Why visit: history, architecture, Hungarian Crown Jewels
A Brief History of the Hungarian Parliament
The Parliament building, a magnificent example of Neo-Gothic architecture (although displaying Renaissance and Baroque characters too), is just over 100 years old. In the 1880's an open tender was held for the design of the Parliament building. Construction based on the winning plan began in 1885 and the building was inaugurated on the 1000th anniversary of Hungary in 1896, and fully completed in 1902. Both runner-up designs were also built facing the Parliament building. One is the Museum of Ethnography and the other is the Ministry of Agriculture. The Budapest Parliament building is the third largest Parliament building in the world. It has 691 rooms, 20 kilometers (12,5 miles) of stairs and at 96 meters (315 feet) it is the same height as the St. Stephen's Basilica. During the Communist era a large red star was added to the central tower above the dome of the building, but after its downfall, the star was removed. Unfortunately, modern air pollution constantly attacks the porous limestone walls, requiring frequent restoration. This also means that there is a good chance that you will see some scaffolding around the building.
The square where the Hungarian Parliament stands was named after Lajos Kossuth, a Hungarian lawyer, journalist, politician and Governor-President of Hungary in 1849. He was widely honored during his lifetime, including in the United States, as a freedom fighter and a bellwether of democracy in Europe. His memorial, as well as a memorial for the 1956 Hungarian Revolution can be seen in front of the Parliament building.
During World War II all of Budapest's bridges were destroyed and as a temporary solution a bridge was built between Kossuth Square and Batthyány Square. The bridge, named after Lajos Kossuth, was in use until 1960. A memorial next to the Parliament building marks the site on the Pest side.
The Hungarian Parliament
Hungary, officially the Republic of Hungary, is a parliamentary republic. Its legislature is the unicameral National Assembly, which has 386 representatives, elected for a four-year term. The election system is said to be one of the most complicated in Europe. Half of the representatives are elected in single-seat constituencies, half of them on party lists. The Prime Minister is elected by a majority of votes of the members of parliament. The President of the Republic, elected for a five-year term, has more of a ceremonial role. Technically he is the Commander in Chief of the armed forces and he nominates the Prime Minister.
Things to Do and See at the Houses of Parliament
Guided tours of the Parliament are available when the National Assembly is not in session. The tour takes about 45 minutes, and is well worth the price, as it covers the main entrance stairs and hall, one of the lobbies, the old House of Lords and the Hungarian Crown Jewels. Tours are held in several languages. Admission (in 2015) is HUF 2,000 for EU citizens (HUF 4,000 for non-EU citizens), and the ticket office is at gate "X".
The Hungarian Crown Jewels were lost and stolen numerous times. After World War II, they were transported to Western Europe and eventually given to the American Army for safekeeping from the Soviet Union. For much of the Cold War, the Crown Jewels were held at the United States Bullion Depository (Fort Knox, Kentucky) alongside the bulk of America's gold reserves. They were eventually returned to Hungary under the presidency of Jimmy Carter in 1978.
Some of the best views of the Parliament are from the Danube (take a Danube cruise) or from across the river, especially from Batthyány Square, which is only one stop by subway from Kossuth square on the M2 line. Looking at the Parliament from a distance makes it easier to take in the beauty and harmony of the building.
Getting to the Parliament Building: Take the Subway (M2) to Kossuth tér, or Streetcar 2, which runs along the Pest riverfront and has a stop at Kossuth tér
Insider Tip: The best way to take the tour is to buy your ticket in advance (online at www.jegymester.hu/parlament), as lines tend to be long and slow-moving and there are only a limited number of tickets available. For more information and to book a group tour, visit the Parliament's website at www.parlament.hu. Also, if you hold a European Union passport, don't forget to take it with you, as you get a discount from the entrance fee.