Explore the history of Budapest through its many statues from touching war memorials to magnificent Hungary’s own Lady Liberty.
Budapest is said to have more statues than any other European city. Wherever you go, from the Danube banks to the Buda Hills and the tree-lined roads of City Park, you’re sure to find yourself face to face with solemn eyes of stone. As you explore the city, you can learn more about the history of Budapest just from its many statues — whether you’re a history buff or a curious traveler. Or, you can create your own statue treasure hunt to find the strange and wonderful statues that inhabit Budapest. We begin with a sight-seeing tour of Heroes Square, where Hungary pays homage to its founders.
Heroes Square, VI district
It’s easy to associate Hungary with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and you’re sure to see plenty of statues and monuments dedicated to that important era of history. But to really understand Hungary, you have to go farther back — much, much farther.
In 896 AD, the tribes of the Magyar people descended down from the Ural mountains into the Carpathian Basin of modern-day Hungary. Leading them were their seven proud chieftains — Árpád, Előd, Huba, Kond, Ond, Tas, and Tétény. The Magyars went on to conquer the land, and the Árpád dynasty ruled for 400 years.
Today you can stare up at the clan lords in all their glory in the centre of Heroes Squarer. They ride on horseback, clad in furs and armour and sporting majestic mustaches and beards just as they did so long ago.
Heroes Square, VI district
Just past the Seven Chieftains stand 14 statues of kings who built and ruled Hungary from the Dark Ages to the Age of Enlightenment. Out of them all, the most striking is Stephen I. With a sword in one hand a cross in the other, he demands attention. But it is his halo that separates this King from all the rest.
Born a pagan, Stephen converted to Christianity just when it was beginning to spread through Europe, and he became wholly devout — and intent on using it to unite the many tribes of the Magyars. After defeating his pagan cousin to proclaim himself the leader of the Arpad dynasty, he was crowned the first king of Hungary on Christmas Day in 1000 AD. His coronation marked the founding of the Hungarian state as we know it. And for his valiant — and often brutal — efforts to eradicate pagan worship from Hungary, he became a saint. He is the patron saint of Hungary, and you’ll see many more statues and monuments dedicated to him, including the gorgeous Saint Stephen’s Basilica.
Gellert Hill, across from Elisabeth Bridge
From Heroes Square, we head to the Danube banks and the base of Gellért Hill, the tallest point in Budapest – you can’t miss it! And if you walk down Erzsébet híd (Elisabeth Bridge), you’ll spot Saint Gellert (or Gerard of Csanád) through the bridge’s pearly white archways.
Surrounded by the greenery of the hill, Gellert stands above a waterfall, overlooking Budapest. As a devout missionary from Venice, Gellert was on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land when he decided to stop in Hungary. King Stephen I convinced him to stay and help him convert the pagans. He soon gained considerable favor and became the bishop of Hungary.
But in 1046, he found the pagans of modern-day Budapest particularly resistant to conversion. They reportedly stuffed him in a spiked barrel and threw him off the hill. Gellert’s statue marks the spot of his own brutal execution.
Kossuth Square behind Parliament
Heading over to the Parliament, we jump ahead in time to the 19th century — and descend into the depths of the Austrian occupation. Lajos Kossuth had just successfully passed the April Laws to give Hungary greater autonomy and rights while under Habsburg rule. Then, the new king, Franz Josef I, unexpectedly revoked the Laws, sparking the fire of independence in the hearts of the proud Hungarians. On March 15, 1848, the now famous Revolution of 1848-49 began, with Kossuth as its leader.
Despite many victories and fiery speeches from Kossuth, the Hungarians were defeated after Franz Josef called on the Russians for military support. Kossuth was exiled and the Hungarians were placed under martial law.
After Kossuth’s death in 1894, the Kossuth Memorial was built to commemorate Kossuth and the members of the first Hungarian Parliamentary government. Among them are some of the greatest Hungarians in history, including István Széchenyi, Lajos Batthyány and Ferenc Deák.
Pest River Bank, between the Parliament and the Chain Bridge
Walking from Parliament along the Pest river bank, we find ourselves before tens of iron shoes — varying in size, style and state of wear. Some are in pairs, others alone and thrown about, as if someone had hurriedly thrown them off before jumping into the river. But the story behind this simple monument is much more tragic and heartbreaking.
During World War II, the fascist Hungarian party, called the Arrow Cross Party, took over the government and instituted Nazi policies of Jewish and ethnic minority extermination. On top of the hundreds of thousands of Hungarians who were sent to concentration camps, many were shot and thrown in the river.
Created in 2005 by Gyula Pauer, the shoes represent the 3,500 people, 800 of them Jewish people, who were killed along the Danube in Budapest. An inscription near the statue reads “To the memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944–45’ in English, Hungarian and Hebrew.
If you want to read more about this touching memorial, click here.
Top of Gellert Hill
Wherever you walk along the river in Budapest, you can see Liberty Statue on the top of Gellert Hill. Tall and green, elegant in posture, she holds up a palm leaf while the wind blows through her hair. Representing ‘liberation’, she was erected in memory of the heroes who liberated Hungary from fascism during WWII.
However, her role in history has changed a few times. After the fall of the USSR and the end of Soviet occupation of Hungary, all reference to the Soviets were removed from Gellert Hill, including the Cyrillic inscription beneath Liberty Statue and a colossal Soviet soldier.
Szabo Ilonka utca, VII district
From the river, let’s stroll into the 7th district. This is the heart of Budapest and the old Jewish quarter. Today it remains the home of a rich Jewish-Hungarian history and artisan culture. You’ll find soul-stirring monuments to the Holocaust here, such as Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial, for example. But if you know where to look, you can also spot a unique memorial to another tragic moment in history — the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
On October 23, 1956, Hungarian students led a peaceful protest against Soviet occupation. 200,000 Hungarians joined them. From there, the students began a secret resistance, dismantling communist flags and statues, and stealing Soviet weapons. Many were only teenagers — Peter Mansfeld, one of the leaders, was only 16.
After receiving a tip from one of the resistance member’s parents, the Soviet police went to investigate where the students were said to have hidden their stash of stolen weapons — beneath Buda Castle. Mansfeld made a daring escape by leaping through a 13-foot window, crashing hard and breaking his hand on the side of Rose Hill.
Mansfeld’s statue on Szabo Ilonka utca depicts the moment he leapt from the Rose Hill window. It’s often called ‘man falling into death’. Mansfeld was caught, tortured, and hanged by the Soviets. Although the revolution ultimately failed to free Hungary from Soviet rule, it sparked a resistance that continued to plague the Soviets until the fall of the USSR.
If you’d rather explore the more light-hearted history of Budapest, you can have fun finding these unique statues around the city. Keep your eyes peeled though — Budapest has more statues than most cities!
Chain Bridge, either side of the Danube banks
Legend says that when the bridge was completed, a young girl discovered that the lions guarding it didn’t have any tongues, and the sculptor then hung himself in shame. While this isn’t true, it’s still fun to try to see into the lion’s mouth as you walk by.
Falk Miksa Utca
The great Peter Falk is forever remembered as the detective Colombo, but in Budapest, he holds a special place in the hearts of Hungarians. While it’s often debated, there may be a slight family connection to Miksa Falk, which may explain the odd choice of statue on this unassuming street.
Walk through the noble gates of Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park, and you’ll soon come across the mysterious figure of ‘Anonymus’. Clad in a dark robe that hides his face, Anonymous is said to represent the nameless notary of King Bela III, who documented the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian basin.
- What famous statues are in Budapest?
- From the Seven Chieftains to Liberty Statue, you learn all about the famous people and events that made Budapest the city it is today.
- What statues should I see in Budapest?
- Don’t miss famous historical monuments in Budapest, like the Shoes on the Danube, as well as the more unique, such as Colombo.
- How can I explore Budapest?
- You can see all the sights of Budapest by creating your own statue treasure hunt.