A tour of the Parliament building in Budapest is one of the top things to do as a tourist. The building is the primary landmark along the Pest riverfront and seeing the neo-Gothic architecture from the inside is impressive. We had originally planned to take the standard tour, but were very fortunate to have a former colleague connect us with a private tour instead! We felt lucky to get a chance to see Parliament through the back door … literally.
About a month prior to our arrival in Budapest, I received an email from a friend and former colleague. Her family is from Hungary and her parents currently live in Budapest. She was getting married in Budapest at the end of August and we tried to meet up for a toast. Unfortunately, our schedules didn’t line up. Nonetheless, she was still gracious enough to put us in touch with her dad, Gene, who works at the Parliament. We exchanged a couple of emails with Gene and his secretary to set everything up. Since Parliament is a secure, government building, we had to provide our passport details (this is something all visitors have to provide) and set up a time to meet. Gene was gracious enough to take time out of his busy schedule to personally show us around the building.
Getting to the “Back Door”
The square around the Parliament building was fenced off for construction which made navigation a bit difficult. Gene’s assistant instructed us to enter from the “metro” side at gate VII, but that entrance was restricted. The guard at the gate stopped us and gave an explanation in Hungarian. We, of course, didn’t understand, so he pointed to the badge on his jacket to indicate we needed something similar to enter and then gruffly pointed to the other side of the building.
So, we backtracked a bit and made our way through the fenced off construction zone. On our way we saw the office where they sell tickets for official tours. We stopped to ask at the information desk where we might need to go. The gentlemen spoke English relatively well and instructed us to keep going around the building to what appeared to be a waiting area for those with tickets. We, however, didn’t have tickets, just Gene’s name and an email confirming the time of our appointment. With all the construction, the entry area was a bit of a mess and it wasn’t clear how to even get close to gate VII. There weren’t any information booths or any sort of gate that we could see. We were puzzled as were other tourists. At one point a young couple came up to us and asked if we were guides!
After a couple minutes, we mustered up enough courage to slip past the parking gate and approach the military guard just beyond. We asked if he spoke English and he didn’t respond. Luckily, the young woman standing next to him responded and asked what we needed. We produced our passports and showed her Gene’s name and explained we had an appointment at 11:00. The guard took our passports and retreated to his booth. After a few seconds he returned and allowed us to proceed to the inner part of the courtyard. We were in! Now we just had to find gate VII. The young woman told us it was all the way around the other side of the building so we trudged across the construction zone once again and entered gate VII.
Inside the Budapest Parliament
Once inside, there was a security checkpoint where we again showed our passports and Gene’s name to the guards. Luckily we also had the phone number for Gene’s assistant. The guards phoned her while we went through the checkpoint and she came down to meet us. She greeted us and escorted us up the back stairwell to Gene’s office.
After brief introductions, we headed off to see the building. We walked slowly through the halls and saw many of the same sights in the standard tour including the grand staircase, the Crown Jewels, one of the rooms where they hold Parliament sessions and the 3D model of the building built by matchsticks. But we also got to see a few additional rooms that indicate it’s a small city in itself. There’s a post office, a dry cleaner, a barbershop and a cafeteria so the employees and officials never have to leave the building during the day.
At one point we even approached the President’s office. When we saw a couple guards outside, Gene told us the president must be in the building so we had to turn back. Otherwise we could have explored a bit further. Gene also provided some interesting details about the history of the building including the unique cooling system that utilized ice blocks to pipe cool air into the sessions in the early 1900’s. He also pointed out the numbered cigar holders in the hallways that allowed officials to keep track of their cigars.
A Few Tips
We’ve heard it can be difficult to get tickets for the regular tour during the summer months, so make sure to arrive early in the day to get tickets or book online. We’ve also heard the group size can be overwhelming so we’re grateful to Gene for the private tour! It allowed us to see the building in a more intimate setting without dozens of others in our photos. Check it out if you’re ever in Budapest. In March of 2014, the construction surrounding the building is supposed to be complete so after that you should be able to get better photos than we did, see the courtyard in its former glory and gain access much easier.