udapest has a deserved reputation as one of Europe’s most picturesque capital cities. But its beauty is not all natural; man has also played a role in shaping this pretty face.
Architecturally, the city is a treasure trove, with enough Baroque, Neoclassical, Eclectic and Art Nouveau buildings to satisfy everyone.
Overall, though, Budapest has a fin-de-siècle feel to it, for it was then, during the capital’s “golden age” in the late 19th century, that most of what you see today was built. Book a weekend break with British Airways Holidays and always look skyward for the most interesting details.
Gothic treasures to discover
You won’t find as much Romanesque and Gothic architecture here – many of them wouldn’t survive turbulent times and evolving construction trends down the centuries – but the Royal Palace incorporates many Gothic features, including the sedile (niches with seats) along the Castle District’s narrow streets and some carving at the southern entrance of Matthias Church. The chapels in the Inner Town Parish Church have some fine Gothic tabernacles.
Baroque styles across Budapest
Baroque abounds in Budapest. Buda’s Church of St Anne and the Óbuda Parish Church are fine examples of ecclesiastical Baroque while the Citadella on Gellért Hill and the municipal council office on Városház utca in Pest are its secular form.
St Stephen’s Basilica, Hungary’s largest cathedral
Distinctly Hungarian architecture didn’t come into its own until the mid-19th century, when three men – Mihály Pollack, József Hild and Miklós Ybl – began changing the face of Budapest. Pollack was responsible for the Neoclassical Hungarian National Museum, where less than a year after it opened the poet Sándor Petőfi recited his “Nemzeti Dal” (National Song) from the front steps, sparking the 1848–49 revolution.
Hild designed St Stephen’s Basilica, Hungary’s largest cathedral, around the same time, but when the dome collapsed during a storm it wasn’t completed for another half-century and in Ybl’s Renaissance revivalist design. Hild was also asked to design the recently restored Vigadó building, but money ran out and it eventually it went to Romanticist architect Frigyes Feszl. Both Hild and Feszl also submitted designs for the ambitious Great Synagogue – Hild’s was neoclassical, Feszl’s Byzantine – but Ludwig Förster’s distinctive Moorish won the contract. Two other Eclectic buildings that have become Budapest landmarks are the Parliament, which stretches along the Danube, and the sublime Opera House, with near-perfect acoustics.
The eye-catching signatures of Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau architecture is Budapest’s signature style. Its sinuous curves, flowing, asymmetrical forms, colourful Zsolnay tiles and other decorative elements stand out like beacons in a sea of refined and elegant Baroque and mannered, geometric Neoclassical buildings.
The foremost architect associated with this style is Ödön Lechner, and Hungary has submitted five of his masterpieces, including the Museum of Applied Arts, the Royal Postal Savings Bank and the Institute of Geology, for inclusion in Unesco’s World Heritage list.
Other fine examples of Art Nouveau include the Liszt Music Academy, the Gresham Palace (now a Four Seasons Hotel) and the Párisi Udvar, a down-at-heel shopping arcade that has received a top-to-bottom renovation. And it’s not just grand buildings; walk around central Pest and an Art Nouveau surprise awaits around just about every corner.
Into the modern age
Post-Second World War architecture in Hungary is largely unexceptional. However, one exception is the work of Imre Makovecz, who developed his own “organic” style using unusual materials such as tree trunks and turf; have a look at his office building at Szentkirályi utca 18 and spectacular funerary chapel with reverse vaulted ceiling at Farkasréti Cemetery. Equally controversial is the work of both László Rajk (Lehel Market) and Mária Siklós (National Theatre).
A trio of recent buildings in or around City Park worth a closer look include the Japanese-designed, UFO-like House of Music, the relocated Museum of Ethnography that rises high at both ends and has a rooftop green space and the ING office building, with glass-and-limestone “boxes” bound with metallic “ribbon”.
To book your perfect winter city break to Hungary, please visit ba.com/budapest