High-rise buildings have long been a subject of urban-development debates in Budapest. During this ongoing discussion, some support constructing skyscrapers as iconic buildings of a big-city skyline, while others believe that Budapest’s spacious layout does not necessitate upward expansion, and that huge structures would only disrupt the city’s striking natural landscape of hills and plains. Despite this never-ending controversy, Budapest boasts many wonderfully tall buildings that we had the chance to ascend, including some that anyone can visit – readers who are afraid of heights, beware!
The three highest buildings of Budapest, which all exceed 150 meters, are used for industrial purposes, while the city’s tallest residential or office building is Semmelweis University’s Nagyvárad Square tower. Towering at a staggering 93 meters, the Law Enforcement Administration Center (colloquially known as the Police Palace) would be the actual record-holder of this latter category, but it didn’t make it into the top 10 due to the fact that it’s 30 meters shorter without its antenna. Fun fact: if stacked on top of each other, the five tallest constructions of the Magyar metropolis would still be way shorter than Dubai’s gigantic Burj Khalifa, the very tallest building on the planet at 828 meters high.
This stern edifice above Óbuda might not be beautiful, but the monolithic reinforced-concrete chimney of Főtáv, Budapest’s primary thermal-heating provider, is a technical curiosity. Built between 1974 and 1975 with a special gliding-formwork technique, this imposing tower stands at just over 200 meters tall. The reason for the building’s exceptional height was to ensure proper ventilation, factoring in the region’s prevalent winds. Being one of the most environmentally friendly technologies in the world, district heating has been popular in Vienna for a while, and it’s now becoming widely adopted in downtown Budapest as well. Manufactured in the Czech Republic, the tower’s rack-and-pinion elevator shoots up to the highest of the four outer maintenance floors in approximately five minutes, which is about the right amount of time for marveling at the awe-inspiring inner structure of the tower and its spectacular surroundings. (We had never thought Budapest had its own baseball field, but we were surprised to spot one not too far from the chimney.) Industrial facilities populate the immediate vicinity of the tower, but in clear weather you can see pretty much everything across the city. In the past few years, a couple of kestrels have made a home for themselves inside this cozy construction.
Comprising 11 stories, the 55-meter radio tower at the peak of Széchenyi Hill was completed in February of 1958. Some of the antennas are mounted on the balcony, while a single 39-meter antenna is mounted on the very top, bringing the total height of the building to 94 meters. The studio that once operated here has since moved to the former Stock Exchange Palace at Szabadság Square. In the mid-1970s, a 192-meter iron structure was constructed next to the original building, secured to the ground with three anchored cables. Three ladders provide access to the top of the tower, but the upward climb can be quite a challenge, especially in stronger winds. During the installation of the new digital-television (DVB-T) infrastructure in 2008, the entire antenna system was replaced with the help of a helicopter. The tower is currently managed by Antenna Hungária.
Located by the intersection of the Ferihegy expressway and Üllői Road, the 154-meter-tall tower was built in line with the plans of two construction companies, Potiber (architect Klára K. Artner) and Uvaterv (statics experts András Földi and Endre Reiner). The trio of Közgép-31. ÁÉV-Orszak was responsible for the execution of the project, and the finishing touches were added to the structure in 1988. The building is made of reinforced concrete up to the 100-meter point, which is as far up as the elevator goes. The rest of the structure is built from steel – those who venture to this section must do so by climbing a metal ladder. Chilling silence, a complicated web of wires, and futuristic machines are all brave adventurers can find inside the building. The tower is operated by Magyar Telekom, as suggested by the company's trademark “T” painted on either side.
The masterpiece of Imre Steindl, the Hungarian House of the Nation, is one of the biggest parliament buildings in the world, measuring 268 meters in length and 96 meters in height (an allusion to the year of the country’s foundation in 1896). The magnificent building, which has been the jewel of the Danube bank since 1904, seems excessive in size by modern standards, but let’s not forget that at the time of its construction, the area of the country was three times bigger than today. Another factor to note is the role that this monumental building was set to play in urban development: it was meant to be a counterpoint to Castle Hill on the opposite bank of the river. While the uppermost part of the majestic dome is rarely open to visitors, the hall just below, which houses the Holy Crown of Hungary, attracts hundreds every day.
Construction on this church began in 1851 in accordance with the plans of József Hild, with Miklós Ybl and eventually Kauser József taking over the leadership of the project. Finally completed in 1905, the Basilica towers above the downtown Pest area – its 96-meter height, just like the Parliament, is a nod to the year of Hungary’s foundation. The stunning lookout area at the top is accessible to the public via a convenient elevator, and offers a breathtaking panorama as well as a peek at the beautiful dome’s inner structure. If tower tours were rated based on price-value ratio, St. Stephen’s Basilica would definitely be our number-one choice: for a modest 500-forint entrance fee, you can ascend to the observation terrace below the dome and take in the unforgettable view.
Located in the vicinity of several clinics and hospitals, the still-evolving Ludovika Campus, and the lush Orczy Garden, Semmelweis University’s so-called Theoretical Block (NET) tower stands at 86 meters, being the tallest among the high-rise buildings of Budapest. The tender for the construction of the tower block was published in 1962, with architects Gedeon Gerlóczy, Ernő Südi, and László Wágner emerging victorious in the end. (Gerlóczy himself hailed from a famous family of physicians, and played an instrumental role in preserving the artworks of pharmacist-turned-painter Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka.) Eventually, the 24-story giant was completed 15 years after the initial tender, reflecting the vision of László Wágner. The block by the foot of the tower houses an atrium, a ceremony room, two big lecture halls (referred to as “green” and “brown”), smaller classrooms, and various office rooms. The complex is currently used for medical research and education purposes, and is also known nationwide for the National Stair-climbing Race of Firefighters: more than 100 adventurous rescue workers make the arduous climb up 461 steps while wearing roughly 30 kilograms of equipment, with the winner usually completing the challenge in under three minutes.
Set amid Kőbánya’s central residential area, this church was designed by prominent architect Ödön Lechner, and erected between 1894 and 1899. The three-nave parish church showcases an elegant blend of eclecticism and Art Nouveau, and has been a protected monument since 1991. Splendidly decorated with brick, red marble, and ceramic elements as well as Zsolnay tiles on the roof, the building is the third-tallest religious institution in the country. Despite originally being a place of worship, it served as a bunker during World War II – the reinforced-concrete shelter inside the tower survives to this day, and the portholes are still visible as well.
Originally called the Church of Our Lady, Matthias Church was founded in the 13th century, and has since become one of the most famous attractions of Budapest, dominating the skyline of Buda together with the adjacent Fishermen’s Bastion. The church went through a major transformation between 1874 and 1896, with Frigyes Schulek being responsible for creating the reimagined design. The iconic building has a taller southern tower named Mátyás Tower, and a shorter, less-decorated counterpart called Béla Tower. The gorgeous stone carvings and the intricate lace-like and arched details of the spire make Mátyás Tower the most characteristic element of the façade. A robust, neo-Romanesque style, north-facing tower was included in the plans used during the 19th century renovation, but the idea was eventually rejected. After a recent renovation, Mátyás Tower is now open to visitors: anyone can explore the tower’s most beautiful features – namely the enormous bells, the weathervane, the colorful Zsolnay tiles, and the unique panorama – by joining hourly guided tours. Read our previous article about the church’s recent beautification here.
The neo-Gothic church standing on Rózsák Square in Erzsébetváros is one of the prettiest and tallest in town. After submitting several alternative plans for the original tender in 1889, Imre Steindl, the architect of the stately Parliament House, received a commission to develop the final design plans. Construction began in 1893, but the church wasn’t consecrated until 1901. Boasting three naves and a pair of graceful towers, the church is most captivating from the front due to its heavily adorned main façade. Some of the attractions worth checking out inside are the elaborate frescos and the products of the Zsolnay Factory in Pécs, such as the gallery of kings displaying the artworks of sculptor Miklós Köllő. A protected national monument since 1995, the building is in relatively good shape, but certain parts, such as some of the windows and the organ, have not been properly restored after being damaged during WWII. The square in front of the church is where the grand statue of Saint Elizabeth stands.
This stark 20-story government building on Váci Road was erected between 1967 and 1973 based on the plans of Dezső Dúl. At the time of its construction, the high-rise block was the center of the National Council of Trade Unions (SZOT). A building of similar proportions was supposed to stand on the other side of Árpád Bridge, on the opposite bank of the Danube, but the plan eventually fell through. In the period of 1995-1996, the lower section of the former SZOT center was expanded with a curtain wall and reflective glass structures. In an earlier article we revealed that another building of the Pension Payment Directorate on Fiumei Road was once the tallest public building in Europe, but with all the new high-rise buildings that have cropped up in Budapest since then, this former record holder is now nowhere near the top ten.