Monday is a bank holiday presenting us with the gift of a long weekend. However, on 23 October, Hungarians commemorate a rather tragic event, the 1956 Revolution and Freedom Fight. Traditionally, shops close, and people gather outdoors, where ceremonies and free events take place. Now we briefly explain what happened 67 years ago, how you can pay your respects, and what activities you can join.

What happened on 23 October 1956?

On 23 October 1956Hungarians began to rise up against Soviet occupation. Peaceful protests calling for free elections and a free press (among other things) started what would become a bloody freedom fight in which many would lose their lives. By early November, the revolution was crushed, Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and the Moscow-controlled government was reinstated.

Thousands fled to the West, leaving behind families and loved ones. The tragic events remain a deep scar on the Hungarian psyche, symbolised by national flags with holes cut in them, just as people in 1956 cut out the Communist-imposed hammer and sickle in the coat of arms. 

If you'd like to learn more about the revolution, read our previous article of an eyewitness recalling the events here.

23 October became a bank holiday

Every year, many pay their respects to those who fought for Hungary's freedom. Memorial events usually take place across the city, such as the solemn flag-raising ceremony outside Parliament on Kossuth tér. 

Museums you can visit for free

Moreover, you can visit certain museums for free, such as the House of Terror, where the Communist Secret Police were based. It is both a museum and a memorial, offering a gripping exhibition to commemorate those detained, interrogated, tortured or killed within these walls. Visitors can pay their respects to the heroes and victims with candle lighting throughout the day at the Heroes' Wall (in front of the museum). On 22 and 23 October, you can catch light projections, too.

You can also enter the magnificent building of the Parliament free of charge and catch a glimpse of the Holy Crown, along with the Grand Staircase and the Dome Hall. Up in the Buda Castle, you can sign up to admire the St Stephen's Hall inside the Royal Palace (click 'Időpontfoglalás', and provide your name and email address on this Hungarian website).

Don't miss out on the exhibitions of the Hungarian National Museum, which also open up for visitors for free (except for the World Press Photo Exhibition). A new and temporary collection will honour the revolution: you can witness the events through the photos of John Sadovy. On the same day, the modern building of the Museum of Ethnography also welcomes art enthusiasts complimentary.

If you prefer setting off on a day trip from Budapest, you can also visit The Hungarian Open Air Museum of Szentendre (Skanzen) without charge. Here, you are invited to travel back in time and explore folk architecture, interior furnishings and the way of life in the past century.

Good to know

On Monday, 23 October most shops, banks, pharmacies and other services providers will be closed. In more central parts of town, 24-hour convenience stores will mostly be open but larger supermarkets and other shops will be shut. Many restaurants, cafés and bars will close, so make sure to check their social media sites before heading out. Public transport will still be running.