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.
North Buda Thermal Power Station smokestack (203 m)
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.
Száva Street radio tower (154 m)
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.
St. Stephen’s Basilica (96 m)
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.
Nagyvárad Square tower, Semmelweis University (86 m)
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
Szent László Parish Church (83 m)
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.
Pension Payment Directorate (73 m)
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
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.