The Hungarian Parliament building in Budapest is certainly the most recognizable building in all of Hungary. It’s a massive Neo-Gothic structure that sits on the shores of the Danube River. It’s one of Budapest’s most popular and most-photographed sites. I took Mrs. TT on a quick subway ride our first night in Budapest without telling her where we were going. When we emerged into the night air, directly across the river from the building, I told her to turn around. And she literally gasped. It’s an impressive site! But you aren’t limited to enjoying this building from the outside only. It’s possible to go inside, too. Let me tell you all about touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest.
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First, Just A Little History
This grand building may look similar to another famous riverside Neo-Gothic Parliament. And it’s no accident that the Hungarian Parliament on the Danube resembles the UK Parliament on the Thames. In the late 19th century, shortly after Buda on one side of the river, and Pest on the other side of the river, combined to form Hungary’s new capital city, Hungarian reformers wanted to construct a building that reflected their admiration of Britain’s political system.
The resultant building, even still the largest in Hungary, was completed at the turn of the century, and coincided with Hungary’s 1000 year anniversary. Its materials, motifs, symbols, statuary, all celebrate the best of the country.
Taking It In Up Close
The grounds around this massive building are extensive and easy to access. So, touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest certainly should include a walk around the exterior, taking it in from all angles. You can’t help but notice lots of design detail – gargoyles, crests, statues, arches, and a multitude of window shapes.
Admiring It From Afar
You also should really take the time to admire this majestic building from afar too. No matter where you are along the Danube in the heart of Budapest, you can see Parliament. It dominates the Pest side of the river.
But I recommend going to Batthyány Square on the Buda side for the best overall views. This is where I took Mrs. TT to see Parliament on our first night. And we returned several times to catch it’s magnificence in various different lights.
Touring the Inside…But Online Tickets First
As soon as I learned that touring the inside of the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest is allowed, I set out to learn how. Usually I prepare a little more extensively prior to our arrival at any destination. But on this trip, we were jumping to a new country every week, and so most of my tripping was done on the fly.
Take note though – it’s definitely best to plan ahead if you want to take the tour of this building. While tours are offered every 15-30 minutes throughout the day in various languages, it’s a very popular Budapest activity, tickets are limited, and it does sell out.
The recommended method for getting tickets is online through the Parliament’s own website. In fact, the website warns against buying tickets elsewhere, as scams with counterfeits are common.
Just Lucky I Guess
When I first looked on the website, all English speaking tours were sold out for the rest of our week in Budapest (early September). Fortunately, I continued checking, and ultimately a few same day spots suddenly opened up online one morning.
The tickets aren’t cheap for the 45 minute tour, currently costing 28 USD per person for non EU residents (double the cost of an EU resident!) But I would say that touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest is certainly worth that price for the uniqueness of the experience.
Here’s one annoying factor that I should point out. Even though you are emailed a pdf copy of your ticket with a scannable QR code on it, you still have to use a printed ticket to gain admission. A QR code on your phone is not currently accepted. Not an ideal scenario with a last minute ticket purchase from your couch in an Airbnb rental.
But, if you go to the ticket booth at the Visitor Center, and tell them your name and your tour time, they will print them for you. A seemingly needless extra step…but whatever.
Alternatively, Show Up And Hope For The Best
An alternative way to get a ticket for touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest is to show up at the Visitor Center, hope for the best, and be flexible in your timing. A small allotment of tickets are held for same day visitors. However, it’s a small allotment. You’ll see a large board in the visitor center’s main hall. It displays the last-minute ticket availability along with each tour’s language options.
These tickets can be purchased at the on-site ticket booths. However, as you can see, there wasn’t much available when we arrive around 10:30 am. I’m guessing had we arrived earlier, the board would have shown more. And I’m sure availability varies with the seasons. Early September was pretty busy.
Security Check & The Best Audioguide I’ve Ever Had
Because this is a functioning government building, there is a security check at the beginning of the tour. This included a metal detector and our belongings were run through a scanner.
Once through security, we were immediately hooked up with our audioguide.
We’ve been connected to audioguides at various museums and other sites around the world. And honestly, I usually stop using them a few minutes in, and rarely will pay extra for them anymore. They are often difficult to hear (as many don’t have earpieces), and often the information is…meh. Especially if there is quicker-to-read written info, too.
But there is no written info on this tour, and the Parliament’s audioguide experience is the best I’ve ever come across.
We were given a small digital box with a large earpiece and a lanyard. We then walked up to a language board, touched the UK flag (for English) with our device, and received confirmation of connection. As you can see, many languages are available.
A guide and a security guard then directed us through the building for the tour, but the audioguide did all the verbal work. It was perfectly choreographed with every place we went inside the building, and an essential part of the tour.
I’ve read that the Parliament also offers tours conducted by a human guide, but I didn’t see this option when I booked. And I thought the audioguide was great.
A Golden Staircase & A Grand Stairway
Most of the tour takes place on the the upper fourth floor of the building. So touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest starts out with a climb. And we were indeed warned that we were about to climb 132 steps (visitors are given an elevator option if needed). We then followed the guard up the Golden Staircase – multiple flights of stairs with marble walls and gold-plated ceiling and adornments. Pretty fancy!
After stopping to learn the staircase’s history, we then followed the guard through a long hallway, decorated with stain glassed windows, columns, and statues….
Which ultimately led to this grand room…the main entrance to the Hungarian Parliament in the very center of the building. The one entered by dignitaries and such.
Not pictured is the building’s Grand Stairway – the actual central feature of this room. 96 stairs, covered with red carpet, leading to the central Dome Hall. It’s underneath where I’m standing, but there were 6 workers cleaning those Grand Stairs at the time of our tour. So I didn’t take a photo of it.
And obviously the room is more than just the Stairway. Giant ceiling murals, statues of important Hungarian historical figures, and lots of intricate decoration, all make for quite the grand room.
The Dome Hall
Next up on the tour was the Dome Hall – the giant room that sits underneath the building’s giant central dome. The focal point of the Dome Hall is the Hungarian Crown. Photos aren’t allowed inside the room, but to give you an idea, here’s one from just outside the “no picture sign”. (And just to be clear, I didn’t break any rules. Our guide wasn’t stopping anyone from taking pictures from this spot.)
If you look close in the photo above, you can see two guards next to the central display. Three guards keep watch over the Hungarian Crown at all times. Before we entered, I saw them walking slowly around and around the Crown.
The audioguide told us that three sets of three guards are assigned to watch over the crown every day, and each set changes on the hour. In fact, we were lucky enough to witness a changing of the guard just before we entered the room.
The Dome Hall itself is amazing and the interior decoration is Moorish in design – reminiscent of some of beautifully intricate domes we saw in Andalucia Spain. Statues of all the great Hungarian leaders from across the centuries hang from each of the dome’s 16 “ribs”, and the audioguide explains the importance of each historical figure.
But the absolute focus of this room is the Holy Crown of Hungary and the Coronation Regalia. And seeing them is a huge bonus of touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest.
The Holy Crown of Hungary was used to coronate Hungarian Kings from the mid 12th century up until 1916, when the last Hungarian King was crowned. Along with the crown, the other regalia includes the Holy Orb (a golden ball with a cross on top), the Sceptre, and the Coronation Sword. Any painting I saw of a Hungarian King while in Budapest showed him in the very Crown while holding the very Orb and the very Sceptre.
Interestingly, from 1945-1978, the Crown and Regalia were stored by the United States at Fort Knox to protect it first from the Nazis during World War II, and then from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
The Lounge of The Chamber of Peers
From the Dome Hall, we passed directly into a large lounge area. It’s the lounge that sits just outside the huge room where all the legislation happens called The Chamber of Peers.
Inside the lounge, the audioguide first directed our attention to the carpet. It’s the largest hand-knotted rug in Europe.
And then it directed us to note the many statues adorning the rooms. These are all representative of some of Hungary’s most important traditional occupations (at least as of the end of the 19th century). I photographed the shepherd because my doctor brother and I stated for decades that we longed for the simple life of a shepherd (which I’m sure isn’t really without it’s stress too).
The Chamber of Peers
Next onto the room where all the legislation in Hungary happens – The Chamber of Peers.
Except this isn’t the actual room where all the legislation happens. Turns out, the building has two of these rooms. One on each side of the perfectly symmetric building. Hungary used to have two assemblies and they would meet separately on opposite sides of the Parliament. Now Hungary has what’s called a unicameral National Assembly, and all the elected members meet together in the same room.
So the second room – this room – is use for other things. Like conferences, other meetings….and tours. Which is great because I don’t think we’d have seen it if actually used for governing.
And it really is quite the room as you can see….
We learned that there is seating for 453, we learned that each seat has its own climate control system, and we learned how each member registers their vote using the buttons at their seat.
We were also shown one other really interesting feature just outside the room…..
These are cigar holders. At the time the Hungarian Parliament was constructed, cigar smoking was very popular. But smoking was not allowed in the chamber. The solution – numbered cigar keepers for each member in the hallway outside.
End Of Tour
After the Chamber of Peers, we were directed back down to the bottom floor, where there was an read-as-you-wish exhibit with more history about the building.
The audioguide portion of the tour lasted the promised 45 minutes. It did require about 15 minutes to get our group through security and get situated with language-appropriate audioguides, so all in all, we spent an hour touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest.
And we are so glad we did!
Two More Important Sites Near Parliament
Either before or after touring Parliament, you should also consider a visit to two other important sites nearby. Both memorialize some of Hungary’s darker history.
Shoes on the Danube Bank
75% of Hungary’s Jewish population was murdered during WWII. Nearly 600,000 people.
Most were taken away and killed in Nazi concentration camps.
Some though were murdered in Budapest by members of Hungary’s Fascist Arrow Cross Party.
These innocent people were taken from their home and shot on the banks of the Danube River, where their bodies fell into the river, carried away by its currents. Before they were shot, they were instructed to remove their shoes. Shoes were a valuable commodity during wartime.
A simple, powerful, and emotionally devastating monument on the banks of the Danube, just a few hundred meters away from the Parliament building.
October 25th 1956 Memorial
This is a small underground memorial just outside the Hungarian Parliament. It actually occupies a space that was once the building’s air conditioning ventilation tunnel. Entrance is free.
This is a memorial to the hundreds of unarmed Hungarian demonstrators that were massacred by Soviet soldiers in this same square during Hungary’s unsuccessful 1956 anti-Communist uprising. Note the bullet holes (not real) along the paneled railing.
Pictures are not allowed once down inside the memorial, but it consists of mostly videos of eye-witness accounts from the events of that day, along with some memorabilia.
The memorial doesn’t offer a lot of background information about the horrible events in the square or about the uprising itself, so I did find myself sitting on a bench inside, reading Wikipedia so that I could better understand the context.
Still, this is an important part of Hungary’s very dark 20th century history and well worth your time.
Touring the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest was one of the highlights of our time in this great city.
You should be sure to walk its grounds. Admire it from afar. And definitely plan ahead and tour the inside as well.
And while you’ll want to be sure and get your tickets for this tour from the Parliament’s own website, you can always look for other great tours in Budapest on Viator. Tours like these:
If you would like to read about other great tours and experiences that we’ve had around the world then check out these posts: