Have you ever heard the Ancient Greek myth about King Midas and the golden touch?
According to the legend, this ancient king was able to turn everything he laid a finger on into gold. His superpower came to be known as the Midas touch.
You may be wondering what this old story has to do with post about Budapest? Well, I’m willing to wager money on the fact that the Hungarian capital was lucky enough to have someone wandering around with the Midas touch once or twice.
This past April, I had the opportunity to visit Budapest for 3 incredible days. Due to the unexpected wet and cold spring weather, I spent many hours exploring the interiors of some of the city’s most iconic buildings. Whatever you do, please don’t feel even a little bit sorry for my lack of luck in the weather department, because these interiors were the epitome of luxury and grandeur. I had the chance to explore indoor spaces with countless soaring arches, hundreds of red-carpeted steps, soft-pink marble, fine works of art, and gold, gold, and even more gold. I did mention the gold, right? The sheer number of gold surfaces I saw led me to believe that someone must have invoked the power of the Midas touch when it came to completing these buildings.
Now, you may know that all that glitters is not always pure gold, and that holds true for many of the golden surfaces in these buildings. Nevertheless, the karat count of the gold doesn’t make these interiors any less spectacular.
- Enjoy immersing yourself in the finest of environments (for less)
- Are a fan of unique and beautiful architecture
- Want to fulfill your dreams of feeling like a king or a queen, or
- Are fascinated by European history
…then the sites described below deserve a spot on your Budapest itinerary. Without further ado, here’s your Golden Guide to Budapest.
The Golden Guide to #Budapest: Exploring Some of Europe's Most Beautiful Interiors #Hungary Click To Tweet
And prepare to be awestruck, because they don’t make buildings like this anymore.
1. The Hungarian Parliament Building
40 kg of 22-23 karat gold
It’s not easy to miss the Hungarian Parliament when visiting the country’s capital city. This impressive Gothic Revival building proudly stands in downtown Pest right by the Danube River. It’s actually the third largest parliament building in the world, and some say that it’s the most beautiful parliament building in the world. The building is over 100 years old and is quite a magnificent sight from the Széchenyi Bridge when it’s all lit up at night. To be honest, it’s an equally spectacular site during the day. (Tip: catch an amazing view of the parliament building from the Fisherman’s Bastion).
The Hungarian Parliament as seen from the Széchenyi Bridge.
Nevertheless, I’m here to talk about the gold, so let’s take a closer look at all that glitters in the Hungarian Parliament.
The Upper House Hall.
When exploring the parliament building, you can catch sight of some of those 40 kg of gold in the main hall’s Grand Stairway and the Upper House Hall.
The Grand Stairway is beyond grand.
Visiting the Hungarian Parliament Building
In order to visit the Hungarian Parliament, you must go on a guided tour. The Hungarian Parliament’s official website recommends that you purchase your tickets in advance since limited quantities of same-day tickets are available at the Visitor’s Centre. Click here to check out tour times and to buy your tickets online. Since the parliament building is an official workplace, make sure to dress and behave respectably.
Useful tip: all tours depart from the Visitor’s Centre which is underground and on the north side of the parliament building. Make sure to arrive at least 10-15 minutes before your tour begins.
Admission Fee Overview (updated August, 2017):
- Adult Admission Fee for EU Citizens: 2,400 HUF (approx. €8)
- Student Admission Fee for EU Citizens: 1,300 HUF (approx. €4)
- Adult Admission Fee for non-EU Citizens: 6,000 HUF (approx. €20)
- Student Admission Fee for non-EU Citizens: 3,100 HUF (approx. €10)
The Upper House Lobby.
2. The Hungarian State Opera House
7 kg of gold used in the Auditorium
Built in the late 19th century, the Hungarian State Opera house is also found in downtown Pest. With it’s lavish and sparking interior, it’s also argued to be one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world. Some historians even claim that the opera house’s beauty upset Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria on opening night since it appeared to be even more magnificent than Vienna’s opera house. (From his point of view, that was just unacceptable). One thing’s for sure, the abundance of grand staircases and glittering facades will make your jaw drop.
The magnificent Auditorium.
The Grand Staircase.
Details inside the Auditorium.
The Feszty Bar all ready for the evening’s festivities.
Visiting the Hungarian State Opera House
If you would like to pay the opera house a visit, you can always choose to watch a musical or an opera. However, you can also go on a guided tour. Typically, tours in English begin at 14:00 (2:00 pm) every day of the week. You can buy your ticket in the opera house before the tour begins. I highly recommend arriving to buy your ticket at least 30 minutes in advance, because the queues can be quite long. There are additional fees on top of the tour cost if you would like to take photos of the opera house during the tour or if you would like to attend a super mini-concert after the tour.
Click here to check out the Hungarian State Opera House’s performance schedule.
Click here for a detailed breakdown of tour times, languages, and costs.
- Base Adult Tour Fee: 2,990 HUF (approx. €11.50)
- Base Student Tour Fee: 1,990 HUF (approx. €7.50)
One last dramatic snap of the Auditorium.
The Opera Café
If you prefer to skip the tour and are satisfied with just a glimpse of the opera house’s entrance hall, you can eat breakfast, lunch, or dinner in the ultra glamorous Opera Café Budapest. It’s inside the state opera house.
Taking a quick coffee break is absolutely fine too.
Just enough gold and marble to make you feel like a noble.
3. St. Stephen’s Basilica
5 kg gold and 250,000 gold leaves used during recent renovations and restoration work
Like the Hungarian Parliament and the State Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica also stands in downtown Pest. It’s named after St. Stephen I, who was the first king of Hungary around 1,000 years ago. However, the church itself is just over 100 years old.
This place of worship is one of the tallest buildings in Budapest, which contributes to its commanding exterior and incredible interior. (FYI: St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Hungarian Parliament are the same height, and they are the city’s two tallest buildings).
With its shimmering gold surfaces and marble-like paneling, the church’s interior inspires awe.
Inside the basilica. Photo Credit: Christian Thiele (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Visiting St. Stephen’s Basilica
Entering St. Stephen’s Basilica is completely FREE.
It’s worth adding that on top of going inside to admire the interior, you can take a staircase or elevator up to the church’s dome. From the dome, you can catch an exceptional panoramic view of the city. Please note that visiting the dome costs 500 HUF (less than 2 Euros). As a result of the weather, I didn’t go up to the dome, but some of my hostel mates did later on in the week and were really pleased with the experience.
All in all, church visitors are also welcome to attend mass or a classical concert. You can usually find a concert schedule by the church entrance.
4. New York Café
An Amazingly Excessive Abundance of Gold-Plated Details
Some say it’s the best café in Europe and others go as far as claiming that it’s the most beautiful café in the world. I belong to the latter group of people. I dare say that a visit to the New York Café in Budapest belongs on everyone’s Budapest itinerary – even if it’s just to pop in and take in the old world splendour.
Inside the spectacular New York Café.
Throughout the centuries, the building the café is in has been the meeting place for a Hungarian literary journal, an office space for an American insurance company, a sports shop, and a tourism office. Today, the building is home to the Boscolo Budapest hotel. Fortunately, many of the original decorations and embellishments in the café have been well preserved.
Before dining on some delicious breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner, prepare to feast your eyes on all the magnificent gold.
Live music will mostly likely accompany your dining experience.
Café visitors often say that walking into the café is like travelling back in time. What do you think?I'd dare say that the #NewYorkCafe, #Budapest is one of the most beautiful cafes in the world. Click To Tweet
Visiting the New York Café
Similar to the other three sites described in this post, the New York Café is in Pest. While you can show up at the café whenever you please (during operating hours of course), you may have to wait in line before you are seated. It is a popular tourist attraction. In order to avoid spending time in queues, you can request a reservation online.
Click here to make a reservation at Budapest’s New York Café.
Click here to take a look at the café’s menu.
Despite it’s popularity amongst travellers, I couldn’t resist paying the New York Café a visit. Yes, I did pay roughly €5 for the cappuccino, but it was the most delicious cappuccinos ever (sorry Italy). To further justify the decision, €5 is the price of a generic Starbucks latte in Sweden.
Additional Facts Worth Mentioning About These Budapest Interiors
In all the interiors shown, there is so much gold to behold! If you take a look at the Auditorium in the Hungarian State Opera House, you may wonder how the builders only used 7 kg of gold to produce so many golden surfaces. Rather than making the details out of solid gold, many of the surfaces were gilded (painted with gold/gold leaf). As a result, many of these interiors could have more golden embellishments with less gold.
Károly Lotz, the famous German-Hungarian Painter
Károly Lotz is a highly respected painter in Budapest. He completed most of his pieces in the mid to late 19th century. During his time, he painted a mural in the stairways of the Hungarian Parliament, the ceiling in the Hungarian State Opera House’s Auditorium, and the ceiling in St. Stephen’s Basilica. If you embark on a guided tour at any of these locations, you will definitely hear quite a bit about him.
Károly Lotz’s fresco on the ceiling of the Opera House’s Auditorium. It’s titled the Apotheosis of Music.
I’ve heard Budapest called the Paris of the East on numerous occasions. With its riverside location and majestic architecture, I’d say that the statement holds more than a little nugget of truth. The four sites highlighted in this post only showcase a small fraction of the city’s grandeur. Fortunately, you can expect future posts to shine the spotlight on more of the city’s magnificent sites and attractions.
For the time being, here’s a map pinpointing the locations of the sites featured above:
Despite the weather, I was beyond pleased with my trip to the city. (I should add that I did get one sunny morning and was able to check the Fisherman’s Bastion off of my “Must Visit” list). All in all, I’m hoping to return to this city soon!With its abundance of spectacular interiors, #Budapest truly is the Paris of the East. Click To Tweet
Have you been to Budapest? Have visited any of these sites? If you haven’t been, would you want to? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
Share your love of travelling on Twitter: What’s the most beautiful interior you’ve ever set foot in? Post your photos on twitter and tag @snowtoseas. I’d love to see! (Re-tweets guaranteed.)