the horizontal windows of the top floor are just enough to brighten up the calm brick exterior. Location.
#42 - Körszálló Hotel Budapest (1967)
A number of beautifully designed late-modern buildings emerged after the state lifted restrictions on architecture. One of the best examples is the Körszálló by György Szrogh, a 64 m (210 ft) tall circular hotel towering over the Buda hills. Even if you aren't a guest, you can try asking the receptionists to let you up to the top floor, which offers sweeping views. Location.
#43 - Funeral Chapel at Farkasréti Cemetery (1975)
The timber-clad interior of the Farkasréti Cemetery's funeral chapel is one of the two 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.
#44 - All Saints Roman Catholic Church (1977)
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 and the absolute cheapest materials to erect the building. 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 this building an enduring appeal. Location.
#45 - 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.
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. Since the postmodern movement in architecture originated in the West, it didn't become widespread in Hungary until after the end of the communist era in 1989. One of its leading architects was József Finta, whose works have profoundly shaped Budapest's contemporary skyline. 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.
#46 - Liget hotel (1990)
Finta's most typically postmodern building is this 140-room hotel across the busy street from the Museum of Fine Arts. From overblown cornices to a collection of historical shapes, building materials, and color combinations, the postmodern repertoire prominently features on the facade. A delicate bronze statue of a siren floats above the cantilevered ground-floor arcade. Location.
#47 - "Makovecz House" (1993)
Imre Makovecz, the renowned Hungarian architect, designed this four-story extension atop a 19th century Renaissance Revival building found in a Budapest side street. Vertically repeating blank pediments are flanked by two curved towers laced with Gothic-arched windows that are split by light-blue columns. That's right. 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.
#48 - Church of Hungarian Saints (1996)
This group of church buildings by architect Ferenc Török was supposed to be the Vatican’s pavilion for the 1996 World's Fair in Budapest that was later canceled (today it's a functioning Roman Catholic parish church). Török skillfully juxtaposes various forms of historical 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.
#49 - Hungarian Police Headquarters (1997)
József Finta's best work 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 Pritzker-winning architect, I. M. Pei. Location.
#50 - Lehet Market (2002)
Love it or hate it, you'll likely get a kick out of this intentionally kitsch Budapest market hall. The boat-shaped building is packed with overblown historical shapes — like those bright-yellow entablatures — 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.
#51 - Hungarian National Theater (2002)
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.
#52 - Orczy Fórum (1994-2006)
Orczy Fórum is a massive real estate development in Budapest's outer District 8. With hundreds of apartments, vast office spaces, and even its own chapel, the cluster of postmodern buildings forms a striking contrast to this otherwise badly neglected and low-income neighborhood. 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 historic buildings rather than new constructions. The buildings below are some of the exceptions and well worth a visit.
#53 - Müpa Budapest (2005)
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 window panes that permit plenty of light. Inside, there's a gracious use and transitioning of materials: 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, known for its high-quality acoustics. Location.
#54 - CET Building (2011)
The CET Building is a cultural and commercial center consisting of two restored warehouses and a whale-shaped giant glass 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.
#55 - M4 Subway Stations (2004-14)
The stations of Budapest's metro line #4 are among the best works of contemporary Hungarian architecture. 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.
#56 - Central European University Building (2016)
The central building of the prestigious Central European University, designed by O'Donnell + Tuomey, seamlessly blends old and new — the indented facade is distinctly modern, but it also fits into the otherwise 1820s downtown street view. The inside, which is open for all to see, boasts expensive-but-understated details, unexpected color combinations, and contrasting materials. Location.
If you're interested in a thematic architecture tour of Budapest, the Center of Contemporary Architecture (KÉK) offers walking tours where enthusiastic and competent local architects show around specific pockets of the city.
Special thanks for the feedback to Professor Sándor Sólymos at the Hungarian University of Fine Arts.