All kinds of stimulating exhibitions are on show year-round in Hungary’s capital. Finely crafted paintings span Gothic, Renaissance and avant-garde styles, while archaeological relics walk you through Hungary’s history. You also come face-to-face with the country’s grim Communist past. To lighten the mood, there’s magic, too – up in the Castle District, a curious attraction pays tribute to legendary Budapest-born escapologist Harry Houdini.
In the scenic setting of the Castle District, the National Gallery inside the Royal Palace contains Hungary’s biggest collection of fine art. Here, the chronological display of paintings and sculpture run from medieval Gothic to the Habsburg era and beyond. If you only have time for one museum while you’re in Budapest, this palatial establishment is a good bet – and if you only have a couple of hours here, don’t miss the masterly works by Mihály Munkácsy.
The Museum of Fine Arts (Szépművészeti Múzeum) is an ornate cultural landmark on Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere) partly reopening in October 2018. When fully operational by mid-2019 following renovation, the collection will feature Egyptian art, items from Classical antiquity and paintings by Old Masters. Already unveiled, the medieval-style Roman Hall is covered with elaborate murals.
The Neo-Classical National Museum (Nemzeti Múzeum) is home to a diverse showcase of archaeological and ethnic relics from Hungarian history. From stone-carved tools of the Palaeolithic era to the elaborate medieval coronation mantle worn by Hungarian kings, there’s much to discover here. The collection has recently been augmented with the so-called Seuso treasure, Roman silver relics from around 400AD, acquired by Hungary after a long-running dispute over ownership.
Hungary’s more recent history is the subject of the House of Terror Museum (Terror Háza Múzeum), contained in the former headquarters of the Communist Secret Police. The exhibition brings to life the atrocities committed here and commemorates those who were detained, interrogated, tortured or killed in the building. Out in distant District XXII, the outdoor Memento Park is the final resting place of the giant statues that once dominated the streets of Soviet-controlled Budapest.
Back in the Castle District, hidden beneath the streets, war-wounded patients lie in dimly lit hospital wards. These scenes recreated with life-sized wax figures illustrate two of Budapest’s most tragic episodes, World War II and the 1956 Uprising, when Hungarians took shelter in this maze of naturally chilled chambers, today the Hospital in the Rock Museum (Sziklakórház).
Above ground on nearby Dísz Square, in an unpretentious two-storey house, an enchanting exhibition honours one of history’s greatest illusionists, Harry Houdini. Items on show include the handcuffs and lock keys that once belonged to the Hungarian escapologist, the vintage posters that promoting his shows and numerous props used in the filming of TV mini-series Houdini on the History Channel. Your visit culminates in live illusion shows.